In 2040, the human race has broken out of Earth's confines,
with bases on the moon and missions to the outer planets.
Terrorist threats are contained by ever-larger military alliances,
using vehicles and weapons that can think for themselves.
Large corporations are increasingly working as the partners
of government, the largest of these companies being Perseus.
But is this a good thing...?
1948, George Orwell transposed the final two digits of the
year in which he was writing, and so titled his cautionary
tale about the direction in which human civilisation was heading
Nineteen Eighty-Four. In 2004, editor John Binns has
done much the same thing with his anthology, Short Trips:
problems and concerns of today are shown to have escalated
in these stories. The twin threats of terrorism and nuclear
disaster converge in The Nuclear Option by Richard
Salter; neighbours and co-workers become ever-more distanced
from each other in Tara Samms' Separation; the intrusiveness
of reality TV reaches new heights (or rather depths) in Observer
Effect by Lance Parkin; the Seventh Doctor and Mel meet
an eccentric cult in Xanna Eve Chown's Daisy Chain;
and numerous endangered species face extinction in The
Last Emperor by Jacqueline Rayner.
instances described above form the main thrusts of their respective
narratives, but in other cases pertinent issues are alluded
to in passing. The nanny state has become even more health-conscious
than it is today in Thinking Warrior by Huw Wilkins;
sea levels have continued to rise according to Marc Platt's
Outsourcing; the European state has become a reality
and congestion charging has forced most vehicles off the roads
in The Baron Wastes by Alexander Leithes.
addition to the obviously Nineteen Eighty-Four-ish
concept of 2040, Binns has also throw an element from
another Orwell novel, Animal Farm, into the final story
of the collection, his own The Ethereal. Like the pigs
that become indistinguishable from their former human masters,
the aliens behind the businesslike façade of the Perseus Corporation
are revealed to be porcine beings posing as humans.
aside from its moral fibre, is this collection worth reading?
Well, there's some good stuff here. Tara Samms, who previously
excelled at depicting character-led internalised terror in
tales such as Glass (in the BBC's first Short Trips
collection) and Frayed
(for Telos Publishing), to name but two, pulls it off again
with her poignant and unnerving Separation. The
Last Emperor is similarly moving. Both Observer Effect
and Artificial Intelligence, the latter by Andy Campbell,
are by turns darkly humorous and horrifying. The Baron
Wastes is a terrific yarn, embroiling the Fourth Doctor
in a James Bond type espionage adventure, with elements of
The Avengers and Die Hard added for good measure.
However, the other nine contributions either confused me or
left me unmoved. The confusion arises because, although they
are all set in the same year, the stories do not always appear
to follow a logical sequence, from either the Doctor's or
the Earth's point of view. For example, in Matthew Griffiths'
Sustainable Energy, we are told that the Sixth Doctor
is cut off from his TARDIS, but we are not shown how this
came about until four stories later, in Outsourcing,
which supposedly takes place beforehand. It would have made
more sense to transpose these two tales. Furthermore, we never
discover how the Doctor manages to get his ship functioning
normally again. The concluding entry, The Ethereal,
is guilty of telling, rather than showing, what becomes of
the Earth after 2040, via copious paragraphs of description.
Fans of the Seventh Doctor, and in particular his New Adventures,
should enjoy themselves, because he appears in no fewer than
five of the stories, often accompanied by companion Chris
Cwej. In many other respects, though, this is a rather lacklustre
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