Future Net, Ed. Martin H. Greenberg & Larry Segrif

DAW, 1996, 315 pages, C$6.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-88677-723-2

Familiarity breeds contempt.

So here I am, uber-internet Nerd, browsing in the library, checking out the new paperback section, and WOOF! There it is, with the ugly neon pink-and-green cover: Future Net, an anthology of SF short stories about, what else, the Net. Three nanoseconds of hesitation, then it’s a direct path to the checkout counter. What’s more hip than Net stories?

But there is a thing as being too hip. There’s nothing as annoying as a new cliché, and Future Net revels in them.

For instance, the concept of a disabled person assuming a completely new identity on the Internet, or somehow being liberated by the immaterial medium of high-tech communications, is not new. It might even have been exciting the first few times I’ve read it. But no less than four of the sixteen stories of Future Net deal with this kind of protagonist. Granted, one of them (Billie Sue Mosiman’s “Shining on”) is potent, but the remainder… tear-jerk time! (And your reaction may vary slightly, especially when the grandmother bites the electrical cable… but that’s a spoiler.)

Most of the attraction of Net stories, I suspect, resides in the dichotomy between body and mind, or true self versus idealized self. So, we get tons of stories about people passing for (better) other personalities, in addition to the fore-mentioned handicapped stories.

The other big theme, of course, is the difference between reality and illusion. Phil K. Dick didn’t need the Net to do this, and frankly the Net hasn’t helped the authors very much here.

Most of the book is strictly routine, like the Four Crippled Protagonists, and the stories with such innovative titles as “Ghost in the Machine” and “Fatal Error 1000”. A few authors shine through, like Gregory Benford with “Zoomers” (Easily the best story, mostly because it deals with its own internal logic.) and John Delancie with “O! The Tangled Web” (Starts off badly, but regains strength at the end. Should have been shorter.) Honourable mention to “Ghost in the Machine” (John Helfers), “Lover Boy” (Daniel Ransom) and “Someone who understands me” (Matthew Costello), even if that last one has a conclusion that’s very obvious, even from page two.

Hard SF fans will want to pass this book: The really horrible stuff assumes that the Net is a new name for Magic, and we get Coyote Viruses, after-life browsers, dead spouses infiltrating computer systems and other really, really silly stuff. This is fantasy at its worst, and I am quite unable to find words describing what should be done to the authors who commit this kind of trash.

And I am unable to avoid mentioning the story in which two super-computer whiz (both ridiculously young, of course) stumble into a dastardly plot with worldwide repercussions and successfully foil it!! Egawd!! For your kill-files, the name of the story is “Souvenirs and Photographs” and the author’s Jody Lynn Nye.

Most of the worst stories use present-day technology is completely unrealistic ways. I’ve used the Internet daily since 1993 and being familiar with today’s capacities diminished considerably my interest in Fluffy-goody-magic Net misconceptions. Especially damnable was “Freedom” (Mickey Zucker Reichert), with… urg… I feel gagging reflexes already.

To make a long and boring reading short; avoid. You’d be better off buying the next Benford anthology to read “Zoomers,” and samewise for the DeLancie and Costello stories. DAW didn’t impress me very much with Future Net.

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