Prejudice is a terrible burden to live with when the world is changing, which makes the subject of this post somewhat more ironic than usual. As one of the more obsessional book collectors, I’ve grown up and persisted through the decades surrounded by physical books. I still have almost all the books and some of the comics of my childhood and teen years — an example of sentimentality triumphing over common sense. But the bulk of the collection has been sold off. It was a painful sacrifice, but the alternative was even more painful. In fact, I’ll be saying goodbye to the more recent acquisitions soon — probably early in the New Year. Such are the penalties of advancing age and changes in circumstances.
In the midst of all this upheaval, I’ve been watching the technology of book production and content distribution evolve. I do my best to maintain neutrality, trying not to judge the merits of the new devices used for reading. Indeed, I’ve been induced to dip an experimental toe into the dark side. The fact my preferences run strongly against reading text digitally has not stood in the way of my self-appointed role as a reviewer. All too often, the book for review is made available to me in electronic format. I grit my teeth, download to my Mac and scan the screen. Old dog, new tricks and similar idioms leap to mind. Against this background, I note the arrival of Eclipse Online. The anthologies edited by Jonathan Strahan have been events to write into diaries, always hoping for, nay, expecting interesting results. Now we learn there are to be no more. The editor is moving with the times and transferring his endeavours online under the umbrella of Night Shade Books. All of which is explained in the first editorial which, in turn, signals the publication of the first story, “The Contrary Gardener” by Christopher Rowe, which you can read here.
The irony I referred to flows from the nature of this first story which is rather cunningly apposite. Imagine a world in which a command economy dictates to the bean or corn cob exactly how much food or other fungibles shall be produced. Waste is not to be tolerated. Efficiency is everything. Although the discipline of the short story prevents any significant detail in the context, it’s also probably reasonable to assume a one-child policy or something equally draconian given that automation has been allowed to take over so many of the “ordinary” jobs like driving the buses. In such a world, overpopulation and unemployment would be a dangerously unstable combination. The point of the story is therefore for our heroine to find balance and harmony. Without being preachy, the author shows us that no-one would be better qualified to make such decisions than a master gardner. We’re concerned with the mechanics of production, nurturing new life and finding a way for it to prosper so it can grow up strong. Sometimes hard decisions and sacrifices have to be made. Indeed, a dramatic end of a lifetime’s work may be required. Or, perhaps, the ending of one way of life may be an opening to something new and different. After all, change is not inherently bad. In the right spirit, it can be the harbinger of good outcomes so long as adaptation to the new circumstances is willing.
So while my belief in printed media will remain strong, the presence of Jonathan Strahan at the helm of Eclipse Online will probably mean the new stories will find their way into my reading schedule. Insert your own idioms about spotted predatory animals at this point.