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The Year's Best Science Fiction: 22nd Annual Collection, for use in secondary classrooms. Ideas, critiques and criticisms for teachers of secondary students using a thematic approach to Science Fiction.

 

Podcast scripts 15 to 19

 

Discussions of several short stories from the collection The Year's Best Science Fiction, 22nd Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois, for use in secondary classrooms. This great, fat and very useful text has some superb stories that may assist many different students with different interests and abilities. The script, below, spoils the stories with potted summaries, then attempts to add value by noting their use in a classroom for the sorts of thematic studies found throughout the mySF Project. At the end of the descriptions an overall judgement on the collection is made with some passing references to the anthologist and his influence on contemporary SF, as also seen in Podcast 13 and 14. These scripts are offered to assist teachers looking for a new short story to assist in teaching SF as a valuable tool for social criticism.

 

 

Index:

Introduction
Stories covered in podcast 15
Pat Murphy, 'Inappropriate behaviour'
Ben Rosenbaum, 'Start the Clock'
David Moles, 'The Third Party'
Nancy Kress, 'Shiva in Shadow'
Paolo Gacigalupi, 'The people of sand and slag'
Stories covered by Podcast 16
Michael F Flynn and 'The Clapping hands of God'
M John Harrison, 'Tourism'
Terry Bisson, 'Scout's Honor'
James Patrick Kelly, 'Men are Trouble'
Kage Baker, 'Mother Aegypt'
Stories covered by Podcast 17
Vernor Vinge, 'Synthetic serendipity'
Mary Rosenblum, 'Skin Deep'
Vandana Singh, 'Delhi'
Albert E Cowdrey, 'The Tribes of Bela'
William Sanders, 'Sitka'
Daniel Abraham, 'Leviathan Wept'
Stories covered by Podcast 18
Colin P Davies, 'The Defenders'
Stephen Baxter, 'Mayflower Two'
Caitlin R Kiernan, 'Riding the White Bull'
Brendan Dubois, 'Falling Star'
Stories covered by podcast 19
Robert Reed, 'The Dragons of Summer Gulch'
James L Cambias, 'The Ocean of the Blind'
Eleanor Arnason, ''The Garden'
Peter F Hamilton, 'Footvote'
Paul di Filipo, 'Sisyphus and the Stranger'
Paul Melko, 'Ten Sigmas'
Walter John Williams, 'Investments'
Overall view of the anthology
Resource list

 

Introduction

 

This script is derived from podcasts 15 to 19, found at the mySF Project blog site, and noted above for direct download. The podcasts run through the stories from the The Year's Best Science Fiction, 22nd Annual Collection anthology and comment on their use for teachers and their students in a secondary school classroom. Unlike the podcast, the stories and other material from the anthology that did not fall within the brief of the mySF Project with its five themes were omitted from this article. 

 

Podcasts thirteen and fourteen looked at the Nebula Awards Showcase 2006 anthology, edited by Gardner Dozois.

 

Podcasts 15-19 examine another anthology by Dozois, The Year's Best Science Fiction, the twenty-second annual collection, published by Griffin in New York. Amazon online has this anthology for just over eighteen American dollars or with the twenty-third collection, for nearly twenty-five dollars. The Year's Best Science Fiction in paperback is over six hundred and fifty pages, another of those stupendous Dozois' anthologies that rapidly fill the bookcase, at least horizontally.

 

This collection has strong utility for the  mySF Project as there are eleven stories devoted to strongly political visions of the future, five stories that would be easy to use for secondary students looking at the theme of aliens in SF as a form of social critique, four stories related to artificial intelligence and the man/machine interface, and three stories each that relate to both the strong theme of genetic engineering in humanity's future and to that perennial, revisited favourite of time travel. In other words, the collection may be very useful for teachers of SF to secondary students who use a thematic approach as seen in the mySF Project and elsewhere.

 

The podcast discusses the stories briefly in the same order as in the collection, although a few that do not fit into the mySF Project themes are only noted, hoping that educators out there will pick up on this one or that one as useful in the secondary classroom. Some of the stories or novellas are more suited to upper secondary students, in Australia these are Years 11 and 12, and some are not suited at all, though there are a number that would seem to appeal and may help middle and even lower secondary students studying SF, especially those who have migrated across after some magical Hogwart's action or from the staples of huge fantasy tomes, into the realms of SF.

 

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Stories covered in Podcast 15

 

Pat Murphy and 'Inappropriate behaviour'

 

Pat Murphy's story to begin the collection is 'Inappropriate behaviour' and it fits into the 'Ghost in the shell'  theme area as it deals with a young, disabled girl who uses a 'mechano' to move freely about as a remotely controlled system.  The mechano finds a survivor of a crash on a deserted island. The survivor is Evan Collins and he becomes aware of the machine that made a noise, a 'gigantic cockroach with multifaceted eyes'.

 

Tension in the story comes from the child, Annie, using the mechano. Annie is unable to understand the gravity of the situation. Annie has trouble relating to others and cannot see that Collins needs emergency help.

 

The story moves between Evan Collins badly hurt on the beach and Annie in her sensory tank running the mechano, or tyring to talk to Dr Rhodes, who runs the medical intervention to help with her high-functioning autism.

 

Eventually Annie tells her nurse/attendant Kiri that Evan Collins is on the beach and Kiri promises to tell her Uncle Mars.

 

Uncle Mars arrives with assistants and they find the dying sailor. They also see that Annie in her mechano had collected many fine specimens of gold ore. She is left on the island in the mechano in her usual rituals, collecting rocks.

 

The story ends with Annie's visualisation of the relationships between those she has dealt with. She sees herself as a sort of fairy godmother who has let Evan Collins go to the party, so now he will live happily ever after.

 

'Inappropriate behaviour' by Pat Murphy falls within some of the bounds of the earlier Ghost in the Shell learning episodes that look at humans interrelating with machines, as it is a dysfunctional girl who rejoices in the focus and isolation of the sensory tank with connections to the mechano, the first stage of connection with the technology.

 

This is also a life-like story from the near future and Annie is believable, as are the other characters. Annie compares her world of isolation and dissassociation with the world of the NT, the neurotypicals - Annie is not NT. She reflects, "NTs were so social - always getting together and talking. NTs seemed to spend most of their time worrying about and establishing their social hierarchy."

 

The NTs that Annie deals with are comparable to the crabs she watches on the edge of the beach, waving their claws about and only ever worrying about the hierachies of burrows and matings.

 

It is a clever story with a light touch but it is not directly related to the  Ghost in the Shell theme, although it would be useful as an introduction to both:

Assisting people with disabilities through technologies, and

The advantages of a metal shell that frees the mind from stupid, meat-based concerns of the body

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Ben Rosenbaum and 'Start the clock'

 

Ben Rosenbaum is the author of 'Embracing-the-new' from the Nebula Awards Showcase 2006 discussed in podcasts thirteen and fourteen. In this story, 'Start the clock', Rosenbaum imagines a radically altered near future Earth.

 

In a future America a group of 'children' are having a look at a home in a galleon, shown around by a Thirtysomething that has a "Mommystyle thing going on: blue housedress, frilly apron, Betty Crocker white gloves".

 

The children live and work in a Pack and there are four of them. There used to be eight of them, all Nines, that is, children who seem to be nine years old and have nine-year old interests. The Pack is reduced to only four and Suze, our narrator, learns that her friend Abby is missing.

 

Even though they look like and can act like nine year olds, a viral outbreak has arrested their growth and they are permanent Nines. Suze tries to find her friend after the active tattoo on her wrist does not locate Abby. She drives in the clowncar with Max and she uses the glovebox terminal to create a 'bloodhound' that is an intelligent search agent to look for Abby.

 

Max has an augmented Three sister, Carla, who has a laserjack eye and many knobs and devices implanted in her head. They are afraid of her. She has come to help find Abby, and Max's friends from the gym are also there. They are providing the muscle if Abby needs help being extricated from a situation. When they find her they discover that she is watching two permanent adolescents make love.

 

More shocking, Abby tells Suze that he is going to 'start the clock'. The Communicative Development Arrestation syndrome has stopped people at different ages but there are new techniques for starting the clock again, biologically, as Abby has decided to do.

 

Suze is faced with change around her. She has been a Nine for thirty years and she is a successful film-maker and consultant. She learns that others are changing, wanting to lose their childhood and have other experiences. Returning to her priate suburb to be with the rest of her Pack she looks around with new eyes. This is a suburb for nine year olds with water cannons and trampolines and games and so on, but she asks the Thirtysomething real estate agent to show her a different suburb, where Abby could also live and change.  This is a fundamental shift for Suze, who is depicted as childish and spoiled, and also a different shift on the real estate woman, who is seen as possessing some wisdom not available to Suze, perhaps because of her age.

 

'Start the clock' fits into the 'Visions of the Future' theme area and shares the idea of a future virus, in this case CDA, changing the world forever with many, many other texts. This might be a little hard for some students because of the post-human possibilities, like augmentation.

 

This author is also not afraid to use sex in the narrative and this may make the story less useful for high school students as the description of the adolescents making love might be worrying to some.

 

'Start the clock' may be useful, and has links into the 'Brave New World' and 'Visions of the Future' theme area, especially for the post-disaster changes to the world, though in this case they might even be beneficial in some ways.

 

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David Moles and 'The third Party'

 

Set on a distant planet in the far future, Cicero is a sort of spy from the Outreach. He has come to study on this distant planet that is a residue of early colonisation.

 

At the same time, the Traders have arrived and they are strictly merchants, attempting to buy up the planet through commercial means. The two systems of the Outreach and Traders represent competing social orders and systems but the name of the story is 'The third party' because both these groups have forgotten about the actual inhabitants of the planet. Even though they are much more primitive than those from the Outreach or the Traders, the locals are canny in the ways of strategy and tactics and in the end they turn the two groups against each other, almost destroying both.

