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September 4, 2008

Seeds Of Change - Edited By John Joseph Adams

Seeds Of Change (UK / US) is a short story anthology edited by John Joseph Adams. The theme of the anthology is explained by in the introduction:
"I asked the contributors to this anthology to write about paradigm shifts--technological, scientific, political, or cultural--and how individuals and societies deal with such changes."
And then Adams goes on to state his wishes for the stories:

"It is my hope that reading these stories inspires some to plant their own seeds of change--that when we see something wrong, we'll do something about it"
A laudable goal, and one which Science Fiction us uniquely place to achieve. It's nice to see an attempt to gather some optimistic stories, or at least stories that inspire towards optimism, when there seems to be so much doom and gloom around.

Each story has an short introduction, many with brief thoughts from the author.

So, onto the stories themselves:

N-Words by Ted Kosmatka is a story about the recreation of Neanderthals via cloning. It's an excellent examination of racism, wonderfully written, emotional and thought provoking. Writing about racism outside of normal human bounds has been done before with aliens and human classes and variants, but the idea of Neanderthals strikes the right balance between different, and not so different, plus the execution of the story is great. Loved it.

The Future by Degrees by Joseph E. Lake, Jr. (Jay Lake) is a story about a radical energy saving technology, thermal super conductivity, and how shadowy forces try and prevent the release of the technology. It's well written, starting off intriguing and resulting in some action. My problem with the story is that I didn't feel that the idea was taken far enough, and in the end the technology could have been swapped for anything without affecting the story too much.

Drinking Problem by K. D. Wentworth is a story about recycling taken to the utmost level. Beer bottles are smart, and stamped to a person, who must take them to be refilled when you want another drink. And you can't throw them away because they're alarmed. It's an amusing idea, and the story was taken further along than I expected but it didn't deliver anything more than a few chuckles. Again, the technology could have been interchangeable in many ways, and the jokey extremes felt familiar (although I couldn't tell you from where).

Endosymbiont by Blake Charlton is an interesting story about an uploaded virtual mind, although this is revealed gradually, and confusingly. The mind eventually must make a decision about it's life, existence and format. Unfortunately I felt the execution of the story let down what was a great idea, I needed to feel more emotion and the writing just didn't do it for me.

A Dance Called Armageddon by Ken MacLeod  is a story set in The Night Sessions universe, before the novel. It's a wonderful Scottish version of Armageddon, in which the main character is in a pub, drinking, listening to music, and contemplating what it means to be the loser of a war. I loved the writing, it has a kind of dour pessimism, and yet in the end optimism shines through. I wonder if the story will mean more to those that have read The Night Sessions, but I have, and I thought it was great.

Arties Aren't Stupid by Jeremiah Tolbert is a story in which a future society is fractured along lines of aptitude, Arties and Braniacs. There were a few nice ideas in here, particularily Moss In A Can, but in general this story didn't grab me. In the end I didn't feel like the plot had progressed much and the world and writing style didn't appeal to me.

Faceless in Gethsemane is Mark Budz is a story about people who can't recognise faces, to whom every face looks the same. An intriguing idea. I was not overwhelmed by the execution however, I couldn't help feeling that much more could have been done and it ended it feeling similar, but inferior to some of the other stories in the anthology.

Spider the Artist by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu is a story set in Nigeria, where the oil pipelines are guarded by AI spider machines, and the plot follows a woman who is trying to escape her violent husband through music, and accidently ends up befriending one of the machines. It's a great idea, with all the extra human notes that make a story so real. The writing is wonderful and the general execution is excellent, resulting in a thought provoking, engaging and emotional story. Loved it.
Resistance by Tobias S. Buckell is a story containing the reoccurring character Pepper, who features in all three of Tobias's novel. Usually carnage and violence follows Pepper, but in this story it's more about the ideas. In fact the story could have worked the same without Pepper in it really, but for readers of the novels I guess it's an easy way in. The plot is about a habitat in which an AI has taken control. The habitat used to be one where everyone had to vote on everything. Interestingly, this is the idea from Sly Mongoose that I wanted to see more of, and Tobias obviously had the same thought. There are thought provoking ideas, but it felt a bit infodumpy and preachy to me.

In summary there are three superb stories in the anthology, and the rest don't quite live up to their interesting ideas.

And do the stories inspire a "seed of change" within me? Well, not really. Only N-Words made inspect my own attitudes. It doesn't mean I can't hope for change, I use SF to fight my British pessimism, but whether I can really change anything.... well, I'll keep searching.


Thanks for the kind words about my story "N-words".