Review: Science fiction gets meta in ‘From Now On’

wardfromnowon

This collection of short works by Malachi Ward and published by Alternative Comics announces itself with a verbal joke — From Now On is another way of saying the future, after all. Ward’s stories reflect the sensibility of the title, presenting familiar scenarios, but presenting them in an unexpected way that challenges the tropes we’ve embraced over time to explain why they’re still around at all.

“Utu” takes the trope of a powerful god manipulating ancient people and suggest that it might take more talent to move masses than you think. As the great god Utu’s messenger finds it difficult to sway leaders, and Utu finds it hard to convince his messenger to move on, the idea that technology can make man a god is called into question. What if with all the technology in the world, man can’t get his own crap together? Is he cut out to perform the simplest duties of being a god?

Such questions about the infallibility of the traditional leadership roles permeate the collection. In “Henix,” a protectorate’s audience with a secret prisoner reveals some of the cracks in her own court. “Divination” examines our trust in a universal order, and the malleability of the truth it offers according to what is needed at the moment. “Top Five” takes the challenge to Star Trek itself, and offers an example of the control we have over our own mythology through the form of criticism.

“The Beasts Of K-7” takes the Star Trek motif even more literally and suggests that in a situation of danger involving entirely alien life forms, we might win a battle with bravery and luck, but there’s no guarantee the larger dangers are subdued, no matter how much the space hero makes it seem so.

Worst of all, “Disconnect” offers a situation where scientific advances like time travel have become so normal, that the presentation of them ends up being like any other crass entertainment we embrace — and the very system with which we hand our lives over can end up failing in an excruciating and seemingly endless way.

Ward’s stories are mostly very short, but he manages to pack a good punch at the end of each narrative, some unfolding with poetic delicacy even as they function as exciting tales despite their length. Ward’s penchant to think big, present small also adds some mystery to his stories that larger, sweeping works might not have the ability to sustain in the same way — though it would fascinating to see Ward attempt it.

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