Review of The World to Come

Edited by Patrick West and Om Prakash Dwivedi

New South Wales, Australia, Spineless Wonders, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-925052-04-6, pp. 241, Price: Not Given

 

The World to Come, edited by Patrick West and Om Prakash Dwivedi, is a collection of 21 short stories written by authors from across the globe. It features a diverse set of themes that range from love to the apocalypse. The stories are incredibly creative and thought-provoking, and offer a glimpse into people’s differing perspectives on what the future holds for the human race.

“A Part Hide, A Part Human” by Craig Cormick consists solely of a dialogue between the narrator, an author, and her editor in some restaurant in South Africa. Saying the very title of the story aloud immediately sets the scene: apartheid. It speaks about discrimination by humans against “trannies”; think less the American Olympian who is dominating the front page of every tabloid on Earth and more Peter Parker. These “trannies” are transgenic, meaning that they are humans who enhance themselves with animal genes. While the discrimination here is against transgenic people, the implied subject of the story is clearly South Africa’s history of racial divide. There are also hints towards the modern objectification of women through the editor’s repeated lapses of concentration, which are caused by his evidently derogatory stance towards the “trannies”. It is a strong opener for the collection and sets the tone of futuristic dystopias for the rest of the stories.

Structured as a list of things that the narrator ‘forgot to say’ when an epidemic that apparently resulted in people’s eyes turning pitch-black, and consequently the loss of love and emotion, broke out, “Fix” by Leone Ross revels in its ambiguity and its sense of intrigue. The list consists of stories about her mother, her grandmother, her friends and just random memories. Set in the future (2035), the story has a very post-apocalyptic feel to it, as the tone is especially grim and bleak. The narrator emotionally describes how her loved ones’ eyes turned to black. The odd indentation and structuring contribute to the nebulous and ambiguous feel of the story. A recurring type of entry in the list includes the narrator addressing an unnamed entity, which she just calls “you”. This unnamed entity is hinted at regularly, and has probably something to do with the worldwide web. The gist is that the Internet might just end up being what will ‘wipe out the part of the brain that’s hardwired for awe.’

Dirk Strasser’s “2084” is another story that speaks of how our own developments might just end up being the death of us. Set in a dystopian world sixty-nine years ahead of us, it depicts a scenario where the majority of humanity has a harmfully severe reliance on the likes of Wikipedia and Google; books have completely been phased out and the Internet reigns supreme. The story is narrated almost completely through flashbacks and ends with a nice twist. Despite sounding like the archetypal spy novel upon the first read, it has a truly relevant message: today, anything can be completely concealed, as the number one source of information for everyone, the Internet, is a medium that can be changed an infinite number of times. The story is a caricature of what could very possibly be taking place right now: people can get away with crimes without any consequences because of how information can so easily be tweaked to suit the editor’s preferences.

The first story of the collection that focuses less on the damage inflicted by man and more on what our planet will do to itself, “The Breaking of the Glass” by Tham Chui-Joe, is a list of diary entries set in the 23rd century. The plot revolves around two friends, the level-headed narrator and the more unpredictable Yuk-Hoi, who study at “World University” in Washington City. In this interpretation of what the future holds for us, humanity lives underneath a “shield” to protect itself from the scorching temperatures that exist outside of it. At one point in the story, the two characters begin speaking of one schoolmate of theirs who went beyond the limits imposed by the shield and subsequently ‘the heat burnt him alive’. Global warming is a pretty much inevitable danger that we seem to be speeding towards and “The Breaking of the Glass” highlights what we may be in for should we continue at this rate.

The title of this story by John G. Shulman is very much meant to be a misnomer here; “Progress” focuses on how humanity is going one step forwards and ten steps backwards. It focuses on the last group of humans on the planet and how they intend on re-building the human race from square one. There are five “survivors”, and the story revolves around their interactions, how they intend to breed and eventually on how they end up being their own bane. Their own preferences and jealousy end up tearing the group apart. The story explores multiple themes, but the most prevalent of them is how humanity will cause its own demise. It also spends a large amount of time focusing on the objectification of women.

Set in a dystopia where sleeping inexplicably leads to death, Ben Brooker’s “Awake” focuses on death and survival against immeasurable odds. The story focuses on the three remaining members of a family whose matriarch has already fallen victim to the “plague.” These members include the narrator, his brother and his father, all of whom look out for each other and ensure that nobody falls asleep. It is littered with flashbacks and one gets the impression that the narrator of the story is right on the verge of falling asleep throughout. While the tone is exceedingly depressing, it is a thought-provoking piece. The hazy nature of the story makes one feel like the narrator may actually be asleep already and the whole thing was all a dream.

While “Caretakers” by John Fulton may be the least speculative story from the collection, it is certainly one of the best. It explores how a young woman named Jane copes with the impending death of her father. It focuses mainly on her relationship with her father’s best friend, Mr. McGuire, and the bleak way at which she looks at life after her father’s demise. Jane’s future will inevitably be completely different because of her father’s death, and the story shows how this affects her coming-of-age in a deeply thought-provoking manner.

These are only some of the stories that leave a resonance; there are many others. It is an anthology that provides the reader with much pleasure and thought. Worth reading any day.

 

About the Writer

Yousef is a high school student currently studying in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. He has a burning passion for literature and plans on studying engineering in the United States.