Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories

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Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories
Edited by John Joseph Adams

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“Red Card” by S.L. Gilbow
“Ten With a Flag” by Joseph Paul Haines
“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K, Le Guin
“Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment” by M. Rickert
“The Funeral” by Kate Wilhelm
“O Happy Day!” by Geoff Ryan
“Pervert” by Charles Coleman Finlay
“From Homogenous to Honey” by Neil Gaiman & Bryan Talbot
“Billennium” by J.G. Ballard
“Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn
“Pop Squad” by Paolo Bacigalupi
“Auspicious Eggs” by James Morrow
“Peter Skilling” by Alex Irvine
“The Pedestrian” by Ray Bradbury
“The Things That Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away” by Cory Doctorow
“The Pearl Diver” by Caitlin R. Kiernan
“Dead Space for the Unexpected” by Geoff Ryman
“”Repent Harlequin!” Said the Ticktock Man” by Harlan Ellison
“Is This Your Day to Join the Revolution?” by Genevieve Valentine
“Independence Day” by Sarah Langan
“The Lunatics” by Kim Stanley Robinson
“Sacrament” by Matt Williams
“The Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick
Just Do It” by Heather Lindsley
“Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
“Caught in the Organ Draft” by Robert Silverberg
“Geriatric Ward” by Orson Scott Card
“Arties Aren’t Stupid” by Jeremiah Tolbert
“Jordan’s Waterhammer” by Joe Mastroianni
“Of a Sweet Slow Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs” by Adam-Troy Castro
“Resistance” by Tobias S. Bucknell
“Civilization” by Vylar Kaftan

Reviewed by Rena Hawkins

When Brave New Worlds, a new reprint anthology of dystopian fiction from editor John Joseph Adams, landed in my mailbox, I expected to be impressed. After all, I had previously read other collections from Adams, including Wastelands, The Living Dead, and The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and I agree with the popular consensus that Adams is the current king of the anthology. Not only was I impressed by Brave New Worlds, I feel it’s Adams’ best anthology to date.

Most people are familiar with the idea of dystopian societies from novels, the best known being Brave New World (from which the anthology gets its name), The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Children of Men, or Lord of the Flies. Readers tend to forget that dystopias have been a subject of speculative short fiction since the very beginning, as Adams reminds us by opening his anthology with “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, first published in 1948. The story is still as disturbing to me today as it was the first time I read it as a pre-teen. I think “The Lottery” best illustrates an idea Adams offers us in his introduction: “That’s part of what is so compelling about dystopian fiction: the idea that you could be living in a dystopia and not even know it.” Do the citizens of Shirley Jackson’s imagined small town think they live in a dystopia? I doubt it. They would likely defend their horrifying tradition as necessary and right. Another story I first read as a teenager is “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., set in a world where citizens are literally weighed down by their government. This story will forever change your outlook on the idea “all men are created equal.” Adams fearlessly mixes the classics, such as “‘Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktock Man” by Harlan Ellison and “The Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick with recent works like “Arties Aren’t Stupid” by Jeremiah Tolbert and “The Pearl Diver” by Caitlin R. Kiernan. The stories support each other. The classics demonstrate the foundations of dystopian short fiction from which the others developed, while the new fiction offers fresh insight and ideas about what makes a dystopian society.

Several stories in the collection deal with reproductive freedom or the idea of population growth being strictly controlled such as “Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn, “Billenium” by J.G. Ballard, “The Funeral” by Kate Wilhelm, and “Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment” by M. Rickert. “Pop Squad” by Paolo Bacigalupi, a story where children are murdered as a method of population control, is often reviewed as being too dark and too disturbing. These reviews generally begin with, “As a parent….” These critics are missing the point. The reason “Pop Squad” disturbs us so much is because through the thoughts of his main character, Bacigalupi taps into the dark truth of parenting, the truth you’re never supposed to admit to yourself or to anyone else; children are often loud, dirty, annoying, and inconvenient.

Some stories explore the idea that to live in a utopia, one must pay an awful price. “Of a Sweet, Slow Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs” by Adam-Troy Castro was a new story for me and the horror of that tenth, awful day stayed on my mind long after my reading ended. “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin asks if people can ignore a glaring atrocity in order to live in perfection.   

“Jordan’s Waterhammer” by was another new story for me. In it, men are used as mining tools, easily discarded and replaced if they break down. When you consider today’s endless news accounts of child labor and people working in deplorable conditions for pennies a day in many third world countries, this story is uncomfortably, unexpectedly realistic.  

The anthology closes with “Civilization” by Vylar Kaftan. While the story seems funny on the surface, underneath is the dark, unsettling idea that given any number of choices, humans will still manage to screw things up. And really, isn’t that the essence of dystopian fiction?

Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories
Edited by John Joseph Adams
Night Shade Books (2011, $15.99)