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on 2 June 2010
The conceit of this anthology is that all of the stories in it are based on real science. The editor, the wonderful Geoff Ryman (author of Air (Gollancz S.F.)), has compiled a number of stories by leading SF authors which are then paired with a short blurb from a scientist in the field that the story is based upon.

I think it mostly works well (though I have read reviews elsewhere which, not unfairly, suggest that Geoff Ryman is being a *little* harsh on literary SF when he has a go at the state of movies/TV SF and the undue influence it may or may not have on our perception of science. Also, it's certainly true that plenty of SF writers are, in fact, trained scientists. Besides, in order that the story can advance, I'm prepared to accept a FTL drive that works by hand-wavium).

As themed SF anthologies go, I think it's worthwhile. Most is, at the very least, interesting and I think most is well written. Not all of the writers here are scientists, so where they get it wrong, this is pointed out in the afterwords.

Anyway: here are the stories:

Carbon: Part One - Justina Robson (with afterword by Andrew Bleloch, Liverpool University): Good piece of character driven SF. The story examines the politics of how science is done. The SF bit is about carbon nano-tubing for a space elevator. I think, though, that the politics of it are important. Often science gets badly misrepresented in the press because people don't understand that scientists are people too, and they should look at the evidence that scientists are presenting...

Global Collider Generation: An Idyll - Paul Cornell (with afterword by Dr Rob Appleby, CERN): I quite enjoyed this. Basically it's a world whose politics are based on the cold war era arms and space race. In this, though, the race is to build ever bigger particle accelerators. Naturally this is based on a real thing as the LHC at CERN is already a reality. Good fun though.

Moss Witch - Sara Maitland (with afterword by Dr Jennifer Rowntree, University of Manchester): This one is much more of a fantasy story - in this it's Moss Witches who can survive for years without water. Based upon real-life Mosses life-cycles. I enjoyed this; it was interesting to take the real-life biology and construct a fantasy, rather than an SF story. Of course, this makes things a little more implausible, but I think it still fits in here.

Death Knocks - Ken MacLeod (with afterword by Dr Richard Blake, Science & Technology Facilities Council [STFC]): The story concerns a journalist investigating a suicide by a young man from the army. It's got a thread running through it about mapping human minds - with a follow up discussing how human bodies are being mapped for research. Well, I say human...they've gotten nowhere near that! But that's the plan. Not my favourite here, but enjoyable enough.

Collision - Gwyneth Jones (with afterword by Dr Kai Hock, Liverpool University): This is an excellent story (though you could point out that, given it's set in the same universe as the Aleutian stories, it does feature both aliens and FTL (which, while, as I say, is acceptable in SF, isn't feasible in our current understanding of science). The story itself is an excellent example of character driven SF which examines how, often, science is carried out. Also, as regards the idea of the FTL that the Aleutians have, I'm also willing to forgive it on the basis that the tech that's being developed here is the limit of human technology/science as currently understood, whilst a more advanced species is able to bridge that gap (Kai Hock points out that a mobile 'phone 100 years ago would've seemed to be magic). An enjoyable story.

Without a Shell - Adam Marek (with afterword by Dr Vinod Dhanak, University of Liverpool): Not actually my favourite story, though the science/tech aspect of it is quite fun. In it, suicide bombers have been targetting school kids, in response, they are all kitted out in nano-engineered body-armour. There are also some interesting concepts (again, pointed out in the afterword) which already exist where if they are injured the data is sent back to the hospital for more effective treatment.

You - Geoff Ryman (with afterword by Dr Manolis Pantos, STFC): An excellent story, which features Climate Change and (possibly!) messages from Mars. It's also a meditation on the scientific process which takes in both the painstaking process behind so much of modern science where knowledge is accreted, but also the occasional flashes of insight that can (possibly "seem") to move things on in leaps.

In The Event Of - Michael Arditti (with afterword by Prof John Harris, University of Manchester): A decent story about cloning and the consequences of it, as we currently understand them from the science of cloning other animals. Actually, I think I liked the afterword more, though, as John Harris makes the obvious, but necessary, point that the ultimate issues with cloning aren't about the science (which is neutral) but how humans deal with it.

