"One of the best story collections of the past few years" —Booklist, starred review
When renegade author Kameron Hurley (The Light Brigade; The Stars Are Legion) takes you to the future, be prepared for the unexpected. Yes, it will be dangerous, frequently brutal, and often devastating. But it's also savagely funny, deliriously strange, and absolutely brimming with adventure.
In these edgy, unexpected tales, a body-hopping mercenary avenges his pet elephant, and an orphan falls in love with a sentient starship. Fighters ally to power a reality-bending engine, and a swamp-dwelling introvert tries to save the world—from her plague-casting former wife.
So come meet Kameron Hurley in the future. The version she's created here is weirder—and far more hopeful—than you could ever imagine.
Kameron Hurley hardly needs an introduction, and here the Grande Dame of SF offers us startling vistas of the future in this... singular collection! (Do you see what I did there?) – Lavie Tidhar
"With snapshots of futures that haunt, obsess, or tantalize, this collection from Hugo-winner Hurley (The Light Brigade) offers 16 hard-edged pieces that gleam like gems in a mosaic…. Readers will eagerly follow Hurley into these possible worlds and many more."– Publishers Weekly, starred review
"A trek across galaxies that hits home, Meet Me in the Future is a love letter to the best of science fiction."– Foreword, starred review
"Hurley's stories are a revelation; they've garnered high praise from every reviewer who's encountered them. Sidle up to her scintillating perspectives and allow your mind to bounce unhindered among the stars."– Book Riot
"10/10 stars. The literary sci-fi equivalent of a progressive rock album for punks. A work of literary art, Meet Me In The Future confirms that Hurley's is a voice that must be heard by all."– Starburst Magazine
"An Introduction: Meet Me in the Future"
You're here. I'm here.
Let's talk about the future.
Not the future I'm currently writing this from, the future of the gasping, maniacal dystopic state disseminating propaganda to us via pocket computers that stream nightmares into our eyes. That's the future somebody else wrote. It's the future that's already here.
Let's talk about another future. The one that comes after this one.
Those are the futures I want to write about. And yes, from here in the present there are multiple possible versions of that future. Some are gooey, icky, sticky futures that are messy and hopeful and maudlin all at the same time. Some are snapshots of a future that comes after one like the one I'm in. Some are explorations of how things could be far worse. But most of all—these are stories about how things could be really different.
I'm not a natural short fiction writer. My heart will always belong to novels. They give me room to stretch and breathe. But the juicy bite-sized pieces of fiction between these pages have taught me how to stop dithering around and get to the heart of what a tale is about instead of meandering along through the weeds until something amazing happens. I don't have as much time to screw up when I'm writing short fiction.
Maybe that keeps me coming back.
My agent suggested that when I tell you all why I wrote each of these stories, I should be completely honest with you. Yes, certainly, writing is fun. But I also wrote these stories for money. Writers need to eat. I expect I'll be working a day job until I die, a long tradition among authors. Most of us just don't talk about it. I still get up before six nearly every morning to plonk out a few words (like these!) before heading off to make more words for big brands and corporations. By the time those day-job words get through the grinder of the creative process and client review, they are often unrecognizable.
But we all gotta eat.
Expenses pile up: vet bills, home maintenance, my liquor habit. The money that comes in tends to go right back out immediately. I feel like I'm constantly hustling. I know I'm not alone. Here in Fury Road America, we also need to afford health insurance and medication. Much of the money I made on these stories went toward helping me pay for my meds and my extreme healthcare deductible. Every story keeps me from the death-through-lack-of-vital-meds Thunderdome a little longer.
My fight with my own malignant, malfunctioning body and experience running the rat maze of the United States healthcare system has bled into my work in interesting ways. It creeps in even when I'm not immediately aware of it. Stories like "The Corpse Archives" or even "Elephants and Corpses" show a keen interest in exploring the body itself in all of its gory mushiness. The body-hopping mercenary Nev, who appears in both "Elephants and Corpses" and "The Fisherman and the Pig," gets to explore a good many bodies throughout his adventures. Some imperfect, some ill-fitting. I've spent a long time in a body that has gained and lost a hundred pounds at a go several times. It spent a year eating itself. Now it's slowly poisoning me over decades, ensuring I have about fifteen years less than I would have otherwise. Nev's quiet life as a body mercenary fishing up corpses to live in often feels sublime in comparison.
