“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”
“Unless one lives and loves in the trenches, it is difficult to remember that the war against dehumanization is ceaseless.”
-- Audre Lorde
Meet Me in the Future, is a short-fiction collection from the award-winning SF writer Kameron Hurley, known for her expansive novels and world-building. As such, the short-story collection is something out-of-character for her, and as she notes in the introduction, has been her learning experience. Her stories focus on conflict, on war - whether actual or metaphorical; whether past, present, or future; whether external or internal. No matter the context, Hurley's stories present a brutal take on living as a form of survival, as a mechanism for moving from one day to the next. Her stories also focus on female, non-binary, or gender-fluid characters, and the reader can notice the influence of Ursula K. Le Guin in some of her memorable characters.
Speaking of whom, Hurley's characters are multi-layered, and yet straightforward in their treatment. They range the gamut from a body-hopping mercenary, to a morally ambiguous private investigator, to a hostage negotiator, a green-eared boy, and more! One of the delights of arriving at a new story in this collection is the unpredictability of where the next pages will take us! And every story hits the reader on a visceral level. Hurley takes the seed of the emotional experience at the core of the tale, churns it through her narrative machinery, magnifies it through the lens of her own personal experiences, polishing it to a most superlative level as a writer, and then proceeds to propel it right in the face of an unsuspecting reader! A Hurley reader must be unflinching, and yet compassionate - for through her work, she highlights the varied threads of warfare, its direct and indirect consequences - on the participants, on the terrain, the culture, the very planets themselves. Her work delves deeper into the experience of trauma, rootlessness, rediscovery, and sometimes, even triumph - personal victories that may not even register on a more global scale, but which define, or redefine, the protagonist's entire world.
In the stories Elephants and Corpses, and The Fisherman and The Pig, we meet Nev, a body-hopping mercenary who can switch his soul into any recently-dead body that he has come in contact with. Both stories present a slightly askew view of companionship, while also touching the separation between the body and the soul. When We Fall, explores the relationship between a ship mechanic and an organic ship. Garda is a detective-noir, which reminded me of one of my favorite TV shows (Jack Taylor), The Sinners and The Sea is a revelatory tale about dogma, propaganda, and the persistence of 'untruths.' The Red Secretary, starts as a thrilling hostage drama, but evolves into a nuanced exploration of perspectives. The Woman of our Occupation, explores the aftermath of a bloody conflict, and borrows heavily from the real-life experiences of Hurley's grandmother during the second World War. It also has very troubling parallels to the present. To list each story would be to diminish the reader's experience and surprise, so let me just note that there are many more stories in this three hundred and twenty nine page volume!
I must confess that I was not aware of Hurley, or her work, prior to reading this collection of stories, and the fault rests sorely on me. Thankfully, the situation was rectified when I received the KCLS Surprise Book Bag, and Hurley now joins the list of authors whose work I will diligently follow in the future.