Beyond cities.

Like VM, I have a tendency towards what different folks will call sci-fi, SF, SF&F, or even the slightly pretentious speculative fiction. I've also recently been convinced by audiobooks. When I saw and heard METAtropolis plugged in various places, I was never going to be able to resist, especially when I managed to grab it on sale for a mere four quid.

Five SF authors, none of whom I've read before but most of whom I had at least heard of, collaborated to dream up a near-future world where the concept of city has evolved into something essentially different but still recognisable; they each then wrote a novella set in this world.

The five stories are different and distinctive. All are good, with the second and fourth counting as great: Tobias Buckell's "Stochasti-city" and John Scalzi's "Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis".

The stories explore some obvious themes for the near-future setting: environmentalism, the tension between micro-economics and global corporations, the impact and the lack of impact of technology, the clash between capitalism, socialism and altruism.

Most interesting are the ways the stories explore human community in a future where nationality and ethnicity appear to have become completely irrelevant: a massive environmentalist commune aspiring to true anarchy; a closed city-state, sharing open borders with similar cities around the world, where there is no currency and where your citizenship depends on your willingness to contribute; an invisible network of all kinds of people, sharing resources on the strength of a shared commitment; layered, technologically-enabled alternative 'realities' where individuals claim citizenship of countries that don't even exist in the physical world. Some of the communities formed are pragmatic and temporary, some are formed of necessity and some are based around an ideal. All are fascinating and all are completely plausible.

Some of the best SF has a philosophical component, where imagination offers the freedom to explore ideas and ask questions that remain surprisingly relevant and immediate. I know the label of sci-fi will put many off, but this collection is interesting, thought-provoking and very accessible — why not give it a go?