I recently reviewed the equivalent anthology of British fantasy writing (in its inaugural year), so I had that volume in mind as I read through this collection. Both are large compendiums; this one, which has a long-standing pedigree, contains 26 stories drawn together by the experienced editor Donna Scott. Just as the fantasy tome contained stories with swords and sorcery (although not often together), the sci-fi one will give you a dose of spaceships and aliens along with robots, artificial intelligence and other familiar tropes.
As is normally the case with this type of work, I found some of the stories obscure, apparently incomplete or otherwise unsatisfying. Of course, if I only found things I loved, I’d have to wonder whether Scott had done her work in illustrating the breadth of published science fiction, so I don’t enter that as a complaint and there were also plenty of pieces that I did find very engaging, including:
- Golgotha (Dave Hutchinson): As hinted by the title, a spot of theology and also an alien visitor who might be interested in more than humanity.
- Waterbirds (G V Anderson): A spot of ornithology (hence the title) and an android (for the sci-fi link) but at least as much a detective story and a love story.
- “- Good.” (Sunyi Dean): Cloning and ethics. Looking back, I also realise that the curious title is (I think) the last word of the story.
I was stuck by how little hard science fiction there was in the collection. Few of the author biographies mention that they are scientists; perhaps all the scientists are now busy working out how to do the things other people have written about? I also noted that a significant number of the tales (including “- Good.”, mentioned above) have a strong element of ethics. I hope scientists continue to read science fiction and this slant, towards considering what is is right to do with what we can do, is not a bad thing at all.
Overall, an excellent addition to this long-running series and one that even those haven’t been keen on science fiction in the past might want to dip into.