Gollancz is thrilled to report that two of our titles have been shortlisted for the Arthur C. Congratulations to all of the authors, and we look forward to discovering the identity of the winner on the 1st of May at the award ceremony! Thanks to the judges and organisers, too, for an interesting and varied list. One of the great joys of publishing is the discovery of a new writer. For the editor reading the submission, the growing feeling of excitement is like a happy virus that first infects the commissioning editor and then — in true evolutionary fashion — demands to be spread to others.
Editorial colleagues, senior management, Sales, […]. We know many of you have been waiting anxiously for the latest installment of the Stormlight Archive. Joe Abercrombie described it […].
Damon Knight 's Masters of Evolution January Galaxy as "Natural State"; exp features the anti-technological "muckfeet", who have allegedly progressed beyond the need for machines and cities in acquiring biological control of their environment, but stories of this kind, inspired by a growing interest in Ecology and a corollary antipathy towards Cities see also Dystopias ; Machines , have been heavily outnumbered by those which — following Aldous Huxley 's example in Brave New World — consider the idea of tampering with human nature implicitly horrific.
The idea that our future evolution might involve turning ourselves into Cyborgs — memorably pioneered by E V Odle 's remarkable The Clockwork Man — has usually been treated with similar unenthusiasm. One sf writer who has tried particularly hard to escape this imaginative straitjacket is Ian Watson , whose exuberant adventures in evolutionary possibility extend to bizarre extremes in The Gardens of Delight and Converts A surprising number of sf stories look forward — often with a curious inverted nostalgia — to the time when mankind's day is done and we must pass on our legacy to the inheritors of Earth or of the Universe.
Such stories have strong ideative links with extravagant Alternate-History stories which contemplate alternative patterns of earthly evolution, notably Guy Dent 's Emperor of the If , Harry Harrison 's West of Eden and its sequels — in which primitive men must compete with intelligent descendants of the Dinosaurs — and Stephen R Boyett 's The Architect of Sleep , in which it is raccoons rather than apes that have given rise to sentient descendants.
Accounts of Alien evolution are separately considered in the section on Life on Other Worlds , but mention must be made here of the frequent recruitment of the ideas of convergent evolution and parallel evolution to excuse the dramatically convenient deployment of humanoid aliens. Writers conscientious enough to construct a jargon of apology for such a situation often argue that the logic of natural selection permits intelligence to arise only in upright bipeds with binocular vision and clever hands, and that, had such bipeds not evolved from lemurs, they might instead have evolved from catlike or even lizardlike ancestors.
There are, however, relatively few stories which actually turn on hypotheses of this kind; examples include Philip Latham 's "Simpson" March Cosmos , one of several stories about humanlike aliens who are not as similar to us as they seem, and Lloyd Biggle Jr's The Light that Never Was , which addresses the question of whether "animaloid" species are necessarily inferior to "humanoid" ones.
Greg Bear explores a world of competing Lamarckian ecosystems "ecoi" in Legacy The Butlerian idea that machines may eventually begin to evolve independently of their makers has become increasingly popular as real-world Computers have become more sophisticated; images of such evolutionary sequences have become more complex, as in James P Hogan 's Code of the Lifemaker Several recent images of universal evolutionary schemas — notably the one featured in Gregory Benford 's Across the Sea of Suns and the trilogy begun with Great Sky River — imagine a fundamental ongoing struggle for existence between organic and inorganic life-systems.
The beginnings of such a division are evident in Bruce Sterling 's series of stories featuring the Shapers and the Mechanists, which culminates in Schismatrix A related but somewhat different Universe-wide struggle for existence is revealed in the concluding volume of Brian Stableford 's Asgard trilogy, The Centre Cannot Hold , and an even stranger one is first glimpsed in The Angel of Pain , the second volume of another Stableford trilogy. Mutational miracles still abound in modern sf, in such apocalyptic stories of future evolution as Greg Bear 's Blood Music June Analog ; exp and his less drastic Darwin's Radio , and there is a strong tendency to mystify evolution-related concepts such as " Ecology " and "symbiosis" see Parasitism and Symbiosis in a fashion which is at best interestingly metaphorical and at worst hazily metaphysical.
Patterns of evolution on alien worlds see Life on Other Worlds are often placed in the service of some kind of Edenic mythology, and this is true even in the work of writers well versed in the biological sciences. Perhaps this is not unduly surprising in an era when religious fundamentalists are still fighting the teaching of Darwinism in US schools, demanding equal time for "Creation Science" or its barely disguised successor "Intelligent Design" and frequently succeeding in censorship of science textbooks. It's the simplest of all of them in plot: researcher creates DNA-altering virus in California lab, injects himself, infects the rest of humanity, transcendence ensues.
The exposition is frontloaded into the first few chapters as the researcher, Vergil Ulam, gets progressively alienated from Genetron, the company where he works.
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Vergil's virus stimulates, in the first instance, an intelligent restructuring of his own body. There's a fine scene where he has a medical exam and baffles the observer and his computer: it looks like his spine has suffered massive trauma, but it is in fact better functioning than ever. But Bear's second argument is that this change, once set in motion, can't be stopped.
The tool to remake humanity's DNA is, by definition, a self-reproducing and intelligent one, and will necessarily outpace any attempts to stop it. So much of the second half of the book is given over to a kaleidoscope of perspectives on the world-altering shifts it engenders. Some of these are more effective than others. I wasn't so convinced by the adventures of Suzy McKenzie, a young woman wandering round a deserted New York: her story seemed too similar to many other cosy catastrophes I'd read.
