August 13th, 2010


When it Changed

When it Changed. Science into Fiction: an Anthology. Edited by Geoff Ryman.

This is one of the more interesting ideas behind putting together a non-themed anthology that I've come across. As Ryman acknowledges in his intro, the title is nicked from Joanna Russ' short story called the same, and he says that that the idea of change, for him, underlies every good story. The anthology as a whole was written after a bunch of authors met a bunch of scientists, had a pow-wow about those scientists' research, and then the authors wrote their stories. The scientists got to contribute to the book by writing afterwords that reflect on the current state of technology or whatever, and the likelihood (or not) of what was being suggested. Like I said, very cool idea. And, happily, it led to quite an interesting anthology.

As a reader, one of the most interesting things about this anthology is that it got better as it went along! I wasn't particularly rapt by most of the first half of the book, and then all of a sudden - bang! the stories started seriously dragging me in. I don't think this reflects types of science - it's not like the stories went from biology to physics, or anything. They just started appealing to me more. Some of my favourites, then, include:

Sara Maitland, "Moss Witch." Seriously, she got a story bryophytes. A lovely, gentle(ish) story about moss and looking after moss and the environment as a whole. I would like to see a collection of stories about the different sort of moss witches there are. Sounds weird, I know...

Adam Marek, "Without a Shell." As a teacher, this one was a little close to home. I can't imagine what it's like being at a school where metal detectors are necessary. The scenario here - a school where the uniform is suped-up Kevlar+medical unit, and the consequences when the school and its students are an inviting target for extremists - is more than terrifying. Marek manages to get a great story about kids in, while hinting at the insanity of the world outside.

Geoff Ryman, "You." While the story is really interesting - someone making discoveries about Mars, academic politics, and climate change all rolled together - it was the narrative style that sucked me in. I've occasionally followed the rabbit of link after link after link, one blog to the next to the next... in this case, it's not just text that we're following, but entire lives: in fact, lifeblogs. Close reflection on the very idea of a lifeblog gives the story a tinge of horror, for me. It's a great story - one of my favourites from the whole lot.

Michael Arditti, "In the Event of." I am a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories. Arditti's has an element of Children of the Dust, or similar, which is part of its appeal. But this story is way harder hitting than Lawrence's story. It covers a whole heaps of ideas: the state of affairs between the haves and the have-nots; family relationships; teen rebellion; cloning...

Frank Cottrell Boyce, "Temporary." As an amateur astronomer, Boyce's story appealed to me a lot. I'd love to be one of those sorts of people who can make amazing discoveries from their backyard... but I'm never going to be that, um, single-minded. Boyce imagines a world that mixes astronomy and astrology, and makes it a modern world rather than medieval. Also, his narrator is a young girl, and I think it works well. It's another of my favourites; he captures attitudes and relationships superbly.

Finally, Liz Williams does a spell-binding job with "Enigma." It's told from two different perspectives, and I won't reveal who they are because that makes quite a difference to how you read it. It's one of the only stories in the anthology where the afterword made a real difference to my understanding of the story; this is, I know, partly due to my own lack of understanding. It's also one of the few stories that will improve with a second, and third, reading - the nuances are enhanced when you know how it ends, rather than ruined.

If you like your SF dealing with modern, cutting- (even bleeding-)edge technology and issues, this is probably an anthology for you.