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Wasps at the Speed of Sound Paperback – March 20, 2005
From Publishers Weekly
Canadian short story writer Murphy specializes in miniatures, close-up pictures of people coping with a crisis. Sometimes the problems come at them from outside, but usually they must confront an ecological disaster that is, however indirectly and passively, their own fault. The results, in this 11-story collection, are compelling if not exactly lighthearted. Closest to being humorous is the nautical "Day's Hunt," a rowdy but scathingly ironic tale in which harpooners chase mutant whales in a sea of liquefying garbage. The title story, on the other hand, imagines superpowerful insects preparing to desert Earth en masse because humans have polluted it so thoroughly. Our mistakes have changed the rules of the game, Murphy insists, so we must decide to understand and adapt—or perish. He still believes we may have a choice. If this sounds like environmentalist preaching, almost all the selections work as stories because they feature believable action in convincingly detailed settings; their message comes across successfully because we do sympathize with the characters' dilemmas and their struggles. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
"Lost Jenny" is a beautiful story of an abandoned youth and an alien on the run, with a poetic feel that falters only once, with the words "which as you know means". There is no real explanation for the title, since the alien is not named Jenny, but it seems to be a favorite name of the author's, since he uses it in three other stories.
"Island of the Moon" which is an old name for the island of Madagascar, where it takes place, is another tale with an alien being. It begins with a Madagasy field station employee (="native guide") shooting an ecology-disrupting feral cat. I noticed one minor editing error, a quotation mark used instead of an unquotation mark. This story is told from the point of view of a journalist. A primatologist fills him in on what he (and we) already know(s) at one point:
"Charismatic megafauna [megafauna having been defined, just before, as large animals]," I repeated.
"Good-looking animals that have great visual appeal. You ought to know exactly what I mean."
Gradually it becomes clear that the reason for the journey is to cover the death of the last Golden Bamboo Lemur on a national park forest-island of the island of Madagascar, which parallels the coming extinction of the human race on Island Earth.
END OF SPOILER***
SKIP "Those Graves of Memory". Not much I can say about this one. Disappointing, but at least it's short.
SKIP "Father Time". Another mercifully short disappointment. A time travel story that goes nowhere. His first published story. Plenty of room for improvement!
SKIP "Day's Hunt". "…by what magic of technology Davies and his mates did not understand. But, more likely centuries later and unlike so many other found items it still worked," is a semi-comprehensible cheat. Perhaps more important, though, is that the author's intent seems to be to gross the reader out.
Hunting a whale with two 3-fingered hands and no explanations as it swims in an ocean-sized cesspool is not my idea of a fun time, especially with a gruesome decapitation thrown in for good measure.
END OF SPOILER***
"Wasps at the Speed Of Sound" the eponymous story, has a killer title. The tale is only OK. I can't really comment without giving spoilers, which I would rather not do. I caught my second typo, "has" for "as".
"What Goes Around" I found my third typo, "it will happen right [a]way". There are couple more in this story. This is a time travel, alternate reality tale, written to be confusing both to the main character, and the reader. In his introduction to the piece, the author notes that it is farthest from the general theme of the book, Us and the Environment. Maybe you'll like this one better than I did. The basic plot line is that a TV show can influence the future, and vice versa. Yawn.
"Blue Train" Another beautiful story, about water rights.
"The Abbey Engine" is amazing and moving! I checked various references included, and they're all genuine.
"The History of Photography" Another beautiful story. I am reading it shortly after seeing TIM'S VERMEER for the 4th time, which certainly makes the opening discussion of the camera obscure easy to follow. The author claims that this is his best-known story, which, reprinted in a photography magazine without mentioning that it was fiction, generated a vast quantity of letters from outraged photographers…
"Summer's Humans" is the next to longest story of the collection, and the only one original to this book. The author states that it is a recasting of Nadine Gordimer's JULY'S PEOPLE. As he points out, the only "original" story is a remix. I have not read JULY'S PEOPLE, but after reading this, I've just put a hold on it at the library.
Bottom line: Skip the foreword, go straight into the stories. A lot of interesting apocalypsi await you.
Note: I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme
My favourite story was the Blue Train in which most of humanity that still exists after an extreme water shortage travels the world on a gigantic train in search of water and their subsequent freedom from this train by one man who dared to question the company's monopoly on the earths water.
Murphy constructs the world of each story so well, with little extraneous language as possible so the reader can create a vivid image of their own. Truly a pleasure to read for any science fiction fan and possibly for any environmentalist too.