Zoology - Simon Ings (with afterword by Dr Matthew Cobb, University of Manchester): The afterword is particularly relevant here, involving as it does some true story stuff. Quite enjoyable (the science bit here is research into the sense of smell that maggots have).

Temporary - Frank Cotterell Boyce (with afterword by Dr Tim O'Brien Jodrell Bank Centre): A very short story which takes the form of letters to a father. Quite touching - it seeks to see where mysticism can wrongly interpret measurable events (in this case, astronomical). That said, the "real science" bit of it wasn't tremendously important. Pretty good, though.

Doing the Butterfly - Kit Reed (with afterword by Dr Steve Williams, University of Manchester): Extrapolates the current (real) uses of MRI, in fairness far beyond what we are capable of currently. Wasn't so keen.

White Skies - Chaz Brenchley (with afterword by Dr Sarah Lindley, University of Manchester): A future where Climate Change has resulted in great floating colonies and two different methods of reducing CO2 levels. Pretty interesting - it examines the consequences of fear and mistrust and just plain not working together when attempting to solve global problems. Very enjoyable.

Enigma - Liz Williams (with afterword by Steve Furber, University of Manchester): An interesting far-future story where AI has evolved sufficiently to reproduce/mimic human responses. In it the AIs are Alan "Turing Test" Turing and Wittgenstein. It's a good take on it, and the afterword was worthwhile too.

The Bellini Madonna - Patricia Duncker (with afterword by Dr Tim O'Brien Jodrell Bank Centre): A decent enough story about the wonder of astronomy, but suffused with religion. Enjoyable, but not great.

Hair - Adam Roberts (with afterword by Dr Rein Uljin, University of Strathclyde): Examines the consequences of engineering humans to photosynthesise their own food. Happily, in this the problems aren't that the science itself is inherently bad, rather that there may well be issues with the way that new technologies may be applied. Very enjoyable (and Roberts is a good writer).

Carbon: Part One - Justina Robson: second part of one, (obviously).
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on 8 February 2010
This collection of short stories is that rarest of beasts, science fiction written intelligently and in a serious 'literary' manner - but so that it's also engaging, accessible and thought provoking. And - above all - not pretentious or self-indulgent. The pairing off of each author with a scientist (with a little after-word from the professional in each case) adds a little spice to the mix but the book would stand alone as a seriously good collection of SF short stories without this interesting spin. Well, well, SF for adults; who'd have thought! Buy and enjoy - you will not regret it.
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on 28 March 2010
This is meant to be a short story collection that "puts authors and scientists back in touch with each other, to re-connect research ideas with literary concerns". In this it largely fails, despite the positive remarks made after each tale by a scientist working in a field tangentially related to the story.

Of the 16 stories, only one is by an author I recognise (Ken MacLeod), but 5 stories really stood out - Moss Witch, by Sara Maitland; In The Event Of, by Michael Arditti; White Skies, by Chaz Brenchley; Enigma, by Liz Williams; and Hair by Adam Roberts. That last one is the only one that does a good job of weaving actual science into the story.

That sounds like a bad review, doesn't it. Well, it's not. At least not entirely. In 276 pages there were five good short stories. Obviously I'd expect more if all the stories were by one author who I already knew was good at their craft. But five good shorts by random unknowns is unexpectedly good going. I recommend this book.
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on 27 April 2010
After some months I finally managed to get this book since my bookseller told me it was out of print. Unfortunately I found it boring, badly written and frankly most of these stories could have been written by an average sixth-former. I could see the point but most of these stories seemed to be written with the plan to include 'science'. A story should be written as an end in itself not to conform to a plan. It was like the situation in school when you set students the task of 'write a story about your holidays'. You get just that: a story 'about' the holiday, not a good story which happens to be set during a holiday. There are great stories, written by established writers and new writers, about science in science-fiction. These are not among them.
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