Alastair Reynolds. A Murmuration. (Interzone #257, Mar/Apr)

interzone257Reynolds’ short stories are rarer than hen’s teeth these days, so I looked forward to reading this story once I spotted his name on the cover (which has an illustration of a spacesuited figure with a seagull tied to his lap….)

I had hoped for a mini space opera, something managing to squeeze galactic and epoch spanning adventure, or Baroque grand guignol gothic horror, as his novels provide (or at least which the first half dozen or so novels of his which I read did provice: I gave up on his novels due to the frustration at them invariably failing to end with what us old-fashioned types call An End, and leaving the reader on tenterhooks as the protagonists find bigger vistas awaiting, or, failing that, The Next Volume).

But this story is earth-bound, limited to one character and a whole bunch of birds, and a fair bit of science. However the science isn’t really the key thing with the story. The science is the massive processing power and data storage than enables processes data captured from swarming bird populations. At first the story appears as if that’s the way it’s headed, a scientist coming up with some interesting/challenging findings.

However, one part of the story looks at the frustrations of journal article submission/refereeing, from both sides of the equation (or rather both sides and one side at once).

But the story is actually about the inside of the scientist’s mind, as it becomes increasingly obvious that that isn’t quite as it should be. He finds a way of doing more than simply observing, and the murmuration of the birds of the birds echoes what is going on inside his head.

Never mind spacemen in deep space (with our without a seagull tethered to your nethers), the scientist’s lot is clearly a challenging one.

More from this issue here.

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