Elements of Hope
By Cheryl Morgan
Yeah, I know, I don’t normally review anthologies. But this one I very much wanted to cover. I had tried to arrange for someone else to do it, but circumstances happen and it came down to me this issue or nothing. Which meant it had to be me, because this book is important.
Why is that? Because it is a charity fundraiser. All of the authors and the editors have given their work for free. Michael Whelan has donated the cover art. And Tor will be donating all of their profits on the sale of the book. The money goes to the Save the Children Foundation and is to be used to help the relief efforts for those area shot by the Boxing Day tsunami in south-east Asia in 2004. Yes, it was a while ago now, but believe me these people still need help. More of that later, but first some stories.
I read this book on the plane over to California for Worldcon. This proved rather ironic, because the lead-off story, and one of the best in the book, is David Gerrold’s entertaining tale of a natural disaster on the freeways of Los Angeles. "Report from the Near Future: Crystalization" takes as its premise the idea that L.A.’s roads are so crowded, so complex, and so inter-dependent that total gridlock of the entire region, with consequent economic collapse, is a possibility. Gerrold does a fine job of convincing us that it could happen, especially with the basic stupidities of ordinary people and the simple accidents that build upon one another to turn a traffic problem into a major disaster. Then of course, I had to take the shuttle from the airport to the hotel, in rush hour. Considering that I was sat next to a guy who was telling me about an 8-foot tall cyborg llama, Gerrold’s story seemed remarkably plausible.
There are many other stories in the book. Some, but not all, deal with disasters or the aftermath thereof. Jo Haldeman’s story, "Expedition, with Recipes", is a post-apocalyptic tale. Brian Aldiss’s contribution, "Tiger in the Night", by contrast is a short piece about a religious fanatic and a wild animal. Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson contribute a Dune story that doesn’t have much to do with disasters but is a great selling point for the book. Larry Niven’s tale, "The Solipist at Dinner", is one of those things that might be too clever and obscure for most anthologies, but is a great inclusion for a charity book that needs big name writers.
A particular surprise to me was Jacqueline Carey. "In the Matter of Fallen Angels" is a lovely little story about an angel that falls to earth in a small American country town. The angel itself does nothing except eventually regain consciousness and stand up. The people of the town, however, display a wide range of different reactions.
And talking of angels, Adam Roberts, in "Abductio ad Absurdum", gets very silly with the idea of alien abductions, the early days of life on Earth, and a legendary garden.
As with any anthology, there were stories that were of less interest to me. But not everyone’s tastes are the same, and those that I disliked may appeal to you, and vice versa. What Steven Savile and Alethea Kontis have done well, however, is the important editorial trick of putting really good stories at the beginning and the end. Those of you who are amused by H.P. Lovecraft’s tales of isolated New England seaside towns being over-run by people with bug eyes and webbing between their fingers will probably be amused and delighted by "Sea Air", Nina Kikriki Hoffman’s tale of how such things work in Oregon.
The book has an introduction by Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who lost a diving school that he owned to the tsunami, and quite likely a friend or two as well though he doesn’t mention such things. But it is Savile’s tale of how he came to start the project that is the most moving section of the book. Although Savile is British, he teaches at a school in Stockholm. As you may remember, there were a lot of Swedish tourists in the area at the time of the disaster, including children from Savile’s school.
Six of the children had been there, two were still unaccounted for, and one of my own eleven-year-olds, Nikki, had stood on the beach in the middle of it, surrounded by corpses. She was alright. Her family had returned home with a young boy who had lost his entire family on that beach.
When Savile wrote that piece, in June 2005, the raw statistics stood at 170,125 people from 36 countries dead, and another 134,012 unaccounted for. A little over a year later, things will be getting back to normal, but there is still a lot of rebuilding to be done, there are still many orphans needing care.
The science fiction community isn’t big enough or famous enough to rake in charity money the way pop musicians and sportsmen so, but every little helps. Savile and Kontis, Tom Docherty and David Hartwell, Michael Whelan, and all of the contributing authors have done their bit. I bought my copy of the book. Now it is your turn, please.