 

There is a love interest in the story, between Cicero, the protagonist from the Outreach, and Livia, a brilliant scholar at the university. Cicero is prepared to give up everything to stay with Livia but in the end the local Special police cause him to flee in a space ship, into the dark deep.

 

The story is entertaining and clear with a nice touch of intrigue between the factional allegiances. It feels more live a medieval fantasy story in some ways regardless of the SF touches but it does not fit easily into the five themes of the mySF Project.

 

The basic idea is that the local indigenous people of the planet should not be underestimated because they are less advanced technologically. This is useful, especially in Australia with its terrible history of colonisation and massacre of the indigenous people. However, it does not employ an insightful analogy of current political systems except through a fairly crude opposition of the academic, helpful and socialist Outreach against the pure capitalism of the Traders, so there are shadows of East versus West, but these are not clearly defined enough to be part of studies in this area.

 

A strong, dramatic and interesting story, it is not strongly advised for secondary students studying SF.

 

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Nancy Kress and 'Shiva in shadow'

 

Tirzah is on board the Kepler and her space ship with its transparent top-deck observatory has come to investigate the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A. The story starts with a probe sent closer to Sag A and Sagittarius West, a three-armed spiral of hot plasma ten light years across.

 

The probe sent into Sag A has uploaded versions of the two scientists and Tirzah from the Kepler, held in a small crystal that is shielded against the radiation. The purpose of the probe is to move directly into the Sag A maelstrom and send back information in capsules. They cannot transmit information back because of the radiation but the three capsules are meant to carry back vital information from the analogues of the three: Kane, Tirzah and Ajit.

 

In the next scene Tirzah has just finished making love to Ajit on the Kepler. Tirzah is Master of the little ship and her job is to nurture the two scientists, both of whom are her lovers. She is irritated by Ajit but does not show her annoyance, instead she is surprised when Ajit shows her a statue of Shiva dancing. She decides to occupy the two scientists with the Go game, while they wait for their analogues to send back information from the probe.

 

Part 2 is from the Probe's point of view as Kane, Ajit and Tirzah awaken. Tirzah notes "We are the computer, or rather we are inside it.  But the programs running along with us make it all seem as real as the fleshy versions of ourselves on the Kepler. "

 

The narrative concerns ambition, love and jealousy and this might be expected from a story of one woman with two male lovers, both competing as scientists.

 

Kress plays with the parallel narratives of the analogues on their probe and the flesh-bound actual scientists with their Nurturer back on the Kepler. This can be a bit confusing and also rather repetitious in the mid-section of the story but there is an essential difference between the two narratives because Kane inadvertently knocks over Ajit's statue of Shiva dancing, in real life. This leads to burning resentment from Ajit, exacerbated by Kane's superior scientific skills and the extraordinary proof of the existence of shadow matter.

 

On the Kepler, with the flesh-bound scientists, deceit leads to actual murder and the whole mission is a failure, with Tirzah returning  to humanity with two corpses in the ship's hold. Meanwhile, on the probe, the statue of Shiva was never broken (as the accident was not programmed to occur in the simulation) and it is the effect of radiation on the analogues that is charted and observed, showing the best of the two men as they jump their probe down into the great black hole at the centre of the galaxy.

 

Central to both narratives are the statue of Shiva, the vast swirls of raw energy through the observation desk, and the flaws of personality aboard the Kepler. The breaking of the statue that leads to murder seemed unlikely and a slightly heavy-handed literary device  but the statue itself worked well as an analogy for the forces of the universe and the invisible shadow matter, closely aligned to the shadows and vanities of human nature.

 

This story would be very suitable for a stronger class of older secondary students and would cause some interest because of the analogue constructs and their identities, linked to the  Ghost  in the Shell theme area. Discussion would be needed for the notions of the constructs on the probes, the Nurturer's role as a sex therapist and psychologist (of especial interest from a female author) and the dual narrative structure where events diverge after the breaking of the Shiva statue. Again for stronger students, the literary device of the analogues with their Greg Egan-like jewel memory minds, could be discussed for its risks and rewards.

 

'Shiva in shadow' by Nancy Kress is a fine, hard-science fiction narrative with some wonderful descriptions and impressive characterisation. The central motif of the Shiva statue is heavy-handed and irritating, but may be more popular with upper secondary students, especially if accompanied by images of a Shiva dancing statue. The reference to Hindi scriptures could be left as a minor research task for students in groups, as with the notion of shadow matter and the actual conditions close to the event horizon of a galaxy-eating black hole.

 

This story is recommended for some students, with minor links to the Visions of the Future and Ghost  in the Shell theme area of the mySF Project.

 

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Paolo Gacigalupi and 'The people of sand and slag'

 

Paolo Gacigatupi's  'The people of sand and slag' is a shorter narrative that fits easily into the Visions of the Future theme, with elements of the  Brave new world theme, also. It is a rough narrative that will need some handling and is more suitable to older secondary students due to its violent themes.

 

Three armed response officers patrol a mining operation on Earth in a mid-future world. Right from the start it is clear this future Earth is horrific by current standards. The only landscapes are acid pools, slag heaps and barren terrain. Then, from somewhere on this blasted heath comes an actual, living dog.

 

The three officers are heavily genetically modified, so much that they can eat sand soaked with petrol and one playfully cuts off a hand to feed the dog. Although it is not stated, they can be visualised as immense, covered with dreadful tattoos and implanted razor blades, carrying weapons so devastating that they can boil vast hectares of sea water.

 

They cannot believe how fragile the dog is and immediately they want to eat the animal, or drop a mini nuke on it but they report it to their bosses far away and a biologist also heavily modified for intelligence (not a feature of the officers) comes to look at the shaggy old mutt. He agrees it is a real dog but can suggest nothing other than eating it.

 

The officers reflect on themselves as the top of the food chain. They play computer battles of destruction for fun and enjoy casual sex and a bizarre game where they make themselves briefly defenceless by having their friends hack off their legs and arms. They require a night of eating mud to grow back their limbs. They have a future technology they call Weeviltech and this seems like a sort of intelligent virus or bioengineered lifeform that enables the officers to withstand poisonous gas, acid beaches and deadly radiation.  To sum up their contentment with their 'human' form Jack smiles and reflects,. 'Who needs animals if you can eat stone?'

 

Contrasting with the huge, ugly, callous and murderous officers is the tough old dog who learns to like the monstrous security guards. The dog is taught to shake hands for biscuits and even crawls up onto a bed to sleep with one officer, who feels content to have the mutt lie beside his bulk. The dog gives simple love to the officers, who are ambivalent about the animal but grow tired of the excrement and worrying about the frailty of a dog crossed from a wolf and a ridgeback.

 

Eventually the dog is tangled in wire on a dreadful beach and the officers are sick of looking after it. They eat roast dog and walk along the beach, reflecting on the evident superiority of their bio-engineered bodies and only occasionally do they miss shaking hands with the mutt or its warmth on the bed.

 

There are mentions of sex between two of the officers but this is not erotic. Like most of the story the visuals are worrying and perverse, focusing on the razor blades set into the skin of the woman rather than any pleasure or intimacy for the couple.

 

This story is clearly a gritty satire of a direction Gacigalupi sees in the current world where we destroy our environment and make of the planet a weeping sore, a reeking storehouse of poisons. The officers walk along the beach after having eaten dog roasted on petrol and plastic, reflecting on their obvious superiority to survive on this ugly, barren Earth.  They leave behind them an extinct animal kingdom that offered only love and companionship.

 

People are the things of slag and sand in this nightmarish mid-future world. For students looking at post-Apocalyptic  visions after a virus has decimated the world (as in the recent version of 'I am Legend'), or civil strife has poisoned the air and water  (as in so many other films and stories set in man-made deserts and smoking ruins), this short story might be very useful. Due to the violence and sexual references older secondary students would be a good audience and this text would be an excellent counterpart to the film ''A Boy and His Dog'', written by Harlan Ellison and made into a cult film in the 1970s amongst more smoking ruins and desert landscapes.

 

A vision of a perpetual and meaningless war and the destruction of the natural world,  'The people of sand and slag' is recommended but with a need to discuss issues presented as well as the literary device of such a clearly analogous story from a writer deeply concerned with preserving the environment.

 

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Stories covered by Podcast 16

 

Michael F Flynn and 'The Clapping hands of God'

 

There is a definite thematic link between Flynn's 'The clapping hands of God' and Moles' 'The third party'. In the Moles story two competing cultures and systems take the less advanced indigenous natives of a planet for granted and consequently pay a heavy price. In Flynn's 'The clapping hands of God' the indigenous inhabitants of a very distant planet are misunderstood and underestimated, also bringing tragedy to a small group of scientists who have invaded their world, with a thirst for scientific discovery that brings their demise.

 

In the mid future humanity have been able to use a form of transport called the Gate that seems like a sort of accommodating wormhole from one place and time to another. As a consequence, groups of scientists and explorers can take a sort of bus through the gate and arrive at a completely different space time anywhere in the universe. Consequently, the explorers have a lucky dip before them but in this instance they are very pleased to find a beautiful and bright planet with intelligent life.  They set up tents and equipment near the top of a vast mountain and start watching the natives on the valley floor far, far below.

 

Of particular interest in this narrative is the team leader called Hassan, a survivor of visits to seventeen different worlds. Like several of the main characters in this future story of planetary visits and First Contact, he is recognisably Islamic. The woman who becomes a love interest for Hassan is Iman, who is the first to start recognising the individual identities of the natives, who they call the Batinites after the name they call this beautiful planet, meaning the Hidden.

 

Hassan is cautious, grave and speaks more in parable and epithet than in scientific speech. He has worries about the planet and its intelligent inhabitants and stays awake worrying not about the first thing they will learn of the Batinites, but the last thing. As it turns out, he is right. The last thing they find out is how their estimations of the Batinites are entirely mistaken.

