Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic SF
by Jetse de Vries
Cover Artist: Vincent Chang
Review by Cathy Green
Solaris Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781906735678
Date: 30 March 2010 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The Shine anthology came about because editor Jetse de Vries felt that there was entirely to much pessimistic, dystopian science fiction being published, and he wanted to take science fiction back to its more hopeful roots. The result is an international collection of sixteen near-future, optimistic science fiction stories by writers from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Israel, France and Brazil who have set their stories in a variety of locations including Africa, China, Afghanistan, Recife and Paris. Shine includes stories by Holly Phillips, Kay Kenyon, Lavie Tidhar, Alastair Reynolds, Mari Ness, Jason Stoddard, Jacques Barcia, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Gord Sellar, Ken Edgett, Eva Maria Chapman, Jason Andrew, Eric Gregory, Paula R. Stiles, Gareth L. Powell and Aliette de Bodard.
Because the stories are near-future, virtually all of them are earth-bound. This is not a negative in the context of an anthology of optimistic science fiction as it allows the authors to focus on positive technological and biological solutions to current environmental and other problems currently facing us. For instance, in Kay Kenyon's "Castoff World", a child lives on an intelligent nanotech ship that travels the ocean clearing out garbage and converting it to useful material and in Eric Gregory's "The Earth of Yunhe", nanotech is used to create sustainable farming. In another agricultural themed story by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexican farmers are able to get out from under the boot of a Monsanto-like corporation through an unusual corn mutation that's quickly shared from village to village.
Adaptation to climate change is at issue in "Summer Ice", a story about an artist adjusting to life in a green city and missing the small town winters of her childhood by Holly Phillips.
"Paul Kishosha's Children" by Ken Edgett is a delightful story about a NASA engineer who goes home to Tanzania to tend to his dying mother, stays on to teach to fulfill a promise to her and ends up inspiring two generations of African children to go into aerospace careers and create a booming industry in Africa via stories filmed in stop-motion with clay puppets featuring "John the Martian" that he had written as a child and then used on a small scale to teach his students various science concepts. While Kinshosa had started small, eventually through contacts provided by a journalist friend, government and NGO funding allows the show to go national and then worldwide. The story is interspersed with charming snippets from the "Joe the Martian” stories originally written by the protagonist as an elementary school spelling assignment.
Only two of the stories take place off Earth. Jason Stoddard's "Overhead" is set in a lunar colony on the far side of the moon with government by lottery and an unregulated market economy, and Mari Ness's contribution, "Twittering the Stars", is, not surprisingly given the title, a story done in twitter format about a manned mission to mine iridium in the asteroid belt. Like Twitter, the story is in reverse chronological order, although the reader can turn to the end and read the story in chronological order if he prefers. I think the story works equally well in either order, although the reading experience is somewhat different each time as a result.
Alastair Reynolds' story "At Budokan" takes the prize for “most out of left field” and features a giant robot version of Metallica destroying a stadium and a genetically engineered guitar playing T-Rex that likes to rock out to heavy metal.
One of the things I found most interesting about the anthology is that with most of the stories I could picture in my head how the story could be turned into a more pessimistic, dystopian story. This is probably part of the point that de Vries is making with Shine, that it should be just as easy to look at current circumstances and technology and write a story with a positive or hopeful outcome as one with a negative outcome. Not that the stories in this collection are all sweetness and light: bad things happen to people and circumstances are hardly ideal, but most feature people in less than ideal situations working to make the best of less than ideal situations on both large and small scales and mostly succeeding. Sort of like at the end of the movie version of Sweet Charity when we are informed that the title character “lived hopefully ever after.”
The one thing that did not work for me in this collection is that each story has a short quote in bold type either at the beginning or the end. I did not understand what the point of the quotes was or how the quotes related to the stories. That was my one complaint about the anthology.
On the plus side of the equation, in addition to including biographical information about the contributors, De Vries wrote a short introduction for each story discussing his thoughts on the story and/or how it came to be in the anthology. I like it when this sort of information is included so that the editing of the anthology is not an opaque process hidden from the reader. It's interesting to know what was going on in the editor's mind as he selected and edited the stories in the anthology.
If you like your science fiction positive rather than pessimistic, then Shine is the anthology for you.