Altered States - cyberpunk != [horror,dark scifi]

Altered States: a cyberpunk sci-fi anthology - CJ Cherryh, Jorge Salgado-Reyes, John Shirley, Roy C. Booth, Paul Levinson, William F. Wu, Malon Edwards, Cynthia Ward, Terry Faust

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 4
boobs: 2
bombs: 4
bondage: 1
blasphemy: 3
Stars: 3.5
Bechdel Test: PASS
Deggan's Rule: PASS (with a non-literal interpretation of the test that preserves the intention)
Gay Bechdel Test: PASS

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

To be honest, I'm not sure I'd call most of the included stories "cyberpunk" but I'm an old school first wave cyberpunker from way back in the days of Omni v1. Hipster reviewer says, "I was cyberpunk before Neuromancer was published". Nor are many of the stories post-cyber or transhumanist. If I were editing the blurb, I'd say most of these are dark-scifi or future-horror. Despite being disappointed that the contents do not match the tin, I persevered on through the 17 included stories. The older stories all feel dated, and most of the new stories feel derivative. Unlike most anthologies, I don't recall any stand-outs - I believe the best of the bunch is "pretty good".

I read a CJ Cherryh novel many years ago; I recall not enjoying the experience and I've since avoided her canon. The short story Mech did nothing to change my opinion of her writing. She's accomplished, skilled and confident - but her tone, verbiage and general "style" just don't do it for me I'm afraid. Let this be an example of my own shortcomings as a reader and not her skills as a writer. Also, the story was originally published over twenty years ago and doesn't survive the "dated" feeling well.

Last Human by Jorge Salgado-Reyes is definitely dark-scifi. "Will the last one left alive please turn off the lights?" would be another apt title. In fact, I think it's the title of a totally unrelated short that covers the exact same territory. That's my long-winded way of saying, "This wasn't particularly original".

Gregory J. Wolos's Annabelle's Children is the first to bring up a theme that's in a lot of these stories - the ubiquity of mass media and it's ability to manipulate people. This story emphasizes the effects on one person's legacy after her death through a mechanism I consider gimmicky; YMMV. I'd file this under future-horror as well.

Tom Borthwick's Living in the Singularity took too long to get to where it was going, and didn't surprise anyone once it got there. Not the strongest story in the anthology by any means. I'd call this future-horror; the only scifi element of the story is the gimmick the author uses to talk about loneliness.

Cotner's Bot by D.L. Young is one of the more traditionally cyberpunky stories in the anthology, and even starts to brush up against interesting notions of how much humanity does an entity need to be human - but rather than dig into the meat of the question, we keep to the periphery with a focus on the shenanigans of the people trying to pass off the forgeries.

Midnight Pearls Blue was "First published in Stardate magazine, Oct. 1985" according to the blurb. The film Bladerunner came out in 1982.

     "Do you believe [this story] is a replicant, Mr. Deckard?"

     Yes, Rachael, I do.

And I do mean exactly that it's a ripoff of Bladerunner and not DADoES.

Better Than Everything by Malon Edwards is another solidly cyberpunk story, and one of the top three stories in the collection. How can you grow up and move on when your first love is always available in a new iteration?

Cynthia Ward's Ex Machina reads like Sturgeon's More than Human for the Nintendo generation, written with a dose of "Kid Sister's Gangster Street Cred" trope thrown in for absolutely no reason at all. I think there's a kernel of a great story in here, but it needs some more workshopping before it develops it's unique voice.

Island by Terry Faust - As I look over the text for this review, I remember reading this but it made absolutely no impression on me whatsoever. And that's all I have to say about that.

John Shirley comes to the rescue and makes the anthology worth the couple of quid I paid for it with Meerga. Truly cyberpunk, truly thoughtful and truly one of the best stories in the book. Worth most of the price of admission right there.

To Sleep, Perchance is Mark Terence Chapman's contribution to the anthology. A super quick read, I think it's a great premise for the obvious conclusion but just needed a bit more honesty and vulnerability from the author to make the story really connect at a human level. Also, I think this is squarely in the "dark scifi" genre and isn't even remotely cyberpunk.

The Walk by Druscilla Morgan carries the posthumanist torch for the anthology, though again it would be better labeled Future Horror rather than cyberpunk. Mostly because it features a plot hole so big it could only be filled in with supernatural woowoo.

The Electrified Ants by Jetse de Vries is the third story that carries this anthology, and one of the stories that relies on the relationship between ubiquitous surveillance and nonstop consumerism. Imagine if Mark Zuckerberg ran GCHQ, and 10 Downing Street was a wholly owned subsidiary of Halliburton- that's the setting and origin of the conflict for this story. One of the longer stories in the collection, it reminded me of Wolf Time by Walter Jon Williams because of the bittersweet relationship stuff laid on top of some good ol' fashioned rebels vs. the Corporate Government.

Extrenum is a joint project from R. Thomas Riley and Roy C. Booth. I don't know who was responsible for which part of the finished product. It was originally in Apexology, and I've long been a huge fan of Apex Publications. This is not an example of the best work Apex has ever published. I'd call this just straight horror; the only thing remotely scifi about the whole thing is that it's set on Mars. Other than that, it reads like nearly every other multiple personality inspired short horror story.

Kerry G.S. Lipp's Attention Whore used a lot of words to make it's point. Too many words, actually. Speaking for myself, I'dve liked to have seen more conflict (story) and less exposition. It's a good start to what could be a great short, but like others in this collection it could use some more workshopping to develop the plot and tighten the characters. This story is overtly and self-admittedly based on the woowoo, and as such I'd call it Future Horror.

Frank Roger got shortchanged when they put his Unholy Grail in the same anthology as The Electrified Ants. For all intents and purposes, both of these stories cover EXACTLY the same intellectual territory and this makes it impossible for me not to compare them. I'd say Jetse's story is slightly better; but a significant part of my reasoning is the plot is more developed. Unholy Grail isn't as long, though, so it scores higher on the "brevity breeds eloquence" scale. I'd say this story gets an honorable mention, and helps make the anthology worth what I paid for it.

I think the people who put this anthology together read a lot of the same things I do (actually, they read a lot more than I do which is why they're putting this together and I'm buying it) and we share a lot of the same aesthetics. I am disappointed that the majority of the stories don't fit my strict definition of Cyberpunk, but since I like dark scifi and future horror I was still able to appreciate the stories. There aren't many "top shelf" writers in the collection, and this shows in the overall quality. Nevertheless, nobody gets to launch their writing career fully formed and at the top of their game - so we can forgive a bit of youthful exuberance and appreciate the efforts. I got this on Kindle Unlimited; I think the out of pocket price is about 3 quid, and I think that's a fair deal.