In the year 2080, an explorer on Mars makes a startling discovery: a giant mech that’s been abandoned on the surface of the planet. Taking a closer look, she makes an interesting discovery: a chip that contains a number of “memories” of the people who once inhabited it.
That premise is the basis for a new anthology from the XPRIZE Foundation called Avatars Inc. and edited by Ann VanderMeer. The book couldn’t come at a better time, while we’re all trapped in our homes because of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic: the book contains 24 stories all about a future where people can inhabit robotic bodies to explore the Earth and other planets. Best of all, it’s free for you to read online.
The anthology is a powerhouse of talent from around the science fiction and fantasy community, including stories by the likes of JY Yang (Tensorate series), Kelly Robson (Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach), K Chess (Famous Men Who Never Lived), James S.A. Corey (The Expanse), Ken Liu (The Grace of Kings), Adrian Tchaikovsky (Children of Time), and many, many more. Each of their stories explores the ramifications of telepresence or avatar-type technology, and what how it impacts their characters’ lives.
The project is a collaboration with XPRIZE and All Nippon Airways, which previously released 2017’s Seat 14C, another online anthology about a plane that somehow ends up landing 20 years in the future. VanderMeer and anthology creator Eric Desatnik say that this particular anthology was “inspired by the real-life $10 million ANA Avatar XPRIZE, a four-year global competition focused on the development of an avatar system that could transport a human’s senses, actions, and presence to a remote location in real time.“
XPRIZE, founded in 1994 by Peter Diamandis, with the express purpose of encouraging aerospace engineers to develop a cheap spacecraft that could turn fly three people to space twice in two weeks. That first $10 million prize (won by Mojave Aerospace Ventures in 2004) has grown to include other prizes to encourage other innovations: more efficient vehicles, sensor systems, tricorder-style devices, lunar landers, adult literacy, and others. This project, launched in 2018, is a four-year project designed to “enable the creation of a technology that can efficiently distribute skills and hands-on expertise to distant locations around the world, wherever they are needed,” said Diamandis. This new anthology project is a component of that, one designed to “stimulate public excitement about avatar technology, creating demand and interest in the technologies that will result from the ANA Avatar XPRIZE,” VanderMeer and Desatnik say.
Science fiction has long been an art form that’s closely tied to advances and innovations in science and technology, the pair explain.
An anthology like Avatars Inc contains exciting and eye-opening glimpses of the future. So, as teams are busy building technologies to compete in the Avatar XPRIZE, these stories consider the societal and cultural implications of introducing these new technologies in the world.
What’s most exciting about these stories is that avatar technology isn’t portrayed as a marvel of innovation in and of itself, but as a tool that can serve as a conduit for meaningful human-to-human connections. The contributing writers were able to stretch their imaginations to consider the future in which time and distance are no longer impediments, and bring human-to-human interactions to life in fascinating ways.
The anthology is free to read online at the project’s website, and readers have the option to download eBook versions to read on their devices (AS ePub and PDF editions.) The project is also soliciting writers to contribute their own stories, with a trip to the World Expo in Dubai as a prize.