 

There are Chinese, a German and even an American on the expedition led by Hassan and they all have specialities like exobiology, communications, and so on. They study the natives with telescopes, drone aircraft and smart flying listeners that feed back information into the Intelligence, that is clever enough that it can act as a Universal Translator at the end of the story and explain the actions of the Batinite who comes to visit the exploratory party.

 

The Batinites seem to have enemies and they prepare for conflict with single shot muskets and simple cannons. Unfortunately, when the Batinites are invaded the third party in the story are more advanced, lizard like creatures with far superior armaments and spaceships.

 

The exploratory party led by Hassan act as anthropologists of the modern age, watching and chronicling but trying not to influence this new world. But like so many such experiments their presence is detected at least by one Batinite. When finally the three cultures meet amidst a brief and bloody battle, Iman is shot dead by a solitary Batinite balloonist. The explorers learn that the Batinites have an active hate for any foreigners on their own planet and their duty is to kill the intruders. Too late, Hassan understands his mistake and takes the dead Iman back to Earth, leaving part of his own soul behind him.

 

The story is like Moles 'The third party' because the protagonists are both rather otherworldy scientists with a love interest. They look at their new worlds but do not discern it clearly. Instead, they attribute human reactions and feelings to the natives and this terrible cultural personification leads to a sudden realisation of their hubris in trying to act as God-like creatures observing lesser beings.

 

This narrative is useful as an important critique of colonialism and even of scientific exploration of different cultures warning that any contact will change the natural order of things.  Just because the planet is very beautiful and fascinating does not mean there is not a sting in the tail of the bejewelled insect trembling on the exquisite flower.

 

The gorgeous planet with the apparently peace-loving inhabitants of whom the scientists grow too fond has echoes of Douglas Adams' planet of Krikkit with its murderous and cheery xenophobes singing lullabies but this narrative is not comic, though the folly of the humans is certainly ironic and potent, warning the reader against simplifications and bias when observing another culture - probably a strong reason to use Islamic protagonists for the story and challenge Western assumptions linked to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Again, this may be useful for discussions with middle to upper secondary students, especially if they are involved with studies of different societies and their mores.

 

Like 'The third party', this story has several attributes, not least of which is the engagement with Islam as a dominant scientific and artistic force in the mid-future. Other strengths for discussion with the students relate to the rights and responsibilities of scientific observation and anthropology. However, apart from the clear critique of even harmless scientific observation of an indigenous intelligence, again most relevant to Australian students, this narrative does not relate directly to many of the themes of the 'Vision of the Future' theme area. Instead, it evokes many potent images and leaves a strong flavour of the exotic not only on this amazing planet they visit through the Gate, but also of the strengths, loves and moral values  of future humanity in another Age of Discovery.

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M John Harrison and 'Tourism'

 

Just as 'The clapping hands of God' has some links to Douglas Adams' lovely planet of Krikkit, the story 'Tourism' by M John Harrison begins with what seem to be strong links to Arkady and Boris Strutgatsky's Roadside Picnic, made into a long and moody Tarkovsky film called Stalker.

 

The setting for the story is very near the Event and it is a run-down, strange place where few are left and all have been changed by the Event - the only reason tourists come to this planet of the future. We begin the story in a sleezy bar but this is not film noir or the detective SciFi sub-genre. In the rafters of this derelict and smelly bar are sentient agents that are waiting to pluck money from tourists. Also waiting in the bar is Jack Seratonin, an illegal operative who makes money by taking tourists into the event site. The manager of the bar is Liv Hula and the bartender is a fat man with a bitter sense of humour, named Antoyne, perhaps in reference to borrowings from the classic ''Roadside Picnic'' novel.

 

But the world of the Event has many other features. For example, a local fighter loses so badly in his bouts that he needs to be reduced down to proteins and fats and then rebuilt into a new body while his mind survives as an algorithm. The Tailors build him a new body and then he fights again, dies again, but for his trouble earns enough to buy a new body, and on it goes.

 

Jack Serotonin returns to the bar, bedraggled and bloody. He has not returned with the attractive woman. Jack has not tried sufficiently to save the woman. Instead, he ran from the event zone but he protests that the event is terrifying, “Streets transposed on one another, everything laid down out of sync one minute to the next.”

 

There is a stream of black and white cats from the Event. Never a tabby. Just cats everywhere. This is a dreamlike, surreal setting. “Shortly after the last cat had vanished into the city, Jack's client returned to the bar.”  She is weirdly puzzled by 'how unpleasant it is” in the event site.

 

The males leave the bar and only the women remain, thinking their private thoughts. Harrison notes that “Every so often one or the other of them would go to the door and peer up Strait Street toward the Event zone, wreathed – silent, heaving and questionable – into daytime chemical fogs, while the others watched her expectantly.”

 

Apart from the obvious debt to Roadside Picnic as well as some echoes from genetic engineering texts, the narrative here is more like a suffocating Graham Greene story or even a William Faulkner setting except here the heat and the dilapidation is replaced by endless streams of black and white cats and strangeness.

 

For this reader and teacher, 'Tourism' was nicely constructed with some clever atmospherics and a string of unanswered questions held together by strong, if predictable, characterisation.

 

The story is recommended in a luke-warm fashion for studies of 'Visions of the Future', especially if students will go on to watch Stalker on DVD. Like Tarkovsky's Stalker, 'Tourism' may be a little slow and unsatisfactory for most secondary students.

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Terry Bisson and 'Scout's Honor'

 

The narrator receives a series of email messages on her lab computer. She believes it is a hoax at first. It speaks of a scientist who seems to have jumped back in time to a Europe where Neandrethals, called NTs, still move in groups, even though homo sapiens, HS, are out there and they are meant to meet at this point in time and space. Suddenly, one message arrives saying that the scientist has contacted a young NT.

 

The message recipient is a paleontologist working on a rare find, skeletons of a NT and an HS together.

 

She cannot find who is sending him the emails. She believes it is a friend who writes SciFi but he denies this, then another message comes in, saying that the scientist back in time has had the camp site disrupted and lost some provisions, but the young NT is still there.

 

The story builds suspense as the scientist journeys and even hunts with the group of NTs and in a later email it is seen that the HS have arrived. They are fierce and eat one young NT, but they are humans, just like the narrator, while the NTs are peaceful, cooperative and gentle.

 

The scientist and the NT are raided by a group of humans who steal their provisions. The scientist concludes that the HS did not kill off the NTs but rather stole their land and food.

 

Our palaeontologist narrator receives a request to come to New Mexico to discuss a new project and she suddenly understands that the emails she has been receiving come from herself, stranded with the young NT and dying far, far back in the Ice Age. She goes, anyway, as she is fascinated by the relationship with the NT from the past and her journey lies ahead of her, or behind her, or wherever it is that time travel stories begin and end.

 

The story is a fine example of the time travel narrative and well suited for discussion and simple exercises linked to this well known sub-genre. It is quite clear by the time the reader learns that there is a special project happening at her research institute that our palaeontologist is in fact the time traveller, but this may be less apparent to middle secondary students and above. What's more, the story would be excellent to lead into research projects and presentations about the theories related to the eventual triumph of the Homo Sapiens over the NT.

 

The 'Fate and Predestination' theme area delves to greater depth on the use of time travel as a literary device, as well as its clichéd nature in many SF stories. This story falls easily into a study of time travel as a device, as well as between the familiar dinosaur stories, the 'Sound of Thunder' story and all the visual texts that abound in the time travel area.

 

Unlike some of the sillier conceits with time travel seen in Heinlein's 'By His Bootstraps' and others, 'Scout's Honour' has some attention to characterisation, with the palaeontologist's fear of intimacy with others given as a motive for her eventual choice to undertake the mission to the past, even though the last message makes it clear that she dies in the past (creating another paradox) but does gain true intimacy and fellowship with the young NT.

 

This story is strongly recommended for middle and upper secondary students as a straight-forward and effective time travel narrative presenting an unpresumptuous conundrum.

 

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James Patrick Kelly and 'Men are Trouble'

 

The thirty page short story 'Men are Trouble' by James Patrick Kelly appears in The ''Year's Best Science Fiction'' anthology as well as the ''Nebula Awards Showcase 2007'' collection. Even though the story is memorable and clever, it is not recommended for use in secondary school situations because it uses the hard-bitten Private Investigator style so familiar from cinema noir. The layering of the tough, detective narrative over the most unusual SF future world has been used by many fine SF writers, but this model may not be as useful as others when studying Science Fiction themes as spcial criticism. Accordingly, it does not fit easily into the mySF Project aimed at teachers of secondary students.

 

With that said, the future Earth depicted by James Patrick Kelly includes many elements of alterity or Otherness. In the near future our own Earth has been taken over by strange aliens with extraordinary powers and inscrutable motives and values. The aliens, who look like Medieval depictions of little demons, make all the world's males disappear, all at once. The narrative picks up on a world where for more than a decade women are alone on the planet. The devils seed the younger women who then give birth to girls and they assist humanity by rapidly improving mechanisation, so that robots undertake and complete most basic physical labour.

 

Society has fragmented and there have been many suicides. Most humans do not have jobs as there seems to be nothing left to do but all fear the devils, even the toughest of the local Pis, who investigates crimes in a largely deserted city by pedaling a bicycle around for the usual short, poignant scenes associated with this sub-genre. In the end, the PI cycles back to her lover, grateful for the solace of her arms amidst an almost unrecognisable world. 

 

The story is worth considering for use if it is important to point out the intersection of genres like the crime and Science Fiction, but as most units of study for secondary students have enough to do in a small time just to cover aspects of one genre, this might be a tough assignment.

