Pulp Modern Tech Noir is the second barrel of bleak dark futurism that came out this fall (the first being from Switchblade which we covered last week). As it turned out, it was originally supposed to be a Switchblade only venture, but Scotch Rutherford had so many quality entries, he was able to talk Alec Cizak into taking some on. If Switchblade’s theme was the deal gone wrong and plans upended, this volume focused on the sex trade of the future because if one thing is true about humanity, it’s we haven’t lost our interest in the prurient, and the writers here don’t think we ever will.
Ran Scott provides a fantastic Blade Runner by way of a red-light district wrap around cover, as well as lead in illustrations for each story to set the tone.
C.W. Blackwell kicks things off with “A Deviant Skein” where a private investigator is brought in to look into a series of suicide bombings at a corporate headquarters. It’s a story that questions where humanity ends and machines begin, and at what exactly is the difference between something able to act human and being human? What will blurring that line cost?
In “The Moderator,” Nils Gilbertson extrapolates what is going to happen to content moderators in the future. Forced not only to watch but to experience firsthand the worst of human depravity and working hard to shield people from viewing it, what toll does that ultimately take on the soul and on the psyche? And what happens when some of the content providers start turning up dead? Can a single moderator get to the bottom of it, or will he find himself next on someone’s list?
Tom Barlow’s “Love in the Time of Silicone” follows a hitman brought in to find out who destroyed a robotic prostitute and kill them. But when the perpetrator turns out to be a cop with at least a bedroom worth of dark secrets, simply putting a bullet in the man doesn’t seem like it would be the smart play. The interesting part of this for me was the world building Barlow baked into the story without needing pages worth of exposition to get there, and a hitman whose greatest weapon is his mind.
“Leaving Red Foot Prints” by Deborah Davitt follows a former security officer down on her luck having had pieces of her soul sliced off by the galaxy a sliver at a time. Now, finding herself on a world where the wind can slice you into pieces, she’s confronted with an alien who is peddling experiences… and some of his customers are ending up dead. But when she is offered the choice, the ability to live someone else’s life instead of her own, is she able to bear the weight of her experiences?
I enjoyed the broken apart narrative of Angelique Fawns “A Time to Forget” with each small snippet from another character’s point of view layering together to build a complete narrative, even as each character is themselves unaware of the whole. A dirty little story of dark secrets and estranged family, of trying to make it through the day and how a little part of you might die with every decision you take… this story is the least tech dependent, but most like our own time now, in that it could be twenty minutes into the future.
What happens when missionaries need colonists for a new world? Well, that’s what J.D. Graves looks into in “Three, Two, One Zebra-Stripe Shake Off” where a prisoner is given an opportunity for a new life on a new world. There’s just the catch where he has to get married first. And they’ve already chosen the bride. And she’s got some of her own secrets to keep. So what’s a man to do except keep his eyes open for an exit, and hope that it’s not too late.
What happens when a company sets out to give everyone their fifteen minutes of fame? What happens when that fifteen minutes lasts a lot longer? That’s what Don Stoll’s “15 Minutes” explores and how it ends up impacting everyday people who are in now way prepared for the fallout that even fifteen minutes of fame (or infamy) can bring.
“Lights Out” by Jo Perry explores what it would be like to be the sole human in a robotic warehouse, responsible for making sure the machines do as the machines are programmed to do. But when something from outside intrudes on the closed system, can even one person handle it? A dark tale that peers into the future of what working for an unnamed ecommerce giant might look like… and the dangers that might bring.
Finally, “Walking Out” by Zakariah Johnson is tale of a prison guard, a warden, a prison doc, and a death row inmate… and how their interests intertwine and compete with each other in a world where antibiotics fail to work so even a minor wound can lead to infection, and implants and replacement organs aren’t viable any more. This is one of those stories where at the end I hate myself a little for having cheered on the narrator, but I can live with that kind of darkness in my life.
So yeah, if you can handle the thought of a dark future, you’re going to want to pick up Pulp Modern Tech Noir.