But another chapter, the transcript of an aerial reconnaissance mission over a North America transformed by the virus, is superb, as pure a rendering as I can imagine of what it would be like to witness the utterly strange. The third argument of Blood Music is that beyond a certain point, alterations in humanity and its now collective consciousness will create alterations in the deep structure of reality.
Bear is fuzzy about why this will happen, and frankly I don't believe him. But by the point in the book where this prospect is on the table, Bear has built up such a head of steam that you just follow him. The transcendence that follows has, as many readers have noted, an obvious kinship with Arthur C.
Clarke's Childhood's End But Bear asks further questions about what it would be like to live inside such a singularity. In doing so, he provides an earned "happily ever after" ending, aesthetically if not logically the only place the story could end. Notwithstanding such formidable later novels as Eon and Queen of Angels , this still seems to me Bear's most complete and satisfying work.
Broadly and here I'm borrowing from Brian Stableford's The Scientific Romance in Britain , British SF derives from the scientific romance tradition of Wells and Stapledon, in which protagonists observe often in wonder but do not change the world. In American SF, they do, and the future is something to be worked on, conquered, perhaps owned. The difference, therefore, is agency: how much the characters do, and how much change their actions effect. In Blood Music , arguably, only one action really matters: Vergil injecting himself with the virus.
Everything else is just playing out the consequences of that action. Stephen Baxter's Evolution is a pure example of latter-day scientific romance, which provides a panorama across life on Earth from 65 million years ago to the present, and then briefly the future. The viewpoint is omniscient, the tone calm: "The turtles, ancient, had already passed the zenith of their diversity.
But where more spectacular creatures had perished en masse, the turtle had survived. In a dangerous world, humility made for longevity. A book like Evolution is, among other things, a powerful argument for saying that you can't read SF novels in the same way that you would Jane Austen or William Faulkner. There are characters in it, to be sure, but differentiating them or representing the delicacies of their emotional responses is not the point.
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The enjoyment you get from it is more like what you get from watching a really good nature documentary. When Baxter follows the stories of his turtles or primates, he's putting the lightest cladding of story on a scaffolding of research. What's remarkable is how successful Evolution is, how much one doesn't mind its inevitable didacticism. Baxter's tone, with its echoes of Clarke and Stapledon, is a great help here.
About halfway through the book, Baxter is talking about early toolmakers: Each lump of flint was a miniature cemetery. In some long-vanished sea the corpses of crustacean shells had settled into sediment, and minute glassy needles that had once formed the skeletons of sponges became the nuggets of flint embedded inside the gathering chalk seams.
By that point, of course, we've spent time in those seas with those crustaceans, and it's a sobering shock that even at this point, millennia before the current day, human endeavour is founded so intimately on the past. There's a different take on the past, and on agency, in Christopher Priest's alternate history The Separation Some of the Future Classics were new to me, but this was the third or fourth time I've read The Separation. This time around, I was less impressed than I had been before by its central argument, that a peace with Hitler after would not have produced as disastrous an outcome as we might suppose.
The book follows the twins Jack and Joe Sawyer, one seemingly embedded in our universe, one in another wherein a peace is made in I think this is because Priest, as I said, is presenting an argument; and in order to do that, he marshals the evidence to support him.
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This is a long way from the multiplicity of perspectives that Dick presents. Instead, we have the lives of Joe and Jack Sawyer relayed through their journals and other official documents, so that the crucial moment of decision is an abbreviated minute of a cabinet meeting. There, "J.
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Sawyer," as a Red Cross representative, argues the pacifist case against war: that it is always illegitimate, that it never produces the outcome desired, that violence in itself is so wrong that it should not be countenanced. He wins the argument, and the deaths of millions are avoided. So Priest's novel pivots on a single decision, but it feels like a trapped decision: a judge summing up in favour of one side, but telling the jury it's a matter for them. That's not to diminish the skill with which Priest tells the story, or the readability he gives the book.
If anything, my admiration for his technical facility increased this time round. Each of the documents making up the book feels authentic, and justified in its own right, as well as for the place it takes in the larger story. And if Priest's intent was to make people think again about World War II, he's succeeded; he's just not succeeded at getting me to agree with him. After this, it was something of a shock to run into Greg Egan's Schild's Ladder , the only book in the Future Classics series whose presence I really question.
Normally, I have a very high regard for Egan's work, especially his short fiction.
The Evolution of the book
But this for me is the book where his cosmological speculations become so abstract almost aggressively abstract that there are many SF fans I'd hesitate to give it to, let alone someone new to the genre. In a sense, the story is very similar to that of Blood Music : a scientific experiment has unexpected consequences, and most of the book is devoted to seeing if they can be unpicked.
Except that in Schild's Ladder , the experiment is in "quantum graph theory," and creates an expanding area of the universe with different physical laws. Inside this area, it transpires, new forms of life are created; the central debate of the book is how and whether the two areas might communicate. Part of the problem is that Egan's characters are so far removed from us and our concerns that it's difficult to find empathy for them. This need not be a terminal problem, as he's given us plenty of fine stories which feature characters in radically different situations to the present-day world.
More pressing, I think, is the level of scientific knowledge needed to follow what's going on. Without wanting to grandstand, I'm the possessor of a rusty but by no means disused university education in mathematics, and I doubt if I followed Egan's science more than half the time.