 

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Kage Baker and 'Mother Aegypt'

 

Like James Patrick Kelly's 'Men are Trouble', Kage Baker's 'Mother Aegypt' is not recommended for school use. The introduction to this fifty page story by the editor of the anthology, Gardner Dozois, notes it seems to be from the fantasy genre, but there are indications from the narrative that it is part of a long exploration of the idea of an established world system where time-travelling agents of the Company interact with difficulties.

 

The difficulties in 'Mother Aegypt' are substantial and involve a sickly-sweet con man who joins with a travelling show for his own protection and advantage but discovers that the secrets he exposes lead to danger, from such comic products of intervention as a giant chicken. The story has several comic elements and is fine in itself, but does require the reader to know the context of the Company use of the time travel devices. As this particular story seems to assume this knowledge because of the publication of many other Company narratives from Kage Baker, it is too much to ask secondary students to understand the connections between this apparently fantasy world and science fiction. No actual technologies are seen in the story except those that look magical, so it does not fit within the mySF project, at face value. Again, for those interested in the intersections between genres, this story may be useful.

 

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Stories covered by Podcast 17

 

Vernor Vinge and 'Synthetic serendipity'

 

In the last podcast that looked at the ''Nebula Awards Showcase 2006'' anthology another short story by Vernor Vinge was strongly recommended for use within a study by secondary students of artificial intelligence and virtual realities seen in 'The Cookie Monster'. This short story, 'Synthetic serendipity' is much shorter and easier and has direct relevance to possible futures for secondary education itself in the near future.

 

'Synthetic serendipity' is set in a near future Earth and its twelve pages assume extraordinary gains in the use of artificial intelligence, computer systems and access to synthetic virtual worlds.  The story could easily be tied in with other visions of virtual realities in films, as in ''The Thirteenth Floor'', directed by Josef Rusnak, and the even more disturbing ''Existenz'', directed by David Cronenberg.

 

In this short story the virtual world is not depicted as a threat. It does not depict computer generated realities as Frankenstein's monster that must destroy its creators and users due to their hubris in assuming god-like powers. Instead, the computer generated world can have very different outcomes and purposes.

 

This story is highly recommended for use with secondary students, given some scaffolding by discussion of the possibilities of current technologies, extrapolated to a further level. The trouble is, 'Synthetic serendipity' is really about teaching and being a student. This fact must be closely guarded when introducing the story to the students, but that wont be hard because it will be easy to stress the elements of hacking into an 'outside' computer game and bringing other users into an affiliation for profit and game credits.

 

Behind all the strangeness of the story is wireless broadcasting through tiny, ubiquitous wireless hubs and routers that overlay digital information onto the lenses of glasses or contact lenses worn for this purpose.

 

In Australia we call this innovation in education 'Augmented Reality' and it can be used for many purposes, like overlaying images of an old gold mining town onto a 'physical' view of a leveled field in the Australian Alps.  Where I teach, I would like to create a WiFi mapped image in virtual space of what the environment looked like before the school was built - easy, it was a sheep paddock. Then move through the virtual image and flip to an earlier view, of Aboriginal occupation of the same site, then right back to when the dry, limestone plains were tropical forest with giant kangaroos and wombats … all that sort of fun. That'[s what I want to do with Augmented Reality. The key element is that the network pushes images and data to the student user as they move through actual space, correlated and triggered by movements on a grid picked up by a GPS system.

 

In Vinge's 'Synthetic serendipity' the reader starts with three keen gaming students hacking into an 'outdoors' game that runs from Pyramid Hill. They have found a way to impersonate maintenance workers and be accepted into the Cretaceous Returns gaming environment. The game is overlaid onto a large hill that used to be an avocado orchard in San Diego.

 

These students are from Fairmont High, a consistent and wonderful setting for Vinge's stories. They break into the game and are immediately within their game playing avatars. It is a fully interactive game with robots overlaid with wireless virtual presences and there is a definite threat that they could be 'eaten' virtually, that also meant a slimy goo vomited onto them in real life. The Cretaceous Returns game does allow users to gain credits by creating dinosaur creatures and one of the three students, Mike, has done just that. He is a content creator, not just a game user. This is a real dividing line for high school students and will be seen as such.

 

The students are beaten easily by a gigantic dinosaur avatar and two flee down the hill to clean up but Mike is kept back by the four-storey dinosaur avatar because Mike is a creator. The dinosaur character puts a proposition to Mike to join a loose affiliation of creators but for his game credits Mike has to enlist others from Fairmont High.

 

The story takes the reader to Fairmont High, where the students wear computers stitched into their clothes and can use their contacts to overlay information onto their whole educational experience. The school is prestigious and advanced at least in terms of technology and some students win scholarships from large private companies that earn them millions in income. With all this technology, the teachers still insist on face-to-face classes augmented with data. The school also has several older students who are retraining themselves in the new world. Several have doctorates and some are professors but the digital revolution has so changes the world that they are back at high school.

 

For teachers, like the well known 'Fast Times at Fairmont High' available from eBooks like FictionWise for under three dollars, this is a fascination encounter with alterity. In this case, with a totally changed classroom where nevertheless it is the relationship of the teacher with her students that is the most important.

 

Much could be written about the school and its pedagogies but clearly it is all project based and students have to form collaborative groups online and in the physical world to solve problems. They do this very, very quickly and try to cheat or pass messages around the room unseen by their teacher - all that familiar stuff, but all overlaid with augmented realities and total access to information.

 

At the end of this short and quite challenging story Mike realises that it was his teacher who cooked up the whole project and he comes to an understanding that some education is not immediate and online and some teachers are prepared to manipulate students behind the scenes for years just to challenge and improve them.

 

As you might imagine, this story is a challenge for teachers, too. The students will say, 'Why can't school be like that for us?' and of course the answer is that it can. All the technology is available right here and now in junior form, but not in schools and teachers do not manipulate virtual games as easily as in any of Vinge's stories.

 

If you are interested in game theory, collaborative learning and authentic pedagogies as they are called here in Canberra, then this is a great story. The students will not even notice these ideas, but they will feel the very real differences between their schools and this vision of the near future. It will lead to interesting conversations about the strengths and weaknesses of this kind of learning, and this kind of free enterprise, totally online world.

 

As long as you soft-pedal on the last paragraph of the story where teachers are praised, the students will enjoy this one and when they leave the classroom their imaginations will start overlaying ideas and images of what their lives could be like as autonomous agents in an open world of knowledge. Great stuff!

 

For this reader, the most unlikely element of Vinge's stories is the willingness to undertake these mind-bogglingly difficult projects. Apparently, by the time of Vinge's stories, the bar has been raised considerably in schools. The other annoyance of a minor nature is the strong likelihood that the characters at thirteen break into complex adult speech during a crisis, rather than half-finished utterances and adolescent grunts that may be more familiar.

 

'Synthetic serendipity' joins several other important texts to discuss the widespread and enhanced use of augmented realities, the most notable of which is the recent novel by William Gibson, Spook Country. This story derives in part from the Cyberpunk sub-genre and links easily with texts of many kinds relating to the human and machine interface.

 

Vinge has been criticised for simplicity and a lack of direction in his writings and you will see why critics have said this, but to me the tangential wandering of the narrative is well worth the work to find the very clear themes of human possibility and limitation.

 

This story is recommended for middle to upper secondary students. It would also be handy to have some in the class who knew about ubiquitous, wireless, mobile and personal learning devices. If they have an iPod, they already know. Vinge's world is what our students have every right to expect now.

 

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Mary Rosenblum and 'Skin deep'

 

Linked strongly to the famous short story and novel by Daniel Keyes 'Flowers for Algernon', Mary Rosenblum's story 'Skin deep' explores the impact of science on a disabled individual who through the miracle of clever and late intervention finds a new life. In this way it is linked to many of the Frankenstein complex stories from the 'Brave New World' theme area, although it is not about genetic engineering but good, old fashioned surgery, just like Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein'.

 

A young man is terribly burnt in a domestic accident and his face looks like melted plastic. In the very near future there is a new procedure that can grow skin tissue back and remake his face. He is lucky enough to be selected for the procedure, after many years of hiding away from public gaze. The procedure is a success and his face starts to regrow. The Doc is hoping to regrow him into a handsome young man for no other reason that the Doctor lost his own son in an accident. It is no surprise then when the Doc has our narrator recover from his miraculous surgery at the doctor's house - the Doc is after a surrogate son.

 

The patient leaves before his face is regrown entirely, but at least he is not monstrous anymore, just pretty ugly. He chooses to have his own life rather than operate as a son surrogate for the Doc. He has one friend who he knows from online and he heads out to find her.

 

The story might be called sociological SF with some character interest but it is not recommended for secondary students except perhaps as an add on to watching the terrible adaptation of Stephen King's 'Lawnmower Man' or reading Keyes' 'Flowers for Algernon'. The same theme arises - just how much should be done to change the lives of the disabled? It is a narrow path to walk and the Rosenblum story 'Skin deep' walks it well and discretely but it lacks power and is not easily characterised as SF, except for a neat-o skin graft machine.

 

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Vandana Singh and 'Delhi'

 

With echoes of a time traveler adrift as seen in the wonderful and much lamented Kurt Vonnegut's 'Slaughterhouse Five', we find the narrator, Aseem, wandering around the Indian city of Delhi experiencing actual encounters across time, right back to imperial ages and forward to when tattered wraiths float through the Delhi underground rail system. He meets others who can also experience these time shifts and spends much of his time looking for himself, in another age, while also stopping many who attempt suicide, giving them a business card for the office of Pandit Vidyanath where they will discover the true purpose of their lives. This echoes the card he was given when he was about to throw himself from a bridge.

 

Aseem consults Pandit Vidyanath's computer and is given a print-out of a woman's face. It is his destiny to find this woman, he is told. That's why he should live.

