BLOOD AND WATER: A Review

Blood & Water is entirely the sort of anthology I’m generally interested in reading. Begin with a strong premise, set talented writers loose on it, and wrap up the best of what they have to offer in a well-curated package.

Blood & Water is entirely the sort of anthology I’m generally interested in reading. Begin with a strong premise, set talented writers loose on it, and wrap up the best of what they have to offer in a well-curated package. “This,” you might say. “This is the best you can find in the category of locked-room mysteries, from Poe to P.D. James.” Or perhaps, “You will not find a more carefully selected survey of Asian-culture steampunk.”

This only works if the basic question or concern is significant enough for a reading audience to care about. And it helps if it’s broad enough to allow for many points of view, while still being narrow enough to maintain a cohesive theme throughout. An anthology focused on near future speculative fiction related to our changing climate and shrinking resources falls into that category for me.

Imagine blood being shed over thirst. When fresh water becomes scarce enough, the wars that erupt could make decades of political violence in the Middle East pale in comparison. We can live without oil. We’ll have to, as it’s going to run out sooner than later. But water? Take away its unquestioned abundance and throats must certainly be slit.

Or perhaps not. ​Editor Hayden Trenholm specifically asked for a Canadian perspective, and his contributors gave him exactly that. Surprisingly often, stories include no violence. Instead, we find a goodly amount of ordinary people, simply getting on. Working together, adjusting to challenges, making the best of a difficult situation. There’s some hope to be found in these tales, although it’s hardly all sunshine and roses.

Some of the stories are set in a world where government and large-scale civilization have collapsed. Camille Alexa’s “Drowntown,” set in a submerged Vancouver, falls into this category, as does Isabella Hodson’s “Scrabbling,” wherein a nomadic tribe of former city-dwellers lives off snared rabbits and berries in the Rocky Mountains.

Some stories are more familiar. “The Cow’s in the Meadow, The Blood’s in the Corn” and “Hard Water” (by M.L.D. Curelas and and Christine Cornell, respectively) are set ten minutes into the future. Rather than battling biker gangs à la ​Mad Max, the protagonists of these tales are contending with changing job markets, higher grocery store bills — basically the same sorts of concerns citizens the world over are currently dealing with.

Still other stories are in between, showing society in its death throes, a patchy umbrella of human rights and social services that might disappear at any minute. The vestiges of law and order are a brief respite for some, and not long to be counted on. “Phoebastria” by Jennifer Rahn describes such a future, where universities are armed fortresses and losing tenure probably means losing your life.

I think more than providing a cool “what if” question to centre an anthology around, Trenholm may have hit upon the leading edge of a new genre. It’s not that dystopias are anything new, or even stories of environmental collapse. But the SF stories and novels of the last several years have to be placed differently than the catastrophes imagined in the 40s, or even the 70s and 80s.

We’re living in a heavily depressed economy. Our countries are waging resource wars. We’re seeing the effects of a changed climate. The stories written today, Paolo Bacigalupi’s ​Windup Girl​, Margaret Atwood’s ​Oryx and Crake​, or Stephen Baxter’s ​Flood, exist in a different real-world context, and therefore might be part of a new speculative genre that couldn’t have existed until recently.

I’m glad someone pulled together an anthology for it.

Is it perfect? No. Some of the stories read more like vignettes than anything. Some of them don’t achieve much besides describing a setting and explaining this-is-how-the-world-works-now. There were also a couple of odd choices that didn’t really fit the theme very well, including a fantasy piece whose environmental connection was metaphorical and, I suspect, incidental.

But on balance, there’s some good writing here, on a subject that affects every one of us. The stories here may make you think, although they probably won’t make you smile.


J.J.S. Boyce is a writer, educator, and semi-pro omelette chef. He can frequently be found writing at the Green Man Review, Library Journal, and Care2. He also maintains a meta-narrative at his blog, The Back of the Envelope.

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