J.I. Rogers has woven together a trilogy of stories set in a future universe that uncannily mirrors our own world. While on the surface these short fiction pieces are typical science fiction/dystopian, in many ways they also could be seen as cautionary tales or parables of how history truly does repeat itself. Fashion and cultures come and go, and governments may change, but underneath it all we are the same human creatures with common struggles, needs, ambitions and, yes, deeply seated flaws. If there is any connecting thread between these three unrelated short – though seemingly straightforward – stories, it is that. Whether this was intentional crafting on the author’s part or merely a subconscious chance pairing, the result is near brilliant storytelling nonetheless. Apart from that, these all are rather simple in structure, short on plot devices, parse on setting detail and character arc while at the same time, abundant in name dropping of titles, rank and unexplained technology and devices. A thorough grounding in the futuristic culture would have been helpful and these very short tales could readily be expanded to bring more of the puzzle pieces together to engage the reader even more.
Story 1: Protocol 9
Set in the futuristic year 2592, presumably in our universe, this first tale in the collection took a bit of effort to completely engage with. A host of names, ranks and situations are systematically dropped without much context or reason to care about the characters. It appears a rescue mission is in operation heading into a dangerous territory known simply as the Seep, apparently in the aftermath of some war or devastation but that isn’t made clear. The team, led by Col. Kael Sunde, is out to rescue a member of the crew who appears missing or has lost all means of communication. As their mission progresses, it takes a turn for the worse before the all too abrupt ending that seemed to merely effectively draw matters to a conclusion rather than an actual satisfying ending. It was almost as if Rogers ran out of steam while trying to keep to a strict word count. The story begs for a longer delve into the themes and characters and felt more like an excerpt from a novel than a complete short on its own. Perhaps this was not the best choice for opening this trilogy, leaving little reason to continue with the other two stories. But the other two are definitely worth reading.
Story 2: Forget-me-not
The year is 2606 and the world appears not much different than today. A young woman, Isolde, from a privileged family, argues with her parents over a need to shirk her comfortable lifestyle for the chance to help the less fortunate and be part of some significant change. If only the two classes divergent classes – the Diasporan and Korlo – could put aside their differences and unite in a peaceful world. That is her idealistic and sincere hope. A familiar trope in literature, if not in real-world politics, but here Rogers brings it to a new, imagined setting, with a chilling reminder of our current world order and where it is possibly headed – history condemned to repeat itself, regardless of how we try to make it otherwise. When Isolde at last defies her parents and sneaks away, she meets a young man, Yul, at a peaceful demonstration that comes under attack by the authorities – another chilling nod to our modern-day life and an emotional ending that smacks of a cautionary tale with thought-provoking ramifications.
Story 3: Bride Price
In a futuristic world, circa 2568, class struggles continue to exist and the desperate need to hang on to family name and fortune still matter, in spite of advanced technology and enlightened views, apparently. Here is where Bride Price unfolds, a very archaic title to be sure for a story set half a millennium into the future. Regina and Edric Maklon’s scheme to restore their family fortune in the wake of their father’s death sounds more like the plot to a Medieval or Victorian-era story than science fiction. Enter the Harlo family, loaded with dough but lacking in rank. Somehow these two families need to get together. But will they? Again, another overused trope but with a fresh twist combining old world charm with futuristic intrigue. This one at least offered a bit more character development and grounding in the social order of this world, making it my favorite of the three and perhaps a better choice to open or end with while Protocol could be sandwiched in the middle.
Whatever the reading order, these three are short enough to devour in one sitting for a quick diversion while waiting for an appointment or over a lunch break. 4.8 stars for this pithy yet provocative collection of tales in The 942 Series.