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Upgraded by Neil Clarke
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Upgraded (2014)

by Neil Clarke (Editor)

Other authors: Madeline Ashby (Contributor), Elizabeth Bear (Contributor), Helena Bell (Contributor), Tobias Buckell (Contributor), Erin Cashier (Contributor)22 more, Jason K. Chapman (Contributor), Seth Dickinson (Contributor), Julie Dillon (Cover artist), Greg Egan (Contributor), Amanda Forrest (Contributor), Erin Hoffman (Contributor), Xia Jia (Contributor), Rich Larson (Contributor), Yoon Ha Lee (Contributor), Ken Liu (Contributor), Alex Dally MacFarlane (Contributor), Greg Mellor (Contributor), Mari Ness (Contributor), Chen Qiufan (Contributor), Robert Reed (Contributor), Benjanun Sriduangkaew (Contributor), Rachel Swirsky (Contributor), E. Catherine Tobler (Contributor), Genevieve Valentine (Contributor), Peter Watts (Contributor), A.C. Wise (Contributor), E. Lily Yu (Contributor)

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Showing 4 of 4
This is a very strong collection of all-new short stories on the them of cyborgs, or modified humans. Some of the best writers currently working in speculative fiction are featured here. The book gives the reader a lot to think about - as well as plenty of great sci-fi entertainment.

*** Always the Harvest by Yoon Ha Lee
A good opener for an anthology on the theme of cyborgs. Our narrator is a woman living on the fringes of her society - an outer-space habitat where prosthetic replacements and enhancements are common. Rejected and cast-out by her 'circle' due do a problem she doesn't have the money to fix, she takes pity on a seeming beggar who looks worse-off than herself - and discovers something truly unexpected.
The theme is a classic riff on strains often found in this genre - played beautifully. What do we believe it means to be human? And what would an 'other' intelligence assume it means to be human, based on observation?

**** A Cold Heart by Tobias S. Buckell
Cyber-soldier Pepper has been working for the alien Satrapy that controls Earth (this is the same universe as his 'Xenowealth' series. I've only read one of them, but apparently there are a few other stories featuring this character.). He's been kept hanging on by the promise of the return of his stolen memories. Now a free man, he has a desperate plan to regain what he has lost by force. Will those around him be sacrificed to his dream?
This would make a great opening to a novel... and I'd definitely read it.

*** The Sarcophagus by Robert Reed
In a far-future, the outer hulls of enormous spaceships are inhabited by beings known as remoras, which, like their namesake fish, cling on, doing what they need to do, cleaning and repairing the surface. Technology means that they can live thousands of years... but it's a dangerous job, and most die by misadventure. The remoras are regarded almost as drones, but here we see an incident that illustrates their humanity.

**** Oil of Angels by Chen Qiufan, translated by Ken Liu
I see why Ken Liu picked this story... it has a lot in common with his writing: a strong, idea-based concept that is given voice through a strongly emotional, very human short story.
The idea here is based on the current research into epigenetics, some of which has suggested that traits, sensitivities, and even memory may be passed down to us an a genetic level. Trauma experienced by our mothers and grandmothers may still be felt in us.
Here, the author adds in the chemical potential of 'aromatherapy' and technological memory enhancement - and then tells a moving, very individual story.

*** What I’ve Seen With Your Eyes by Jason K. Chapman
Corporations will sponsor necessary medical operations for the poor. Lisa Wei went blind as a child - and had her eyes replaced. Of course, now her eyes feature a corporate logo, and she sees burger commercials where ever she looks. But if a corporation can control what someone sees - there's always a hack. Someone can make you see something else... Nicely drawn situation and characters, and a crime thriller lurks around the edges. I'd love to see this expanded into a novel.

**** No Place to Dream, but a Place to Die by Elizabeth Bear
Two cyber-enhanced miners meet in a tunnel where neither of them is supposed to be - and then end up weathering a disastrous accident together. The setting is space-opera, but the situation could be 19th-century company mining town... because, perhaps, both the darkest and the best of human nature are constants.

*** Married by Helena Bell
A psychological study, narrated by a wife and mother dealing with the effects that a new technology has on her family: replacing flesh and blood with a new, artificial material.

*** Come From Away by Madeline Ashby
Bodyguard and teen client face a school-shooting scenario together. Both weaknesses and resourcefulness surface in unexpected places. Not bad, but there's a lot of character background established that ends up being extraneous to the story. I suspect this 'story' is actually an opening to Ashby's upcoming novel, 'Company Town' - the blurb and character names match. I look forward to reading the full book!

*** Negative Space by Amanda Forrest
Caught by those who were chasing her, a young woman contemplates using technology to literally erase her identity, to protect the secrets she holds in her memory.

*** Fusion by Greg Mellor
Reminded me, in style, of A.A. Attanasio. (Of course, it's been a while since I read Attanasio, so I'm not going to swear that my association has basis in fact...) In a weird, post-apocalyptic landscape full of cyber-infected humans and falling 'angels,' a young man is enigmatically driven to run... but from what, and to what?

