3 minutes reading time (670 words)

On Near-Future Fictions

On Near-Future Fictions
The Virtual Futures Near-Future Fictions series was born after a salon event sometime in February 2017, as fingers wrapped around cool, perspiring glasses and conversational white noise echoed off the neon art in the Lights of Soho gallery in London.

Although Virtual Futures has embraced science-fiction since its inception — with Pat Cadigan, Alan Moore, Gwyneth Jones, Hari Kunzru and Geoff Ryman all having graced its stage in its near-twenty-five years of existence — Near-Future Fictions represents the first time that fiction has been the central focus. The series' inspiration came from a desire to provide a creative counterbalance to the theoretical and technical discussions of Virtual Futures' salon events, a new format that we launched with Semi-Artificial Imagination in 2012. 

Our first movement toward this creative fusion was inviting Stephen Oram, the current co-director of Near-Future Fictions, to be our Author in Residence for a year; presenting a theme-inspired story before audience questions at expert panels discussing near-future issues such as Neurostimulation or Prosthetic Envy. The synthesis was a success. Stephen's stories grew ever more stimulating. We thought we heard whisperings of something a little larger in audiences' applause.

A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the
automobile but the traffic jam.

Fredrick Pohl

On that neon evening we decided to let the brainchild crawl out of the womb of a hypothetical event and mature into its own form. At the heart of this new series was a fourfold aim; to reassert the significance of fiction as a valid means of navigating the changes instigated by emerging technologies; to find new sci-fi talent in and outside London, with a stress on diverse authors who were atypical of the scene; to introduce these writers to sci-fi veterans who could help them grow by offering advice and guidance; and to present the result in evenings of short stories speculating on the future in a venue that reflected the unconventionality of the authors.

Three events were planned and executed, each of which demanded authors to submit a 1000-word short story to be read live at the Lights of Soho. The first, Interrogating the Future on March 7 2017, paved the way for later events by opening an alternative discourse to the evangelisation of the future by the tech-elite; it was followed soon after by Fit for the Future, which considered how our fleshy frames may be played with or preyed on in the years to come; and, finally, The Laws Don't Apply Here explored the issues and intricacies that Asimov's famous three commandments raise.

As the audience drifted away from our final event and neon lights turned off one by one, we realised we had completed our goal: the quality of submissions was breathtaking, the incisiveness of the stories haunting. Near-Future Fictions had provided a novel space and new place in which new authors could proudly announced their predictions. However, we didn't want to let their visions of the future dissolve into the void of completed live performances with only a Youtube video as a tombstone: we wanted to document our brainchild's first steps, to preserve the stories in print, and to give back to the authors by providing a publication that could help them grow further. In short, we aimed to be a platform in more ways than one.

Our new book displays the best stories the three events have to offer. Beginning with the introduction Dr Helen Marshall presented at the series' first event Interrogating the Future, in which we are reminded that "we are living in an apocalyptic moment and we have a duty to be witnesses," it proceeds through stories that fall into four broad sections: The Human, The Transhuman, The Posthuman, and the Nonhuman.

While they move further and further away from our human bodies, these stories remain close to home, whispering potent prophesies about what our interaction with technology could do to us in the years to come. 

Near-Future Fictions is now available to buy at Amazon, in Paperback and for the Kindle.

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