Technology short stories

Technology short stories DEFAULT

We’re in a new golden age of science fiction, especially science fiction short stories. The generations that grew up with the evolution of smartphones and apps, anime, Pokémon, and ground-breaking video games are now writing fiction—really damn good fiction—with new views and commentary on technology and science that haven’t been seen before.

The Next Level of Science Fiction Short Stories

The below list includes short stories that are accessible online, though I encourage you to buy the collections and anthologies many of these stories appear in. I also encourage you to subscribe to any or all of the illustrious magazines these stories appear in as well.

You may notice the absence of some notable authors like Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke on this list. That’s intentional. While I included some authors that are long-standing titans of the genre, like Octavia Butler and Ursula K. Le Guin, I wanted to focus on authors that are reinventing science fiction, taking it to new heights, and bending genre lines. In fact, below are stories that are not only science fiction but also fairytales and horror stories. These stories are reflections of our current social and political environment, delve deep into emotional and physical connections, while exploring other worlds, cultures, and timelines.

exhalation-science-fiction-short-stories-by-ted-chiang“Exhalation” by Ted Chiang, Lightspeed Magazine

Let’s start with a master of the science fiction short form. This is the title story for Chiang’s stunning collection Exhalation: Stories, which released in 2019. The entire collection is worth the read, but “Exhalation” is a great entry-point. It follows an alien scientist investigating a curious incident that grows into an astounding discovery with universal consequences. I took from this story as a deep reflection on the loss of natural resources and the depletion of the environment. As with all of Chiang’s work, this story will have you thinking about it, its philosophy, its explorations of self, long after you finish reading the last word.

Her Body and Other Parties Carmen Maria Machado cover“Inventory” by Carmen Maria Machado, LitHub

This is dystopian science fiction at its finest. Bone-deep and altering. This is my favorite story in Machado’s collection, Her Body and Other Parties. It is a soul-wrenching story, structured as a list of those the narrator has had sex with, while also telling the story of her fight for survival as an epidemic ravages the nation. It’s a potent story, brilliant in its structure, about forming and breaking connections at the end of the world, while also relaying how our singular world begins, ends, and begins again with love and loss. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve cried every time I read this story. It is as full and desperate for hope as it is heartbreaking.

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“The Time Invariance of Snow” by E. Lily Yu,

Looking for a science fiction fairytale? Then look no further than Yu’s breathtakingly beautiful work. Split into nine parts, it begins with “The Devil and the Physicist.” Each story is succinct, biting in its language. There are no pulled punches. These are the fairytales for our times, haunting and full of undeniable truth.

Yu is also frequently listed in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy series, and also appears many times in The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, among many other anthologies. She has a novel coming out in fall 2020 titled On Fragile Waves. 

“Smear” by Brian Evenson, Conjunctions

Brian Evenson is a magnificent writer, one of my favorite horror writers, and “Smear” is a perfect mixture of utter dread and paranoia in science fiction. Charles Yu also chose this story for The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017. A passenger awakes in a vessel on a long journey. The passenger isn’t supposed to be awake, is unable to move, and sees a smear that cannot be wiped away on the passenger’s helmet. Queries to the AI computer are unhelpful and faltering. There’s a growing dread that something is very wrong and there is nowhere to run because there’s no ability to even move.

“In Xanadu” by Lavie Tidhar,

There are so many things in this story that make up what I love about science fiction. Polite robots with attitude. The tension of hearing static silence on the end of a comm. Nila is part of a security force hired by a digital intelligence that has rarely had any need to protect. Nila wants to be a part of something bigger than herself, but has had nothing to fight. What is security is there is no need for it? That is until a routine check goes horribly wrong, and instead of hearing the usual “clear,” from her team members, all she hears is static silence. Then all hell breaks loose.

Tidhar is able to create an action-packed epic adventure in a single story, and now I am desperate to find more of his work.

cover of Kij Johnson's collection of short stories“26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson, Clarkesworld

Kij Johnson is one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy writers. Her collection At the Mouth of the River of Bees: Stories is one of my favorite collections of all time. “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” is a near-perfect story. Aimee runs an act in which she makes 26 monkeys disappear on stage after climbing in a bathtub. The monkeys dress up and perform movies on stage (including The Matrix) in addition to their disappearing act. No one knows where the monkeys go; there are hints that the bathtub is a portal or gateway of sorts (which you could argue might be more fantasy than science fiction, but I think it could go either way), but the monkeys always come back. Despite the absurdity of this story, it’s deeply felt, loving, and ends on such a perfect note.

