Friday, July 13, 2012

Review of George Turner's A Pursuit of Miracles

A Pursuit of Miracles is a fabulously entertaining and thought provoking collection of science fiction short stories. It maintains the exceptionally high standards of George Turner’s many novels. Turner is arguably Australia’s best ever science fiction writer and this collection shows why. 

There are only eight stories in the collections 207 pages, so they are mostly long stories. All but one of Turner’s nine published short stories are in the collection. Turner preferred to write novels. Indeed, at least two of the stories in this collection were later turned into novels.

Turner was obviously a proud Australian as most of the stories are set in a future Australia. He seemed to be fascinated with telepathy which is the main theme, or in the background, of a number of the stories. Turner also seemed very much concerned with humanity’s destruction of the environment. The collection was published in 1990 and the stories have not dated.     

The collection begins with the title story A Pursuit of Miracles. It’s a story that snuck on me as I wondered about the emotional intelligence of the scientists involved. It is set in a world were very few animals live. In a research lab, scientists are attempting to see if the animals that remain can be controlled by telepathy. But one of the co-workers, a damaged clone, shows that empathy with animals would have been a much better option to explore.

The second story, Not in Front of the Children, is a story about arrogance and ignorance. A privileged teenage girl, who lives in a world were aging has been slowed, rebels against her parents as she tries to discover what death is.  

Feedback is a rather strange story, with a very unexpected and weird ending. A hypnotist and a telepath are brought together by a rich pastoralist on an outback property. The pastoralist believes that together they might be able to enter his mind and go back to the beginning of creation. This experiment is watched over by a solipsistic cultist who believes that the universe is his own imagined creation.  

Shut the Door When You Go Out later became the brilliant novel Genetic Soldier. It is one of the shorter pieces in the collection and is set thousands of years into the future. Most of humanity had deserted Earth, leaving it to its former indigenous tribes. A ship returns, its crew wanting to resettle what used to be Australia. But this time, the genetically altered Aborigines, object to be colonised.

In On the Nursery Floor a reporter tries to find out what happened at a laboratory years earlier.  The laboratory was used to genetic engineer super intelligent children, who escaped. The reporter tries to track them down.

In the Petri Dish Upstairs an orbiting community sends the “perfect” man down to earth to marry a rich heiress. He takes her back to his community’s huge space station that collects solar power and transmits it to an earth they no longer feel part of and are sick of being subservient too.

The collection finishes with The Fittest, which is the best story of the collection. It is set in a Melbourne slowly being inundated by the sea. Society is split into the Sweet, the 10% of people who have jobs, and the Swill, the 90% who survive on government handouts.The story revolves around a sweet family whose father loses his job, forcing them to move to the swill’s slums. But one child is brilliant with numbers, a talent that makes him valuable to those who don’t want to leave records on computers. The Fittest later became The Sea and Summer, which is the best Australian science fiction novel I have read. It was nominated for a Nebula Award and won that years Arthur C. Clarke award. 

A Pursuit of Miracles is an extremely strong collection that would appeal to most readers of science fiction. If you are an Australian science fiction reader, you simply have to read it and discover how good Australian science fiction can be.


Anthony J. Langford said...

Very good review Graham. You know your stuff.

I'd be interested in the novel. Do you know where's its available?

Graham Clements said...

Hi Anthony,

If you mean The Sea and Summer, Bruce Gillespie tells me that Gollancz is going to reissue it, I don't know when - I will ask.

The short story collection is available from Bruce Gillespie, who made this comment on my facebook post alerting people to this blog post, he said: because most people in today's Australian SF scene have no sense of Australia's SF scene before 1990, I suspect most will not have heard of this major collection. Before he died, Peter MacNamara gave me all the stock of 'Pursuit' to continue selling, so I can still provide copies: $25 to 5 Howard Street, Greensborough VIC 3088. Mark cheques 'Bruce Gillespie'.