Thursday, November 19, 2015

Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft, edited by Jennifer Henshaw and Allison Linn

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(Hard SF) These visionary stories explore prediction science, quantum computing, real-time translation, machine learning, and much more. (77,700 words; Time: 4h:19m)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 2 RSR-recommended stories + 4 others out of 8

"," edited by Jennifer Henshaw and Allison Linn, published on by .

Great Futures at a Great Price

I finished reading Microsoft's new SF anthology, Future Visions, and have reviewed the individual stories (ratings are below the line). Future Visions is free, so it's hard to complain about the price. Even so, the quality is roughly double what you'd get in a typical issue of an SF magazine.

The anthology does live up pretty well to Microsoft's claims for it:
These visionary stories explore prediction science, quantum computing, real-time translation, machine learning, and much more. The contributing authors were inspired by inside access to leading-edge work, including in-person visits to Microsoft's research labs, to craft new works that predict the near-future of technology and examine its complex relationship to our core humanity.
These are all hard-SF tales, and the science in them is pretty good. (Full disclosure: I worked at Microsoft for 15 years [ending 2009], part of that in Microsoft Research, so I know a good bit about machine learning, natural-language software, and Microsoft's approaches to these subjects.)

Out of eight random stories from the big six SF magazines, we generally recommend one, recommend against two, and find the rest to be adequate. In Future Visions, we recommend two, recommend against one, and found the rest entertaining. Readers who care more about the science than the stories will definitely think this book rocks.

There are two stories worth recommending in particular, for busy people without the time to read the whole volume: "The Machine Starts," by Greg Bear, which tells what happens when a big quantum computer starts to work following some unorthodox modifications, and "Another Word for World," by Ann Leckie, which deals with language-translation software and high-stakes diplomacy.

Also, GeekWire has an interesting article that gives some background on the anthology with quotes from Nancy Kress, David Brin and Greg Bear. The included 40 minute video is cute but not directly related to the anthology.

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