Science fiction is, at its core, about tomorrow—exploring through stories what the universe may look like one or 10 or a million years in the future.
Twelve Tomorrows uses short stories to fit nearly a dozen possible “tomorrows” into a single book. Edited by journalist Wade Roush, the collection features stories by Elizabeth Bear, SL Huang, Clifford V. Johnson, J. M. Ledgard, Liu Cixin, Ken Liu, Paul McAuley, Nnedi Okorafor, Malka Older, Sarah Pinsker, and Alastair Reynolds.
The book is the latest in a series of identically titled books launched in 2011 by MIT Technology Review. The series explores the future implications of emerging technologies through the lens of fiction.
It’s the first time Roush, who hosts the podcast Soonish and specializes in writing about science and technology, has edited fiction. “The mission of Twelve Tomorrows is to highlight stories that are totally plausible from an engineering point of view,” Roush says in our conversation on New Books in Science Fiction.
In “The Heart of the Matter,” Nnedi Okorafur explores how suspicion of new technology can have real life consequences. In this case, plotters against the reformist president of Nigeria try to muster support for a coup by manipulating fears about the president’s new artificial heart, claiming that the organ—which was grown in a Chinese laboratory from plant cells—is powered by witchcraft.
In “The Woman Who Destroyed Us,” SL Huang describes the plight of a mother who wants to exact revenge on a doctor who used deep brain stimulation to treat her son’s behavioral and mental health issues. The changes in her son are so dramatic that the mother feels she’s lost her child, and yet the son is happy with the result, feeling that the treatment has revealed his true self.
If there’s one message Roush hopes readers take from the collection, it’s that people are in the driver’s seat when it comes to building and using new technologies. He hopes the book reminds people “that we do have the power to adopt or shun technology, that we can decide how to bring it into our lives, to what extent we want to use it or not use it. We can even influence the way innovation happens. We can tell scientists and engineers, ‘You know what? This isn’t good enough’ or ‘We’re worried about this. We want you to build in more safeguards.’… We have that power.”