Ian McDonald. Digging. (The Year’s Best Science Fiction 29th Annual Collection)

Originally in : Life on Mars – Tales from the New Frontier (ed Strahan).

From Strahan’s YA anthology last year. Some excellent writing, clever setting and believable characterisation. The only problem is that any YA person who reads this might be disappointed to read more SF and realise it’s not all as good as this!! How’s this for an opening :

    Tash was wise to the ways of the wind. She knew its many musics: sometimes like a flute across the pipes and the tubes; sometimes a snare-drum rattle in the guy-lines and cable stays or again, a death drone-moan from the turbine gantries and a scream of sand past the irised-shut windows when the equinox dust storms blew for weeks on end.”

The central conceit is a doozy : to terraform Mars, a homongous excavation is underway, four generations underway, to create a valley so deep that what little, thin atmosphere there is on Mars will rush downhill into it, to create the basis on which to create a breathable atmosphere. The mental image of four exacavator cities slowly, but relentlessly, chewing their way deeper into the crust, excavated spoil carried up to create a mountain range rim around the hole, is a vivid one. And there’s the society that has been set up, by necessity, to ensure a viable community with a limited gene pool.

We get into young Tash’s mind most effectively (you would guess McDonald has teenage daughters!), and there’s drama at the end, which could almost be the one true minor quibble, as it detracts from the focus on the political twist at the end, which is a real welcome to the world of adults, YAs.

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