“How to Get Back to the Forest” by Sofia Samatar, Lightspeed

Sofia Samatar can do it all. As of the publication of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019, she is the current record holder for the most stories chosen for the BASFF series, with four appearances. “How to Get Back to the Forest” appeared in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015, edited by Joe Hill. This story starts out like any summer camp story. Then we start to get bread crumbs from the narrator that something is off. This is set in a future where children go camp to forget their parents. And a girl named Cee claims that there is a bug inside each of them that regulates feelings. It’s an unsettling, brilliant story.

“Homesick” by Sarah Gailey, Fireside Quarterly

Every time I read something by Sarah Gailey, I am thunderstruck by their originality, talent, and depth. “Homesick” is a story that left me gasping for air. It plays with the end-of-the-world scenario of humanity being forced to leave Earth, but then adds a scintillating follow-up question: What if someone was desperate to go back? Sounds like a relatively innocent question, but in this narrator’s case, it’s so much more. It is a sad, heartbreaking story. It also puts humanity in front of a mirror and asks whether we as humans are doomed to succumb to violence wherever we go.

science fiction short stories by charlie jane anders“The Fermi Paradox Is Our Business Model” by Charlie Jane Anders, Tor.Com

This story is the first story in Anders’s collection Six Months, Three Days, Five Others. It takes a witty approach to the creation and survival of humans. It follows Jon and Toku, who are tasked with observing planets over the course of millions of years. Jon wakes up after about two thousand years of sleep and is notified by the computer that a particular planet—third in line from a particular sun—continues to show activity after a “Closure,” (i.e. an event that should have ended life on that planet). It’s so much fun to follow the banter between Jon and Toku in this story. I can’t recommend this story enough.

“Articulated Restraint” by Mary Robinette Kowal,

Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of the award-winning Lady Astronaut novels. “Articulated Restraint” is a story revolves around an event that takes place off-stage in the series.

I haven’t yet read The Calculating Stars (it’s on my list!) but I found no problem jumping into the world with this story. In an alternate 1960, Ruby Donaldson goes to work at the The International Aerospace Coalition and finds out there’s an emergency situation on the space station Lunetta. Ruby’s friends and colleagues are on that platform, their lives in danger. Despite her injured ankle, Ruby has 16 hours to don an EVA suit in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab and find a solution.

It’s a story full of tension and perseverance. Now I need to go out and buy these books.

“Requiem Without Sound” by Izzy Wasserstein, Escape Pod

For those of you are interested in audio storytelling, Escape Pod is a science fiction podcast that publishes amazing work. “Requiem Without Sound” is one of the latest episodes from Escape Pod. You can listen to the story on your computer or mobile device and/or read the text online.

“Requiem Without Sound” is about Evie, a created AI who wakes on a ship to find that their maker, Chavez, is no longer alive. Evie watches video files of Chavez. These act as letters to Evie from Chavez on why she created them, and what she hopes Evie will become. It’s about trying to understand the reason for our creation, the strong sense of love and fear for what we create, the isolated silence of loneliness, and the ending message that despite such loneliness, there is still hope.

“Mountain Ways” by Ursula K. Le Guin, Clarkesworld

As one of my favorite writers of all time and as one of the best science fiction writers of all time, it is my duty to include one of Ursula K. Le Guin’s stories on this list. “Mountain Ways” originally appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction in 1996. Then, it was reprinted in Clarkesworld‘s March 2014 issue. It’s somewhat of a comedy story about relationships and the planet the story is set on is a location Le Guin used in a few of her stories.

The story begins with a note to the reader, laying out the different types of relationships on the planet O. At the end of the note, there’s the line “It’s just as complicated as it sounds, but aren’t most marriages?” This sets the tone for the rest of the story, which is indeed complicated, but we all know that from Le Guin, complicated still makes for a great story.

“Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler,

I can’t write about science fiction short stories without listing “Bloodchild.” I could go for pages on Octavia Butler’s short fiction, but lucky for you, dear reader, fellow Book Riot writer Cassandra Neace already compiled a great selection of Butler’s short fiction in her article “Fierce: The Short Fiction of Octavia Butler.”

