For the last decade or so, the science fiction genre has been largely doom and gloom – everywhere you look there’s post-apocalyptic fiction (Oppegaard’s The Suicide Collectors, McCarthy’s The Road); dystopian futures (Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, Sterling’s The Caryatids); and sphincter-tightening, end-of-the-world scenarios (Forstchen’s One Second After, D’Amato’s In the Courts of the Sun). Don’t get me wrong. I love this stuff – especially post-apocalyptic fiction – but sometimes it’s enough to make me want to go curl up in the closet and never come out.
And this decided lack of optimistic science fiction has me gravely concerned for my young daughters and the world they will grow up in. When I was a kid, stories like Thea Alexander’s 2150 A.D., Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and John Varley’s “The Persistence of Vision” invigorated me and made me excited about the future and all of the breathtaking possibilities that could come to fruition. But today, I believe many young readers aren’t excited about the future at all – in fact, I think many of them are deathly afraid of it.
“There’s a thing like weed: it grows everywhere, despite the common wisdom that it can’t grow there. In the most barren, destitute and desperate places, it springs up. It flowers, against the grain. It raises its head at the most unexpected times, even when – often especially when – most people think it’s dead and gone.
It’s hope. Hope fed by optimism.”
Also referenced in the introduction is an insightful (and very quotable) excerpt from the July 2009 edition of Locus, in which editor extraordinaire Gardner Dozois commented: “...although I like a well-crafted dystopian story as well as anyone else, the balance has swung too far in that direction, and nihilism, gloom, and black despair about the future have become so standard in the genre that it's almost become stylized, and almost default setting, with few writers bothering to try to imagine viable human futures that somebody might actually want to live in.”
I couldn’t agree with Dozois more. That’s why Shine is such a significant – dare I say, historic – anthology. And with a rich diversity of settings and thematic speculation, this is a collection most science fiction fans will undoubtedly embrace.
One of the most original stories I’ve read in years is “Twittering the Stars” by Mari Ness, which is constructed entirely of tweets (messages of 140 characters or less) and tells the story of a deep space crew mining lithium and iridium – and a discovery that will change them all forever. Eric Gregory’s sublimely powerful “The Earth of Yunhe” takes place in a region of China devastated by a flood of toxic coal waste and a dissident native son who risks everything to find a solution – a solution that could transform the entire planet. Kay Kenyon’s fantastic “Castoff World” chronicles the life of Child, a young girl whose entire existence has been spent on a garbage island adrift in the ocean. Her only companionship is a sickly grandfather and something she calls Nora – a Nanobotic Oceanic Refuse Accumulator that has continued its mission of collecting pollutants from the water, breaking them down, and transforming them into “good stuff.” Paula R. Stiles’ “Sustainable Development” envisions robots in unlikely roles in West Africa, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Seeds” pits a multinational agricultural corporation and all of its genetically modified seeds against some oppressed Mexican farmers and a delicious fungus that tastes great in a quesadilla, and – arguably the anthology’s standout story – Jason Stoddard’s “Overhead” follows a colony on the Moon through a series of potential disasters and exemplifies some of humankind’s finest traits: perseverance, ingenuity, and hope.
I, for one, sincerely wish that the Shine anthology isn’t just a blip on the science fiction radar but the beginning of a more positive thematic trend in the genre. I strongly suggest not only reading this excellent and uplifting compilation of stories but also spreading the word to other readers as well. With so much doom and gloom in the world already – and in science fiction – it’s wonderful to see a little light…. even if it is at the end of the tunnel...
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