ARC Review: Entanglements: Tomorrow’s Lovers, Families and Friends (Anthology) by Sheila Williams

I received an early copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own

As always with anthologies, I will do my best to review each story briefly, and then give an overall impression of the work.

The cover isn’t as eye catching as I would prefer, though I suppose choosing a cover for an anthology without choosing one story to represent would be difficult. Still, I wish the cover provided a bit more visual interest

Science fiction authors offer original tales of relationships in a future world of evolving technology.

In a future world dominated by the technological, people will still be entangled in relationships—in romances, friendships, and families. This volume in the Twelve Tomorrows series considers the effects that scientific and technological discoveries will have on the emotional bonds that hold us together.

The strange new worlds in these stories feature AI family therapy, floating fungitecture, and a futuristic love potion. A co-op of mothers attempts to raise a child together, lovers try to resolve their differences by employing a therapeutic sexbot, and a robot helps a woman dealing with Parkinson’s disease. Contributions include Xia Jia’s novelette set in a Buddhist monastery, translated by the Hugo Award-winning writer Ken Liu; a story by Nancy Kress, winner of six Hugos and two Nebulas; and a profile of Kress by Lisa Yaszek, Professor of Science Fiction Studies at Georgia Tech. Stunning artwork by Tatiana Plakhova—”infographic abstracts” of mixed media software—accompany the texts.

Invisible People by Nancy Kress starts the anthology, and while I found the premise intriguing with some parallels to the modern anti-vax movement, I found the narrator unlikeable and the science of the story a little unrealistic. I had a hard time connecting to any of the characters, and was less interested than I otherwise might have been because of this.

Echo the Echo by Rich Larson is the next up, and I enjoyed the story. The future of dating profiles and technology seemed believable enough while still being entertaining, and the dialogue between the narrator and his grandmother have the familiar feel of oft-repeated conversations. The ending of Echo the Echo was a little bit neatly wrapped for my taste, but I appreciated the message it delivered nonetheless.

Sparklybits by Nick Wolven is next up, and I’m not thrilled with the representation of unconventional parenting, or of a child on the autism spectrum. I liked the story, and the idea of technological ghosts is a fascinating one, but the implications of all of Charlie’s mother’s having tension-filled interplay, and only Jo ‘truly’ caring for him and being his biological mother to be a little on-the-nose, and I didn’t trust any of the adults in the story to look out for Charlie’s best interests. The justification of Charlie’s abnormal behaviour and communication methods also rubbed me the wrong way, and I wish I had found at least one of the characters (Sparklybits aside) sympathetic. Instead the story was almost like Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest, where the characters were overblown parodies of the folly of society—in this case I must assume neurotypical parents trying to ‘better’ a child by taking away his coping mechanisms. I also wish the idea of a communal family wasn’t tarred with the brush of toxic competitiveness, as I believe large support groups for children (particularly neuro-divergent children) could be incredibly helpful.

A Little Wisdom by Mary Robinette Kowal is one of my favourites from the book, and I loved the seamless integration of Gail’s job, disability and relationships. The technology used in the book to treat Gail’s Parkinson’s was thoroughly believable, and I loved that while her life was altered by her illness, she was still fully in control of her life and competent in her career. The interplay between humanity and nature, art and the divine, fear and the small beauty around us, was explored beautifully in this story, and while the culminating threat in this story could have been foreshadowed a little more, I thoroughly enjoyed this story.

James Patrick Kelly’s Your Boyfriend Experience is next, and while the first page or two were a little confusing, I thought the story was engaging and took an interesting look at the ethics of robots. Dak, Jin and Tate were interesting characters, and I liked learning more of the dynamics of Jin and Dak’s relationship as the story went on. A small note, but I found the mention of straight men, gay men, and women at the beginning of the book to be a little jarring. Most likely it was a simple oversight, but I find it hard to believe that lesbians and other WLW wouldn’t also be a part of the market for female playbots. Aeri and Sofia added interesting touches to the story, and I like the inclusion of various opinions on the topic of playbots, as this variation added believability to the story. The ending of Your Boyfriend Experience was a little vague, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Mediation by Cadwell Turnbull was well-written, and I enjoyed the slow reveal of the inciting events of the novel, though I wish the feelings of Dr Lyon’s children had been explored a little more. The use of the mediation program to both lay bare the narrator’s actions and motivations was effective, and I enjoyed the neat way the conflict both evolved and resolved.

Sam J Miller’s The Nation of the Sick is up next, and I loved the elegant way Austin’s relationship with Colby was woven throughout the story surrounding Cybil’s disappearance. I wish the plot had been stronger, and the conclusion more definite, but I loved the poetic, dreamy feel of this story, and the optimistic use of technology to improve the world that was presented.

Don’t Mind Me by Susanne Palmer was another great addition to this anthology, and the idea of minders as real-world censors is eerily believable. Jake is a sympathetic character, and I appreciated the commentary on intersectionalism included in this story. While Jake is being wronged, his female, black or less fortunate compatriots with minders are suffering in different and layered ways due to their disadvantages. The ending of this story did seem slightly unrealistic to me, but I appreciated the optimistic view of growing up, and learning to hold your own. I was reminded at times of Melina Marchetta’s novel, On the Jellicoe Road, and really appreciated the found family feeling of the clean-up/study group.

The Monogamy Hormone by Annalee Newitz was an interesting read, and I was glad for the change of tone that a romantic drama provided at this point in the anthology. The science of this story was funny, well-integrated, and overall a nice touch in The Monogamy Hormone. I at first found Edwina annoying, but eventually came to appreciate her and sympathise with her struggle against her own perception of her choices. Augie and Chester were both refreshingly mature about her conflict, and I enjoyed the way this story resolved.

The anthology wraps up with Xia Jia’s The Monk of Lingyin Temple, translated by Ken Liu, an incredible story that I’m glad I read. The seamless integration of technology with philosophy and religion was a great change of pace, and I loved that there was never a false dichotomy of faith vs tech. I was reminded a little at times of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, though the tone of The Monk of Lingyin Temple was nothing similar, instead having a dreamy, peaceful feeling, set as it is throughout a set of monastic rites. The characters presented were sympathetic and well-rounded, and I believe fans of Raymond E Feist’s work would enjoy this story.

If there’s one criticism I have of this anthology, it’s that each story tends to wrap up very neatly and quite quickly. Everything has such a definite ending, and is written so efficiently, that in some cases it can seem too neat, and detract from the originality of the story. I appreciated the diversity present in this book, both in characters ad authors, and enjoyed the various social issues that the stories in this anthology commented on, paralleled, and attempted to provide solutions for. I found the futuristic integration of technology intriguing, at times touching, and often hair-raisingly likely.

In all, Entanglements is a quick, entertaining anthology that provides ample opportunities for reflection on the future we’re creating, and the opportunities both for growth and problems that this creates. Anyone who enjoys reading science fiction that doesn’t shy away from social commentary will find plenty to enjoy in this anthology, which releases on September 15th, 2020. I’ll also post a reminder here on that date.

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