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When It Changed: Science into Fiction (2009)

by Geoff Ryman (Editor)

Other authors: Robert Appleby (Contributor), Michael Arditti (Contributor), Richard Blake (Contributor), Andrew Blelock (Contributor), Frank Cottrell Boyce (Contributor)22 more, Chas Brenchley (Contributor), Matthew Cobb (Contributor), Paul Cornell (Contributor), Vinod Dhanak (Contributor), Patricia Duncker (Contributor), Steve Furber (Contributor), John Harris (Contributor), Kai Hock (Contributor), Simon Ings (Contributor), Gwyneth Jones (Contributor), Sarah Lindley (Contributor), Ken MacLeod (Contributor), Sara Maitland (Contributor), Adam Marek (Contributor), Tim O'Brien (Contributor), Emmanuel Pantos (Contributor), Kit Reed (Contributor), Adam Roberts (Contributor), Justina Robson (Contributor), Jennifer Rowntree (Contributor), Rein Ulijn (Contributor), Liz Williams (Contributor)

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523432,948 (2.93)None
Collaborating between leading scientists and literary authors, this unique experiment creates a new strain of science fiction by extending the repertoire of the genre beyond the common places of space travel, time travel, and artificial intelligence. Through the use of diverse, credible, and contemporary research areas--from Planck length to plankton and virtual conversations between Wittgenstein and Turing to future civilizations torn asunder by differences over particle physics--these stories reinstate the furnace of scientific endeavor. Comprised of research from practicing scientists at Manchester University and the stories of established authors--including Frank Cottrell Boyce, Geoff Ryman, Patricia Dunscker, and Sara Maitland--this anthology attempts to take science fiction into new, scientifically realistic fields while explaining the theory and technology behind each story.… (more)
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Geoff Ryman edits an anthology that pairs science fiction writers with scientists: the sf writers provide stories based on real scientific concepts (sometimes loosely interpreted) and the scientists then provide a 2-3 page commentary on the story. Like any original anthology, it's a little uneven, and I found myself a bit disappointed that there weren't any particularly standout stories here. But still, there were some of note:

"Global Collider Generation: an Idyll" by Paul Cornell is a bit weird, a tale of a scientist trying to build a particle collider with the circumference of the Earth, and a mercenary trying to stop her, all in the midst of Cold War II. I don't know what to make of its assertion that direct conflict is needed for real progress. I'd hope not, but I suspect Paul Cornell actually hopes not too!

"Moss Witch" by Sara Maitland is kind of not a story, but more an examination of a hominid life-form with the traits of mosses. It made me wish I paid more attention to my botanist wife when she talks about plant reproduction, but when I wasn't lost in the details of plantdom, I enjoyed its conceit.

"You" by Geoff Ryman had a really neat idea, an idea so neat it seems like Ryman missed it. People in the future can lifeblog, go into the recorded lives of others. But you can go ever further than that: this story is about you lifeblogging someone who researched the life of someone by lifeblogging. Whoa! I'd've liked to have seen more of this, as this sort of layering was the best part of a tale of someone uncovering evidence there may have been life on Mars.

"In The Event Of" by Michael Arditti might cover some old ground as far as clone stories go, but I found it to be well-told and enjoyable regardless. What would it be like to be the clone of your parents' first child, who never lived up to her potential? Sibling-based imposter syndrome to the max!

"Zoology" by Simon Ings barely even used its scientific innovation, which I think is sort of implicitly acknowledged by Dr Matthew Cobb in "Exceptions," the story's afterword, but I mostly enjoyed it for its satire of the big and small issues of academia, from campus master plans to how rooms get renumbered in old buildings!

There weren't any bad stories here, either, but I wanted to love this book more than I did. I don't know if the premise of the book prevented the imagination from being as opened up as much as you might hope, or what, but these stories don't seem to quite live up to Ryman's hope in the introduction, that good science in fiction can create new and better ways of thinking. It's an overly ambitious goal, and perhaps the failure to realize that goal (he disparages the science and thus the imagination of the  Battlestar Galactica reboot, but I'd say that Battlestar is as good as most of what's here, if not better) is what prevented this book from really succeeding for me.
1 vote Stevil2001 | Mar 17, 2017 |
This is a mixed bag of goods. My exposure to mundane SF had so far mostly been through people like Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow, and the stories in this book have a much wider range than that.

