There is no doubt about it: every single anthology that editor John Joseph Adams touches turns to literary gold. I’ve read my fair share of mediocre anthologies – compilations that may have one or two memorable stories – I would go as far to say that most anthologies, for me at least, are forgettable. There are few anthologies that I get truly excited about – the annual Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies from Gardner Dozois, anything from Pyr Books (Fast Forward 1 and Fast Forward 2, Galileo's Children, etc.) and especially any anthology edited by John Joseph Adams.
Every John Joseph Adams edited anthology that I have read and reviewed over the past few years has turned out to be outstanding – unarguably some of the highest quality and most powerfully thematic compilations I’ve ever read. Here are just a few:
The anthology begins with Shirley Jackson’s classic “The Lottery” (1948), in which a small American town celebrates a dark yearly ritual to ensure a good harvest – “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” – by stoning to death one of its residents. Ray Bradbury’s “The Pedestrian” (1951) – which Bradbury said was the thematic beginning of his dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451 – envisions a future society where the sheep-like populace have given up that which makes them human for the sake of progress. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s “Harrison Bergeron” (1961) explores a world obsessed with social equality; in Philip K. Dick’s “The Minority Report” (1956), crimes are stopped by a precognitive system that apprehends criminals before they have a chance to consider committing a crime; and Harlan Ellison’s brilliant – and perhaps prophetic – Hugo and Nebula Award winning “’Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” (1965) is set in a world where people are literally slaves to the clock: “The System had been seven minutes’ worth of disrupted. It was a tiny matter, one hardly worthy of note, but in a society where the single driving force was order and unity and equality and promptness and clocklike precision and attention to the clock, reverence to the gods of the passage of time, it was a disaster of major importance…”
But that’s just a few of the stories included: there’s Ursula K. Le Guin’s thought provoking “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (1973), James Morrow’s disturbing Nebula Award nominated masterpiece “Auspicious Eggs” (2000) – about a future where the Church enforces “terminal baptisms” – the future in Robert Silverberg’s “Caught in the Organ Draft” (1972) is one where organ donation is mandatory; and Cory Doctorow’s fantastic “The Things That Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away” (2008) follows a monk/computer geek from the Order of Reflective Analytics as he leaves the safety of his cubicle and reenters the world after 16 years in seclusion.
But there are still so many more noteworthy stories – S. L. Gilbow’s “Red Card” (2007), “The Lunatics” (1988) from Kim Stanley Robinson, M. Rickert’s “Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment” (2008), Paolo Bacigalupi’s “Pop Squad” (2006), “Geriatric Ward” by Orson Scott Card (2008), Neil Gaiman and Bryan Talbot’s illustrated “From Homogenous to Honey” (1988)…
You get the picture. This is not only an extraordinarily entertaining anthology, it’s also an invaluable reference for anyone who follows dystopian fiction. There is even a “For Further Reading” list (compiled by Ross E. Lockhart, the managing editor at Night Shade Books) at the end of the anthology that is an extensive bibliography of noteworthy dystopian and utopian fiction.
Brave New Worlds may be the very first anthology ever to collect the “best of” dystopian short fiction in one book. Adams writes in the introduction:
"Nineteen Eighty-four, Fahrenheit 451, and, of course, the book this anthology is named for – Brave New World – are the cornerstones of dystopian literature in novel form, but there has never, to my knowledge, been an anthology collecting all the best, classic works of dystopian short fiction in one volume. This book aims to do exactly that, spanning from 1948 to the present day, from what is perhaps the classic dystopian short story –“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson – to stories just published in the last two years but which will surely stand the test of time…”
Dystopian fiction has been wildly popular in genre fiction for a while now, particularly in the young adult arena – Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay), Jeanne DuPrau’s Ember novels, Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker, etc. – so I’m betting this anthology does exceedingly well.
I love a good dystopian read – it’s the pinnacle of literary escapism for me. Immersing myself in "imagined worlds where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives” – the definition of dystopia in the Merriam-Webster dictionary – makes me feel much better about my existence, which is only sporadically dehumanizing and fearful.
Bottom line – this just isn’t a great anthology, it’s one that I will cherish forever and undoubtedly read again and again. If you're a fan of dystopian fiction, read this book.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.
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