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Unintended Consequences Paperback – July 8, 2016
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With the exception of "In the Water" by J. G. Formato, which is a... reinterpretation... of a fantasy trope (or of two or three of them), all of these tales happen to be science fiction. The organizing principle, though, is just that they all deal with some action or decision that has unintended consequences. These may be for good or ill, but since the intended consequences of most actions/decisions are meant to be good, there's a certain ratchet towards the negative in their unintended results. So a hefty majority of these stories are rather dark, tragic and/or dystopian or even apocalyptic. That isn't usually my preferred tone in fiction. But there are also tales that are triumphant in their own way, though characters' triumphs may come at a cost; and many of them are designed (successfully) to be thought-provoking and cautionary. The inherent danger of scientific hubris, of trying to use technology to cut corners in defiance of what's natural, of a lemming-like herd mentality, of basing decisions on greed and vanity, and of acting ignorantly and without due consideration, are all recurrent themes. (The only relatively comic tale is "Ernie the Spacebug Loves Korngeld Beer," by Jean Martin.)
I'd previously beta read Andrew's "Thomas J. Rosenbud's Lifetime Retirement Cruise;" it's well-written, but like many of those here, it's difficult to discuss without serious spoilers. My favorite selection here is the lead story, "Amy" by Lyn McConchie, which uses an android title character/protagonist to explore the basic philosophical question, what does it mean to be human? Other writers, including some of the major names in the SF genre, have plowed this ground before, but never to more powerful effect than here. (This story will be best appreciated by those who experience and get into music fully and deeply; but it spoke to me strongly even despite the fact that I'm tone deaf.) Set in the near-future, Chris Dean's "Vigilance" is a literary punch to the gut, a wake-up call for Americans of all political persuasions in 2016, that gives us a grim depiction of just exactly where our developing lawless, security-obsessed police state is taking us in real life --and it's not a pretty destination, nor one we're going to like. "Cornucopia" by Edward Ahern is thematically similar to E. M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" --and a lot more technologically feasible, in 2016, than Forster's story was in 1908.
Most of the material here is free of bad language, and none of the selections have explicit sex. A few stories here do contain some foul language, including the f-word, and some crude references to sex by characters with a coarse, warped attitude to that whole area of life. This is particularly true of "Cornucopia," Holly Riordan's "Mismatched Marks," and Vaughan Stanger's "Dark They Were and Strange Inside." But the authors' intent there, IMO, isn't to promote that kind of speaking or thinking, but to show it as a part of an unhealthy milieu that we don't (or at least shouldn't) want to let ourselves be caught up in. The only story with really grisly content (and that's not really a spoiler, given the amount of foreshadowing there) is "Passengers" by Glen Damien Campbell; the conclusion there is not for the squeamish. (That's also one of the weaker stories, along with D. J. Tyrer's "Technically.")
"Amy," Natasha Cage's "A Cuter You," and V. Hartman's DiSanto's "Time to Remember," (along with some of the other stories mentioned above) pack the strongest emotional impact and bond the reader the most tightly with the characters. In many cases, often perhaps because of the short length, this area tends to be underdeveloped; even the tragic denouements sometimes left me affected more intellectually than emotionally. Nonetheless, I still really liked the collection overall!
Overall, this anthology is recommended. The title of this review is another famous unintended consequence where someone poured their beer into a container of ceramic materials. The beer foam created bricks that were very light in weight but as hard as concrete.