Reviews of Recent Publications

A Pursuit of Miracles - George Turner
Cover Art by Francois Podevin
Aphelion Publications, April 1990, tpb, 209pp, $12.95
Reviewed by Jonathan Strahan

In many ways I share the cultural cringe of my fellow Australians. For instance, I deliberately do not read Australian science fiction, principally because the only Australian Science Fiction I have read has been pretty bloody terrible. I have found myself avoiding the Australian SF shelf at the back of bookshops, which always seems so apologetic, as if it's something shameful you should support in spite of itself.

My attitude towards Australian SF began to change when I encountered the works of Terry Dowling. Dowling's Tom Rynosseros cycle of stories were markedly different from anything I'd encountered in Australian SF - they were good. Then Peter MacNamara of Aphelion Publications sent over a copy of George Turner's new book A Pursuit of Miracles which is set to precede the publication of Terry Dowling's collection Rynosseros.

A Pursuit of Miracles is the first book to appear from Aphelion Publications and is a short story collection, Turner's first. A Pursuit of Miracles collects eight stories, one of which ("Generation Gap") appears for the first time. Turner's stories show a serious concern for the future of our planet and the legacy we are leaving future generations, and are often deeply cynical about the ability or willingness of any government to cope with the world's problems, while still retaining an underlying optimism for the common man.

"A Pursuit of Miracles", is the disturbing tale of a young boy, Tommy, who is the result of a genetic experiment to breed men capable of surviving in high-g environments. The runt of the litter, he is thrown aside and classified as a non-legal, a class of people who exist outside population controls and who have neither rights nor humanity. Tommy desperately struggles to be loved, to be accepted even to the extent of changing himself physically. Turner provides a bitter, cynical outcome while demanding close self-examination by the reader.

"Not in Front of the Children" is a story Turner describes as being a comedy, if a trifle on the black side. Turner provides a new twist to the question of what would happen if a particular section of society could purchase treatments to delay ageing. A rebellious young girl seeks to shock her mother by stepping outside the mores of her particular social regna, a suitably stratified term, by daring to confront the taboo concept of death. Turner gives us black comedy, and is completely successful. "Not in Front of the Children" is both funny and uncomfortable. He provides a richly satirical view of humanity and in this he reminded me of Jonathan Swift.

"In A Petri Dish Upstairs" is a classic SF story that could have been written by Pohl and Kornbluth during the Golden Age. It asks the question, what do we do when confronted with the next stage in the development of humanity? The population of orbitting solar power-generation stations who have become socially and physically alien lose a rebellion against Earth and are left economically dependant. The station council attempts to arrange a marriage between one of their people and a rich young Melbourne heiress, abscond with her inheritance and then dispose of her. The resolution of the story is somewhat ruthless and shows a deep cynism for politics, politicians and their machinations. The story provides an interesting metaphor for child/parent relationships.

"The Fittest" is, in my opinion, the best story in the collection. The seed story for Turner's novel The Sea and The Summer, it shows a gritty, desperate world where the environment is in collapse and the international economy destroyed. Set in a drowning Melbourne, it is the tale of two boys whose father loses his job and commits suicide causing the family to move to the Fringe, the border between the "Swill" (the poverty stricken majority) and the "Sweet" (the comparatively wealthy). It is a vicious, bleak story about what it may take to survive in the future.

The stories in this collection show a deep concern for our world, its environment and its future. Cynical and often satirical, Turner turns a razor-like wit on SF and our world as we face the end of the 20th Century. Turner states that SF has a unique potential to confront issues confounding society today, and laments the pitiful efforts of most of today's SF to take up that challenge. In A Pursuit of Miracles Turner answers his own challenge and achieves a few miracles of his own with this excellent collection of science fiction.

Originally appeared pp78-79, Eidolon Issue 01, Month 1990.
Copyright © Eidolon Publications, 1990. All Rights Reserved.