*** Taking the Ghost by A.C. Wise
A palace guard is rescued from the scene of a coup by a strange man who saves his life and outfits him with ghost-powered prosthetics. Waking to consciousness, the guard must face the fact that he has failed everyone who ever put trust in him - on both sides of a conflict. He is driven to atone... and things get weird.

*** Honeycomb Girls by Erin Cashier
Certainly, the stilted language used here is meant to convey the main character's uneducated status, but I found it a bit distracting from the story. In this post-apocalyptic future, an unspecified disaster has caused social collapse. Most women are gone. The majority of people live in filthy slums, scavenging as they can. An upper class lives in 'hive'-towers, each hoarding and sharing a woman. Ignorance and violence are widespread. It's a topic that easily could've been done quite badly, but here it actually becomes a bittersweet and true commentary on what really matters to humanity.

***** The Regular by Ken Liu
Here, Liu tackles a familiar story: detective decides to take on an overlooked case, and solve the murder of a prostitute. However, in his hands, an old trope becomes a fresh-feeling, genre-crossing thriller. It's not just a murder mystery with a sci-fi veneer - new (believable, fascinating) technology is essential to the crime, the motive, the investigation and the solution. It's also not just an exploration of new ideas in tech innovation - it fully works on a human, emotional level as well. I hope to see this one up in year-end awards lists.

**** Musée de l’Âme Seule by E. Lily Yu
Skipped ahead to read this one in advance of hearing the author read the story at KGB Fantastic Fiction. It actually made for a bit of a strange experience, reading it and then hearing it read about an hour later.
A woman survives a terrible road accident. The accident itself is the least of her trauma, however, as she learns what life will be like for her, dependent on medical technology, prostheses and artificial organs.
Extremely well-crafted, some nice shifts in perspective. Contains a lot of insight into how people view and handle (or fail to handle) disability.

**** Small Medicine by Genevieve Valentine
I skipped ahead to read this one too, in advance of the reading at KGB. (The author read a different selection, however.) This story is actually somewhat similar in theme to Yu's.
Here, a girl is faced with her family's decision to purchase a robotic version of her grandmother, after her actual grandmother passes away. She has quite a lot of resentment about being expected to treat this 'memorial doll' as a relative. Will her attitude change after she has to have a nano-treatment which, on some level, fundamentally changes who she is, as well?

** Tender by Rachel Swirsky
A glimpse into the head of a suicidally depressed woman. She sees her protective lover as a mad scientist keeping her from her goal of dying. I read it as metaphorical, not as an actual sci-fi story. This may be well done, but I can't say I enjoyed it.

*** Tongtong’s Summer by Xia Jia (translated by Ken Liu)
A young girl's grandfather comes home from the hospital, accompanied by a new & experimental home health care "robot." The device is not actually a true robot, but a remote-operated device that allows a distant care worker to be 'on-call' as needed. The device ends up revolutionizing society, but not exactly in the way that was expected. The main idea here is a sweet but idealistic call to respect the elderly and to develop technology that will make them more able to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, the 'call to arms' overwhelms the actual story, and at times it crosses a line into feeling like a piece of government propaganda.

*** Wizard, Cabalist, Ascendant by Seth Dickinson
Three college friends came up with a transhumanist breakthrough that has changed human society forever. However, each of them now disagrees about exactly what the future should look like. Due to 'backdoors' in their creation, they have unthinkable power - but which of their ideas will win?
(I probably spent too much time trying to figure out if the fantasy/wizard metaphor here is specifically supposed to refer to Katherine Kurtz' Deryni series [one of the 'versions' of the mental software here is called 'Haldane'], but I'm still not sure if there's a parallel.)

*** Memories and Wire by Mari Ness
What if your girlfriend was a terminator-style secret cyber-agent? And what if she was suicidal? There's not much you can do, when she could kill you with her little finger. A weird, psychologically-oriented piece.

*** God Decay by Rich Larson
A doctor has made a young athlete her pet project; enhancing his performance with extensive bio-mods, and in the process changing the face of pro sports. She's also crossed a professional barrier...
However, now things have gone bad, with unexpected revelations about side effects. How will they weather this crisis, both emotionally and professionally?

**** Mercury in Retrograde by Erin Hoffman
True cyberpunk. Loved this action-packed corporate-hacker-espionage tale. Clearly owes a debt to both Gibson and Stephenson - but I'd love to read more of Jenny Mercury's adventures.

*** Coastlines of the Stars by Alex Dally MacFarlane
A poverty-stricken worker makes a kind of connection to a missing artist through an innate understanding of his work, and convinces an acquaintance to team up with her to try to find him - and, incidentally, collect a significant reward. Space opera with a thoughtful, philosophical bent.

*** The Cumulative Effects of Light Over Time by E. Catherine Tobler
A spacer has to team up with an alien. Bumping it up a star for beautiful language and an interesting exploration of having to deal with a truly alien intelligence and way of perceiving. But I found the style rather distancing and somewhat disorienting.