“Bloodchild” is about a boy and his family who are humans living on a planet of insect-like creatures called the Tlic. On this planet, humans act as hosts for the Tlic to hatch their offspring. It’s a deeply unsettling story about codependent relationships and their distortions of power. As Neace mentioned in her article, Butler described this story as a reworking on the the traditional invasion story, and her collection Bloodchild and Other Stories is worth reading.

cover of amber sparks's the unfinished world“13 Ways of Destroying a Painting” by Amber Sparks, Snap Judgement

Amber Sparks is a brilliant writer of flash and short fiction. She’s one of my favorite writers ever, mostly because her work cannot be defined under one genre. “13 Ways of Destroying a Painting” appears in Sparks’s glorious collection The Unfinished World, and the podcast Snap Judgement published it as a radio play. The performance about 11 minutes, and is an absolutely genius way of using the time traveller trope in a list structure. There are sound effects and music that really adds the icing on this delicious cake of a story.

Cover of the anthology Steam-Powered“The Effluent Engine” by N.K. Jemisin, Lightspeed

Lastly, but certainly not least, a steampunk story by the incomparable N.K. Jemisin. This story was originally published in the anthology in Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories, edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft.

The story follows Jessaline as she seeks to gain a partnership with Norbert Rillieux on a methane extraction mechanism. A mechanism that lead to helping the people of Haiti, a free nation, stay free. Instead of partnering with Norbert, though, Jessaline meets his sister Eugenie. Both clever and ambitious women, sparks fly. It’s a steampunk spy adventure story about Haitian independence. If that doesn’t make you want to drop everything and read, I don’t know what will.

A Final Note On Science Fiction Short Stories

I know there are many more out science fiction stories out there worthy of listing, and I encourage readers to include recommendations to more science fiction short stories in the comments on social media. If you’re interested in reading more free stories online, check out our list here. And if you’ve sated your short form appetite and want to jump to long form science fiction, check out the list of 30 Top Sci-Fi Books on Goodreads.

Finally, as 2019 has come and gone and the road of 2020 ahead of us, I am certain that there will be more science fiction stories that hold up a mirror to the what’s happening around us—politics, people, technology, and our environment—and hold up a lens to explore the world(s) yet to come.


Listing Beyond Forty

10 very short stories about technology

When I started Fiction Friday I was looking for a way to reinvigorate my imagination in quick bursts of flash fiction. Some weeks I know well ahead of time what will write. Some weeks an idea didn’t come until Thursday. However, a theme that that has emerged is short stories about technology. I guess it makes sense since I’ve spent most of my life using computers (I’m one of those other women in tech), but looking back and seeing how much of my flash fiction had a technological theme surprised me.

Here are 10 short stories about technology organized by theme.

Short fiction about biotechnology

Short fiction about the Internet in general

Short fiction about social media

Short fiction about online privacy

Short fiction about fitness trackers

Short fiction about technology becoming obsolete

Will my next Fiction Friday post be about technology or something else? Subscribe to find out. 

Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

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    In some cases, the novels on Ryan and Finney’s lists are available in shortened versions. Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (1985) is available as a novelette, first published in the August 1977 issue of Analog magazine. Likewise, Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War (1974) was initially a four part serial in Analog, the first of which was “Hero,” appearing in the June 1972 issue. These short versions are obviously less detailed than the novels, and may lack some nuance and character development. But they are usually the author’s first cut at a story, and in many cases the important strategic themes are equally present in the short stories.

    I have used short stories in an elective at the Joint Advanced Warfighting School (JAWS) entitled “Future Tech: War, Strategy, and Society in the Next Century,” where the topic was technology and its relationship to strategy, society, and war. The short stories read in that course supplemented scholarly work on topics such as artificial intelligence, human augmentation, and space exploration. Starting with the 2019-20 academic year, I will be offering an elective at the Air Command and Staff College, in which we will exclusively read science fiction, including novels and short stories, and discuss how the stories relate to different elements of strategy and leadership, such as ethical decision-making, insurgency or revolution, civil-military relations, and the role of the military in society.

    There are two potential downsides to using short stories rather than novels. In some cases, they may be harder to find. Some are available online, while some appear in anthologies or collected works, but many of those collections are out of print and expensive. In contrast, many of the best novels come in a variety of formats, including as electronic downloads. On the other hand, because so many short stories exist, and because some are free online, numerous short stories are available for a wide range of courses in professional military education.[3]

    The second potential issue is that the sheer volume of short stories may deter someone who wants to explore the genre but does not know where to start. What follows is a list of some of the short stories I use, and how they relate to key strategic concepts. This is only a starting point and necessarily omits several good stories that achieve many of the strategic benefits highlighted by Ryan and Finney. One persistent question across these stories is whether advanced technology can act as a substitute for strategy or strategic thinking.

