Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.
Earlier this year, I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the sixth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.
There are mild spoilers in this post. There were also a few tags I had to leave off of this review due to major spoiler reasons. Rest assured that this wasn’t part of the horror genre or anything like that.
Peter Tieryas’ The Burn told the tale of a mass hallucination called “The Burn” that affected 95 people simultaneously from every corner of the globe.
No matter what language they spoke, everyone who experienced it talked about a blue flame that was burning up the entire world.
The protagonist was a digital artist whose brother, Tommy, was one of the people affected by it. This lead the main character to take a job developing an augmented reality device that would replicate what these folks were seeing so that psychiatrists could hopefully find a treatment or cure for this illness.
All of this happened in the first couple of scenes. There are plenty of plot twists I’m leaving out, but I had to reveal the beginning in order for my review to make sense to anyone who hasn’t read it yet.
Yes, there was an excellent reason why this random group of people were seeing the same thing at the same thing. This was the sort of science fiction story that starts with an attention-grabbing hook and then actually explains things in a satisfactory manner. (I enjoy open-ended stuff, too, but wanted to make it clear that this isn’t something that will leave anyone scratching their head and wondering what in the world just happened by the final scene).
The relationship between the protagonist and Tommy was mostly revealed in the lengths they went to protect him. They really loved each other, and that’s something I always appreciate reading about. It’s nice to read science fiction about people who have happy, healthy relationships with their relatives.
What I liked the most about this story was the way it played with the audience’s expectations. I genuinely thought it might be part of the horror genre when I first started reading it based on how seriously people were mentally affected by The Burn. The fact that I was completely wrong about this was delightful. There is definitely something to be said for leaving things so ambiguous in the beginning, especially when the payoff at the end was so strong.
This felt incredibly modern to me in a good way. As in, all of the technological references made it crystal clear that this was set in the present day. It will be interesting to see how this tale ages, but I suspect it will be just as hard to put down in five, ten, or twenty years.
In short, go read this story if you need a pick-me-up! It was filled with the very best sort of surprises that I wish I could list in this post without ruining the ending for all of you.