John Joseph Adams is kind of all over the place lately. He’s compiled a billion anthologies, edits Lightspeed magazine, and recently took over Fantasy magazine as well. I met Mr. Adams last year at WisCon where chatted with him at one of the parties and he came across as a generally likable fellow. I’ve read a bunch of issues of Lightspeed, which I generally liked. But despite all of that I haven’t read any of his anthologies up until now.
The theme behind Seeds of Change is that the authors specifically tackle
the pivotal issues facing our society. It’s a fairly short anthology, only nine stories in 200 plus smaller sized pages. Because of that, it should have been a quick, but punchy read. Quick it was, but most of the stories lack oomph. There were a couple of gems though.
There are standard ways science fiction attempts to deal with racism. Sometimes the story has aliens as stand-ins for people of color. Some times the stories use mutants. And sometimes they use Neanderthals, like Ted Kosmatka’s story N-Words. Everything I noticed in the story follows the tried and true tropes for these stories.
Heat transfer is a huge concern for lots of technologies: waste heat for computer processors, air conditioning and heating for housing, and even internal combustion engines would be much more efficient if there were not waste heat. So imagine if a material were invented that transfered heat like super-conductors move electricity, with little or no loss. That could solve a lot of issues, and would be highly valuable for someone.
Unfortunately for Mr. Lake’s story, he approaches it from the angle that it’s highly valuable for someone rather than doing something with any or all of the issues it could solve. Secret agencies conspire to steal the technology, turning the story into a conspiracy trope narrative. You know, like how the oil companies have secretly prevented 100 m.p.g. cars from making the market leaving a trail of dead and disappeared inventors. Yeah.
Now, this story didn’t approach the idea of recycling with a call to action or a notification of the extent of environmental degradation or anything like that. Ms. Wentworth’s story pushes the recycling requirements common in major cities to a comic extreme. Entertaining and awesome, even if not exactly fitting my expectations for the anthology’s theme.
Rather than throw away or even recycle bottles, the government requires absolute bottle re-use. You get one and only one bottle to use ever. The Symesco A2300 Smart Bottle has an embedded computer and speaker. It recognizes its owner, and if the owner leave the Smart Bottle behind, it lets off quite the alarm. The bars can’t serve people except to refill their Smart Bottles. And the bottles are a lot smarter and more impertinent than you really want. Now this is a nanny state, but within a humorous framing. Has this story been podcasted yet? If not, I can totally imagine John Cmar narrating this.
Endosymbiont’s issue, according to the introduction, is that of patients battling serious diseases. Stephanie wakes up in the hospital after having a nightmare about a snake that eats its own tail. She can’t remember days prior, but she does remember this happening before. Stephanie attributes her memory issues to
chemo-brain. Stephanie has been fighting cancer. Stephanie has been fighting cancer for a long long time, and she’s only fourteen. I’ve nursed three terminally ill family members, so this subject resonates with me. But the story does not. That’s because it veered towards something that I think is very tangential to fighting disease. What it does cover follows some very convoluted logic too.
Why are we so concerned about winning the geo-political cold war? Or even the real ones? Is defeat such a bad thing?
The premise behind Arties Aren’t Stupid is as old as H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine. In that one, millions of years from now capitalists and workers have evolved separately. We’re not talking millions of years here, but various social groups have developed distinct lines of progression. Arties, like street kids into tagging except more creative, aren’t very erudite. They aren’t stupid either, and they fight back when the authorities crack down on them.
Cure your inherent racism by getting a nerve or two snipped to induce permanent prosopagnosia, or the inability to recognize or remember faces. Great idea for a story, but it becomes more about hatred of those who undergo the procedure than it is about the unintentional ways we treat and process race.
Spider the Artist was more science fictional than I’ve come to expect from Ms. Okorafor, whose novels don’t shy away from science, but lean towards fantasy by including the supernatural. Shell and Chevron (and other oil companies) have in real life caused massive environmental damage with their sloppy oil extraction in Nigeria where the economic benefits go largely elsewhere. A few jobs get thrown to native Nigerians, but little else. Ms. Okorafor’s future Nigeria includes oil companies that protect their pipelines with intelligent armed robots (a.k.a.
Zombies) that have even less scruples than the companies that deploy them.
And while the
issue takes front stage, Spider the Artist gives equal billing to the interaction between this technology and one individual. Eme’s house comes with the pipeline running through the backyard. She attracts the attention of the Zombies with her guitar playing.
Easily this was my favorite story in the anthology.
Hurray! A John Pepper story! More talking and less bad-assery than I’d prefer from Pepper. But still, John Pepper! A computer program engineers a total (and I do mean total) takeover of a government, and Pepper is just the mercenary to take it back.