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Entanglements

Entanglements: Tomorrow's Lovers, Families, and Friends

Sheila Williams, ed.
MIT Press
2020
240 pp.
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In quantum physics, entanglement is a property wherein two particles are inextricably linked. Put another way, entangled particles are never truly independent of each other, no matter the distance between them. It is fitting then that Entanglements is an anthology of short stories about inextricably linked people and the impact of emerging technologies on their relationships. A talented set of authors, with deft editing by Sheila Williams, explore the full spectrum of intimacy and technology to great effect. As an added visual treat, illustrations by Tatiana Plakhova punctuate each story with a blend of science, mathematics, and art that complements the subject matter.

Even with the length limitations of a short story, the world-building in this compilation is frequently full and often insidiously terrifying, particularly in those stories that use the familiar as breadcrumbs to lure the reader in. The very first tale, “Invisible People” by Nancy Kress, begins with a mundane morning routine and carefully layers in a story about two parents reeling from an unsanctioned genetic experiment on their child. In “Don’t Mind Me,” Suzanne Palmer uses the shuffle between high school classes as a foundation on which to build a story about how one generation uses technology to enshrine its biases and inflict them on the next. The ethical implications in these stories offer fodder enough for plenty of late-night discussions. It is also chilling how entirely possible many of the fictional futures seem.

But looking forward need not always be bleak. This volume balances darker-themed stories with those in which technology and people collide in uplifting and charming ways. In Mary Robinette Kowal’s “A Little Wisdom,” for example, a museum curator, aided by her robotic therapy dog–cum–medical provider, finds the courage within herself to inspire courage in others and save the day. Meanwhile, in Cadwell Turnbull’s “Mediation,” a scientist reeling from a terrible loss finally accepts her personal AI’s assistance to start the healing process. And in arguably the cheekiest tale in this compilation, “The Monogamy Hormone,” Annalee Newitz tells of a woman who ingests synthetic vole hormones to choose between two lovers, delivering a classic tale of relationship woes with a bioengineered twist.

With such a dizzying array of technologies discussed in relation to a range of human emotion and behavior, readers may experience cognitive whiplash as they move from one story to the next. But it is definitely worth the risk. The 10 very different thought experiments presented in this volume make for a fun ride, revealing that human relationships will continue to be as complicated and affirming in the future as they are today. I would recommend the Netflix approach to this highly readable collection: Binge it in one go, preferably with a friend.

About the author

The reviewer is at the Office of Science and Technology Cooperation, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC 20520, USA