Sam and Tara. Best friends in a future when artificial intelligence organises our lives, and micropets are the latest craze. Best friends when rationing means cold showers and no internet. Best friends when genetic matching makes asking a girl on a date a minefield of epic proportions.
But will they still be best friends in a future when plague wipes out most of humanity? Or a future when the Inquisitor asks Sam to choose one betrayal over another?
Whatever might happen, it’s just around the corner. What future will be yours?
Michael Pryor says
The best way to prepare for the future is to imagine it. In our imaginations we can anticipate where we’re going, where our lives might be, the shape of the world to come.
10 Futures is a very different book for me, a real departure from the wonderful Steampunk worlds of ‘The Laws of Magic’ and ‘The Extraordinaires’. I needed to abandon the gloriously formal and extended language of the Edwardian era and use language that is more clipped and direct. And 10 Futures doesn’t have much humour, which was a real wrench for me, but different contexts and different milieus require different approaches to writing.
10 Futures isn’t just random speculating. Each story segment has been carefully researched, and this is one area that was consistent with my last ten years of writing. The only difference was that instead of researching history, I was researching current trends and then trying to find good, evidence-based extrapolation. I looked at societal and cultural trends as well as scientific developments and asked the classic question: ‘What happens if this goes on?’
As well as this exploration of trends and wondering about the direction of humanity over the next hundred years, I was also considering the nature of ethical issues and moral dilemmas. Do morals change over time, or are some situations eternal? What affects our judgement of right and wrong? How could this change in response to a changing world? Should it change in response to a changing world?
Stories can make us think, and they can make us feel. They can put us in other shoes and wonder what we would do, how we would react, how we would cope.
10 Futures begins
Tara can’t remember life without her AI. Her mum and dad bought the Artificial Intelligence when Tara had her night terrors, when she was little. It used to sit under her pillow and murmur to her. Safe and secure, she was, with Portia keeping the night things away.
Portia used to be classy, state-of-the-art. Her case, the size and shape of a playing card, was originally a stylish black matte. Now, fourteen years later, it’s battered and scratched with the scars of love. Of course, since Portia took over managing the family home — monitoring all automation and systems, keeping everyone safe and sound, happy and warm, well-fed and well-rested is the sort of thing she’s capable of — the pocket case has only been needed for excursions into the outside world. Tara still keeps it under her pillow, as a keepsake, anyway, now that she rarely takes Portia anywhere. Portia is the home, now, integrated into every aspect of living, taking care of the family, nurturing and protecting.
Portia is Tara’s constant companion, as unwavering as her best friend Sam, who has been gently urging Tara to get rid of Portia for years. Even though the AI has piped in the usual upgrades and patches, it’s creakily ancient. Sam is always suggesting that Tara move up to one of the newer, faster, more sophisticated models. Portia handles her duties as home manager smoothly, but she has had to outsource routine encryption when the algorithms became too complex. The modern AIs perform this essential function with ease, as Sam points out.
Tara can’t throw Portia away. She’s part of the family.
Tara is working in the garden when Portia pings, the tone working directly on Tara’s audio nerve. She straightens from weeding the rhubarb, which has sprouted into waist-high lushness thanks to her care. She wipes sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand and, for a moment, enjoys the sensation of labour and work. ‘Portia?’
‘Sam is at the front door. Shall I let him in?’ The AI’s voice has the familiar warm and amused tone that has helped Tara grow. It’s always been the voice of the older, wiser sister that Tara never had. Someone interesting, not embarrassing. Someone with life experience, who knows the world and its wonders, but isn’t pushy about it. Someone independent. Someone Tara wouldn’t mind growing up to be.
Tara brushes dirt from her hands. ‘Where are Mum and Dad?’
A pause. Tara knows that it’s totally theatrical. Portia doesn’t need time to check, given that she operates so fast, in shaved femtoseconds. ‘Your mother is at the power station, working on microwave relays. Your father was called to Burkino Faso to negotiate with TransApple’.
A rustling near the broccoli patch makes Tara frown. She thought the bird deterrents were all set. A head pokes out from the parsley. Big brown eyes, spots, two nubbly horns. Tara sighs. ‘Topsy’s here, Portia!
The knee-high giraffe trots over to Tara and rubs against her shin. She resists for a moment then gives up in the face of such perfectly designed cuteness. She reaches down and strokes its long neck. The tiny creature shivers with delight.
‘Ali!’ Portia says. ‘‘I was looking for her. Can you bring her inside? Please?’
‘I wish you’d keep better track of your pets,’ Tara grumbles. She scoops up the creature, which trembles, splaying its spindly legs. Tara isn’t fooled by Portia’s surprise, either. The AI knows exactly where her genetically engineered pets are at all times. Pretending to be surprised is part of Portia’s humanising demeanour.
‘Sorry,’ the AI says. ‘I was reading Hamlet again. I should have been watching her. ‘ Contrite. ‘I’ve just let Sam into the kitchen. He’s making a sandwich.’