Welcome To The Greenhouse: New Science Fiction On Climate Change edited by Gordon Van Gelder (book review).

Welcome To The Greenhouse ‘is edited by Gordon Van Gelder, who picks the stories for ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’ at the time, so I was expecting quality stuff here. In his introduction, he admits to being uncertain about climate change but certain that the possibility of it can give rise to interesting stories, hence this anthology. There’s a foreword by Elizabeth Kolbert, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist on environmental issues, who certainly is a believer and agrees that possible human responses to the event are the domain of Science Fiction. Then there are the stories.

First up is that old pro Brian W. Aldiss with ‘Benkoelen’ which is the name of an ‘isolated stone peg in the middle of the ocean’ near Sumatra. The oceans are rising and Coyne goes to visit his sister who is running a monkey sanctuary on the island. He has bad news. There is no good news which is the point of the story. It was okay as a slice of life but didn’t set me afire.

I think ‘Damned When You Do’ by Jeff Carlson is more fantasy than Science Fiction. A boy is born who, fresh out of the womb, sets off rolling around and around the world then gets to his feet aged about three and carries on running. He has devastating impacts as the world seems to turn under his feet. He can slow it’s rotation. In general, he’s a well-meaning lad though as his constant touring has given him a taste of many cultures. The story’s told from the point of view of his father. It’s highly entertaining and very different from anything else.

This anthology dates from 2011, by which time author Judith Moffett had already spotted that young people couldn’t bear to be separated from their phones. Kayley is working with Jane out in the wilds of Kentucky, monitoring bird activity. Jane is a strange old lady who virtually lives off the land. Kayley constantly monitors her friends on Facebook and other sites. Then a tornado hits and she loses contact. Good generation gap survival story with likeable characters.

Matthew Hughes is a regular writer for ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’ and has a bent for humour, nicely demonstrated here. Billionaire Bunky Sansom decides to tackle global warming by contacting advanced aliens who may have had the problem before us. Why bother re-inventing the wheel? He pumps billions into finding extra-terrestrial intelligence with some success and a surprising result. This was short and sweet and satisfying.

‘Come Again Some Other Day’ by Michael Alexander goes with the notion that climate change is unpredictable because it’s not all natural. Heat is being dumped onto our time from the future. His heroes, Hap and Gladys, spend their days trying to move it elsewhere without messing up the past too much. Unusual and interesting.

I probably liked ‘Turtle Love’ by Joseph Green even more today than I would have a year ago. Amos and Stephanie Byers are losing their house in Florida to rising sea levels but will be compensated by the Federal government. Amos works for the department that’s building dams to save what land they can while Stephanie is a marine biologist striving to save turtles as their beaches are lost. There’s a more dramatic subplot about a nut sending Amos threatening letters but the main thing I got from this was sane Americans working together in an effective Federal program to cope with catastrophe. We can only hope it happens that way. The style was nicely low key and the characters were likeable.

In the olden days of England, circuit judges toured the country dispensing justice. Between 1789 and 1912, the US had a similar system and, after the big flood, it comes back in ‘The Californian Queen Comes A-Calling’ by Pat MacEwen. The California Queen is a paddle steamer that brings Judge John Herbert of the First Circuit Court of Central Valley to Atwater. But our heroine is Taliesha Daniels, the prosecuting attorney, an ex-marine who combines the ability to fight pirates with sound legal knowledge and a strong sense of justice. A clever, twisting plot and a solid extrapolation of how things might be if the west gets wild again.

Veteran SF writer Alan Dean Foster has fun with global warming in ‘That Creeping Sensation’. He predicts that in response to the increase in carbon dioxide, the plant life of Earth will expand wildly to gobble it all up. This produces an oxygen-rich atmosphere that allows insects to grow huge as they did in the Carboniferous Era. Sergeant Lisa-Marie and Corporal Gustaffson are part of a military corps assigned to deal with six inch bees and three foot roaches in Atlanta. I note that Foster names both characters in the second sentence, opens with a small crisis and then explains the back story before plunging them into the main one. It’s also written in the third person past tense. Hurrah! Too many short stories now are written in odd tenses, conceal the name or sex of the main character and obscure the details you need for several pages to create a false sense of mystery or literary and a real sense of annoyance. It’s nice to be in the hands of an old pro. The basic idea is a great premise for a B movie to watch on the Horror Channel late one night.

The next few stories were a bit ho-hum, not bad but not great, and it occurred to me that wise old editor Gordon Van Gelder had put the best stuff up front. However, it all finished beautifully with a novelette from M.J. Locke entitled ‘True North’. On the last day of March 2099, near Rexford Montana, Lewis Behrend Jessen met Patricia. ‘Bear’, as Jessen is known, is sixty-seven years-old, seven feet tall, big boned and has a Colt .45 revolver with ivory grips. His wife died recently but insisted he go on living. They took to the wilderness a while back and stocked up, foreseeing the bad times ahead. Patricia is a teenage Mexican girl leading a band of children north to Canada and beyond through an area of dangerous Warlords. It all gets a bit hokey (hell, to a cynic, this is pure American corn) but it made a great uplifting and hopeful conclusion to an anthology about hard times ahead. I loved it.

Interesting that this book fetches quite high prices second-hand now, maybe the world is waking up to the issue. If you can get it cheap, I recommend it and, even if you can’t, I still do.

Eamonn Murphy

March 2017

(pub: OR Books, 2011. 348 page paperback. ISBN: 978-1-93592-827-0). Price: $17.00 (US))

check out website: www.orbooks.com

Gordon Van Gelder got in touch and he says it still available at the original price from its publishers. Check out this link: http://www.orbooks.com/catalog/greenhouse/


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