Future Crimes edited by Mike Ashley

Time travel, telepaths and technology…

:mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

A new anthology in the British Library Science Fiction Classics series, this one brings together ten stories each featuring a crime mystery in a futuristic setting. It is edited as usual by Mike Ashley, who also provides a short introduction to the collection and an individual mini-bio of each of the authors. Most of the stories date from the 1950s and ‘60s – still in the heyday of the science fiction magazines – and there’s a lot of play on time travel, telepathy and advanced technology, with the occasional alien thrown in for good measure. As always, some of the authors are so well known even I, as a dabbler in SF, know of them, such as Isaac Asimov and Anne McCaffrey; some have become familiar to me through their inclusion in earlier anthologies in the series, such as John Brunner and Eric Frank Russell; and a couple are new names to me, such as George Chailey and Miriam Allen deFord. While most of them are SF writers crossing over into crime, crime fans will also be intrigued to see PD James putting in an appearance, crossing in the other direction into SF.

As in any anthology, the quality of the stories, or my enjoyment of them at least, varies quite a lot. Overall, I gave three of them five stars while another three really didn’t work for me, and the rest all rated four stars, so I’d consider this as a solid collection rather than an outstanding one. In tone, they range from fairly light-hearted amusements to rather bleak, almost dystopian tales, verging on noir once or twice.

Here’s a brief look at some of the ones I enjoyed most:

Mirror Image by Isaac Asimov (1972) – This brings together Asimov’s famous detective duo who appear in several novels together – Elijah Bailey, an Earth police officer, and R. Daneel Olivaw, a humanoid robot built by the Spacer community. Daneel is on a space-ship, where two famous mathematicians are also partners. They each claim to have had a brilliant mathematical idea and consulted the other, and now accuse the other of having stolen the idea from them. Each has a robot servant, and each of these robots, programmed not to lie, is backing its own master’s version of events. Daneel persuades the ship’s captain to consult his friend, Elijah. While Elijah uses the Three Laws of Robotics in working out the solution, it’s really his knowledge of human nature that gives him the clue he needs. Very well told, ingenious plot, and it’s always a pleasure to meet with this duo.

Murder, 1986 by PD James (1970) – A disease brought to Earth from space has ravaged humanity. Most of the remaining population are carriers – Ipdics (Interplanetary Disease Infection Carriers) – and are subject to severe restrictions by the relatively few unaffected humans. Ipdics are not allowed to marry or breed, or have close contact with the unaffected. So when Sergeant Dolby discovers the body of a murdered young woman, the general feeling is that it’s unimportant since she was only an Ipdic, and one less Ipdic is a good thing for humanity. But Dolby can’t see it that way, and decides to carry out his own investigation. This is a bleak story, but very well told. Although only thirty pages or so long, James finds room to show the cruelty with which the Ipdics are treated, driven by the strength of the human survival instinct. As you might expect, this is one of the strongest stories in terms of the mystery plotting, fair play and an excellent, if depressing, denouement.

The Absolutely Perfect Murder by Miriam Allen deFord (1965) – This is a light-hearted bit of fun – a nice contrast to some of the grimmer stories in the book. Our anti-hero Mervyn is tired, very tired, of his nagging, over-bearing wife. For the last couple of years he’s been trying to think of a foolproof way to murder her (because despite this being in the far future, apparently divorce laws haven’t moved on from the mid-twentieth century). Now he learns that time travel has been made commercial, and decides to pop back into the past and do the deed there. While the twist in the tail might be a little obvious, it’s entertaining.

Elsewhen by Anthony Boucher (1943) – Mr Partridge invents a time machine that can only go back a maximum of two hours into the past. Needing money to develop it and to win the love of his life, Mr Partridge decides to use the time machine to commit a murder that will result in him inheriting his rich great-uncle’s wealth. But private detective Fergus O’Breen gets involved in the murder investigation and he’s not a man to let a little thing like time travel baffle him! This is a great twist on a standard locked room mystery and on a novel way to create a perfect alibi. While the time-travelling paradox aspect befuddled my mind (as it usually does), the mystery plotting aspect is excellent. It’s well written and very entertaining, and probably my favourite story in the collection.

