“Eagle” by Gregory Benford, “Hot Sky” by Robert Silverberg in “Loosed Upon The World” edited by John Joseph Adams

“Loosed Upon The World” is a collection of twenty-six short stories that imagine our future in a world undergoing dramatic climate change.

Two of the familiar names in the collection, Gregory Benford and Robert Silverberg have delivered stories that show how much more impact a Science Fiction story can have when the writer finds a way of connecting the science to something fundamentally human.

In other hands, “Eagle” might have been about a clever scheme to cool the polar regions by using smart science. We would have seen the struggle to get the necessary level of cooperation and the vision and bravery of the scientist and the pilots risking their lives to make it happen and it would probably have been fine but a little worthy.

Gregory Benford comes at the story from a totally different angle, telling it through the eyes of an intelligent, resourceful, ruthless woman, on the cutting edge of eco-activism, who is willing to do whatever it takes to make the world recognise that trying to fix the ecological crisis one band-aid solution at a time distracts from solving the real need for us to change our behaviour.

I found myself admiring the woman’s courage, commitment and cunning while simultaneously being horrified by what she was prepared to do for her cause.

Action dominates the foreground of this tense, suspenseful story. In the background, we are made to understand that the ecology battle lines are more blurred than they may appear, that there is no single answer to a crisis this big and are asked to consider whether the only feasible route is to “Do what you can, when you can”.

In Rober Silverberg’s “Hot Sky”, the year is 2133 and the sky is literally hot. No one risks exposure to it with sunscreen shots. The west coast of the United States is so short of water that harvesting icebergs in the South Pacific and towing them to port has become big business.

This story is about Carter an ambitious corporate manager, on the fast track in a global player, Samurai Industries. Currently, he’s tasked with ensuring the ship he’s captaining keeps delivering “two thousand kilotons of million-year-old frozen water to thirsty San Francisco.”

The engineering solutions used to do this are fascinating. The insights into the state of a world that needs it to be done are plausible and tantalising, but at the heart of the story lies a human dilemma: what do you do when you are placed in a situation where there are no good outcomes and you have to choose between doing the thing your humanity tells you to do and doing the thing that will let you survive.

Carter has to decide how to respond when he finds, next to the iceberg he’s harvesting, a vast shrimp factory ship whose crew is in distress.

Carter’s dilemma is just one of the symptoms of how messed up the world is. He allows himself a moment or two to think about how unfair the world is, thinking:

“Who had asked for any of this, the heavy green sky, the fiery air, the daily need for Screen, the million frantic improvisations that made continued life on Earth possible? Not us. Our great-great-grandparents had, maybe, but not us. Only they’re not here to know what it’s like, and we are.

And that’s the heart of it. Carter and his generation are in a mess not of their making that forces them to make impossible choices and live with the consequences. That, I think, is the essential reality of climate collapse will mean to the next generation.

Watching Carter dealing with his dilemma made me ask what I would do and whether I would ever get beyond shouting inside my head: “IT SHOULDN’T BE LIKE THIS:” Should won’t help the next generation. Their choices will be between Will or Won’t.

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