There are some really good stories in here. Sara Maitland's Moss Witch is brilliant, Adam Marek's Without a Shell and Michael Arditti's In the Event Of are exactly the kind of dystopian SF that I'm a complete sucker for. Ken MacLeod's Death Knocks it very topical. Geoff Ryman's own You is possibly the first Ryman story I really liked (for some reason previous attempts to read him haven't really gelled with me). Simon Ings' Zoology is funny if you know a working scientist (I happen to be attached to one ;-). Frank Cottrell Boyce's Temporary is very good too, as are Chaz Brenchley's White Skies and Liz Williams' Enigma (but then again, as Turing fangirl, I'd say that, wouldn't I?). Kit Reed's Doing the Butterfly is very very creepy indeed.

There were maybe a couple of average stories in here (Hair, The Bellini Madonna) and a couple that I actively disliked (both the ones to do with particle accelerators - possibly I've just absorbed too much nuclear/particle physics by proofreading and osmosis to be impressed by them). But overall the quality of stories in the anthology was very high.

What struck me was the range. There are some stories that I probably wouldn't even class as science fiction. Moss Witch falls under fantasy for me; Carbon and Zoology are stories about working scientists, not science fiction stories. There are some where, for me personally, the extrapolation from current science had gone too far for it count as mundane SF.

A couple of the stories pass Bechdel: You, Collision, In the Event Of, I think The Bellini Madonna - but by far not all. What's interesting is the gender mix of authors and scientists involved: 6 out of the 15 authors are female (pretty good effort and I'm almost sure something that Ryman paid attention to), but only two our of the 14 scientist are women (one a biologist, the other a climate scientist - make of it what you will). Food for thought. ( )
1 vote elmyra | Apr 11, 2010 |
I’m tempted to give the book extra points for making the attempt, just because I love science so much. In some cases, like this and the previously read Interfictions 2, the anthology theme is quite laudable. They are attempting to do something moral with their theme. In the case of Interfictions 2, it’s to highlight a genre that the editors did not feel gets the exposure it should. This one is to promote science, obviously. Both are judgment calls on what is right and correct about the world, although not necessarily of grand import. The theme of a vampire anthology doesn’t promote a moral view (though individual stories surely do). Even though Feeling Very Strange was similar to Interfictions, its focus as a historical retrospective of slipstream lends itself less to promotion of a moral view than a prospective one such as Interfictions. Anyhow, I love my brain candy, but I also appreciate when authors and editors try to do something good with the world. We need more science, scientific thinking, and appreciation for science.

How the anthology worked is that Ryman put a set of authors (mostly British) in contact with a number of scientists (mostly at the University of Manchester). They then conversed and exchanged viewpoints. Each author wrote a story related to the research of the scientist. There appear to be varying levels of collaboration between the stories. Some have the science very integrated with the story. In others, there’s a brief mention of something scientific and little else. After each story appears a note by a scientist, sometimes commenting on the plausibility of the story and sometimes just commenting on the related research.

Loved the Sara Maitland and Geoff Ryman contributions. A few more good stories. Overall a solid effort at a worthy cause. ( )
  KingRat | Dec 28, 2009 |
Showing 3 of 3
I confess I have not read science fiction for years, but this thought-provoking collection reminded me why I used to like it so much. I enjoyed it immensely, and I certainly hope that Ryman gets the opportunity to repeat his experiment. Eventually, one hopes, science fiction will regain its rightful place – as once again stranger than science.
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ryman, GeoffEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Appleby, RobertContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Arditti, MichaelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Blake, RichardContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Blelock, AndrewContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boyce, Frank CottrellContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brenchley, ChasContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cobb, MatthewContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cornell, PaulContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dhanak, VinodContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Duncker, PatriciaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Furber, SteveContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Harris, JohnContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hock, KaiContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ings, SimonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jones, GwynethContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lindley, SarahContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
MacLeod, KenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Maitland, SaraContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Marek, AdamContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
O'Brien, TimContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pantos, EmmanuelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Reed, KitContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Roberts, AdamContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Robson, JustinaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rowntree, JenniferContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ulijn, ReinContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Williams, LizContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Whenever you go out there, you should go out there to save the world.

Actor William Hurt in conversation at the 2009 Arthur C Clarke Awards
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Collaborating between leading scientists and literary authors, this unique experiment creates a new strain of science fiction by extending the repertoire of the genre beyond the common places of space travel, time travel, and artificial intelligence. Through the use of diverse, credible, and contemporary research areas--from Planck length to plankton and virtual conversations between Wittgenstein and Turing to future civilizations torn asunder by differences over particle physics--these stories reinstate the furnace of scientific endeavor. Comprised of research from practicing scientists at Manchester University and the stories of established authors--including Frank Cottrell Boyce, Geoff Ryman, Patricia Dunscker, and Sara Maitland--this anthology attempts to take science fiction into new, scientifically realistic fields while explaining the theory and technology behind each story.

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