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Hardwired Humanityis a collection of short science fiction stories dealing with the blurred lines between man and machine -- a future that some feel is as inevitable as it is frightening. The book contains a couple of very conceptual short-shorts, a pair of regular length short stories and two novella-length pieces, all with protagonists who have some degree of human-machine interface.
All the stories in this book have certain things in common: the worlds are believable, the characters are lovable (even the strange, scarred and semi-mechanical ones), and the storytelling is excellent -- fast-paced when it needs to be, more contemplative when a pause is required. Another thing they have in common is that all the stories are very good, and you don't even need to be a science fiction fan: these pieces are attempting to answer questions that all of us have today.
My two favorites are the novellas, which take the places of honor at the front and back of the book. Like many SF stories, Sarah's are well-served by the novella form, which allows her to do the necessary world-building without turning the story into a novel. The best was probably "Switch", in which an inventor working just outside the letter of the law navigates an intricate maze in which one can never be too sure who is a friend and who is a foe, leading to an unexpected and satisfying conclusion.
A close second is Evolution of a Shadow, the other long piece, in which Shade, a more-than-human assassin and her team are forced to take action against a foe that wants to take over everything they've been working for.
Yes, technology plays a major role in every story in the book, but there is also a very human side to the people riding the technical wave. Betrayal, confusion, greed and also love and loyalty are thrown into sharper focus against the backdrop of a series of plausible futures.
I admit that particularly like core science fiction, but only when it is well done. The application of intelligence to particular extrapolations of current trends into the future is always rewarding as an intellectual exercise. And Sarah Wagner has combined this with a great set of stories, as well.
Nits? There are always nits, of course. I think the first of the two short-shorts is just a little too lyrical to be a good fit with the rest of the book, an exercise in philosophy, while the second didn't really inspire me all that much. But it made almost no difference to my enjoyment of the book overall since they are both really tiny.
A very good read overall.
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