Wednesday 19 August 2020

A Future Well Remembered

Hardly a year went by between 1996-2006 in which the name Michael A. Burstein failed to appear on
(image via Goodreads)
the Hugo Awards ballot.

For an author to rack up 10 Hugo nods in the prose fiction categories is a rare accomplishment (for comparison, that’s the same number as Heinlein). Even more impressive is that Burstein did this before his 37th birthday, making him the third youngest author to reach 10 Hugo nominations. Published in 2008, the book I Remember The Future collects his award-nominated stories and makes a strong case for the continued relevance of his work.

Stories of the near future often age poorly, which is why tales like Burstein’s debut “TeleAbscence,” and its sequel are so notable in their prescience. It could even be suggested that these works are more relevant now than when they were when published more than two decades ago.

For those of us working in public education policy during the current Covid-19 pandemic, the story’s depiction of the pitfalls and potential of elementary classrooms run via teleconferencing technology is particularly insightful. Burstein uses this as a backdrop to comment on racial disparities, on wealth and privilege, and on the opportunity gap.

Prescience can be painful. Burstein’s “Kaddish For The Last Survivor,” is a story about social relapse as the Holocaust passes out of living memory. His protagonist’s sacrifice to ensure that the flame of memory is kept alive could be a rallying cry for those of us concerned about the global rise of authoritarianism and nationalism.

Burstein’s writing style is unpretentious and direct, the plotting and structure is well thought out and clean. These are not stories told for the sake of rococo prose, but for the sake of telling a story. For those of us in the book club who appreciate such substance, the clarity and comprehensibility of Burstein’s writing was refreshing. Others suggested that there may have been slightly too much exposition, especially in the earlier stories in the collection.

But the content of I Remember the Future is consistently top-tier. Burstein is relentlessly inventive, from mundane SF tackling excessive secrecy in government documents (“Seventy-Five Years”) to big ideas-based whimsical SF (the title story “I Remember The Future.”)
Michael A. Burstein is a fan of 
science fiction as a genre, and this
shows through in every page of
I Remember The Future.
(Image via author's Facebook)

In recent decades, the craft of short story writing has come to be seen in some quarters as a stepping stone to writing novels. For whatever reason, Burstein never followed that path. He has unfortunately written only a couple of stories since this collection came out in 2008, but his writing career is an example of how short fiction can equal the emotional and narrative impact of novels. It takes a lot of work to fit so much into so few words. 

The explanatory essays in which Burstein talks about his inspirations and how the stories were developed add an additional layer of value to this collection of stories. 

We are very glad that Michael A. Burstein received so many Hugo nominations and won what is now known as the Astounding Award for Best New Writer: these awards are helping new generations of readers connect to his work. 

In our opinion, this is one of the best short story collections of the past decade.

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