REVIEW: Welcome to the Greenhouse

It’s summertime and it’s hot out! That means academics get to read for fun. I think that’s true for most jobs too, so I figured I’d talk about the book I finally managed to finish now that classes are done.

I mentioned Welcome to the Greenhouse in a previous post, so I guess in some ways this is a follow up but I couldn’t say much about the product before other than that it had a cool concept. By way of a reminder, the book is an anthology of short fiction by sci-fi scribes centered around the idea of global climate change.

The book has a total of 16 stories and no two are alike. Even skimming the table of contents I can remember each one distinctly. The breadth of different takes was actually the most refreshing part of what could have been a pretty depressing read. The stories occure all over the world from Arizona to islands in the Bering Sea. Some could be set next year while others look ahead by full generations or more. And finally, what surprised me the most was that some were “hard” sci-fi whereas others really went outside reality to tell cautionary tales in a way that was fresh and not preachy.

And like all good sci-fi, there was as much an emphasis on the humanity of the characters as there was about the speculative worlds post-warming. Some stories I forgot I was reading sci-fi about climate change because the arc of the characters was more compelling than the setting. It was only when I realized that the characters themselves were metaphors for the earth, its climate and the humans messing it up did the true power of the story find it’s mark.

It’s kind of tough to review an anthology because I don’t want to spoil every story by reviewing them individually, but the overall enjoyment of the book was high. I didn’t connect with every story, but that’s how anthologies work. The trick is asking if enough of the stories hit home to make the whole experience worthwhile, and this book definitely did that.

It may come as a surprise to some that listen to the show but I’m not a huge consumer of sci-fi literature. I’ve read most of the big works, but have a hard time keeping up with everything else. The only effect that had while reading Welcome to the Greenhouse was I didn’t immediately recognize the authors by name at the beginning of their stories, so if you find yourself in that same situation fret not. Here’s the cool part, when I read through the short bios at the end of the book I found out that many of the contributors were scientists AND authors. Plus, I could tell from their bios who had written what! It was such a pleasant surprise that it made me want to start the book from the beginning and read each story anew in the context of who the writer really is, like a director’s commentary of the future.

I can’t say that I’d like any of the scenarios contained within the pages to actually come to fruition. Even amidst the hopeful tone of some the bleakness inherit in the premise is discomforting, and maybe that’s what people need to feel: discomfort. Instead of the spectacle of blockbusters like The Day After Tomorrow, perhaps people need a little more quiet reflection on what might happen from many different angles and decide for themselves which future they want to come to pass.

So kudos to the editor, Gordon Van Gelder, and all the contributors for putting together a sci-fi anthology that I enjoyed even while it made me think.

Interested to read Welcome to the Greenhouse yourself? Pick it up on Amazon in Softcover or e-Book.

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