Books

Encountering 'Futures': A Science Fiction Series

Let each story from Radix Media's Futures: A Science Fiction Series Box Set make its world an enduring part of your own.

Futures: A Science Fiction Series Box Set
Various

Radix Media

November 2019

Other

I've been a Kindle user for years. My apartment remains bursting with bookshelves packed with the real deal, of course, and I still buy books regularly, whether tattered thrift shop pick-ups or pristine releases. Yet I find myself seduced by the convenience of e-books. I can get them with a click; they don't squeeze me out of my living space; they don't get lost, damaged, or crusted in dust; and I can tote dozens—hundreds, thousands!—whenever I travel. I can read in bed at night thanks to a built-in backlight that doesn't disturb my sleeping spouse the way that a reading lamp would, and the ease of holding a tablet without turning pages means I can slouch in bed in the only reading position that's truly comfortable.

For all these inducements to read electronically, however, there is something supremely unsatisfying about the experience. I don't remember the e-books I read very well. I can't recall lines, characters, or scenes. Nor can I recall my situation of reading—the place I was sitting, the music that was playing, my state of mind, the time of day. Authors, texts, and voices blur together—one unbroken flood of font-controlled E-ink blinkering through a glowing Etch-a-sketch. Books lose their smell and feel, the singular set of associations that meld my contingent encounter with the enduring object.

I also lose the trophy-case aspect: the ability to look around my shelves and instantly revisit the pleasure, challenge, and achievement represented by titles. I like being surrounded—accompanied—by the physical books that have occupied my hours. I sporadically use Goodreads.com because I thought it might replicate some of this latter enjoyment. But no. Instead, I'm irritated by the five-star rating system.

It's with these e-reading deficiencies in mind that I found myself completely enraptured by returning to papery wonder through the arresting pages of Futures: A Science Fiction Series. Produced by Radix Media, a Brooklyn-based, worked-owned and operated printer and independent publisher. Futures was originally a series of seven short stories available by individual title or subscription. The whole series is now collected in this beautiful box-set, arranged in order of original publication.

Each of the seven stories is by a different author, and each is housed in a separate 5x8 chapbook that boasts a striking pastel-colored letterpress-produced cover. Varying from around 20- to 40-pages, the seven individual book objects are bewitching: richly conceived and carefully executed by a number of folks inside and outside the Radix team, as lead designer Sarah Lopez explains. The front covers range in style and illustration, signaling the wide array of stories contained therein. But there's also a subtle unity to the collection that, captured in the spirit of the stories themselves, is emblazoned by the "Futures" header that nestles above each title.

In the press release, Radix explains that the entries in Futures are dedicated to exploring "critical contemporary issues in an imagined future." The fact that these speculative explorations are housed in a retro-aesthetic set of chapbooks produced by a conspicuously antiquated printing technique is utterly delightful. The forces of the future may indeed trend along with the technological advances that brought about the e-reading devices that tempt yet always disappoint me, but as each of the stories in Futures demonstrates, any such future is bound to include humans in some capacity. This means that we would do well to face forward while holding on to what is arguably one of the most human experiences of all—that of immersing oneself in an encounter with the printed word.

If I've so far focused on format instead of content, this is not a reflection of the quality of stories or authors involved. Radix has simply made it pleasantly impossible to separate the narratives from the experience of reading them. Consider the last story, "Milo 01001101 01101001 01101100 01101111", by Alexander Pyles. One can't contemplate the story's possibility of replacing failing human flesh with a robot body without also pausing to marvel at the precise lines of illustration throughout that are so clearly guided by human hands, fallible though they may occasionally be.

Similarly, I can't discern whether my favorite offering of the bunch, "Guava Summer", is my favorite because of author Vera Kurian's lucid prose, wry intelligence, and potent but understated energy, or whether it's my favorite because I was blessed to read it in one glorious sitting on my sun-swept porch while listening to the perfect accompanying music. (SAULT's 55.) Each of the other five stories is equally suffused in the details of my encounter, awash in lasting intimacies that tether me to author, narrative, and object.

Still, more should be said about the substance of the stories, if only to convince you to pursue your own encounter with the chapbook set. The collection ranges from campus literature to sci-fi to dystopic allegory to detective fiction to more personal meditations on identity, embodiment, and kinship. Though authors go their own way along these routes, a few patterns emerge. There's a buzzing concern with surveillance, for instance. Climate change catastrophe is treated explicitly in John Dermot Woods's "Always Blue" and Ashley Shelby's "Muri", but the dread of environmental collapse arguably hovers at the margins of several other stories, as well. Illness, both mental and physical, recurs.

