Nova Hellas: Stories From Future Greece edited by Francesca T Barbini & Francesco Verso (book review)

The 2017 anthology ‘Stories From Future Athens’ has been translated into English and a couple of additional stories added for the anthology ‘Nova Hellas: Stories From Future Greece’ from Scottish small press Luna Press, edited by two Italian editors, Francesca T Barbini and Francesco Verso. The collection has also been translated into Italian, making this a fantastic example of recent developments in international Science Fiction. I’m always glad of the opportunity to read some non-anglophone SF and enjoy both the differences brought about by a different language and culture and also the similarities of the cross-cultural SF milieu.

We begin with ’Roseweed’ by Vasso Christou, which explores a partially sunken city where tower blocks emerge from the polluted waters and diver Alba checks their submerged lower levels for stability. It’s a surprisingly optimistic take on a postapocalyptic trope, but simultaneously cynical. Alba’s somewhat claustrophobic assessments are used to determine whether the buildings are still habitable, though whether this information is used for the purposes of claiming back what has been lost or to dump undesirables in damp slums remains enigmatically unclear. The corporate offer made to Alba is wonderfully eccentric.

We’re given a lesson in ’Social Engineering’ in Kostas Charitos’ story of a future Athens overlaid by augmented reality. Daniel is hired to affect the outcome of an upcoming referendum in a city that is almost overwhelmed with helpful virtual tour guides, eye-catching advertisements and overlaid images of architecture. Whether social engineering is effective or not is playfully explored in this wry tale.

In ‘The Human(c)ity Of Athens’, Ioanna Bourazopoulou imagines a world where the inhabitants of any given city are not necessarily the people who were born there, but the people who would most be suited to live there. It’s a fascinating concept of a world gradually being homogenised and illustrates the impact this would have on the people who are to be moved to their most suitable location.

We find ourselves in another virtual reality version of Athens in ‘Baghdad Square’ by Michalis Manolios. Two people who meet up in virtual reality versions of the city discover that the real city differs for the both of them. This is a very thoughtful and mind-expanding piece.

‘The Bee Problem’ by Yiannis Papadopoulous & Stamatis Stamatopoulos is not the bee problem we’re currently experiencing. In this case, an old man called Nikitos who makes a living by repairing bee drones finds his livelihood threatened by the reintroduction of natural bees. For such a short story, Nikitos is a fabulously well-developed character with a tragic background and deep-seated motivations.

Social divisions have given rise to not just first and second-class trains but clean and dirty trains in ‘T2’ by Kelly Theodorakopoulou. A ticket costs more if you want to travel in a train that’s been cleaned, but this turns out not to be the most insidious indicator of social class in this frank story whose two main characters don’t really agree on their views of this creeping divide.

‘Those We Serve’ is Eugenia Triantafyllou’s wonderfully poignant tale of artificial humans left on a Greek tourist island to cater to the rush of summer visitors. The tourists are unaware that the locals they interact with are not real and local hotelier Manoli struggles to reconcile his very real seeming feelings and memories with his life of servitude. It’s a captivating and touching story.

Lina Theodorou gives us the briefly told ‘Abacos’, presented as an interview between a journalist and a rep from Abacos, the company behind a new artificial food substitute that would seem to have robbed all the joy and variety from eating. Their conversation touches on marketing, choice, health and alcoholism in their arguments on ethics and tradition. It’s a fun and thoughtful contribution to the book.

We travel to the far future for ‘Any Old Disease’ by Dimitra Nikolaidou, which is set in a research institute studying a mysterious wasting disease. Ada has worked there for decades and struggles to uncover the truth about why some humans die and what knowledge has been lost in the mists of time. Although I guessed part-way through what was going on, it was still a satisfying and haunting tale.

Journalist Aliki is on a mission to uncover the truth about a revolution, a death cult and androids in Natalia Theodoridou’s beguiling story ‘Android Whores Can’t Cry’. It’s composed of a series of notes and recordings collected by Aliki, starting off as a factual and serious piece of journalism but descending gradually into strange and confusing places that left me intrigued and impressed.

‘The Colour That Defines You’ by Stamatis Stamatopoulos is set in a monochrome world where, for reasons unexplained, people can only see one particular shade each. The psychological impact of this situation is interestingly explored through the viewpoints of several characters whose lives interact and create a poignant story of loss and trauma.

This collection of translated stories is a great selection, all of them presenting different visions of a future Greece and each demonstrating an intriguing and convincing story of what might be. As with previous collections, I’ve read translated from different languages, I couldn’t say there’s anything definably Greek about these stories, other than their setting and the characters’ names. It demonstrates well once again that the ideas and tropes that from the field of Science Fiction are international, that there seems to be no bounds to what the future could bring and that, no matter the original language in which a tale is told, they are just as relevant and impactful where you live in the world.

Gareth D Jones

March 2021

(pub: Luna Press Publishing. 2021. 164 page paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-91338-737-2)

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