 

He does find her after several years and she appears from a future Delhi where spaceships fly between worlds, from the Immaculate City. He also finds himself, or rather, an older self stops him jumping from the bridge and Aseem then understands that Delhi is itself a sort of living entity, represented by the beehive that is growing in Pandit Vidyanath's office. Delhi itself is 'burrowing into the earth, and even later it will reach long fingers towards the stars' p323

 

Singh's short story 'Delhi' fits easily into the 'Fate and predestination' theme area of the mySF Project. It could be used with the familiar Heinlein's stories from the Golden Age of SF but this is not recommended. The narrative is effective but mostly because of the exotic setting in modern and historic (and future historic) Delhi. The writing is strong and sensual but the time travel or time-slip focus is not well developed. The reader is left to wonder if Aseem is genuinely slipping between times, or if he is delusional. At any event, it is hard to care too much for him as he spends a good deal of time desolate and wandering with too little defining how he came to this pass.

 

The story 'Delhi' would be useful for a cross-cultural use of SF themes and it would allow students to move away from the American or Western dominated SF narratives. At twelve pages the story is a good length for middle secondary students but does not offer many key elements for discussion.

 

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Albert E Cowdrey and 'The tribes of Bela'

 

Set in a more distant future when a spaceship can cover light years, 'The tribes of Bela' by Albert E Cowdrey follows the large, self-possessed Colonel Kohn as he arrives on the Planet Bela to investigate twenty brutal murders at a small mining colony.

 

No-one wants to live on Bela because of its climatic extremes and its remoteness, but it is very rich in minerals so the miners have put up with the intolerably long and difficult seasons and established rough bases. They built on the top of what looks like Aztec temples but there are no signs of the original inhabitants, though there are many nasty beasties in the environment, all with curved tusks, a taste for flesh and a smell like a lion cage.

 

Captain Mack is the local security chief and she was born on the planet. She is a difficult customer and in this fifty page short story we learn that she has made contact with the unusual indigenous people of the planet and their 'Cousins'. She has been swayed to their religion and their culture and it is Captain Mack herself and too moronic security guards who are behind the murders on the little mining colony.

 

If it sounds a little familiar from Asimov's detectives in space, or from the terraforming colonies of Aliens, or even the wild west corruption of Outlander, that's because it is familiar. The local doctor and Colonel Kohn strike up a relationship as the slaughter toll rises and the plot thickens. Eventually, the reader learns that this is an unique planet as all sentient life is related, they all grow from the same fat worms with their massive DNA strands that can differentiate them into little brown people, tusked bears and even tusked whales.

 

This is an old-fashioned and enjoyable narrative that reflects other recent writers' interests in exploring the way colonisers treat the indigenous culture, a theme close to the heart of Australian students due to our own bleak history. In this case the miners are the aliens and the aboriginals of Bela are growing back in number, working with Captain Mack to drive out the invaders and restore their ancient death cults.

 

Axes split heads, giant creatures attack, missiles are fired and even at one point a tusked whale flops onto a beach and devours a main character just when he thought he was safe, just as in the smart shark story, Deep Blue Sea. The gladiator Colonel Kohn is clever, sensitive but a decisive commander and with the doctor's help he does solve the murders, even though several miners die while they fumble about.

 

The violence will be of interest to many middle secondary students, as will the exotic location of the unusual planet that veers between Ice Age and tropical profusion. The length of the story will be difficult for some students as it follows the slow revelation methods of the detective story, but this blend of genres is quite successful and may interest some students, especially if the classes have already completed or go onto a detective genre study.

 

'The Tribes of Bela' is recommended for students who enjoy action and the solving of unlikely problems in exotic places, but it does not focus clearly enough on the treatment of both aliens and natives as a critique of colonialism or even the darker side of greed we see in other alien versus human narratives, so it is less useful for the mySF Project with secondary students that looks to social critique through SF. The story is a great 'Dan Dare' or even 'Starship Troopers meets Indiana Jones' narrative and would be valuable for less critical students, especially those who can deal with a fifty page short story.

 

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William Sanders and 'Sitka'

 

The mySF Project with its five, simplified theme areas aimed at secondary students is limited, of course. The theme areas overlap at many points, their boundaries blurring into nebulae of plasma when examined. Also, most SF readers would want more than just five theme areas. Another obvious sub-genre or theme area would have to be alternate histories, but I am afraid this is not covered here, regardless of the worth of the story.

 

William Sanders story 'Sitka' follows a 'trio of dark faced women' who are time travellers. They have come back to 1914 to witness a meeting between writer Jack London and Russian revolutionary leader, Lenin. They discover that Jack London is the saboteur who uses a mine to sink the German dreadnought, Bradenburg, bringing on the First World War.

 

London is portrayed as handsome but bigoted, with a liking for women, drink and gold while Lenin manipulates the younger Socialist London into the crime to bring about revolution in Russia.

 

There is a moment of confusion when one of the time travelers almost interrupts London and Lenin by warning them against the disaster of the Great War, but it comes to nothing and indeed the German battleship is sunk.

 

One of the appeals of alternate history is the way it slides together with past history and in this story some, few students may wish to note that the German battleship Brandenburg was around at this time but was not sunk. London was around in the Klondike, also, and Lenin was nearby at this time. However, Jack London died from kidney failure on his ranch in California and was more of an armchair socialist than a practitioner, but nevertheless the story is a neat dual narrative between the time travelers and London with Lenin, and this may be of interest to some older secondary students, though it does not fall within the province of the mySF Project and its five themes.

 

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Daniel Abraham and 'Leviathan wept'

 

Set in the near future, 'Leviathan wept' follows the protagonist, Renz, a member of the Coordinatred Antiterrorist Command. Through means not clearly explained Renz can communicate with the other four officers in his 'cell'. Through some sort of implant Renz can see what his brother officers see and speak with them, through peripheral vision and switching between channels. They are in different parts of the world but can communicate in real time, with vision. This becomes an important part of the story when disaster strikes as Renz can see identical events occuring in many places, at the same time.

 

Though again it is not explicitly spelt out, the cell with other cells are battling terrorists, probably of the fundamentalist Islamic variety. Their battle is proactive. The story starts with the cell and Renz placing a device beneath the headquarters of a terrorist group but on the way out they shoot a young girl, thinking she is wearing explosives. It turns out she was just a girl, a 'dud' but she is treated as collateral damage, as are the others killed by the device.

 

The narrative cuts from the cell destroying a black of flats to kill the terrorists, over to Renz coming home to Anna, his partner. Anna is dying from a chronic disease, her body battling a tumor. Renz cannot deal with this slow death and has shied away from his partner so he is almost relieved when he is called out again by his cell.

 

The terrorists have struck back with simultaneous attacks around the globe. This does not seem unusual in a near future world that has not won the War of Terror. The war continues unabated, and if the actions of Renz and his cell are anything to go by, it is now even harder to tell the cell anti-terrorists from the terrorists.

 

Then, something very odd happens, all at once and mirroring the original killing of the young girl by the cell. An identical young girl appears to all the cell officers. She seems to wave to them, to attract their attention. The officers retreat, confused.

 

The reason for these identical children is offered in a roundabout way. In the same way that the human body uses system to fight infection, the Earth has thrown up a new, superior Hive mind that seeks to be rid of the cancer of the continual war and killing.

 

The slowly growing cancer in Anna's body is used as an analogy to the cancer of terrorism world wide. Renz faces a new sort of evolved human, identical young girls with superhuman powers. But his encounter with these evolved children doesnot lead anywhere as his cell is obliterated by explosives. Renz walks up to one of the children but finds it is not a part of the Hive mind. 'God is great,' she said, happily. Like she was sharing a secret.” Then she detonates her explosives.

 

As can be seen by the brief synopsis here, there are elements of Cyberpunk in this story that relate to the 'Ghost in the shell' theme area of the human and machine interface. It also speaks of the forever war by and on terrorism and finally it picks up on many evolutionary SF texts that see enormous and rapid changes, such as in Bear's Darwin's radio.

 

The story feels like an anime title with the wired cell officers and the ghostly children with strange powers, but it is not recommended for use with secondary students. The analogy of the tumour spreading and the cancer of terrorism is muddy and unsatisfying. There are strong images from the story, especially with the little girls facing the elite anti-terrorist cell, though these are more filmic than interesting and may be influenced by a wide variety of sources, from King's Firestarter to Lane. The Hive mind idea may be of interest to some students but in this story it is expressed only as a vague reference without carrying the argument further into a genuine transformation of society into a new sort of cooperative creature.

 

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Stories covered by Podcast 18

 

Colin P Davies and 'The defenders'

 

As an introduction to 'The defenders' the editor of the anthology, Gardner Dozois, notes the elegant and incisive story has enough ideas to fill an eight-hundred page novel. The story is only four pages long and is certainly suited to middle and supper secondary students, linked rather tenuously to the 'Brave new world' theme area with its focus on genetic engineering.

 

While very little of the story seeks to explain itself, it is clear that the setting is a distant planet, in the far future. Humans have come as intruders and they have used their technology to create great, dragon-like creatures that they call Defenders. A grandfather has taken his grand-daughter out in a little power boat to show her the graveyard of the Defenders that died to protect the humans, as well as the bleached bones of the 'Demons', a brown-furred and reckless animal that threatened the humans in their new home.

 

The action of the conflict has been over for many years. The Grandfather needs to teach his grand-daughter about the Defenders and about their nature. As we see through some dense and clever dialogue, the Defenders were actually created using human tissue, in this case from the eggs of his grandchild. The Defenders are magnificent beasts modelled on dragons but with human characteristics but now they have defeated the Demons the grandfather knows the last must be destroyed. He calls the last Defender with a transmitter and while his grand-daughter marvels at its power and beauty, he detonates a small mechanism that kills this ancient beast, sending it below the surface of the Spherical Ocean to join the other bones.

 

This is a story for stronger students and will need discussion and comment because so much of the cognitive work must be done by the reader, unlike so many SF stories where everything is spelt out in detail.

