Gregory Benford, one the great SF writers of our day, has assumed the mantle of editor to produce an ambitous hard SF anthology: Far Futures. Many of the fields's greatest works concern vast perspectives, expanding our visions of ourselves by foreseeing the immense panorama of time. This anthology collects five orignal novellas that take the very long view, all set at leasGregory Benford, one the great SF writers of our day, has assumed the mantle of editor to produce an ambitous hard SF anthology: Far Futures. Many of the fields's greatest works concern vast perspectives, expanding our visions of ourselves by foreseeing the immense panorama of time. This anthology collects five orignal novellas that take the very long view, all set at least ten thousand years in the future. The authors take a rigorously scientific view of such grand panoramas, confronting the largest issues of cosmology, astronomy, evolution, and biology.Genesis by Poul Anderson is set a billion years ahead, when humanity has become extinct. Earth is threatened by the slowly warming sun. Vast machine intelligences decide to recreate humans.In At the Eschaton by Charles Sheffield, a man tries to rescue his dying wife from oblivion by hurling himself forward, in both space and time, to the very end of the universe itself.Joe Haldeman's For White Hill confronts humanity with hostile aliens who remorselessly grind down every defense against them. A lone artist struggles to find a place in this distant, wondrous future, where humanity seems doomed.The last moments of a universe beseiged occupy Greg Bear's Judgment Engine. Can something human matter at the very end of creation, as contorted matter ceases to have meaning and time itself stutters to an eerie halt?Donald Kingsbury contributes Historical Crisis, a starting work on the prediction of the human future that challenges the foundations of psychohistory, as developed in Isaac Asimov's famous Foundation Trilogy.Far Futures is required reading for the core audience of hard SF devotees. It may be the best book they read all year. ...
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Far Futures Reviews
There's something profoundly alienating about being a woman in 2015 and reading science fiction 20 years old. Especially hard sci-fi.This is the thing about this subgenre, for me: the ideas may be weird and wondrous, the technology artfully extrapolated, the projections of human futures fascinating... but I will never be able to get past the fact that most hard SF writers never apply all that fabulous imagination to human relations and cultures. In hard SF, technology advances but society (except where it directly relates to technology) stagnates. All lead characters are heterosexual and masculine, even when the story explicitly tells us (as in 'Genesis') that really, no gender is involved at all. All female characters are children or sexual encounters, and their sexuality is often the focus of a disproportionate amount of narrative. ('For White Hill' had a gorgeous exploration of a devastated, sand-blasted Earth - and a lot of digressions to describe the love interest's vulva.) It's a little hard to focus on the ideas behind the narratives when the protagonist's humanity seems to be verified only through their libidos (and again, 'For White Hill' is relevant here, where an asexual/agender character - who is nonetheless consistently gendered with male pronouns; one really wonders what Joe Haldeman meant here - is dismissed as less of an artist because he doesn't have sex).But! you say. Aren't you just applying your 2015 Social Justice Warrior expectations to a book written far before those ideas existed?To which I reply: Are you honestly telling me that 20 years ago no one had figured out that female characters could do more in a story than be flesh-and-blood sex toys? You do know that Ursula LeGuin existed before 1995, right? And Octavia Butler? I don't really think that a book whose stated goal is to thoroughly explore the future of humanity has any excuse for ignoring half of the human race.Anyway. That blanket overview aside, some quick thoughts on the individual stories:'Judgement Engine' was by far the most alien setting and the most difficult to understand. The end of the story was wrapped around (of course) the story of a heterosexual marriage ending in divorce, in a way which both increased readability and obscured the real meaning of the concluding events. More of a story you push through than feel pulled along by.'Genesis' was much more readable, also confused by a shoehorned heterosexual romance subplot, and actually a fascinating exploration of AI and its potential motivations and decisions. It took me a bit to figure out how the story threads intertwined, but once I realized what was happening the desire to see how other characters would react motivated me to read faster. The romance had no value: there was plenty of emotional impact in other arcs which explored what Earth means to different people.'Historical Crisis' reminded me of nothing so much as the way Atium functions in the Mistborn series (having it enables you to predict someone else's movements, but a fight between two people with it is impossible to predict). While the idea of psychohistory as a plausible future for humanity has never really made sense to me, it's an intriguing thought experiment and hits on some interesting topics regarding free will and individuality. This story also came the closest to having a non-sexualized female character... though since she was a 13 year-old who was introduced just after having slept with a much older man, it still doesn't get points. That's gross, folks. That's gross.'For White Hill' was well-paced, slow and mournful and meditative, right up until the ending, which came entirely too quickly. Sex here substitutes for any other kind of bond between the narrator and the title character - artistic respect, friendship, etc. It highlights my problem with the romance subplots in many of these stories: there is a flat equivalency drawn between emotional ties, romance, and sex, when in fact these are three completely separate areas of human experience and do not even come close to encompassing everything there is to being human. It would have been a lovely break in monotony had one of these five writers used a different human bond as their story's emotional center (parent-child? friendship? sibling? 'Judgement Engine' could have run very well on estranged siblings, for instance).'At The Eschaton' felt like an overview rather than a narrative, a quick tour through several ideas the author engages with quickly and then disengages from just as quickly. The final conflict arose with no real foreshadowing and wasn't really developed - it felt more like an excuse to make the writer's modern character relevant to the future than anything well-developed.At least now I've read it, and I can take it to the used bookstore with a clear and incurious conscience.
A little disappointing. "At The Eschaton" is the highlight. Skip the rest.
I read this years ago, so I will not say that it is a great book. But I can say I enjoyed as much as any acclaimed 'great' book I've ever read.My favorite story is Poul Anderson's Genesis, vast collective intelligences come to remember Earth and find that the uploaded collective based on Earth has recreated biological humans to live on Earth.For me, a particularly pleasing conceit of the story is the simultaneous investigation by 3 levels of the same intelligence - a collective intelligence created and dispatched to speak with Earth's more powerful collective, a single personality from that collective sent to explore the databases and monitoring devices of Earth, and a robot drone investigating Earth covertly for the visiting collective.Wow! Too many instances of saying collective!At the Eschaton is quite memorable as well, in which a man sets his sights on making it to the eschaton, a point in a contracting universe's end where all information is recoverable, including the personality of his wife."White Hill" is really the only one which is non-memorable for me. If you don't mind that these stories cannot possibly fall into the category of 'hard sci fi,' pick this up.
This collection contains one of the best science fiction novellas I have ever read, "Historical Crisis" by Donald Kingsbury. It is the compelling story set in a universe very similar to Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" series. As a loving tribute to Asimov's best known science fiction work, the author has created a story that reads like a Asimov "Foundation" novel while while still being up to date with the developments in science and technology since the "Foundation" novels were published. Kingsbury manages to comment upon and even challenge the assumptions of the "Foundation" universe while still remaining respectful of it. The reader could even Kingsbury's tales as part of the "Foundation" canon, a possibility no doubt assisted by the author setting his novel millennia after that of any of Asimov's books in the "Foundation" timeline. As such, Kingbury takes some surprising turns with the technology and sociology of the "Foundation" universe. Be sure to also check out the novel-length treatment of this same story in "Psychological Crisis."
'Far Futures' is a collection of short stories. Two in particular stick out: 'Judgement Engine' by Greg Bear and 'At the Eschaton' by Charles Sheffield. These two short stories are by far the best writting and story telling I've ever read. Read this book while listening to Underworld's 'Please Help Me' from their 'Singles Box Set' and you will never be the same.
The haldeman novella is IMO is one of the best he has written to date. That alone makes this collection.
Some of the finest hard science fiction I have read.