Transhumanism is a fascinating philosophy. It raises crucial issues, the most intriguing of which is the question: “what does it mean to be human?” Of course, there are no clearly defined answers yet, and the philosophy pushes it even further. Am I human if my body parts are metal? Am I human if I can’t dream? Am I human if I live for a million, billion years? Am I human if I don’t even look human?
Reynolds finds these questions fascinating too. His stories thread these ideas into narratives that push the boundary of what it is to be human. The protagonists in Great Wall of Mars and Weather are good examples. These ‘people’ are hated and persecuted, but in the end, they have more humanity than humans. My favorite was Zima Blue, which was turned recently into an animated short. The titular protagonist takes us on a journey of self-discovery, guiding us through a labyrinth of what it means to exist. The ending is a brilliant deconstruction of identity and selfhood; it left me reflective and asking questions about what it means to be ‘me.’
Diamond Dogs and Thousandth Night focus on the physical side of things. The former has horror movie vibes (think Cube), presenting a ridiculously difficult challenge that offers absurd levels of punishment. It’s a story about obsession and pride, forcing the protagonists to adapt to the world around them. By the end, they turn into things that barely resemble humans. The latter I found the star of the book. Saying anything will be akin to spoilers, so I’ll let you discover it yourself.
Trauma Pod and In Babelsberg tackle AI and their intricate relationship with human consciousness. Reynolds asks critical questions here: “are AIs human, and if they are, do we treat them like humans or something else?” Both stories discuss this idea from a similar angle, that of AI mimicking humans too much, taking on not just the positives, but the negative sides of humanity as well.
His stories aren’t all about transhumanism though. Space travel and the absurd amount of time it takes to traverse is a running theme through most of the stories. Beyond the Aquila Rift is the biggest one of them all, tackling the issue of time and how insignificant and helpless we are even with near-light speed travel. The conceit will leave you horrified to the core.
Minla’s Flowers, Fury, Thousandth Night, Troika, and The Old Man and the Martian Sea all play with this concept of time. There’s a varied approach in how protagonists feel time. The stories show how millions of years is but a drop in the vastness of the galaxy. I love how he uses history and culture, noting how with time and space they distort and become localized. Great distances can’t be conquered no matter how hard you try. And time? It’s the worst enemy of all.
These stories are a must-read for any sci-fi fan, especially if you’re a space travel and transhumanist nerd like me. Reynolds will leave you wondering with each of his expertly crafted stories. I can’t highly recommend this book enough!