Escape Pod: The Science Fiction Anthology (Mur Lafferty & S.B. Divya) – Book Review

Escape Pod began life as a science fiction anthology series fifteen years ago, created by Steve (now Sarah) Eley, a fan of science fiction short stories who wanted to share some great tales with the world.

Over the years the podcast grew, gaining more and more contributors and vocal talent, as well as winning awards and spawning spin-offs that would do the same thing in other genres. To celebrate the success of the podcast, as well as the talent featured on it, Escape Pod: The Science Fiction Anthology brings together a number of stories that have featured on the podcast, as well as a host of brand new tales.

The line-up of authors for the book is amazing, and features some names I was already familiar with, as well as a load of new authors I’d never come across before. Despite all falling under the umbrella of science fiction, the stories presented in this new collection cover a huge variety in themes and content, ranging from the surreal to steampunk, involving multiverses, cloning, time travel, and amazing alien creatures.

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There are stories that will make you laugh out loud at their absurdity, and others that take the time to comment on very real world issues, such as racism in the world today and the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. This is one of the things that’s wonderful about science fiction, that this book takes the time to celebrate: that it’s a genre of almost infinite diversity, and one that allows readers and writers to look at important issues in new ways.

‘Citizens of Elsewhen’ by Kameron Hurley is the first story in the book, and deals with the complexities and intricate nature of time travel, and how difficult it would be to meddle in time. It follows a group of people who are sent backwards in time to assist with births. This team of midwives are sent to select times and places, tasked with saving either the mother or child, sometimes both, who would otherwise die in childbirth, shifting the course of history ever so slightly.

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If the team fails, they try again to get it right, getting do overs until they succeed and move on to the next assignment. The idea of travelling around time saving mothers and babies is an interesting one, but the way that Hurley plays with time is even more engaging. The team get to try different tactics if their last attempt failed, having an almost Groundhog Day approach to things until they get things perfect, but because there are other teams out in time saving others, sometimes in earlier time periods, it means that sometimes the timeline can change around them whilst they’re there, further complicating things. It’s a novel approach to time travel, and I’d love to see more happen with this story.

A story with something of a lighter tone is John Scalzi’s ‘Alien Animal Encounters’, which is presented like a reporter on the street talking to the public about the different alien animals that they’ve come across and how strange it is for them. Not only do readers get introduced to some funky new alien species, some of which are fascinating, but they also get to experience it from the other side, when an alien talks about their experiences with a dog; something that injects a little bit of wonder and newness to an animal that we’re intimately familiar with, and might take for granted. It’s a charming story, and one that has a few laughs in it.

The book doesn’t just deal with aliens and time travel though, and incorporates some interesting ideas from other genres too. One story that does this in an interesting way is ‘A Consideration of Trees’ by Beth Cato, which sees a portion of woodland from Earth transplanted to a space station, and the strange things that begin to occur. The first indication that there might be something different is when the narrator starts to talk about La Llorona, a ghostly woman from Hispanic folklore. Over the course of the book we come to realise that this isn’t just a science fiction story, but one that incorporates aspects from myths and legends, introducing supernatural elements to a genre that normally shies away from ghosts and ghouls.

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The biggest story in the collection is ‘Clockwork Fagin’ by Cory Doctorow, which as the name suggests, takes inspiration from the works of Dickens to create a steampunk story of disabled and disfigured children forced to live in a home for children, run by a brutal taskmaster who allows them to live in squalor and beats them for his own enjoyment. The story chronicles what happens when a new child enters the home, and the revolution that he leads against their oppressor, and a society that sees them as nothing more than broken children that are good for nothing.

Escape Pod: The Science Fiction Anthology has a lot more stories to offer, stories that have a huge range of appeal and will keep any reader entertained for hours. Not only is it a book that shows the beauty and versatility of the science fiction genre, but it’s one that will leave you wanting to read more, as well as checking out the podcast that brought this book together.

Escape Pod: The Science Fiction Anthology is out on 17th November from Titan Books.

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