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Gordan van Gelder, ed, Welcome to the Greenhouse: science fiction about climate change

OR Books, 2011; 336pp; £11 from www.orbooks.-com

The trouble with short story anthologies is that you can never quite tell what you’re going to get. Unless you are familiar with all the writers in the collection, you just have to dive in and hope for the best. Welcome to the Greenhouse is a typical anthology in this regard. Since I’m not a sci-fi fan I’d never heard of any of the authors, and so I dipped in not knowing what to expect.

What I got was a mixed bag. Some fine stories, some dull, some too badly written to finish. The best were the ones that were on the quirky side, the worst depressing or violent. My three favourites all worked because of their originality: “Damned when you do” by Jeff Carlson follows the fortune of a miraculous baby that unites the world whilst taking on its suffering; “Not a Problem” by Matthew Hughes is a blackly comic account of a multi-billionaire trying to screw a dying world, which has a very satisfying pay-off if you are not keen on nasty multibillionaires; “The Men of Summer” by David Prill is an unsettling story where a woman lives in a world of endless summer romances.

“The Master of the Aviary” by Bruce Sterling was also pretty interesting: a civilisation surviving in a protected bubble deals with dissent by all-too-familiar methods. But I found others less engaging. “The Bridge” by George Guthridge and “The California Queen Comes A-Calling” by Pat MacEwen were both well-written but set in worlds so dystopic and violent I found them difficult to read. “That Creeping Sensation” by Alan Dean Forster made an infuriating biological error, suggesting insects could grow bigger in an oxygen-rich climate (they can’t, their exoskeletons would get too heavy to support them) which undermined an otherwise entertaining story.

“Fishcakes” by Ray Vukcevich, has a man leaving virtual reality to visit an online friend in real life (a similar idea to E M Forster’s wonderful story “When the Machine Stops” but sadly not so well told). It started well, but I became confused as to which world the characters were in, and the end was underwhelming. “Farmearth” by Paul Di Filippo also features a blend between virtual and real worlds as a teenager tries to blag his way into a computer game that cleans up a poisoned world. Another interesting idea that lost me through the over-use of techno-language. While “The Middle of Somewhere” by Judith Moffett, and “Turtle Love” by Joseph Green were simply too earnest for me to enjoy them.

Although there were some reasonably good stories in this collection, I wouldn’t go out of my way to read it. But I would recommend it to any PN readers who are science fiction fans too. I’m sure you’ll love it.