My struggles with my own body led me to write "Tumbledown," too, the story of a paraplegic on a hostile planet tasked with an Iditarod-like serum run her peers think is suicide. I spend a lot of time thinking about how those of us who aren't the Aryan ideal continue to be underestimated, sidelined, and maligned, and how it's fear of becoming as we are that fuels so much hatred against us. We are more than the sum of our bodies. The struggle with our bodies can give us a unique strength, an insight into the meaty body and our temporal limitations. My obsession with bodies and their problems has certainly given me a unique perspective on the world. I don't see logic and reason and clean, cool lines; I don't see sterile metal spaceships. I see messy, bloody bodies, mutations, minds bathed in chemicals, renegade DNA, bacterial wars, and organic spaceships with regenerating skins and mushy interiors.
Short fiction has also taught me a great deal of discipline. It's taught me to build stories not just around "shit that happens" or "gooey organic ships" but to center them on the emotional experiences of the characters and how they are affected by the world around them. I built the entirety of "When We Fall" on the story another writer told me about the profound emotional connection they shared with a rescue worker after a house fell on them. My writing brain shifted into overdrive during that conversation. I returned to that life-changing moment again and again: this emotional connection in the face of death. This moment where everything changes. How could I capture that in a speculative story? I returned to my organic ships. I created a heroine often lost and forgotten, one who had to make the choice to let someone go, to be abandoned again, in order to find the love she truly sought.
I've had my fair share of facing down death, too, and it's a theme that comes up often. Dying, nearly dying, trying not to die, thinking about dying and mortality. When you have a chronic illness, you spend a lot of time thinking about mortality, and what comes after you. Who will remember you when you're gone?
The story "Our Faces, Radiant Sisters! Our Faces Full of Light!" was written on commission for Tor.com's flash fiction series about women who keep going long after they've been told to stop. Women who endure. The women who continue again and again to fight monsters, despite knowing that it's usually a zero-sum game. feels a lot more like real life to me than slaying a dragon and being done with it. The dragons have babies. The dragons get radicalized. There are always more monsters. And more heroes.
The fight between the past and the future is ongoing.
These themes come up again in "The Improbable War," another piece commissioned by Popular Science magazine for a series about—of all things!—love. I find it amusing that when asked to write a story about love, I wrote a story about war and memory and sacrifice and some kind of strange wall made of dead people who are a probability machine. Don't ask me how it works! This is fiction, people.
We will talk more about war in a minute, but it turns out that another story with "War" in the title isn't really about war at all, either. I sat with the first few pages of "The War of Heroes" for years, trying to figure out what came next. What was the point of the story? It was during a re-watch of old Star Trek episodes that I realized it was a story about how "civilization" might be defined in various cultures. What if the Enterprise was boldly going out into the universe sowing violence in order to determine sentience? How would our heroine deal with that? What was her sacrifice? What could she save? Would she be remembered? What would a world look like without war?
Yes, I write a lot about war. My grandparents met in World War II. My grandfather was an American GI and my grandmother was living in Nancy, France, under Nazi occupation. I grew up with terrifying stories of Nazis storming into homes, shooting people on the street, airplane dogfights over the town, and my great-grandfather's interrogation by the SS. I remember these stories now only in hazy snatches. My grandmother often told the story of the SS coming into her home, trying to find incriminating evidence that her father was part of the French resistance. But when they opened the drawer where he usually kept his gun, the gun was not there. When they turned on the radio thinking they would find it tuned to the banned BBC, they found only static. They still took him away, but my grandmother was adamant that the reason he survived his interrogation was because of these near-misses.
Both my grandparents are dead, and by the time I started exploring these stories in my fiction, I had no one to check them against. Perhaps that was best. It meant I used those stories as inspiration for a number of pieces about war and resistance, stories like "The Women of Our Occupation," which features a scene very like the one where the SS entered my grandmother's house, and asks what happens when the conquerors become the conquered. That theme in particular is one I think about a lot here in my immediate present.
War rarely has clear "good guys" and "bad guys." The muddy gray mire of war, and who writes the history of it, fascinates me. In "The Red Secretary," I wanted to see what a world looked like where war was cyclical, almost religious, with one terrible rule: all of those who participated in violent conflict, no matter which side triumphed, had to be killed afterward. No one who had committed violence, they reasoned, could participate in building a truly peaceful society. "Garda" also explores the aftermath of a great war—how those involved recover (or not), and how societies continue to buckle and seethe with the aftereffects of such violence. I live in a country deeply scarred by its own past of war and genocide and slavery. We think these wounds heal, but in truth, they only fester, the thinnest layer of new skin masking the injury, but the pus and rot continue to bubble beneath. The rot spills out continually, often when you least expect it . . . just when you think you're starting to get better.