 

In short, the brief short story is another Frankenstein tale. The Grandfather has created the Defenders from the very living stuff of humanity, engineering the great beast and implanted a sense of self-less love for humans that give them their name. But after the battle they are not needed any more and their sheer size and power makes them a new threat - Frankenstein's monster. Instead of waiting for the Defender to turn on its creator, the Grandfather kills the last beast and lets his grand-daughter work out why he has done this and what it means for their position on the planet as the dominant  creature that can create allies to die for humans, when need arises.

 

Because of its brevity and power this narrative would be well suited to the later parts of the study of genetic engineering in the 'Brave New World' theme area, after The Island of Doctor Moreau and the other narratives that tend to echo Shelley's Frankenstein. Here in 'The defenders' human beings have not changed themselves into wondrous creatures, instead they have used skills with bioengineering to create willing soldiers to fight and die for homo sapiens on tiny new planets amongst the stars.

 

This story is well suited as a later text in a ten week unit course looking at genetic engineering in SF. Student reactions to the story and their readings of this disquieting vignette would be fascinating and just as worthy as this writers take on what is essentially a dense, clever and mysterious story.

 

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Stephen Baxter and 'Mayflower II'

 

'Mayflower II' by Stephen Baxter deals with a fundamental problem of travel between habitable planets without a Faster than Light drive, that convenient trick of folding a map to make two distant points neighbours. It is a moody, worrying story of stupidity and the bestiality of human nature. The story  is forty-five pages long and dedicated to a survival fund for the Asian Elephant.

 

In Science Fiction from the Golden Age onwards there have been tricks used to have interstellar travel much faster than the laws of physics allow. The Faster than Light drive or the HyperJump is a great plot device for moving a story onwards that would otherwise require countless generations of protagonists to enact. In Stephen Baxter's story the special Jump drive is not available, so five colonies of explorers must set out from the icy Port Sol to escape persecution.  They must use enormous Generation ships that can accommodate ten thousand people each to travel away from their persecutors, the Coalition forces.

 

The protagonist is Rusel who takes Ship 3 to escape after his name is called in a scientific lottery. His brother is on board but it is Rusel we follow as he takes alien medical intervention to drastically lengthen his lifespan so that he can complete the journey and keep the ship on task. He is given the job of remembering why they left their home to find another over two thousand light years away and for keeping the population of the ship, renamed Mayflower II with some irony, coherent enough to arrive, but it does not work.

 

Rusel becomes one of the original crew who live on while the 'Transients' on the ship, the generations of people on board without the medical intervention, run through purely logical evolution into barbaric monsters that either eat their young or live to clear the walls of the starship.

 

I must confess a weakness for Stephen Baxter and have read many of his novels, including the more recent series of mammoth tales. It is no surprise then that Baxter has dedicated this story to saving the Asian elephant, because 'Mayflower II' is all about guilt, loss and human stupidity.

 

Rusel and the other elite live on within the confining walls of the ship while the Transient human population lives and dies, on and on. The lives of the elite become increasing more circumscribed until Rusel is nothing more than a wizened husk of flesh suspended between a web of computers that support his life and thought. The walls close in on the story all the way through, reminding the reader of exotic animals caged and on exhibit, losing the essence of their natures as they simply survive, just to survive.

 

After twenty-five thousand years of the human Transients changing into moronic or indolently cannibal animals the Mayflower II is overtaken by a ship with Faster than Light capacity and it takes only two weeks to overtake them. The epic journey never ends and we leave Rusel suspended in his cold web of cables to take the Generation ship on to its final destination, alone.

 

The journey of escape seemed important enough at the start and Rusel both kills and leaves his true love behind to fulfil the mission. His guilt is twenty-five thousand years long and his inability to change or seek individual freedom dooms those who travel with him, though Rusel believes he is fulfilling his duty and humankind's fate lives in his hands.

 

This story is recommended for the 'Visions of the future' section of the mySF Project with the caution that is long, gruelling and explores human frailty at the species and individual level, so it is recommended for upper secondary students. The technology is not important in the story though it is always there in Baxter stories but really this is a story of hubris.

 

Rusel and his original captain doom their crew and themselves to the endless pain of the Gods pulling off their wings and watching them squirm because they aspire to God-like status, making hard and fast decisions about other humans, the Transients, and letting their pride  take them on a journey that means all inhabitants of the star ship are doomed, utterly.

 

This doom of the captured managed by those who exploit humans (and animals like the Asian elephant) is very clear and poignant. This is what we are doing to animals, Baxter says. It is a political analogy of human hubris and the rights of other species on this planet. As such it fits well within the political slant of the  mySF Project that looks at SF as a vehicle for social criticism, with the focus in 'Mayflower II' on the rights of animals rather than humans. This story is recommended for the later sections of the theme unit on 'Visions of the Future'  as it leaves alternate social structures and the discussions of Utopias and Dystopias behind to explore instead the nature of homo sapiens and its/our relationship with near cousins, the animals of the Earth. This may well be an important text for many students, though its length and dour nature requires ongoing encouragement and discussion.

 

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Caitlin R Kiernan and 'Riding the white bull'

 

Caitlin R Kiernan's 'Riding the white bull' is not recommended for use in secondary schools. It fits within the 'Enemy within' theme area of the mySF Project as it revolves around the arrival of an alien species on Earth, brought back after the IcePIC explorer landed on Europa and returned to Earth with living specimens from below the dense ice crust.

 

Kiernan makes the point that when the IcePIC explorer found aquatic life on Europea the whole Earth rejoiced. But the central idea of this story is that the tiny worm-like creatures surviving around volcanic vents kilometres under ice and water on Europa are unknowable. They are sentient and they are excellent colonisers and on their return and escape on Earth they have changed the world, much for the worse. A memorable line from the story is 'after the discovery of alien life in the Solar System humankind is even more alone'. Humans are alone because of the unspeakable darkness of the alien mind.

 

The story involves a sort of detective called a Scrubber who can use a vague technology to enter the mind of the aliens or at least see what they have been up to. Their alien consciousness is utterly Other, like looking into an immeasurable deep hole and almost wishing to fall in.  The Scrubber and an officer from the Agency who was a past lover investigate a double death by the aliens. They have transformed the two adults into writhing flesh tentacles. The Scrubber finds the cause of the infection and executes the young woman who carried the alien parasites.

 

The twenty-page story only hints at the atrocities of the aliens on Earth. The Earth we see is tragic and filthy. There are many glimpses of technology in this narrative and it is clear that humans are losing the battle with the aliens, and also with themselves, as most people seem to be infected by a deep and murderous depression.

 

'Riding the white bull' is a story with one 'what if' idea. It involves Otherness or alterity seen in close quarters but it does not show more than this. The writing is turgid and seemed to this reader self-conscious with many intertextual references. It is too slow, dark and blurred to be of great use at the secondary level even though it could be used in a learning sequence before the more difficult unknowable Other texts such as either version of Lem's Solaris. Like the Lem story and the films, humans find in the little worms of Europa not a fascinating alien species but a dark mirror to the evil within.

 

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Brendan Dubois and 'Falling star'

 

After all the fuss in mid-2008 over the 'I am legend' film and DVD release (covered in other podcasts and on the mySF Scripts site for Podcast 22), the story 'Falling star' by Brendan Dubois is simple, painless and interesting.

 

In 'Falling star' Rick Monroe is an ex-astronaut, an older man living simply in New Hampshire. His life is plain, living in the same house in which he was born. He is an outsider, because he left the area and went to work with NASA where he eventually joined the space program and was part of running a space station.

 

The Earth he came back to was changed utterly, not because of an alien parasite but because a computer hacker succeeded in frying every computer silicon chip in the whole, networked world. Now, people ride to town for simple, wrapped parcels in a horse and buggy and religious fundamentalism is rife.

 

Like other SF stories before, Dubois imagines that after a global catastrophe there is a backlash against science and technology. Rick Monroe suffers under this backlash as the locals seek to cast him out because of his part in the technologies that are now almost lost in North America.

 

Through dialogue with a young boy, Tom, and his father, Rick Monroe explains how the world used to be when networked computers controlled transport, information and almost everything else. With this technology gone, the world becomes almost semi-barbaric, or rather it looks and feels like regional America of the nineteenth century.

 

This is a future/disaster narrative involving a virus or logic bomb but this time it destroys computers. The story is clever, well-written, evocative and subtle. It would work well as an antidote to the screaming zombies of The Last man on Earth, Omega man, then I am legend. The story is twelve pages long but is easily digested at a relaxed pace. Reading the story would lead to discussions speculating on the impact of the loss of all computers in students' lives, as well as the ongoing battle between religion and science.

 

'Falling star' is useful and would not need great scaffolding for support as it is in a near-future time and its themes are familiar. Characterisation is strong and the use of the young boy Tom in the narrative may be especially useful for younger secondary students. It would be easy to sit this story after Bradbury's short story 'The smile' or  'Fahrenheit 451'.

 

For this reader the story was a little annoying as the scope of the devastation seemed too extensive for just a failure of all networked computers, but its one, main idea of the future disaster is handled so sensitively without burning, killing or disaster that it would be excellent for earlier secondary students.

 

For later secondary students the story would be useful for comparison with one of Octavia Butler's near-future disaster scenarios and there are so many extravagant and heavy films on this theme (such as Kevin Costner's Waterworld and The Postman) that this short story would be a great change of pace.

 

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Stories covered by podcast 19

 

Robert Reed and 'The dragons of Summer Gulch'

 

'The dragons of Summer Gulch' is an alternative history story about a world where dragons once flew through the sky and lived on land. It involves many different hunters of dragon bones and the discovery of an amazing find - a wonderful skeleton and eight dragon eggs.

 

While the story is a stirring fantasy with nice moments, it is not useful within the five themes of the mySF Project.