So plenty of good stuff here, and it’s fun to see how the authors try to stick to the conventions of mystery writing while incorporating the more imaginative SF stuff. Recommended to SF fans, but also to mystery fans who dare to step a little out of their comfort zone.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

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31 thoughts on “Future Crimes edited by Mike Ashley

  1. When I think of future crimes, I think of Minority Report by Philip K. Dick, out of which the Tom Cruise movie was adapted. 😃
    So glad you enjoyed this collection (well, mostly enjoyed).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always give a lot of credit to authors who mix genres that way, FictionFan. SciFi/Fantasy mixed with crime isn’t easy to pull off, but this sounds like a solid collection. And I’m glad that you found several that were 4/5-star quality. It makes up in a way for the ones that – ahem – weren’t. And it’s funny how you can get to know authors through collections like this. More than once, I’ve found myself tracking down authors’ work after I read a story in an anthology or collection.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I usually find the crime aspect becomes weaker when it’s mixed in with SF, but some of these were really well done with proper plots and clues and so on. Mike Ashley is very good at finding interesting stories for his themes, even if some of them don’t work for me – often when the science outweighs the fiction! There are some authors I’d never heard of that I now look out for in these anthologies, and while he does include Americans, he always puts in lots of less well known Brits too, which is fun!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I was pleased to see her in there since I think all the rest were SF writers trying their hand at crime. It was fun to see a crime writer take on SF, although in a sense it was more a dystopia than a “true” science fiction. I love these anthologies – you never know what you’re going to get! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • The James piece sounds like a try out for her later novel Children of Men (1992) with its epidemic of mass infertility also really a future dystopia. Set in … 2021. (The film version is brilliant, by the way, if you haven’t yet seen it.)

        Liked by 1 person

        • The SF aspects of this story were very limited – no real explanation was given for the disease or why some people were carriers and others not. But the dystopian feeling was very good. I haven’t either seen or read Children of Men – I need to stop sleeping… it wastes so much time! 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds like an interesting collection. Nice that some of the names are familiar, but equally nice that you found some new-to-you authors you enjoyed. Best of all, short stories don’t have to be read cover to cover (sometimes, skipping around works best with one’s schedule!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love meeting familiar authors in these anthologies, especially when they’re doing something a bit different from what they’re best known for. And I totally agree about the pleasure of being able to read just one story and then put the book aside for a while… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I pre-ordered this one and it should arrive in about a month!

    I remembered reading another SF novel by PD James awhile back, and when I looked it up to get the title (The Children of Men), I realized it’s set in 2021! I also recall seeing a film version of it.

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  5. This is an interesting assortment, and I have to say I am intrigued enough to investigate further. First going to check out my husband’s collection and see if I can find that Asimov story in a previously published group of stories….

    Liked by 1 person

    • If he’s got the Complete Robot collection, I’d imagine it’d be in that. I love R Daneel Olivaw – not just the character, but the name! Asimov was always good at merging SF and mysteries so he was a natural for this anthology, but some of the other ones are very good too. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • I loved her books too, especially the early ones! She was one of the rare authors for whom I made a point of getting each new book on publication day and devouring it immediately. I haven’t revisited her for years and this story put me in the mood… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I read this one last month, my review is coming up. I thought it quite a mixed bag, there were some great concepts but the only one I thought was stunningly good in both concept and writing style was P D James.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, it always makes me laugh when these SF writers could imagine aliens and the end of the world, but couldn’t seem to imagine that we wouldn’t all still have 1950s attitudes in the far future! 😉 I thought having the PD James story in there was good marketing – might pull in some crime readers and get them hooked on SF…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh now the PD James story sounds the best by far, and I can’t help but draw parallels to what’s going on right now with Covid. And by parallels, I mean the fact that people who complain their rights are being taken away by being forced to wear a mask are really just being…silly. Now these people in the story – sounds like their rights are actually being taken away here LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it was interesting to make comparisons! The carriers in her story though seem to eventually sicken and die, but the healthy people really did treat them pretty badly, I thought. I’m so fed up with the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers – makes me wonder what on earth is the point of education if people still manage to be so stupid!!! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

        • Seems to be getting worse! I blame our culture of never being willing to call people out for stupidity or lazy thinking or anti-social behaviour – we seem to feel we have to praise everything now and call it individuality, and then we discover we’ve created generations of selfish, egoistic narcissists – what a surprise! 😉

          Liked by 1 person

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