Review: Drowned Worlds, edited by Jonathan Strahan


The brand new anthology from multi-award winning editor Jonathan Strahan, featuring stories set in futures wracked by the deluge, from some the best writers in SF, including Kim Stanley Robinson, Ken Liu, Paul McAuley, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Charlie Jane Anders, Lavie Tidhar, Jeffrey Ford, and James Morrow.

We stand at the beginning of one of the greatest ecological disasters in the time on Man. The world is warming and seas are rising. We may deny it, but we can’t hide when the water comes. Already the streets of Miami flood regularly and Mick Jones looks more and more prescient when he sang that “London is drowning and I, I live by the river!” all those years ago.

And yet water is life. It brings change. Where one thing is wiped away, another rises in its place. There has always been romance and adventure in the streets of a drowned London or on gorgeous sailing cities spanning a submerged world, sleek ships exploring as land gets ever rarer.

Drowned Worlds looks at the future we might have if the oceans rise, good or bad. Here you’ll find stories of action, adventure, romance and, yes, warning and apocalypse. Stories inspired by Ballard’s The Drowned World, Sterling’s Islands in the Net, and Ryman’s The Child Garden. Stories that allow that things may get worse, but remembers that such times also bring out the best in us all.

Published by: Solaris

Buy: Booktopia (affiliate link).

An eARC of this book was received from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Jonathan Strahan is one of the foremost editors of short speculative fiction working today, producing annual Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year anthologies since 2007, as well as many other themed anthologies, including the excellent Infinity series. Drowned Worlds is an anthology which explores what the world–and humanity–might become after climate change has caused the sea levels to rise.

In the introduction to the anthology, Strahan talks about reading J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World, which he calls “one of the great British disaster novels”. He goes on to talk about following links from The Drowned World to Paul McAuley’s The Choice, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Wild Shore. All of these combined with the real world effects of climate change into the inspiration for this particular anthology. Looking at that inspiration, one might think that the reader is going to encounter many bleak visions of the world in the stories in Drowned Worlds, but the reality is anything but. There’s a strong thread of hope which weaves through all of the stories–life always finds its way, and humanity endures, even if has been forced to change.

The authors featured in this anthology could be read almost as a who’s who of groundbreaking science fiction writers working today. All of the stories in the anthology are excellent,  and though several of them didn’t resonate with me personally, they were still a very good read and likely a reader with different tastes to mine will pick them out as the strongest in the anthology.

Many of the stories are outstanding because of their use of voice, among them Christopher Rowe’s Brownesville Station and Nalo Hopkinson’s Inselberg. Catherynne M. Valente’s The Future is Blue also falls into this category, combining a brilliant, unique voice with an technicolour world that is described with Valente’s usual deft literary hand.

Many of the strongest stories in the anthology focus almost entirely on humanity and character’s relationships with each other, with much of the changed/drowned world almost receding into the background. The characters and their lives are changed by the world, but they are not defined by it. There is so much hope in these kinds of stories, which include Paul McAuley’s Elves of Antarctica, Kathleen Ann Goonan’s Who Do You Love, Charlie Jane Anders’  Because Change Was the Ocean and We Lived By Her Mercy, Nina Allen’s The Common Tongue, The Present Tense  and Rachel Swirsky’s Destroyed by the Waters. Each of these stories has heartbreak, but there is also hope, and the assertion that even though the world has changed, humanity and individual humans will find a way to continue.

Also to be noted are two excellent stories which draw on mythology and belief: James Morrow’s Only Ten More Shopping Days Left Till Ragnarok (which may be one of the most biting and brilliant titles I’ve read) and Sam Miller’s Last Gods.

Fans of Sean Williams should also note the inclusion of his story The New Venusians, which ties into his Twinmaker universe. I’ve adored the novels and stories I’ve read in this universe, and this story is no exception.

Overall, Drowned Worlds is one of the best anthologies I’ve read, with every story strong and compelling. In another editor’s hands, this could easily have become an anthology filled with doom and despair, and while the stories contained within absolutely acknowledge the grief and anger of a climate-change-wracked world, they also give the characters a quiet strength, and hope that no matter what, humanity will endure. The whole collection is highly recommended, with my personal favourites being the Valente, Morrow, Anders, Swirsky and Goonan.

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