** Synecdoche Oracles by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
A companion piece (or, at least, set in the same world as) 'The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly.' (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1001538766) Again, I didn't really connect with this piece. It's a complicated, original world, but I wasn't convinced to care about the characters or events.

**** Collateral by Peter Watts
Fans of 'Ender's Game' may very well like this one. A soldier with enhanced reaction times, wired in to her weapons systems, must face the ethical questions brought up when innocents are killed. Caught between the media, the military, her own training and her sense of right and wrong, things play out in an unexpected - but utterly logical - fashion.

*** Seventh Sight by Greg Egan
What if some people could 'hack' their eyesight in order to see wavelengths greater than the normal human spectrum? How would it affect their lives? What kind of advantages - or disadvantages - would it give them?

A copy of book was provided to me by NetGalley. Many thanks for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinion is solely my own. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
In Upgraded, edited by Neil Clarke, we get the Clarkesworld editor’s first themed anthology, focusing on stories about cybernetic changes to human bodies and inspired by Clarke’s receipt of an implanted defibrillator. This collection is a who’s who of excellent science fiction writers—Elizabeth Bear, Greg Egan, Xia Jia, Yoon Ha Lee, Ken Liu, Rachel Swirsky, Peter Watts—and the strengths are manifold.

Stories address issues like when does added technology overtake humanity so that we stop being ourselves (“Married” by Helena Bell), cybernetics that “correct” memory (“Oil of Angels” by Chen Quifan), and whether becoming something else is worth it if it means not dying (“Tender,” by Rachel Swirsky and “Small Medicine” by Genevieve Valentine). Peter Watts’ contribution, “Collateral,” is as unflinchingly violent as we’ve come to expect, but it also directly addresses the machinery of death and what that says about us as people, and Greg Egan’s “Seventh Sight,” probably the most hopeful of all and therefore a good note to end on, questions how our psyches would cope with having biological limits removed from one of our senses.

Reviewed on Lit/Rant: www.litrant.tumblr.com ( )
  KelMunger | May 1, 2015 |
Upgraded offers a nice collection of stories featuring some variety of cyborg. This can be a far-future super soldier on an alien world or an augmented athlete competing in near-contemporary sporting events and many things in between.

The collection is ok, perhaps even good, but certainly not great. While almost none of the featured stories are really poor, none is outstanding either.
On the whole I'd say that I was sligthly disappointed that none of this great list of contributing authors managed to truly impress me. I was particularly disappointed that the Ken Liu and Xia Jia stories were not up to par with what they usually produce.

Individual story ratings (out of 10):

Always the Harvest by Yoon Ha Lee (8)
A Cold Heart by Tobias S. Buckell (7)
The Sarcophagus by Robert Reed (8)
Oil of Angels by Chen Qiufan (5)
What I’ve Seen With Your Eyes by Jason K. Chapman (8)
No Place to Dream, but a Place to Die by Elizabeth Bear (5)
Married by Helena Bell (5)
Come From Away by Madeline Ashby (8)
Negative Space by Amanda Forrest (7)
Fusion by Greg Mellor (8)
Taking the Ghost by A.C. Wise (7)
Honeycomb Girls by Erin Cashier (8)
The Regular by Ken Liu (4)
Tender by Rachel Swirsky (6)
Tongtong’s Summer by Xia Jia (6)
Musée de l’Âme Seule by E. Lily Yu (9)
Wizard, Cabalist, Ascendant by Seth Dickinson (7)
Memories and Wire by Mari Ness (7)
God Decay by Rich Larson (4)
Small Medicine by Genevieve Valentine (6)
Mercury in Retrograde by Erin Hoffman (6)
Coastlines of the Stars by Alex Dally MacFarlane (6)
The Cumulative Effects of Light Over Time by E. Catherine Tobler (7)
Synecdoche Oracles by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (6)
Collateral by Peter Watts (7)
Seventh Sight by Greg Egan (7) ( )
  igorken | Oct 16, 2014 |
Showing 4 of 4
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Clarke, NeilEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ashby, MadelineContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bear, ElizabethContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bell, HelenaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Buckell, TobiasContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cashier, ErinContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chapman, Jason K.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dickinson, SethContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dillon, JulieCover artistsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Egan, GregContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Forrest, AmandaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hoffman, ErinContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jia, XiaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Larson, RichContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lee, Yoon HaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Liu, KenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
MacFarlane, Alex DallyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mellor, GregContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ness, MariContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Qiufan, ChenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Reed, RobertContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sriduangkaew, BenjanunContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Swirsky, RachelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tobler, E. CatherineContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Valentine, GenevieveContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Watts, PeterContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wise, A.C.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Yu, E. LilyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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For Arachne Jericho & the doctors that rebuilt me.
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Better . . . Stronger . . . Faster . . . The doctors rebuilt Hugo Award-winning editor Neil Clarke and made him a cyborg. Now he has assembled this anthology of twenty-six original cyborg stories by Greg Egan, Madeline Ashby, Elizabeth Bear, Peter Watts, Ken Liu, Robert Reed, Yoon Ha Lee, and more!… (more)

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