BRIEF SYNOPSIS: 9 original stories written around the theme of technological, scientific, political and cultural change.
PROS: 1 outstanding story; 7 more good stories.
CONS: 1 mediocre story.
BOTTOM LINE: A better-than average collection of stories.
The theme of Seeds of Change, an anthology of original fiction edited by John Joseph Adams, is paradigm shifts. Specifically, Adams asked the writers to write stories about technological, scientific, political or cultural change. Not only did each writer succeed at that goal, but most of them managed to provide stories that were entertaining and thought-provoking as well.
In the last 5 years of reading, I have yet to come across the “perfect” anthology. This is no surprise given the varied writing styles and writing capabilities presented by any lineup. Strictly speaking, this anthology was no exception (for me, Ken MacLeod’s story did not work well), but Seeds of Change did fare slightly better than most anthologies when all was said and done.
While many stories were good, the single standout story is Blake Charlton’s “Endosymbiont”. This is Charlton’s first published work and, if it is any indication of things to come, he will be one to watch.
Individual story reviews follow…
The subject of Ted Kosmatka’s “N-Words” is obvious from the title: racism. But in science fiction’s usual fashion of shining light on our own behavior by turning the tables on us, here the “N” stands for Neanderthals, or more specifically, for the people that are cloned from the bones of an archaeological dig. Like any minority race that is seen as different, they suffer the prejudice of the majority. The focus here is the personal story of Mandy, a recent widow who defied cultural norms and married a Neanderthal named David. The story is touching and succeeds at being instructive on the evils of hatred.
Jay Lake’s “The Future by Degrees” is about a technological invention (concerning thermal superconductivity) that is set to revolutionize the world, much to the detriment of people who would therefore stand to lose a lot of money. Grover, a salesman for Quantum Thermal Systems, tries to make the technology public knowledge when he realizes he has been targeted by killers hired by the people trying to put the proverbial genie back in the proverbial bottle. This story is all plot with little (though needed) characterizations and worlbuilding to support it, but the interesting premise offers up some genuinely tense moments.
It’s nice to occasionally read a science fiction story that doesn’t take the genre too seriously. To that end, K. D. Wentworth’s “Drinking Problem” is a treat. It’s about the advent of the SmartBottle, a technological invention meant to alleviate the pollution problem, but comically leads to other results. What starts out as a minor inconvenience morphs into something a little more significant – a transformation that is wonderfully handled with Wentworth’s confident writing.
Blake Charlton’s “Endosymbiont” — to put it simply — blew me away. What starts out as the touching personal story of a young girl on chemotherapy soon makes way to things of larger scope and import. It weaves in interesting applications and extrapolations of technology and shows keen insight into interpersonal relationships. While the plot may echo Vernor Vinge and The Matrix, Charlton’s voice is totally his own, drawing upon his medical background to create a story that has big ideas, interesting twists and is 100% engrossing and abundantly satisfying.
“A Dance Called Armageddon” by Ken MacLeod essentially takes place in a Scottish bar as the patrons watch the events of a world war (the “Faith war”) draw to a climax on their high-tech glasses. The protagonist of this somber tale notes the comfortable, accepted defeat of the Scotts while others wage their wars. It’s a quiet tale that ultimately unfortunately reads as if you are looking at snapshot instead of watching a story.
“Arties Aren’t Stupid” by Jeremiah Tolbert takes us to a future with different classes of genetically engineered people. The arties are on the low end of the social structure and use their artistic abilities to “make” things – that is, using a technology to create a sculpture that is uploaded to a factory where they are physically manufactured. They live like stereotypical graffiti artist street gangs, hiding from the law enforcing tin men. The arties talk using a slang that somewhat hinders reading, bit it does admittedly lend to the worldbuilding. Ultimately, this is a good read and it and shows how the social underdogs can effect change.
Mark Budz uses the real-life disorder of prosopagnosia, or “face blindness,” as the centerpiece for a thought-provoking scenario in “Faceless in Gethsemane”. The ability to distinguish faces is the primary means by which we identify and judge people. How would society change if that ability was removed, especially voluntarily? While I mostly doubt that society would react by violently protesting art conventions, there is food for thought to be consumed. The choice of using Gethsemane in the title is no coincidence either; there is a symbolic crucifixion that occurs by story’s end that adds to its impact.
“Spider the Artist” by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu is the story of an abused woman from the Niger delta who lives in an impoverished town being taken advantage of by oil companies. To prevent theft and terrorism, the oil companies have built spider-like robots to protect the pipeline that runs along the town’s border. The woman named Eme, who often seeks safety near the pipeline and away from her drunken husband, befriends one of the spiders. The spider is artificially intelligent and learns to play music with Eme. The story, while simple in many aspects, does manage to succeed in creating a character that the reader cares about. The climax of the story, initiated when Eme’s husband realizes his wife is “conspiring with the enemy”, is suitably fitting for the story’s serious tone.
Tobias S. Buckell’s “Resistance” features Pepper, the mercenary from his novels, who has come to overthrow the dictator of Haven, the formerly techo-democratic space station. But Pan is no ordinary dictator; he is an artificially constructed entity created by voter-proxy AI’s. Stanuel, Pepper’s local helper, has some hard choices to make as he revisits the community decision to essentially give up the right to vote – as do readers who may take for granted their own right to vote.