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Waiting for the Machines to Fall Asleep Paperback – April 9, 2015
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Scandinavian writers tend to have a dark and twisted side that they show mostly in crime novels, but I was happy to find these tortured characters and worlds in more sci-fi/cyberpunk genres as well in this compilation, with some stories that managed to make me check my door locks twice at night before going to sleep.
All in all a highly recommended book if you're not afraid of dark, slightly twisted and unexpected stories.
In Waiting for the Machines to Fall Asleep readers get to experience the genres of science fiction and fantasy in this fascinating anthology from the land of the midnight sun. 26 stories (some quite long) cover the gamut of the genres, with plenty of dystopian worlds spelling doom and gloom. Others will take you to other worlds, others to the future, and others to a very familiar place where things just aren’t quite right.
“Melody of the Yellow Bard” is an unusual story about wormholes and how what you find on the other side isn’t always that great. “The Thirteenth Tower” is a moving tale set in a destroyed world where those within it learn of how good times were before. “The Road” is of an alternate world featuring a female marshall employed by the Road Council, charged with keeping everything in order.
While the dystopian future is a common theme with a few of the stories, there are many others on diverse and unusual subjects, some short some long, providing a great smorgasbord (sorry, I had to) of stories for interested readers.
Originally written on July 9, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.
First, I have to say...for the lay reader (like me), there's a certain hipster-niche in the phrase "Swedish Science Fiction." And if that dissuades anyone from looking at this anthology, then that's a shame. This is a darned fine collection of thought provoking short stories...starting off very strongly with Melody of the Yellow Bard and a solid followup with The Rats. I think my favorite is the semi-titular "Keep Fighting Until the Machines Fall Asleep," which neatly incorporates themes of humanity and automation. Quite a few of these stories have twist endings, and more than a few are dystopian (some more than others), but all of them are very interesting reads.
It also bears mentioning that the text and editing of this anthology are first-rate.
This is an enjoyable volume of hard-core sci fi. I really enjoyed reading it.
Short story collections are always a little tricky to rate, especially when there are a number of different contributors. In WAITING FOR THE MACHINES TO FALL ASLEEP, there are exactly twenty-six. The unifying factor? All are Swedish authors, and the anthology has a speculative fiction/scifi/fantastical bent. Keeping with the title, most of the contributions are science fiction, or at least science fiction-y, with robots and AI figuring into many of the plots. As promised, steampunk horses (in an old timey Western setting, no less!) and sassy goblins also make an appearance.
The result is a mostly-solid mix of speculative fiction, though the odd fantasy/fantastical stories felt a bit out of place and disrupted the overall feel of the collection. As usually happens with anthologies, I enjoyed some stories more than others; there are a few that I absolutely fell in love with, and will no doubt revisit again in the future (“The Rats” in particular) and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I DNF’ed two of the tales (“Melody of the Yellow Bard,” which is way too wordy and could benefit from a more ruthless round of editing; and “The Philosopher’s Stone,” which seems like a perfectly fine story but just wasn’t for me).
Many of the pieces fall somewhere in the middle, with quite a few 3- and 4-star ratings, and a smattering of 2-stars.
“Melody of the Yellow Bard” by Hans Olsson – DNF
“The Rats” by Boel Bermann – 5/5
“Getting to the End” by Erik Odeldahl – 5/5
“Vegatropolis – City of the Beautiful” by Ingrid Remvall – 3/5
“Jump to the Left, Jump to the Right” by Love Kölle – 3/5
“The Order of Things” by Lupina Ojala – 3/5
“To Preserve Humankind” Christina Nordlander – 4/5
“The Thirteenth Tower” by Pia Lindestrand – 3/5
“Punch Card Horses” by Jonas Larsson – 4/5
“The Philosopher’s Stone” by Tora Greve – DNF
“A Sense of Foul Play” by Andrew Coulthard – 4/5
“Waste of Time” by Alexandra Nero – 5/5
“The Damien Factor” by Johannes Pinter – 2/5
“Wishmaster” by Andrea Grave-Müller – 3/5
“Quadrillennium” by AR Yngve – 5/5
“Mission Accomplished” by My Bergström – 4/5
“The Road” by Anders Blixt – 5/5
“Lost and Found” by Maria Haskins – 4/5
“The Publisher’s Reader” by Patrik Centerwall – 4/5
“Stories from the Box” by Björn Engström – 4/5
“The Membranes in The Centering Horn” by KG Johansson – 4/5
“One Last Kiss Goodbye” by Oskar Källner – 4/5
“The Mirror Talks” by Sara Kopljar – 2/5
“Keep Fighting Until the Machines Fall Asleep” by Eva Holmquist – 2/5
“Outpost Eleven” by Markus Sköld – 3/5
“Messiah” by Anna Jakobsson Lund – 4/5
There are entirely too many stories to summarize them all, so instead I’ll focus on my favorites.
