Book Review: Beta-Life, Stories from an A-life Future


Posted January 6, 2015 in Print

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Beta-Life: Stories from an A-life Future

Edited by Ra Page and Martyn Amos

[Comma Press]

Speculative fiction incites wonder at technologies that could, conceivably, come to be – or could they? Comma Press tackles this question with Beta-Life, a collection of stories set in an imagined year 2070 complete with significant advances in artificial life (A-life) and unconventional computing. Each author is paired with a consutlant scientist to ensure that the technology described is accurately based on current research, which is then painstakingly explained in the afterword to each story. While predictably halting at times, the device grants an element of awe to stories that could otherwise be dismissed as poppycock. In a genre plagued by self-doubt and internal schisms, Beta-Life is a reminder that science fiction can offer a privileged look into the future.

Despite their basis in current research, however, these are not stories about science. Many focus on personal relationships, or explore the ramifications of current sociopolitical issues – such as climate change and government monitoring of citizens – in dystopian futures characteristic of sci-fi. Beta-Life’s scientists are quick to exculpate technology from these dark prospects, as the book advocates a new human accountability in science. Rather than blocking the rapidfire advances in A-life, the book suggests, we should examine human inequality, domination and exploitation in all contexts. After all, these stories are at their most frightening not where they differ from the present, but where they stay the same.

Words: Mònica Tomàs

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