When George Orwell published 1984 (a book that would go on to become his most famous and enduring novel) he wasn’t really making predictions about the future of the world. Instead he was penning a satire – a work of savage imagination that distorted and exaggerated the ills that he saw developing in the world of his day. That many elements of our present reality now resemble features from his dystopian novel is an unfortunate and bleakly amusing state of affairs.
We should hope, however, that our future doesn’t – accidentally or otherwise – come to resemble any of the fifteen outlined by the writers collected in 2084, an anthology of original fiction from Unsung Stories. Although the tales are ostensibly inspired by the work of Orwell, these authors don’t just cough up fifteen tales of an authoritarian dystopia. Instead they present visions of possible future worlds that are strange, enigmatic and utterly compelling.
The stories vary enormously in the degree to which they recognisably resemble the present day. In the opening tale, “Babylon”, Dave Hutchinson tells the story of an immigrant with a powerful but unexpected weapon making the journey into a newly fortified Europe. Later we encounter the fantastic “March, April, May” by Malcolm Devlin – a complicated story that follows several users of a social network as they reflect on their deleted friend. Both of these stories have obvious roots in the preoccupations of today – although in both cases they take elements of our reality and twist them into structures that are strange and unrecognisable, yet brilliant all the same.
Elsewhere in 2084, the stories leave the world of the present behind altogether. “Glitterati” by Oliver Langmead is an ambitiously bizarre vignette from a world in which fashion has become an all-important factor in separating the haves from the have-nots. The ending is as strange as you might expect from that description, but it’s impossible not to admire its boldness and imagination. “Room 149” by Jeff Noon also bears a mention; in this story the caretaker of an off-world archive of memories and other ephemeral data is haunted by the ghosts of things which have been exiled from the world altogether. It trespasses into the realm of horror at times, and science fantasy at others, but is all the more striking for that.
So the stories that populate the pages of 2084 are a wildly varied bunch. They are, however, mostly very strong. “Degrees Of Elision” by Cassandra Khaw and “A Good Citizen” by Anne Charnock stand out in this respect, balancing as they do some fantastic ideas with an engrossing story and brilliant line-level writing. Less well-written, but equally brilliant in its conceptual approach is “Percepi” by Courttia Newland. This story takes us on a blistering ride through a robot uprising, but reads very light on the detail, and ends up feeling like the skeleton of a story rather than something you can truly get lost in, despite its awe-inspiring scope. “Shooting An Episode” by Christopher Priest also felt a little light. Its vision of reality television gone bad was action-packed and fun to read, but felt as though it didn’t quite make the same leaps as other stories in the mix.
I’ve mentioned several of the entries in this anthology so far, but there are still many more that come to mind, whether for their brilliant concepts or their sublime executions. From the lolspeak patois of Lavie Tidhar’s “2084 Satoshi AD” to the virtual reality rollercoaster and the terrifying young people who ride it in “Uniquo” by Aliya Whiteley, there is a wealth of brilliance to be discovered here. The idea that an Orwell-inspired collection might veer towards familiar tales of totalitarian regimes is clearly false. Instead we have a gloriously varied collection that rewards you with a new gem of an idea each time you turn the page.
Editor George Sandison, who has done a brilliant job in assembling this anthology, insists in his introduction that this isn’t a book of predictions, nor one about the future. Instead, he says, the dystopias described are echoes of the fears of today. Perhaps he’s right. Or perhaps 2084 is in equal parts about the present and the future. There’s certainly enough in this excellent collection to leave you wondering about both.