Future Crimes: Mysteries and Detection Through Space and Time ed by Mike Ashley
British Library, pb, £9.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Bringing together a collection of detective sci-fi stories ranging in dates from an original publication from 1912 to 1972, Future Crimes from the British Library is one of those rare anthologies where I enjoyed every story. This is an unusual thing; after all, we are all different, so what works for the editor may not work for me. However, Mike Ashley has brought together a wide variety of stories from various authors, so each story was subtly different, reflecting the fears of their time and yet still feeling fresh and current for today’s reader, and with more humour than I’d expected.
Elsewhen by Anthony Boucher and The Absolutely Perfect Murder by Miriam Allen deFord, start and end this anthology with funny stories about the pitfalls of time travel. They provided perfect symmetry for each other, drawing you in with clever writing and leave you laughing, wanting more.
Puzzle for Spacemen by John Brunner, Mirror Image by Isaac Asimov, and Death of a Telepath by George Chailey put a detective or investigator in a situation beyond their usual understanding and force them to think of alternate ways to uncover the answer. Like all good detective stories, it isn’t until the end that everything becomes clear, and we realise the detective is far more intelligent than we give them credit for. It frustrates me I can’t explain how clever these three are without giving away the end.
Aliens are the subject of Legwork by Eric Frank Russell and Nonentity by E. C. Tubb. Humans are things to be studied or destroyed, and we are hopelessly out of our depths with these otherworldly antagonists. One comes with a message of hope about our resourcefulness in dealing with anything that comes our way, the other comes with a warning that not everything in the universe will welcome us, and our overconfidence could be our undoing. I won’t tell you which, so you can uncover this for yourself.
The Flying Eye by Jacques Futrelle explores an unusual element of future technology, and that is the development, the hits and misses, of creating something new. It was one of the weaker stories for me, yet it still captured my imagination as stories usually give us working technology, not cover the issues of the first prototypes.
Murder, 1986 by P.D. James is the only apocalyptic style story where the future feels hopeless. A sickness has swept through the world, and technology is only for the healthy, not the sick who need it most. And if an ill person is murdered, who cares? They were doomed to a premature death anyway. P.D. James gives us the trope of the one good detective who will doggedly follow the clues because they still retain their humanity despite their privilege.
My favourite is Apple by Anne McCaffery. I had read McCaffery dragons of Pern as a child, so I was intrigued to see how her take on futuristic crime. Apple is a short story later expanded into the Talents of Earth series and explores how people gifted with telepathy and other skills, Talents, hunt one of their own. I enjoyed this story so much I have tracked down the Talents of Earth series.
In all, I found this a fantastic collection that I didn’t want to put down. Each story whetted my appetite for more and kept me reading the whole thing as I would a novel, rather than dipping in and out of it when I had a spare moment. The stories earned their place in the collection as the writing quality is crisp and engaging. I felt that quality rather than the names, and there are some big names in the list, came first in this collection, making it a book I highly recommend.