The first story I created for subscribers to my Patreon—a service that allows fans to support original fiction for a buck a month—was, appropriately enough, also a war story. I was on a time-travel kick at the time, reading far too much short fiction about time-jumping. "The Light Brigade" was the result, the story of a time-hopping grunt who isn't quite sure what side of the war they're supposed to be on. That story eventually became the basis for a novel by the same name, which has a far more intricate plot that required legitimate math-based diagrams and Excel spreadsheets.
Hey, sometimes I do the science, people.
And of course, if you are at all familiar with my work, you have probably noticed that I write mostly about women, or nonbinary people—folks who are neither one nor the other; folks who create new genders for themselves outside the ones we see on TV. It turns out that there's a whole long history of cultures with three or four or more genders. I leaned hard on those stories, and that history, when writing "The Plague Givers." "The Plague Givers" explores what gender might look like somewhere else—with personal sacrifice, impossible decisions, and old mercenaries thinking about their mortality, too.
Many of us write to understand the present: how did we get here, how could we be better, what makes us who we are?
But as I said, I'm more interested in writing to explore how things could be really different. As beings with a limited lifespan and histories prone to being rewritten, simplified, erased, or simply forgotten, we believe the world we experienced as children to be the "normal" human experience. But what does it mean to be human during a particular time and place? My background as a historian has shown me that cultural taboos and morals shift depending on need, environment, and a host of other factors. If I were to take a human being from this time and place I'm writing from and deposit them onto another planet, how many generations until we would no longer recognize them? What would stay the same? What would become truly alien? "Sinners on Solid Ground" tackles this manipulation of the truth. It only takes about ten years—a single generation—to completely change the perceived "truth" of the world.
What's the truth going to be a hundred, five hundred, and ten thousand years from now? Sappho said, "Someone in some future time will think of us." But what will they know? Will the stories told about us bear any resemblance to our current reality, when many of us can't even agree on what "reality" is these days?
I cast off into the stars in most of these tales, but "Enyo-Enyo" and "Warped Passages" have always felt the most traditionally science fiction to me. This is probably because they were each commissioned for science fiction anthologies. I felt I needed to up the spaceship quotient. I spent a very black December squeezing out "Enyo-Enyo" in one of my last desperate efforts to hit a deadline on time (I have since learned my mental health is more important than hitting deadlines). Its darkness, the infinite loop of time at the edge of the universe, characters bumping into one another in the future, the past, another future, some other present. . . . It probably says more about my state of mind at the time than my visions for the future. Like paintings, short stories are perfect snapshots of a moment in time for each of us. Some stories more so than others.
Some readers get upset when I don't tell them definitively what a story of mine "means." I hear this most about "Enyo-Enyo," probably because it is such a claptrap mindfuck. The truth is that only half the reading experience is provided by the author. The other half? That comes from you, the reader.
"Warped Passages" is one of those stories I almost regret writing because it says too much. It acts as a bit of a prequel to a novel of mine, The Stars Are Legion, and answers more questions about the origin of the Legion than I'm comfortable with. Let's pretend this is just one interpretation. One version of the truth. One story of the Legion told among families late at night, mumbled, then forgotten, to be replaced by some other myth in due course.
I believe there should remain some mystery in worlds both real and fictional. I'm not going to tell you exactly how we got to any one future in these stories. That's for you to figure out. For you to create. . . . If that's the future you want.
Creating work under the current political environment in my country is not easy. I often wish my grandmother were alive, so I could ask how she got up every morning when she was a teen, knowing her own government handed half her country over to the SS.
On good days, I like to think that her answer would be something like this: That every day she woke up, she reminded herself that it hadn't always been like this. That this time would pass. That if she could endure, and resist, and believe and work toward a better future, she could live to see that future for herself.
That's what keeps me going. Dreaming, writing, supporting, creating, but yes, most of all—believing that there is a better future on the other side of this one makes every keystroke worth it. I can see a different world on the other side—a trillion possible futures, all buckling and colliding and shifting beneath our feet. I hope, perhaps after reading a few of these stories, you can see all those possible futures, too. I hope you choose a good one.
Come meet me in that better future.
I'll be waiting for you.
Dayton, Ohio, USA