Biohacked & Begging is the second volume of Stephen Oram’s Nudge the Future series, which collects the best of his short near-future fiction pieces.
Containing 25 stories across 170 pages, some of these are obviously very short, but there are so many ideas packed in that it’s a real achievement. It’s a brevity that suits the fast-moving culture we’ve found ourselves in, where apps compete for our attention and information is trucked into our minds at every second. You can easily read a story on a coffee break or commute, though I have to say I found myself racing through this in only a couple of sittings in the end. They’re moreish, see. Like those weird flavours of crisps that you think you’ll try once for novelty and move on, then find yourself licking the packet an hour later… But maybe that’s just me.
Oram forgets no one in his vignettes of future life. Young and old, rich and poor; we’re all hurtling forwards with a real possibility of bio-hacked bodies, behaviour-based payment systems and AI-integrated societies. It will affect all of us differently, especially with an approaching climate crisis and political turmoil layered on top. This makes Biohacked & Begging a necessary kind of book for our time, as well as a necessary form. How better to open eyes, start conversations and play around with ideas than in speculative narrative? This is the kind of science fiction that has always been fuel for imagination and drive: far enough from reality that we thank our lucky stars but near enough that we’re left contemplating. What if that was me?
Every story here is accessible, flowing and rich in unusual imagery that really stays with you. I can’t get the picture of the cow cathedral and its congregation out of my head. Babies writhing in gel-filled pods driving re-engineered fish at the bottom of the ocean. Flesh disintegrating and grey from lack of contact… and of course the society built on rainbow strata and its prototype holographic neuron spheres. I was thrilled to discover that last one, which is based on the same world as Fluence: a novel I reviewed here.
Other scenarios include an evolved alien intelligence who visits us and reports back home on his conclusions about our planet. An advanced enhancement that allows us to change our presented gender at will. Pleasure amplification nanobots shooting around our bloodstream, and no-go zones policed by figures with mysterious boxes. Advanced dating apps, genetic engineering, virtual butlers. Protection and healing. Surveillance and punishment. So many ingredients that go into this one multi-faceted exploration of the way we identify ourselves and connect to one another. It’s a work of complexity made easy.
In summary, Biohacked & Begging skillfully extrapolates ideas from cutting-edge tech and applies them to daily routines, exposing our greeds and vulnerabilities but also, I think, our saving graces. It’s probing, entertaining and pertinent to this critical moment in humanity’s development. Highly recommended.
Review by C.R. Dudley.
C.R. Dudley is the author of metaphysical sci-fi collections Fragments of Perception and Mind in the Gap. She is an artist, mind explorer, and founder of Orchid’s Lantern press and blog. You can find many of her reviews, articles and flash fiction pieces on this site, or sign up to her newsletter via www.crdudley.com.
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