In two new short story anthologies, 18 writers use the anxieties and ambitions of adolescence to explore what the future, and the Millennium in particular, might hold for humankind.
"Second Sight: Stories for a New Millennium" (Philomel; 122 pages; $14.99) features work by Michael Cadnum, Madeline L'Engle, Nancy Springer and five other authors acclaimed for their young-adult novels.
Beginning with a look backwards to 1,000 A.D., the volume opens with "Oswin's Millennium," by Avi, author of "The true Confessions of Charlotte Doyle." Thanks to the prognostications of an old monk, a young stablehand fears the end of the world and makes a drastic decision that forever changes his destiny. Avi ably evokes the sense of fear and anticipation that the thought of Apocalypse might arouse in a poor, mistreated and unsophisticated boy.
Janet Taylor Lisle brings an American family to Mexico for the turn of the second millennium in "The Beginning of Time" and bestows incredible powers its young protagonist. In "I Believe," Nancy Springer presents a story of a teenage disc jockey who figures nothing special will happen on the last night of the year and is proved wrong in a miraculous way. Richard Peck's "The Three-Century Woman" offers a visit with a centenarian whose sense of humor has been undiminished by the passage of time.
The stories in "Second Sight" are uniformly well-written, but some, especially L'Engle's "Rob Austin and the Millennium Bug" feel frustratingly slight. It's a very literary volume, and its approach to its subject may strike some readers as overly abstract.
"TomorrowLand" (Scholastic Press; 224 pages; $15.95), "compiled" by Michael Cart, is the more substantial of the two anthologies, offering 10 longer pieces that tend to pack a bigger dramatic punch. The contributors include Ron Koertga, Katherine Patterson, Rodman Philbrick and Tor Seidler.
As in "Second Sight," a few of the writers choose to offer a perspective on present-day millennialism by examining the past. Jon Scieszka, author of "The Stinky Cheese Man," journeys back into pre-history and offers a funny and chilling explanation of why the Neanderthals disappeared and our ancestors flourished in "Homo...sapiens?" In James Cross Giblin's "Night of the Plague," a young monk considers abandoning his station when the end of the world seems to be upon him.
One of the few overtly futuristic pieces in the book, Gloria Skurzynski's "His Brother's Keeper" presents a variation of the Cain and Abel story set on Mars. Both the Red Planet and the adversarial relationship of the brothers are vividly described. What undermines the story is its reliance on the cliche' of the teenage hacker who is able to outwit the best computer systems adult engineers can devise, all for the convenience of the plot.
The highlight of the book may be "Rage" by Lois Lowry, Newbery Medal-winning author of "The Giver." Standing in stark contrast to the old woman in "The Three-Century Woman" the story revolves around a 100-year-old man consumed by the sense that everything he ever cared about has been ruined. It's a strong, unflinching tale of regret and passion.
Together, "Second Sight" and "TomorrowLand" prove that speculation about the future, no matter how distant or close it may be, is a fundamental aspect of the human condition.
(c) 2000 by Michael Berry