    Arthur C. Clarke’s “Superiority” (1951) is my starting point for discussions of strategy and science fiction. It is a story every strategist and procurement officer should read. It highlights the dangers of relying on technological solutions rather than sound strategy that involves an understanding of goals as well as an adversary’s capabilities. This is one of the first readings in my electives and a recommendation to all my students, whether they enjoy reading science fiction or not.[4]

    Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (1973) is a troubling but powerful story on many levels. In contrast to stories of military selflessness that pervade science fiction, this story highlights the trade-off every society faces in sacrificing the few for the good of the many. Whether it is a Marxist interpretation of workers sacrificing for the wealthy or those in the military asked to risk everything for the security and prosperity of the rest of society, each reader comes away with different lessons and perspectives on how the story applies to strategic decision-making. Related to the topic of revolution is the question this story raises about why people do not challenge the status quo, even when they think it is wrong.

    Isaac Asimov’s “Runaround” (1942) is a clever story about artificial intelligence and robotics, illuminating the challenge humanity might face in communicating with machines that do not think or learn the way humans do. This story also provides a parallel with the military planning concept of commander’s intent. Specifically, it highlights the importance of communicating, but doing so in a way that allows others to understand what constitutes success and therefore the larger purpose of their activities.[5]

    John Campbell’s “The Last Evolution” (1932) is the oldest story on my list. It deals with a time after the singularity, when humanity has created machines that can think and reproduce, and even produce smarter machines. Unlike many stories in which robots become a threat, instead humanity’s creations attempt to save us. Although aliens destroy humanity, the more durable and smarter beings—the legacy of humanity—survive and continue to evolve into more sophisticated machines. Aside from the genius of the author writing even before the technological advances of the Second World War, the story engages with civil-military relations, where humans are the civilian leadership and machines are the military warfighters.

    Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” (1950) can be interpreted in a number of different ways. Bradbury wrote this in the early Cold War, when fears of nuclear annihilation were high. Read without that historical context, one bleak perspective on the story is that nature will be more content once humanity is gone. The more optimistic view is that even an artificial intelligence requires interaction with humanity, both to fulfill its purpose but also to deal with any unintended situations for which it is unprepared. Like “Superiority,” the moral of this story seems to warn us about thoughtless technological development, which might either benefit or destroy us.

    Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations” (1954) contains a familiar plot to science fiction fans, in which someone is faced with the dilemma of sacrificing one person to save many. This story is responsible for giving the cold equation name to this ethical dilemma, and illustrates an ethical challenge important for military officers and national security decision-makers, especially when considering the use of military force.

    Ted Chiang’s “Understand” (1991) is about the effects of an experimental drug that creates superintelligence in a man, and the effects of that enhancement on his behavior and view of society. As for strategic themes, one can draw parallels between the main character’s relationship with his surroundings and the relationship between the military and society. As the military continues to draw from a smaller portion of the population, the divide between the two entities will grow, much as the main character begins to view people as a distraction rather than deserving of his help. That sets up what is a very realist view of human nature; while one of the enhanced characters wants to use his talents to help humanity, the other’s desire to act in a more self-interested way leads to a violent clash.

    Nancy Fulda’s “Movement” (2011) is the most recent story on this list. Told from the perspective of a child, the main character’s parents must decide whether to enroll their daughter in an experimental treatment that will make her normal but potentially affect her unique dancing talents, or allow her to remain the way she is—which means continuing to struggle in society. One can draw comparison to Chiang’s “Understand,” the questions of medical treatment as therapy and human enhancement, and the risk each poses to the individual and their place in society. One can also draw a connection here between military and civilian leaders and the difficulty the main character has with communicating in a way others will understand.

    Sci-Fi Short Film “The Black Hole\

    When I started Fiction Friday I was looking for a way to reinvigorate my imagination in quick bursts of flash fiction. Some weeks I know well ahead of time what will write. Some weeks an idea didn’t come until Thursday. However, a theme that that has emerged is short stories about technology. I guess it makes sense since I’ve spent most of my life using computers (I’m one of those other women in tech), but looking back and seeing how much of my flash fiction had a technological theme surprised me.

    Here are 10 short stories about technology organized by theme.

    Short fiction about biotechnology

    Short fiction about the Internet in general

    Short fiction about social media

    Short fiction about online privacy

    Short fiction about fitness trackers

    Short fiction about technology becoming obsolete

    Will my next Fiction Friday post be about technology or something else? Subscribe to find out. 

    Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

      You can also find Kim Z. Dale on Twitter and Google+ and like Listing Beyond Forty on Facebook.


      Short stories technology

      He looked at me petrified. It was probably his way of coming in terms with the ‘reality’. His eyes had lost the gleam of hope.

      ‘What do you mean only seven of us?’

      His question was incredulous enough for me to sit up on my bed and look at him annoyingly.

      ‘It means we are the only ones left to lead this resistance.’ I told him in a matter-of-fact way.

      He grunted disapprovingly and forced himself back to sleep.

      It took me some moments to sympathize with him. Peter was not too ‘old’ to understand the ways of the new world. But, the reality stared back at him coldly.

      Peter was more a son to me than my younger brother. I let out a sigh of exasperation at my helplessness and went back to sleep, hoping that there was some still left to my eyes.

      Year: Unknown

      Decades must have passed; probably centuries. We were aliens to the ‘outer world’. People there would not even be aware of a group that had distanced itself from technology. There were no more innovations. Technology had grown beyond the reach of mankind. In fact, it had become an undisputed master of human slaves.

      People were the new smart devices now. There were no more gadgets to aid them in their daily chores; neither did they need any of them. Communication had ceased between humans and there was no place for emotions anymore. There were myriads of texts, symbols, numbers and graphic representations to replace and replicate human feelings. They were nothing but puppets in the hands of an unknown master known to the world only as The AI Orb. He designed their new world, created perfect thinking humans and gave rise to a perfectly organized society.

      But there was also another side to the perfect society. Though we did not personally like imperfections, neither could we imagine a life akin to a Lego world. We prided ourselves to be called the ‘Seven Samurais’. We hated the machine rule and revolted against it in our own little but futile ways. Only a few associated with The AI Orb were aware of us and had made several attempts in the past to flush us out like gutter rats.

      We were proud of our ancestors. In spite of severe attempts to corrupt them, they had fought against it and remained ‘pure’. It was all long, long ago. I read about their lives and struggles years ago. But, it has remained with me since then and I had vowed to stay pure just like them till my last breath.

      I remember reading the Great Revolt against AI which was said to have happened many years ago. My forefathers had fought bravely against the regime of machines, successful to some extent but ultimately sacrificing their lives. The remaining few survivors had made it to this ‘base camp’ safely.

      I had no idea how could they survive for a long time after that dreaded cataclysm. They were successful in raising an entire colony of rebels thus remaining inconspicuous for several decades. It was then that The AI Orb took over the reins of the apocalypse himself. He extracted out majority of our ancestors through manipulations and led them to the ‘outer world’. As the population of the ‘pure’ race began to diminish rapidly, the survivors changed their hideout. We, the remains of those survivors had taken great care to remain safe, yet spread the message of revolt amongst the converted mankind.

      But, our battle was not just an external one. There were four younger ones like Peter who were partly curious about the ‘outer world’ people and their perfect society, and partly rebellious about their stinking life in their dark hideout. The remaining ‘elders’, including me had tough time convincing them about our ideals and a hope of our bright future.

      Off late, Peter had become adamant about going out, even if it meant for a short time and even at the cost of risking his life. But, I could never let him go. I had promised Papa that I would take care of my little brother. But, I could not contain him or his curiosity for a long time.

      The Next Day

      I woke up when the warm, gleaming beams of sun seeped in through the tiny window and glowing directly on my face. As soon as I opened my eyes, I saw what appeared to be a colorful pamphlet that was pinned to the soft board on the wall. Getting up from my bed, I approached the wall, and training my still-sleepy eyes on the pamphlet.






      Sleep had deserted me in an instant. I was taken up by a sickening feeling of defeat.

      ‘It is all over’, I thought.

      I raked my brain hard and thought of endless ways this pamphlet could have gotten into the hideout.

      ‘Are there any insiders?’ I questioned myself. The next moment I was ashamed of suspecting my own men. This thought instantly made me look out for Peter.

      ‘Where is he!?’

      Bewildered and shocked, I began searching for my brother. There was no one I could seek. I had sent all my men to scavenge the possibilities of other hideouts and rebels in the proximity.

      Seeing that there was no other way, I decided to search for him myself.

      I was finally going to step into the ‘outer world’ for the first time.

