Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Review: Welcome to the Greenhouse, edited by Gordon van Gelder

With the recent successes of novels like Ian McDonald's River of Gods and, particularly, Paolo Bacigalupi's The Wind-up Girl and the YA novel, Ship Breaker, environmental issues have garnered a lot of attention from the science fiction community. It's small wonder, then, that an anthology like Welcome to the Greenhouse: New Science Fiction on Climate Change would crop up . That it's edited by Gordon van Gelder, editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and features some of the top names in the industry - well, that's just icing on the cake.

The sixteen stories contained in Greenhouse are as varied and as hard to pin down as the causes and effects of climate change on the Earth. There are ruminations and mood pieces (such as opener "Benkoelen" by Brian W. Aldiss and "Sundown" by Chris Lawson); twisted, dark comedies on the aftereffects of global warming ("That Creeping Sensation" by Alan Dean Foster and "Not A Problem" by Matthew Hughes); strange godlike humans ("Damned When You Do" by Jeff Carlson and "Come Again Some Other Day" by Michael Alexander); and those wherein climate change is present but less central to the story ("The Men of Summer" by David Prill and "Fish Cakes" by Ray Vukcevich).
Highlights in this anthology include Judith Moffett's "The Middle of Somewhere," about the disparity between modern technology and living "off the grid." In this story, set not in a near- or far-future but a time happening right now, a teenage girl researching nesting birds in the Kentucky wilderness is suddenly faced with survival and a lack of modern technological luxuries after a devastating tornado strikes the home of the woman she's staying with.

Gregory Benford's "Eagle" is another standout. Benford imbues his story with the ironic and a sense of moral ambiguity. As eco-terrorists try to stop the re-freezing of the arctic, a village of Inuit plan to finally return home. A fantastically dubious ending leaves the reader with a mouthful of ash on the question of right and wrong.

"FarmEarth" by Paul di Filippo is wildly innovative and lively, even if it's premise is a bit implausible. In di Filippo's future, cleanup from the effects of climate change is handled through the virtual world - essentially, like playing app off Facebook. A boy about to turn thirteen (the age you can "download the FarmEarth app") is about to get the chance of a lifetime - and that's when everything goes wrong.

Yet, it is Bruce Sterling's "The Master of the Aviary," that is perhaps the best of the stories presented in Greenhouse. It is also the hardest to classify: "Aviary" is part survival story, Socratic meditation, cautionary tale, and all alien. Selder, the sustainable community "Aviary" is set in, has laws and practices common to the present, but that have been skewed enough to feel a little...off. Sterling's distant prose only reinforces that feeling of disconnect. Regardless, the characters' plights are as human as ever, and the last line is as heartbreaking as it is disconcerting.

In handling a controversial topic such as climate change, there is sometimes a propensity toward heavy-handedness and preachy scare tactics. Thankfully, van Gelder has picked writers without such propensities; Greenhouse never strays too close to either pro- or anti- sentiments on climate change. Instead, the stories and characters here seethe with life and wonder. Sometimes that life is bleak and terrible and sometimes it has become so alien as to be unrecognizable. Throughout each of them, however, remains that which is impossible to suppress: humanity and the will to survive.

Buy now it from Or Books or from Amazon.

--Dustin J Monk

No comments:

Post a Comment