, ed. Farah Mendelsohn.
This anthology is dedicated to “all the terrorists who are now revered as elder statesmen.” It’s not hard to come up with at least a few names that fit, no matter what your definition of terrorism, or the politics you preach. Nelson Mandala. Ariel Sharon. Ulysses S Grant. Charles De Gaulle. Mao Zedong. And so it goes.
Totally ignoring the wise observation – or was it a prediction – made by Benjamin Franklin that “They who would give up essential Liberty to obtain a little temporary Safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety,” the British government proposed – and has since passed – an anti-terrorism measure making it illegal to “glorify terrorism” (of course, we would hardly expect Her Majesty’s government to heed the words of a colonial, a revolutionary – even, by some measures, a terrorist leader).
The opening paragraph of Andrew MacKie’s introduction to this anthology is blunt and to the point.
The purpose of the stories and the poems in this book is to glorify terrorism. More specifically, they attempt to break the law proposed by the British Government designed to outlaw anything which might be read or interpreted as that.
Mackie continues to touch on many of the issues one might reasonably expect to find in a discussion of such a law – the definition of terrorism, the interpretation of politics, the judgement of history, freedom, of thought and of speech, and so on. His concluding paragraph sums it all up:
Under this legislation I can think of plenty illegal SF classics, from Dune’s suicide commandos to short stories by Rob Shaw, John Varley and Bruce Sterling. So can you. All we are asking is that we continue to be allowed to think of them; that the people writing for you in this book be allowed to think of them and others. If we are not going to be allowed to think as we choose, we choose to be targets – not for terrorists, but for our own legislators.
This is why I think this is one of the most important anthologies of the year. It is not only about creative expression and the sharing of ideas and the gift of joy and passion that is art, it is about the freedom of all of us, artist and audience alike, to be able to continue this greatest of human endeavours.
Twenty-five writers contributed short stories or poems to this collection. As one might expect, in a collection with such a range of writers, with so many different styles and sub-genres represented, not every piece resonated with me. I’m mentioning a handful of the contributions that affected me most powerfully, but this truly is the kind of anthology of which it can be sad that there is something for everyone – or at least, for everyone who is willing to look hard at the many sides of glorifying terrorism.
Ian Watson’s “Hijack Holiday” was written in early 2001. It begins as an examination of the commercialisation of every more intense experiences by the wealthy and privileged, but the takes a very dark turn from fantasy to reality.
Kira Franz’s “The Lion Waiting” is a short but powerful look at the power of resistance and sacrifice.
Davin Ireland’s “Engaging the Idrl” explores the bewilderment of those who “come in peace” to civilise and improve the lot of indigenous people who do not wish to be civilised or improved.
James A Trimarco’s “The Sundial Brigade” is on the surface, a strong SF story in a very traditional subgenre; some people arrive on Earth from somewhere else and impose an unwelcome social order; some people from Earth fight back and we applaud their heroism. Even when that fighting back involves the kinds of resistance we identify as terrorism when they are employed against us. Beyond what this story does in the context of this collection to make us consider what we call terrorism and what we call justified resistance, it also makes an interesting companion piece to Watson’s “Hijack Holiday” in its exploration of constructed experiences as entertainment.
Elizabeth Sourbut’s “How I took care of my pals” examines the kind of paradigm shift that can turn a soldier committed to a genocidal mission into a resistance fighter determined to stop that mission at all costs.
Katherine Sparrow’s “Be the Bomb you Throw” reminded me, in the final analysis, of James Tiptree Jr’s great ecoterrorist short story, “The Last Flight of Doctor Ain.” Both stories deal with the threat of environmental collapse, the power that lies in the actions of a single human being and the ethics of terrorism.
Rachel Swirsky’s “The Debt of the Innocent” explores a specific act of terrorism in a world only a little bit more callous, more sharply divided between have and have-not than our own, looking at the process of commitment to such an act on the one hand, and the consequences of the act on the other hand.
Adam Roberts’ “Here Comes the Flood” focuses on fear as a weapon, not only against one’s enemies, but as a means of social control, and at the same time reminds us that the means of resistance are closer to hand, and less conventionally warlike, than we may realise.
Suzette Haden Elgin’s ”What We Can See Now, Looking in the Glass” is a poem about the root causes of resistance, and how privilege breeds it.
As I said, that’s only a handful – some of the selections from this anthology that hit me hard, in one way or another, for one reason or another. In addition to the stories I’ve mentioned, the book contains worthy offerings on the theme from the following authors:
Van Aaron Hughes
H. H. Loyche
I urge you to read this book. Because these stories will entertain you, because they will give you something to think about – no matter how carefully and completely you think you have considered the subject – and because to do so will be a statement in support of that liberty which we must not give up, even for a little safety.
You can order it here