What do you do when you have a major heart attack and you’re also creator/sustainer of Clarkesworld? You decide to edit an anthology. Natch. (Read an interview with Neil Clarke here.) And you decide to make the theme of that anthology cyborgs, because you are now one yourself. Thus, Upgraded.
Now, before you go all ‘hmm, themed anthology’ side-eye on me, just steady on. In some stories, being a cyborg is the point; in others it is incidental. Sometimes being a cyborg is a good thing, a positive addition, welcomed. Others, it is something to be dreaded, confronted, Dealt With. Sometimes being a cyborg makes you better, and sometimes it seems to make you less. Cyborg-ness ranges from fully integrated and augmented body modifications to one seemingly small addition. Augmentation might be for aesthetics, or employment; for someone else’s sake or your own. It ranges from being socially acceptable to being almost beyond the pale.
Some stories happen tomorrow, here; some of them are way over there, temporally and physically. Sometimes there are aliens. Sometimes there are robots. Sometimes they are in love stories, detective stories, war stories, family stories. Not all the cyborgs are attractive characters. Sometimes they become cyborgs before our very eyes, and sometimes they’ve been cyborg so long it’s just what they are. Sometimes they were actually made that way from the start.
These stories feature men, and women, and sometimes genders are unstated. There are white characters and black characters and a variety of ethnicities. One of the central issues is that of disability, dealing with it and changing it and how those around you react to it. There’s queer and straight and none-of-your-business. Authors are from a variety of backgrounds, too.
So sure, it’s a themed anthology. But this is no Drunk Zombie Raccoons in Upstate New York. This is a vibrant, fun, intriguing and varied set of stories that have a basic concept in common.
The stories. Well, let me say upfront that I was so destroyed by Rachel Swirsky’s “Tender” that I had to put the book down and go to sleep. No more reading for me that night. As for the rest, here’s a sampler: Yoon Ha Lee’s “Always the Harvest” is creepy and disconcerting and sets a really great tone for the anthology – it’s the opening story – by being completely unlike any of the others. Ken Liu’s story is also deeply disconcerting because (very mild spoiler here) it is absolutely not the story you think it is. Alex Dally McFarlane does wonderful things with maps, while Peter Watts taps into the zeitgeist to suggest uncomfortable things about the military. And I have a feeling I know something Greg Egan might have read before writing “Seventh Sight” but I’m not going to mention it here because that would be way too much of a spoiler.
This is a really great anthology, with stories that absolutely stand as marvellous science fiction quite apart from their brethren. You can get it from Fishpond!