19 March 2010

Far Futures (5 Novellas) - Edited by Gregory Benford

  • Author: Gregory Benford (Editor)
  • Title: Far Futures 
  • Publisher: Tor 1995
  • ISBN: 9780312856397
Five Novellas of Original Hard Science Fiction of the Far Distant Future:
  • Looking Long - essay by Gregory Benford on the fiction of the Far Future
  • Judgement Engine - Greg Bear
  • Genesis - Poul Anderson
  • Historical Crisis - Donald Kingsbury
  • For White Hill - Joe Haldeman
  • At the Eschaton - Charles Sheffield
This collection edited by Gregory Benford consists of five novellas about the far distant future of human kind, from the hard science fiction perspective.  Benfords introduction states that the criteria set for the writers was that the story should be set at least 1000 years into the future, and that the story takes a Hard Science stance, meaning that the story must be scientifically plausible based on current knowledge of biology, cosmology and astronomy.  There were to be no "bored parties at the end of time" or "lurid super-science that ring hollow" narratives. 
Where it falls apart for me is that HardSF set that far into the future rarely meets it's own criteria.  What I mean is, the science in these kinds of '1 Million Years of Human Expansion' stories always seem so far out and unbelievable to me.  HardSF to me means that the science of the story can be seen as a possible development of things we already know, or atleast can guess at with some certainty.

These stories read more like  works of fantasy than science fiction, because instead of writing about people like you and me, they write about these superminds that think in terms of massive universal views and themes.  I think the reality is more likely to be that individual people are still going to be small, narrow viewed, self interested creatures like we are now.  If our species is still recognisable after the passage of that much time, will it really be a giant hive mind of superbeings who can arrange planets and stars to their personal taste?  Who live in planetary communes and gather knowledge for it's own sake?  More likely the galaxy is rearranged into a billboard for McDonalds....

I just couldn't enjoy this book, because I have no way to relate to the characters.  The passage of this much time makes them no longer human, and human is the only thing I know how to be, or think like, or empathise with.  And the science is so massively extrapolated that it made no sense to me either.  I am sure that readers with PhD in chemistry or physics will get it, but I don't.  It is all just a bit too out there, and that it kills that thrill of feeling like you are almost living in the story. 

Space opera of course would be the obvious counter to my argument here.  However, space opera tells human stories using imaginary science as a narrative tool.  HardSF tells science stories using character as a tool, and without character, all you have is wierd.  It's disappointing in this books case, because I really like Joe Haldeman and Poul Anderson, but I didn't enjoy a single one of these stories.