Baxter, Stephen, et al. The Web 2027. London: Orion, 1999. 568pp.
Individual stories by Stephen Baxter, Stephen Bowkett, Eric Brown, Graham Joyce, Peter F. Hamilton and Maggie Furey. This is a collection of six young adult novellas originally published separately in Britain and now collected in one volume. The premise is quite good: in the future virtual reality technology has become quite common place, especially amongst those ultimate early-adopters – teenagers! VR instruction has replaced regular classrooms as well as hanging out at the mall. But all is not so peachy-keen. There is a mysterious presence on the Web and this woman is up to no good. She sets up secret areas on the web, cracks into other areas and even kidnaps kids in the real world. She must be stopped! And who better than a bunch of kids! These six novellas tell the story of how a series of kids uncover bits and pieces of the plot and ultimately stop the bad guy in her virtual tracks. Each episode stars a new kid but each also has some kids overlapping in minor roles from previous episodes. Overall, the plot is very well constructed and each installment is quite good. It's light reading, of course, but it would be great for a long bus trip. I do have to make note of one particular episode, “Untouchable” by Eric Brown. All the other episodes focus on happy-go-lucky, reasonable prosperous First World kids, as is typical with most SF. So where does Brown set this story? In the slums of Calcutta. The hero, Ana, is a very poor girl, begging on the street to save money for an operation for her younger brother. Suddenly he is kidnapped and she must rely on help from a rich kid who has access to the Web to help her find him. This is a great story, by far the best in the collection, because it reminds us that while technology may be great, not everyone in the world has the same access to it that we do. And that this is unlikely to get any better in the future – probably only worse.