Most curious of all patterns, perhaps, is that three stories deal extensively with robots, but in all three, the robot is an artificial person modeled on an absent but actual and pre-existing person, whether a deceased sister, murdered girlfriend, or terminally-ill character. There's something poignant about this coincidence that the only authors deal with artificial intelligence by reckoning the robot as a replacement not for humanity, per se, but for specifically realized personalities and relationships. The result in each case is a compelling examination of how technology intertwines with mundane matters of connection and love.

"What You Call", by Germ Lynn, for example, is emotionally resonant while beckoning us into a familial scenario that can only exist via the imaginative reaches of science fiction. Meanwhile, in a similar vein but eschewing robots, "Hard Mother, Spider Mother, Soft Mother" by Hal Y. Zhang is perhaps the most personal and also the least overtly speculative of the stories. This is a "future" not so unlike our own—one where the mysteries of motherhood conjure the most immediate horizon of estrangement.

If some stories dwell more in the ambiguities of personhood and belonging, others are more focused on a single larger issue or problem. Aeryn Rudel's "A Point of Honor" is a forcefully direct examination of internet culture and public cowardice that toes a marvelous line between satire and thriller. Woods's "Always Blue" is genius in exploring macro-issues of societal stability through the petty prism of interpersonal squabbles and creature comforts.

Shelby's "Muri", meanwhile, is perhaps the most complex story (and also the longest) even as climate change is manifestly the central concern. Much of the complexity here stems from the story's intricate re-working of Melville's masterpiece. Benito Cereno. What was for Melville a South America-set tale of revolution and slavery at the root of the new world of America becomes, in Shelby's able hands, an arctic tale about extinction and species in the melting ruin of the Anthropocene. There's much to ponder about Shelby's strategic alterations, large and small, that make "Muri" a haunting addition to the mix. Yet the story also speaks with a cutting honesty fitting for all the stories. As one wise character, Shelby's avatar for Melville's slave mutineer Babo, puts it: "What is considered madness by men is oftentimes nothing more than comprehension."

Deservedly, four of the stories from Futures have been nominated for the 2019 Pushcart Prize. But it would be a mistake to read only these four stories in isolation from the other three. Read and dwell with each chapbook. Let each story makes its world an enduring part of your own. Encounter the future with this artistic achievement of the present.

8
Music
Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Books
Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Books

The American Robot: A Cultural History [By the Book]

In The American Robot, Dustin A. Abnet explores how robots have not only conceptually connected but literally embodied some of the most critical questions in modern culture, as seen in this excerpt from chapter 5 "Building the Slaves of Tomorrow", courtesy of University of Chicago Press.

Dustin A. Abnet
Film
Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Film

'The Serpent's Egg' Marks One of Ingmar Bergman's Strangest Efforts

The Serpent's Egg bares many of the Bergman's trademark features – the suffocating auras of despair and an underdog's sense of triumph over tragedy – but falls short of a more intelligent rendering of human drama.

Recent
Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Music

Weeks Island's 'Droste' Is a New High Water Mark in Ambient Steel (EP stream) (premiere)

Lost Bayou Ramblers' Jonny Campos turns up as Weeks Island with Brian Eno/Cluster-inspired music straight from the bayou. Hear Droste in full ahead of its release on Friday.

Music

Ireland's Junk Drawer Share New Krautrock Meets Post-Punk Song, "Temporary Day" (premiere)

Junk Drawer's "Temporary Day" is a simple yet compelling video for a gripping song that shows why the band have earned such acclaim in their native Ireland.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Music

Miranda Lambert - "Bluebird" (Singles Going Steady)

Miranda Lambert sings her blues the way an artist paints with them on her latest single, "Bluebird".

Music

'Stone Crush' Proves (Again) That Memphis Is Ground Zero for Soul and R&B

Stone Crush shines a light on the forgotten -- or never known -- artists that passed through the doors of Memphis' most storied studios in an attempt at just one fleeting moment of fame.

Music

Circles Around the Sun Shoot for the Stars on New Album

Jamrockers Circles Around the Sun's self-titled third album finds the band transcending darkness after losing their founder in 2019 to chart a groovy new course.

Music

Jazz's Kandace Springs Pays Tribute to 'The Women Who Raised Me'

Singer and pianist Kandace Springs tackles a dozen songs associated with her jazz vocal heroes, and the combination of simplicity and sincerity is winning.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.