A Pursuit of Miracles
I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf I think since AussieCon 4, in 2010. Oops. And I don’t think I realised it was a set of short stories, otherwise I probably would have read it earlier. Yup. Oops. Still – another book off the TBR pile!
So. George Turner. I’ve never read anything by Turner before. I’ve heard his name a bit, from those who were active in Australian SF in the 1980s, but… that’s not me. So now I get to actually have an opinion! And that opinion is… he’s not bad. Not my new favourite author, and perhaps the shorts aren’t his best work – hopefully someone will tell me? – but these are solidly intriguing, sometimes deeply engrossing, stories. The introduction has it right, too: many of his protagonists are quite aggressive, which gives the entire collection a certain pugnacious feel.
“A Pursuit of Miracles” is ostensibly about the experimental pursuit of telepathy. However this is really just am excuse to meditate on what might happen in and with a society that believes itself to be living in the Age of Miracles – that this might give scientists leeway to do what they like, such as experimenting on humans and calling them not humans. The discussion about how dreadful telepathy or telempathy would be is indeed insightful.
“Not in front of the children” is hilarious as a rumination on generational divide. The question about whether people would actually want to associate with previous generations if they were all alive at the same time is, again, insightful, and Turner is really very funny in suggesting how the generations would distinguish themselves. I can’t help bit wonder if Turner had grandchildren when he wrote this.
“Feedback” is the story I am most indifferent towards. A discussion of solipsism is not my thing, and the use of the term “Abo woman” stung.
No wait, “Shut the door when you go out.” This one I really didn’t care for.
“On the Nursery Floor” is the most intriguing from the point of view of form – a series of interviews with occasional journalistic interventions. The idea is one of investigating the consequence of meddling with intelligence. This is a more severe version of Brian Caswell’s Cage of Butterflies, and very clever.
“In a Petrie Dish Upstairs” is, of the stories that seem at least vaguely plausible (I exclude “Feedback” and “Shut the door”), the least sensible. The idea that three generations – fewer, in fact – would be enough to change a society separated by distance if not entirely psychologically is unlikely. Obviously it’s a thought experiment to some degree, but that timing aspect got to me. The other bits, though – how women might be considered, the politics, the concept of Ethics, the change in language – were clever enough to make it worth reading.
“Generation Gap” is silly.
The final story uses a few different narrators – including an astonishing but, on reflection, entirely believable reversal – to tell a story that, in close up, is about the destruction of a family and one boy’s bid not to slide into ignominy. On a larger scale, this is a terrifying view of the implications of climate change on society, and it’s very, very ugly. A fine conclusion to the collection.