      The Outer World

      It was even worse than I had thought. Everything looked standstill as if crafted out through machinery. People walked around lost in their own worlds – singly and in groups. Their eyes seemed to be focused on something that was apparent only to them. It appeared as though I was watching a silent movie. Individuals were making discreet hand signals to communicate, signals that seemed to convey ideas that transmitted between their brains. I shuddered at the thought of finding Peter among them.

      I was lost in thoughts when a warm hand grasped my shoulder. Taken aback in an instant, I turned around only to find Peter. I let out a loud shrill of cheer and embraced my little brother warmly.

      How happy I was to see him safe and sound!

      But, there was something strange in the way he embraced me. His eyes stared at me coldly and there was a scorn in his smile. I shook him up violently and urged him to come back with me. His smile was still intact and he gave me a derisive sigh.

      After What Seemed Like an Eternity

      I do not have the slightest idea about my whereabouts after the rendezvous with my brother. When I opened my eyes, I was in a strange looking place. It seemed like a dormitory of a big hospital, entirely white. I woke up panicking, shouting Peter’s name and looked around. To my horror, I could not see a single soul around and not a sound was to be heard.

      A shrill beep reverberated within me and I clasped my ears in horror. I shut my eyes tightly in an attempt to keep away the sound but it gradually began to subside. I was still catching my breath back that was slowing returning to normal when I heard Peter’s voice inside my brain.

      ‘Welcome to the new world, brother. We will soon bring our five brothers too.’ The voice ended with a warm laughter that made me hate my brother for the first time.

      Finally, I was one among them. A tiny speck in the universe of The AI Orb.

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      Sci-Fi Short Film “The Black Hole\

      Review: These Short Stories Ask, How Does Technology Affect Us?

      The themes Mr. Weinstein explores are hardly new. The darker potential of technology is a staple of William Gibson’s and Bruce Sterling’s cyberpunk. The British TV series “Black Mirror” often paints a terrifically spooky and deranged vision of technological excess. Sherry Turkle, an early internet evangelist from M.I.T. — she was on the cover of Wired Magazine in 1996 — now argues that the virtual world drives us apart, rather than unites us, and shallows our capacity for reflection. The title of her 2011 book, “Alone Together,” says it all.

      At his least artful moments, Mr. Weinstein’s stories are too literal, and his moral takeaways, too obvious. The most vivid example of this tendency appears in “Excerpts from The New World Authorized Dictionary,” which is exactly what it sounds like — a self-conscious series of unrealized story ideas. One of his entries is “togging”: “The practice of relying upon ITPs (Inner-Ear Therapy Programs) while in a public space, often in the company of others or during social interaction (eating, walking, while in conversation).” Yikes. Swipe left.

      But at their finest, Mr. Weinstein’s stories contain moments of moral complexity and, even more challenging — and more moving — moments of grace. The calamity-howler’s view is that the virtual world offers a hollow substitute for lived experience. But what if technology offers us psychological comforts that the real world has denied us? What if it fulfills some of our deepest yearnings that have nothing to do with, say, sex?

      In the title story of this collection, “Children of the New World,” a childless couple — the wife is post-menopause — must enter the mists of cyberspace to start a family. Judge them if you like: They waited too long, perhaps, and in their on-the-grid lives, they still indulge their carnal needs, going to those thousand-finger parlors while their virtual children sleep.

      Yet when these parents are told to delete their online children — their account has been corrupted by a virus — it’s crushing to read about. “If it’s any consolation,” a supervisor tells the father, “they won’t feel a thing; they’re just data.” But the parents feel plenty, the mother especially. “She felt their bodies disappear from beneath her embrace.”

      The reader feels the same melancholy in “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” which opens the collection and is by far its strongest story. Yang is a robotic older brother purchased specifically to care for an adopted little girl from China. One day, without warning, he goes on the fritz, slamming face first into a bowl of cereal. The image of him crumpled into the trunk of the narrator’s car amid jumper cables and windshield-washing fluid is upsetting; so too is the moment when the mechanic tells the narrator that the most he can do is salvage Yang’s language system.

      “If you want, I can separate the head for you,” he says.

      Are you kidding?” the narrator replies. “I’m not giving my daughter her brother’s head to play with.”

      O.K., this moment is not just touching but also funny. This is Mr. Weinstein at his best: Exposing hidden corners of our selves, or perhaps how generous our capacity for empathy is. And maybe it’s not such a surprise. We often invest in fictional characters as if they were members of our own families. That these particular characters are made of bioplastic, data or pixels may be just as immaterial — in every sense.


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