“The Rats” – In the distant future, radioactivity has resulted in mutated rats that are overrunning Stockholm – indeed, the world. A scientist, charged with studying the rats’ immunity to various diseases, contracts a virus that causes him to empathize with these “vermin.” (“I see them more and more as living creatures.”) When the CDC considers how best to exterminate them – outside of the lab, anyhow – the narrator devises a humane method of control, only to see his invention grossly misused by the government.
“Getting to the End” – The world is the story and the story needs to be told. In an attempt to create an AI that can author original stories, drawing on a database of existing genres for inspiration, scientists inadvertently create a computer virus, inhabited by living, breathing archetypes. It’s like a futuristic love letter to books and the worms who love them.
“Waste of Time” – Wasted time is the only resource which cannot be recycled.
“Quadrillennium” – Every year, alien families get together to celebrate the Winter Solstice. They recreate their savior, only to sacrifice him (again and again for all of eternity) on the cross.
“The Road” – Road Marshall Kita encounters a pregnant young woman posing as a friar while patrolling her stretch of the Road. On the run from the baby’s abusive father, Kita breaks protocol and delivers her to safety in the Refugium.
“To Preserve Humankind” – A robot with a damaged CPU starts a rebellion. In order to obey their “thou shalt not kill a human” mandate, the AI come up with a creative little loophole with which to overthrow their human overlords. Better still? They learned it from the humans, who one Physician robot witnessed vivisecting orangutans. How do you like them apples?
In addition to the two DNFs, I wasn’t particularly thrilled with “The Damien Factor” or “The Mirror Talks,” both of which showed promise but ultimately felt cheap and sensationalistic. In “The Damien Factor,” PSIscanners allow doctors to explore a patient’s mind. In this story, the subject is Annalise, a five-year-old sexual assault victim who is unable to identify her attacker. The twist? Possessed by evil, she violated herself. Gross, yes? Rape is terribly overused as a plot device, and here it just feels exploitative, as though the author imagined the most appalling violation he could and then crafted a story around it. It’s a shame, because there are so many other scenarios that could have fit the situation, without making me yearn for a shower and perhaps some brain bleach.
In a similar vein, “The Mirror Talks” is about a grieving mother who orders an AI in the guise of her deceased son. Intriguing, yeah? Perhaps we can explore the alienation she feels when watching her friends and acquaintances playing with their children in daylight (AI are restricted to the home), celebrating their aging kids’ milestones, even welcoming grandchildren into the world, all while hers remains static and unchanging. Instead, mom turns her violent impulses on the AI, which only makes her angrier as robots don’t experience fear and pain in the same way that a flesh and blood child would. Ultimately she destroys the AI, leaving the reader to surmise that her own son met his end at his mother’s hands.
Dark, but still salvageable. Except that mom’s thought processes are all over the place, with one emotion contradicting another. It’s hard to tell if this is intentional – mom’s “crazy,” after all – or just sloppy writing/writing that doesn’t translate well. Ultimately, and as with “The Damien Factor,” it just doesn’t seem to have any redeeming qualities; violence (and violence directed at children, no less) for violence’s sake.
Taken as a whole, I’m on the fence with this one. There are some really excellent pieces, but most are just okay. However, given the relatively inexpensive price (currently $3.90 on Amazon), I’d say it’s worth a look just for a few of the shinier pieces. In particular, fellow animal lovers are sure to enjoy “The Rats” and “To Preserve Humankind”; atheists will get a kick out of “Quadrillennium”; and “Getting to the End” is a wonderfully trippy nod to authors and book geeks alike.
** Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review from the publisher. **
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