The future is here. And it's horrifying!
Over the last few months, I’ve received some great recommendations on cyberpunk books, but I haven’t been able to get into any of them. Not even Philip K. Dick and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch could penetrate my reading slump. Part of the problem was just my busy schedule recently. My time for both reading and writing has been limited to short, sporadic pockets of time, and that’s not a good way to enjoy a novel--or write one (BTW, for those of you waiting on the sequel to Watchers, here's what I got so far). Anyway, I gave up on cyberpunk…until I got an ARC of Crash Code, that is.
The anthology was just what I needed to propel me into the science fiction sub-genre. Don’t let contributing authors like Kristopher Triana and John McNee scare you into thinking this is an extreme horror anthology. Yes, Crash Code is infused with a healthy dose of horror elements, but at its core it’s cyberpunk, stories exploring the depths of the depravity we’re willing to let technology drag us into.
Anthologies can be very hit or miss for me. I start a ton and usually give up after three dud stories in a row--sometimes four if I know the author or press and am trying to like it. With limited word counts, it take a strong writer to make an effective short story. The authors of Crash Code were able to build engaging worlds of new technology in just a few pages, as well as dynamic characters I cared about. There were only one or two that left unsatisfied. And each story gave my something to contemplate long after it was done. Of course, there’s futuristic sex dolls and self-driving cars, which are par for any sci-fi book, but there are also disturbing new themes like deep fake technology, advances in medicine that come at a price, loss of privacy online, the dangers of legalizing certain drugs. Unlike most horror stories which I figure can't possibly happen to me, science fiction is unfolding around me every day, when I'm tempted to go more digital, turn over more of myself to the grid, and I have to be prepared to handle the repercussions of these choices.
I realized that perhaps this anthology isn’t set as far int the future as one might think. We live in a world of increased connectivity and yet still face a problem with isolation and fear of true human interaction. We’re only a step away from the dystopian societies portrayed in the book, and I’m scared we could wake up tomorrow and find ourselves living in the fall of humanity. The worst of all is the type of media technology they have. Do you understand how crazy things can get? If you think Fake News is bad now, just wait. A situation like Orson Wells' War of the Worlds could be faked again, but this time, with special effects available, how would you know it's wasn't real unless you had contact with the part of the world where said events happened. The dark Illuminati powers could work together and convince everyone that something has happened even when it hasn’t. Like that Robert De Niro movie, Wag the Dog. There is so much fake news and propaganda how can anyone really know…?
In an anthology like this, it’s hard to pick favorites. But a few that stood out for their uniqueness to me were: "A silent Auction"; Aaron Thomas Milstead had a short but powerful concept on the futuristic practice of ‘owning words’. "Little Neon" by Morgan Cheflant is a beautiful piece of flash fiction. And "Mr. Companion" is a cool love-doll concept.
K. Trap Jones, Daniel I. Russell, Luciano Murano, and Dean H. Wild all brought in notable dark pieces and are all authors I have enjoyed other books from too. Rather than try to break down individual stories, I will just say that overall, I give Crash Code 4.5 stars out of 5! With 27 stories, there will always be one or two you don’t connect with—luckily, that’s about all there was for me—but the bulk will be a blast for science fiction and horror fans alike.