 

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Jasmes L Cambias and 'The ocean of the blind'

 

Henri Kerleree is a very unpopular scientist on the deep undersea research station on the planet Hitode, six months from Earth. He is so unpopular that the other researchers plan terrible ways he could be killed. In the end, these are not needed as the populist, shallow and vain-glorious scientist who loves only a camera trained on him chooses his own way to suicide, slowly and horribly.

 

The research station is studying the Ilmatarans, a tool-using and sentient race inidgenous to the frozen, watery world. The Ilmatarans are a croass between a Beluga whale and a lobster but they have tools and a strong social hierachy. They are not as advanced as the Earth research stationm studying them, b ut it so happens that the local village of these vast creatures is hosting a dinner party for the scientifically inclined.

 

The research station know little about the Ilmatarans as they have a sort of Star Trek ehtic of non-disturbance and pure, distant observation. Henri Kerleree is not committed to this scientific ethic and instead has bought a new stealth diving suit for the great depth and cold so that he can move amongst the Ilmatarans without detection, with a camera recording his observations and a split screen showing his own face and carrying his plummy tones to an adoring audience.

 

One night Henri takes his assistant Ron aside to show him his secret stealth suit and to act as cameraman as Henri moves amongst the Ilmatarans, the first alien encounter with these sentient crustorcas.

 

As might be expected with this comic, short and droll story that makes reference to Roald Dahl, Henri is captured by displaying an absence of reflection. The Ilmatarans 'ping' their environment and find the absence by deducting. These amateur scientists who talk like aristicrats with a scientific bent slowly dissect Henri with their giant lobster claws. Rob records the whole thing for posterity.

 

James L Cambias' story is well written, succinct and has two brief interludes amongst the polite conversation and interests of the Ilmatarans at dinner and then trapping Henri. It is another story of the indigenous triumphing over the colonisers, with a lovely time slip back to the nineteenth century amateur biologists out with their nets after dinner to discuss a new species, this time five  kilomteres down under ice and water.

 

This is a short, enjoyable and only slightly black story as the reader is spared much of the dissection. After the populist scientist dies horribly, the story moves away to Rob and endfs neatly as it started.

 

This story is recommended for the 'Enemy within theme' and could also be used in the 'Visions of the future' theme. It is a simple, turnaround story (and hence the reference to the Dahl story of the frozen leg of lamb) that should do well amongst middle secondary students.,

 

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Eleanor Arnason and 'The garden'

 

Up until the subdued climax and resolution of Eleanor Arnason's 'The garden' the protagonists are short, round bipeds with fur. They are a space-faring species or at least the males take on the military and exploratory roles in a rigorously structured matriarchal society.

 

The reader follows a young male, Akuin of the Atkwa lineage who is distinguished by unusual beauty and a love for the natural world. It is his grandmother that rules the lineage and the thirty-two page story makes it clear that the species leaves decisions and social cohesion to the females while males enter the military and the sciences.

 

Akuin is different from early on. He loves gardens and gardening. He is not the cleverest of the Atkwa but he has a gift for making plants grow. This talent is most useful as he can provide food and oxygen for more of his kind on the very many space stations that float about in local space. These disciplined, furry creatures have met humanity in space and are in a permanent state of war, but Akuin detests war and space, wanting instead to be back amongst his own homeland, living simply and tending his gardens.

 

The male of the species spends sixty years in service to the homeworld on their space stations and during his first placement Akuin takes a male lover who is a scientist interested in astrophysics. He is ugly with mottled fur, but Akuin comes to love him, though he is not interested in his work.

 

We follow Akuin aboard a space station and then he returns home for a funeral and he deserts his post, choosing instead to walk up into the mountains and live like Thoreau at Walden,  growing plants and watching the world pass.

 

This cannot be let continue in a shortish narrative so when Akuin is fifty years old he is visited by two male lovers who have lost their way, one human and one of the same species as Akuin. They tell Akuin that the war with humanity is over and also fill him in on his earlier lovers status as a leading physicist who correctly modelled the disappearance of a star system.

 

Arnason's story is very interesting as an account of a very different species structured as a matriarchy. This is unusual enough on its own to benefit students in Science Fiction. However, the story loses focus a few times. It speaks of theories of gravitation, twenty dimensions, and the interactions of stars as seen in some Greg Egan stories, but it also speaks of a stable economic and political system based on rigorous segregation of the genders and normative homosexual love (though it is not clear if the females also enjoy homosexual love). Against these major 'what if' ideas, these mild poles of Otherness, runs the story of Akuin who just wants to be a gardener but ends up disgracing his family. Most surprising of all, Akuin is abandoned at the climax of the story when he is discovered hiding out in the hills. Instead, the narrative is resolved as it follows two, lover/strangers talking about the political and social differences between the species, displaying clearly the author's interest in this narrative.

 

This story is not strongly recommended for lower or middle secondary students but could be used as an additional reading for those working in the theme areas of contacts with aliens as well as visions of future political systems. Senior, female secondary students who are strong readers will find benefit in the narrative of 'The garden' and it could be used with some of Octavia Butler's stories looking at gender roles in SF, such as 'Bloodchild'. Some students might be worried by the male, homosexual sex as a normal practice amongst the Atkwa on their space stations but this is not stressed, merely acknowledged.

 

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Peter F Hamilton and 'Footvote'

 

Peter F Hamilton's 'Footvote' does not fit easily into the various themes studied in the mySF Project. I suppose it can be a vision of the future but at its core it is a 'what if' story set in contemporary England. Tony Blair is the Prime Minister, English troops are fighting and dying in Iraq and the rubbish is not being collected by the council so instead a small mountain of black plastic bags lie at each suburban corner, symbols of the decay of the society.

 

Just like the rubbish on the corner the story starts with a broken woman, Jannette, who has custody of two children and is bitter about her husband, a doctor,  leaving her for a younger woman. So far it doesn't sound like Science Fiction but this story poses an intriguing question, 'What if one eccentric had control of the perfect worm hole technology?' 

 

The eccentric is Bradley Murray, who knows how to run the wormhole and he props it open in the  English countryside and invites any who want to cross immediately to New Suffolk, a distant planet with a similar climate, luckily, and endless promise. The wormhole has punctured English society.

 

Hundreds of thousands sell everything and pour through the wormhole to a new home, based on a simple list of conditions written by Murray. The list resembles a combination of Robert Heinlein's anarchic, tough, personal freedoms and responsibilities, blended with petty contempt for officialdom almost straight from Gilbert and Sullivan's Executioner song in 'The Mikado'.

 

The short story shuffles part of Murray's declarations for New Suffolk between first person accounts from the main characters. Jannette attends a demonstration with a rabid friend at the wormhole portal, protesting against the divisions it has brought to their England as the endless stream of refugees stream onto a planet where eighteen legged dinosaurs walk into backyard gardens. At the demonstration she sees her ex-husband with his new partner and they have taken her children, intent on jumping to New Suffolk. Against her political views Jannette decides on the spur of the moment to leave the petty bickering and stupidity of modern England behind and step into a new world, even though she is mostly unwelcome.

 

The story would be useful for students with a political bent, allowing for discussions of 'what if' scenarios - what if you could just leave this messed up world and try to build a better one, without all that baggage of history and government? As the story ends with the extended family trundling through the wormhole their future is unclear and seems precarious already. An exercise for students would be to speculate on their New Suffolk lives and how they would survive, together.

 

Parts of the action at the climax of the story did not hang together well. Hamilton's writing seemed a little slap-dash at points, as if he was simply fleshing out a whimsical idea in broad strokes. The story would be very useful for middle and upper secondary students to discuss the notion of one simple idea, one technology or alterity that changes everything, as the backbone to so many SF stories. Is it enough, in the end?

 

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Paul di Filipo and 'Sisyphus and the stranger'

 

This podcast and blog links into the mySF Project, a system for teaching Science Fiction to secondary students. It uses just five, major theme areas  as a way of discussing this genre.  It misses many streams of SF and one of these is the alternate history story. In this case Paul di Filippo's story 'Sysyphus and the stranger' is not recommended for use within the context of the mySF Project. It seems to be quite akin to Arnason's 'The garden' because there is one major idea. In this case the question is 'What would Albert Camus' life be like if the French had an amazing weapon that brought back their imperial power?'

 

This is a Multiverse story, discussed with to a little depth in the 'Fate and Predestination' area mostly given to time travel narratives.

 

Camus is an important but ignored bureaucrat in the Imperial Palace, Algiers. He is not happy serving the French administrator in this part of the world and after some brief meetings, plenty of chain smoking and drinking in an Algerian bar, Camus meets a traveller from another part of the Multiverse, who tells him he should shoot a spy and then hands him Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus. Camus, being a clever and urbane young lad understands the idea of the Multiverse and anticipated that in another, parallel universe, he is a famous writer.

 

Paul di Filipo is clearly a fan of Camus. Who isn't? The story manipulates the events to echo passages, some elements of the writing style  and narrative threads as clever conceits on Camus' major works. It is entertaining and poses interesting questions to the Camus' afficiando, but it is not recommended to secondary school teachers unless their upper secondary students are also looking at the darker modern writers and would like a bouncing wall for ideas or a  quick peephole through which to glimpse the major texts.

 

In 'Sisyphus and the stranger'  we do not confront the issue of suicide in a meaningless life but instead we leave Camus on a beach with a laser pistol in his hand about to disintegrate a sleeping spy, or maybe he doesn't, or maybe he does …

 

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Paul Melko and 'Ten Sigmas'

 

The editor of the anthology Gardner Dozois chose to place Paul Melko's 'Ten sigmas' after the Paul di Filipo story and this is another Multiverse story. As such it is beyond the bailiwick of the mySF Project.

 

The title of the story here relates to the infinite possibilities for understanding action if a character could perceive actions across all multiverse actions in response to one, sudden event. In this case of a protagonist  who understood that he was living across a Sigma plus n multiverse.

