Science fiction anthology provokes thought, entertains

The Tomorrow Project Anthology is an eye-opening display of possible futures. With a little extrapolation and imagination, this short collection presents applications and consequences of developing technologies—and it is not always a comfortable feeling.

Unfortunately, the first and longest story may turn readers away. Knights of the Rainbow Table requires some technical understanding. Although the author encourages readers to simply “take it on faith,” he continues to include numerous slow passages discussing computers, passwords, and hashes. While the characters are interesting, the plot lacks a necessary momentum.

This story, quite honestly, does not fit in with the rest of the anthology. The difference goes further than length and sluggishness. Reading more like today than tomorrow, this story is an image of a world where passwords have become almost meaningless—and the average person ignorant of the fact. Too close to reality, it lacks the imagination of the other tales. The idea is chillingly valid, but poorly implemented. Knights of the Rainbow Table would make a better essay than work of fiction.

If one manages to continue past this, The Tomorrow Project Anthology suddenly begins to shine. While it might dismissively be lumped in with the larger genre of science fiction, its believability makes it stand out. There is no time travel or interplanetary flight. Most technologies presented in this collection are conceptually within our grasp: only the mentions of artificial intelligence may force the reader to suspend disbelief. Overall, the collection feels like it could be predicting the future.

For instance, in Mapping People, the world is viewed through “augmented reality glasses.” Places and people are mapped, their appearance overlaid with a virtual one. This already happens through computers, with video chat programs allowing people to wear monocles or become pirates. However, here the humorously-used technology has been advanced to a point where it is no longer funny. The virtual allows the real to become neglected. This sort of plausible “what-if?” is a common theme in the anthology, making for a thought-provoking read.

Yet perhaps most impressive is how these tales do more than just show possible tomorrows. First and foremost, they are stories. Entertainment. They draw readers in through relatable characters and situations. Admittedly, the tales would be flat without futuristic technology transforming the commonplace into the extraordinary, but they would be even flatter without emotion. It is the intricate balance between story and technology that makes this anthology so impressive.

Mirror Test is one of the best in the collection at getting into the protagonist’s mind—quite literally. In this story, a woman interviews for a position guiding students in a virtual reality shaped by thought. To determine her fitness, she is connected to the VR and instructed to observe herself in a mirror. The task is deceptively difficult, and she is forced to confront her inner thoughts and insecurities. As fascinating as the presented technology is, this story succeeds through the well-developed main character. Surprisingly, each story in the collection manages to have at least one intriguing personality.

This is only a quick glimpse of what one can expect in The Tomorrow Project Anthology. There are also robots saving soldiers’ lives, people falling in love with artificial intelligences, and more. These short stories are recommended for anyone interested in both technology and a good read.

And the very best thing? They are free to read on Intel’s website.