Nature’s Warnings edited by Mike Ashley

The end of the world is nigh…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Another themed collection of vintage science fiction short stories from the great pairing of Mike Ashley and the British Library, this one brings together eleven stories each with a focus on some aspect of ecology. It starts with an introduction in which Ashley discusses the rise in ecological awareness since the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, but goes on to point out that SF writers had been considering ecological subjects for decades before that – dystopian destruction, animals and nature fighting back against man’s intrusions, symbiosis, settlement and terraforming of new worlds, and so on. It’s a bit longer than some of these introductions usually are, and very interesting, filled with lots of examples of stories and novels, dating all the way from back before Jules Verne through to the golden age of early/mid-twentieth century SF writing and beyond. These intros would form a great basis for anyone wanting to go off and do a bit of exploring of the genre on their own account. (I’m resisting a new challenge…)

There’s the usual mix of well known SF authors, such as Philip K Dick and Clifford D Simak, together with some I’d never heard of, though since I’m no expert in this genre perhaps they’re more familiar to those who are. Two or three of the stories are a bit didactic and preachy for my taste, too busily making a point at the expense of entertaining. But the majority are very good – it’s always fascinating to see how imaginatively SF writers can deal with basically similar subject matter. Overall, I gave four of the stories four stars, while five got the full five, which not only seems quite neat but means that overall this gets one of my highest average ratings for these themed collections.

As usual, here’s a flavour of a few of the ones I enjoyed most:

Shadow of Wings by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding – birds have suddenly started behaving differently, flying in huge flocks of mixed species, on routes they hadn’t taken before. The worrying thing, though, is that they have stopped eating insects. Very soon the world is threatened with famine and society is beginning to break down. Our hero finds a way to track one of the birds, and discovers the cause of their change in behaviour, which of course I’m not going to reveal! It’s very well told in that ‘50s strong-husband-taking-care-of-the-little-wife kind of way – enjoyably imaginative.

The Gardener by Margaret St Clair – a stark warning of what happens when an arrogant man chops down a tree held sacred by the residents of another planet. Short, and a very effective mix of horror and humour.

Drop Dead by Clifford D Simak – A planetary exploration team land on a planet with only one type of life-form, which they poetically call “critters”. And very strange critters they are, being made up of everything to provide a balanced diet – red meat, fish, fowl, even fruit and veg. And conveniently one comes to camp each day and drops dead, allowing for scientific experiments and even a food source when an accident destroys all of the food the team brought with them. But you just know things are going to go wrong… Great story, highly imaginative, and fun, but with enough of a serious element to give it a bit of depth.

Hunter, Come Home by Richard McKenna – Another one with a beautifully imagined alien life-form, this time on a planet where animal and plant life never separated. The resulting “phytos” act as leaves, but can also leave their plants and flutter around, like gorgeous butterflies. Of course, man wants to clear the planet’s indigenous ecology so they can use it for their own purposes. But the phytos may have unique ways of fighting back. Bit of a too good to be true ending to this one, but otherwise I loved the imagination and the descriptive writing.

Adam and No Eve by Alfred Bester – an apocalyptic tale of how one man destroys the world through arrogance and mad science. Very bleak, and with some dark scenes that might upset the animal lovers among us, but again imaginative and well written, and frighteningly possible, with a thought-provoking ending.

So, as you can see, a real mixture of style and content in the stories despite the overarching theme. I enjoyed this one a lot.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

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26 thoughts on “Nature’s Warnings edited by Mike Ashley

  1. I’m going to have to tell my husband resident SF fan about this, FictionFan. Those are names he likes, and the collection sounds consistently good (something you don’t always see in story collections). SF does have a way of exploring the dire possibilities of eco-suicide, doesn’t it? And some of what’s written in some stories is scarily close to what is actually happening. It’s interesting you’d mention the Introduction. I admit I don’t always peruse them, but that one sounds informative, and I do like to get a perspective on what I’m about to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t always read the intros either but Mike Ashley’s are usually very informative and interesting and give lots of ideas for further reading – too many! Yes, maybe if people had paid more attention to some of the doom-laden scenarios in SF we might have done a better job of looking after our planet! Mind you, these writers seem to suggest there will be plenty of other planets for us to destroy too… 😉

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      • I finished this one tonight and really enjoyed it!! It’s a varied and entertaining group of stories which makes it hard to pick a favorite… but if pressed, I might choose Drop Dead. I’d like to see one of those critters in real life! 😀

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        • I loved Drop Dead! Those critters sounded as if someone should really have done some illustrations but I couldn’t find any. And I was kinda glad they got their own back… 😉 It’s a good collection, isn’t it? I think Mike Ashley is great at picking stories… 😀

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  2. I understand that any fiction dealing with future extreme weather scenarios is often referred to as cli-fi, but I suppose ‘eco-science fiction’ is a broader genre (if a bit of a clumsy term).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I think cli-fi is big at the moment, not surprisingly, but this collection showed that SF writers have been looking at the many ways we can destroy this eco-system (and any others we happen to reach) for decades!

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  3. Oddly enough, I would buy this primarily for the introduction. It sounds informative, and I always enjoy reading about the evolution of a genre. It is also a good sign if you gave so many of the stories 5 stars, as such collections are usually pretty variable over all.

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    • I find Mike Ashley’s intros particularly good and am very tempted to use them as a basis for a future challenge. He’s also excellent at choosing stories that work well for those of us who are not steeped in the conventions of SF. He’s been an excellent choice as the anchor for the BL’s SF series.

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  4. This one sounds really interesting, and I’m glad you liked it; however, I just can’t read these kinds of tales right now. My writer’s imagination and everything going on in our world combine to prohibit my reading SF until things settle down!

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    • Yes, apocalyptic stories are a bit too dark for me at present too, but happily there were a good number of lighter, fun takes on the subject in this one too. These anthologies are great for dipping in and out of as the mood strikes! 😀

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  5. I’ll run this by the two members of my family who love SF. One reads broadly across all SF, so he might be interested. The other is only interested in space operas and all things techno related. I love the image created of leaves fluttering about like butterflies….

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    • This is definitely more likely to appeal to the broad-ranger rather than the space opera fan, I’d say. I loved the phytos too – such a lovely concept and the writing in that one was very high quality, which is not always the case in SF!

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  6. I love the sounds of all these stories! That first one about the birds patterns changing sounds like my favourite-how imaginative!!! The idea of anything drastically changing in nature is quite scary to me personally. Animals stop eating insects and we become overrun with insects? Ahhhh that sounds terrible!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, really nature is scarier than aliens! When you think of all the things that could possibly go wrong and how awful the consequences would be it’s enough to bring on the nightmares! And these SF writers have too good imaginations…!!

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