 

Strangely, the number is narrowed down to one when a trucker rumbles past with a beaten girl bound and gagged seen for a moment in the back cabin. Our protagonist acts immediately and thousands of his replicas/selves die in other universes until he persists so much that he is the only one still alive across the multiverse.

 

The story is well worthwhile for those interested in the many Multiverse writers and films. For this teacher, the Multiverse is a convenient plot device that is too much like time travel in that whatever happens, who cares? After all, there are another Sigma plus copies where the bad thing does not happen, so how can we reconcile and resolve the story?

 

This is a fine story and most memorable, especially in the sort of Buddha consciousness of the protagonist who can see across the infinite mirror image iterations.  The story is sharp, simple and full of incident and problem, but this teacher has to ask, why is there only one hero left at the end? How many is Sigma + n? It's a convenient idea and very well handled, but it may be useful mostly as a way of discussing SF as a series of literary devices to play with the 'what if' scenario.

 

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Walter John Williams and 'Investments'

 

In the far future of Walter John Williams' 'Investments' the protagonist is whisked along through a sleek, futuristic  cityscape in a sort of cab that drives itself, though Lieutenant Severin takes command when the  vehicle pulls off the main road and turns down to the palace.

 

Severin is a commoner and has already risen in the ranks faster than normal. Immediately above him is his mentor Lord Martinez. Severin and Martinez served in the wars together and this relationship has crossed boundaries of class and wealth. Above both Martinez and Severin are the others of the officer class and above these the Peers and their aristocratic families who can engineer an entire planet as a family project.

 

'Investments' is a sort of Regency novel where the men wear tight collars and smart uniforms that pronounce their status while the woman are beautiful in long, flowing gowns. Like many Regency narratives, the women can be as cold and opportunistic as the worst of the men. The aristocracy laze about gambling, eating or making their silly chit-chat but behind them lie vast families, webs of unseen influence, economic manoeuvrings,  and fleets of starships.

 

Walter John Williams' future universe is based on earlier, Space Opera novels. He is also represented as a major player in Strahan and Dozois' The New Space Opera. Various species abound in these future worlds and on board the ships plying their way between portal wormholes. But it is not the different species that are the threats. Instead, it is greed and power that lead to conspiracy and danger.

 

The novella of a hundred pages follows both the common but resourceful Severin as well as the minor aristocrat Martinez. Both face extraordinary events with that cool and composed intelligence and ruthlessness that seems peculiarly British, from an earlier age. Severin has his exploratory vessel hit by massive X-rays from a pulsar and Martinez is ambushed by snake-creatures who try to silence the enquiry he is running on the planet Chee. Martinez and Severin's fates are intertwined and needless to say everything comes out well in the end, even though Severin wears a tattered uniform throughout - showing that true abilities are not a matter of parentage but steely, indomitable  will power.

 

Walter John Williams creates a universe that seems to have brocades and tapestries in every alcove, a richly textured future of dry humour and empire building. The writing can be turgid when the fulsome descriptions are layered a little too thickly but generally Williams keeps the pace of the novella moving well. He interposed languid conversations over coffee with immediate action and moves the novella to a memorable climax when Martinez fights for his life in a vast airlock. The characters are many-faceted while dated and singularly lacking in spontaneity. In fact, Martinez seems very like an imperious Captain Bigglesworth who has just stepped from his Spitfire into a comfortable parlour where he is served sweet titbits.

 

I am not keen on Space Opera that seems to use a far future to recreate feudal relationships more akin to fantasy but Williams has much to recommend him. His worlds are rendered in depth and with cool irony, as seen by Martinez remembering the smell of cardamom when visiting a cargo locker on Chee Station, poised above its space elevator that services the privately owned  planet of Chee.

 

This novella would suit students very well who enjoy the vast fantasy texts set in Feudal worlds and might act as an easy bridge into SF, but Williams also includes in the mix of 'Investments' a good deal of hard science both with the x-rays from the collapsing twin stars and the physics of various technologies of this future.

 

The novella provides one vision of the future but it is not a happy glimpse as the future is rigorously divided into castes. In Williams' novella most characters are wealthy, urbane and ruthless but it is easy to create empathetic relationships with the protagonists. Severin, for instance, amuses himself whilst plying through space by planning a puppet theatre for his friends. Martinez is an endearing little dynamo who through sheer luck has fallen into a happy marriage and many opportunities to play the hero.

 

Walter John Williams' 'Investments' is recommended for use with some of the more focused secondary students, especially those readers of the Fantasy genre with discussions around the essential differences between Fantasy and SF seen in this novella.

 

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Overall view of the anthology

 

Gardner Dozois has dozens of anthologies to his name. It can be assumed that these were collected for different purposes than use in a secondary classroom. Nevertheless, with others, Dozois has brought to print many short stories of great use when teaching and learning about societal problems, constructing knowledge based on students’ experiences and ideas from others.

 

As with Dozois’ earlier anthology discussed in Podcasts 13 and 14, a good many of the stories seemed more at home in the Fantasy genre than in Science Fiction, but as at many book retailers, these titles are often grouped together towards the back of the store. Only in specialist book retailers, like Gaslight or Galaxy, and online do we see a separation of Fantasy and Science Fiction. For the purpose of working with secondary students in the SF genre to take a fresh perspective on their world, the Fantasy stories were of little use, though this writer tried to give some indications about their utility and audiences.

 

Perhaps it is more about the size of the new SF anthology that has changed the stories. The weighty tomes coming in at over six hundred pages may tempt the anthologist to include a more varied selection. It seems that the large size and great value-for-money has meant that many more longer short stories are included, as well as novellas and segments of novels. If one of the purposes of the anthology is to introduce readers to new writers and their trilogies, and this seems to be the way the modern publishers prefer their offerings, then the fat SF anthology serves a splendid purpose, but not one of great use for teachers.

 

In my classrooms I prefer the use of a series of short stories and films, mostly because they can be deployed according to the group and their tastes, rather than just handing out a class text. Currently, I am teaching to a Year 9 and Year 8 class with very different enthusiasms. Using selected texts that become more complex and challenging can lead to student growth in sophistication, and suckers in those who hate long texts through the use of a series of short, lively stories to weaken their resolve. In a class looking at the human/machine interface (in the mySF Project this is called the ‘Ghost in the machine’ theme area) the texts are swapped to suit a predominantly male group with a lower interest in literature, so having a store of photocopies or stories online with associated tasks is a great tactic.

 

But how well do the anthologies stand up to the rigours of classroom use?

 

The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Second Annual Collection is now bent out of all shape from rereading and notes in the margin or propped open by the computer. The pale blue front cover is a light card curlicue and the pages are bent up at the edges, bleared with toil, smeared with sweat.

 

The intention of looking at a large anthology in a podcast is to help others who have not read it. While it is impossible to guess the context of this class or that, the idea was to save labour for the teacher, hoping they might listen to the podcast cycling in to school, on the bus, or in traffic. If they hear of a story that suits their interests and their class, then they can grab the piece and copy it, or if there are enough that suit, they can buy a set of the anthology (that needs to be covered with plastic for longevity) for the class, or two copies only for the school library.

 

For my purposes as a teacher of English with a good deal of learning technology use and a Constructivist model, there were several stories here that could assist students with SF, introduce new ideas or alterity, and offer different world views on their world or one about to come.

 

Pat Murphy’s ‘Inappropriate Behaviour’ would be a nice change from classic SF stories, bringing in both a disabled girl, telepresence and the wonderful opportunities technologies have offered in our world. It would certainly be a counterpoint to the crazy robot stories, or films like War Games, Colossus, Westworld and the Bowdlerised I, Robot. 

 

For students who thrive on the ''Starship Trooper'' imperialism then ‘The People of Sand and Slag’, ‘The Tribes of Bela’ and ‘Leviathan Wept’ could be very popular, leading to discussions of visions of the future and military hardware, or the more challenging insights of ‘The Clapping Hands of God’ and ‘The Third Party’. The stories in the anthology showed a notable interest in colonialism and often broke with the SF cliché by using protagonists who are Islamic, female or alien.

 

The ‘Investments’ novella and ‘The Garden’ (with some care and discussion) would be a nice bridge for students used to fantasy and period texts while the tropes of SF writing are challenged for students in upper secondary studies by 'Mayflower II'.

 

There are some gems amongst Dozois’ collection that would be easy to serve up as a light treat for any SF class and will become staples for my classes, including ‘The Defenders’, ‘Synthetic Serendipity’ and ‘Falling Star’, with a good deal of discussion for the first two as these are located deep within SF sub-genres that may be less familiar to students than the Space Opera films and stories.

 

For those who might be using SF to teach History, Studies of Society, or even Psychology there are several alternative history stories. In fact, there seemed to be more than would be usual for an SF anthology, even though Dozois himself states a predilection for Hard SF stories. These could be used to ask the students to write a narrative about the origins of the Second World War as an alternative history, without Hitler or Mussolini, or with America never joining the conflict, as there was no Pearl Harbour.

 

Overall, this was a valuable anthology displaying many different facets of SF through the multihued portals of spaceship Dozois. It might prove very useful in some secondary schools, with a much longer shelf life if the cheap paperback edition is supported by scanning (legal under Australian law for segmented use on an intranet), photocopying selections , or it is covered in a thick protection.

Ends

MichaelS

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Resource list

Aldiss, B. & Wingrove, D. (2001). Trillion Year Spree. House of Stratus: Thirsk, North Yorkshire, UK.

Alsford, M. (2000). What If?: religious themes in Science Fiction. Dartman, Longman and Todd: London.

Dozois, G. (Editor). (2005). The Year's Best Science Fiction. Twenty-second annual collection. St Martin's Griffin: New York.

Rowlands, M. (2003). The Philosopher at the End of the Universe: philosophy explained through Science Fiction films. Ebury Press: London.

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