Science fiction,” states editor Hayden Trenholm, “contains within its central premises a profoundly political stance.” Strange Bedfellows, an anthology teeming with aliens, warfare, and dystopian hell-scapes, seeks to support this idea. Gathering submissions from seven countries, the book is rife with political quandaries and a hefty quantum of despair, it being inevitable that politics bring out the worst in people.
Like most anthologies, some stories triumph while others falter. Ian Creasey’s “The Shapes of Wrath” humorously posits the religious perils of body modification. Argentinean author Gustavo Bondoni’s “Gloop” presents an economic apocalypse saturated with haunting fatalism, and Israeli writer Alter Reiss’s “Elayen” finds planetary settlers struggling to retain their traditions in the face of government interference.
Strange Bedfellows’ lesser efforts suffer largely as a result of unconcealed messaging. Trevor Schikaze’s “Occupy Asteroid,” about political reawakening in a mining colony, is as blunt as its title implies. Conor Powers-Smith’s “Candidate Z,” concerning “fetal data gathered during body scans of pregnant women” that is used in solving future crimes, is a fine idea marred by speechifying and exposition.
The anthology betrays a moderately left-leaning bias. Trenholm explains the absence of far-right or far-left scenarios as a matter of quality, submissions “from the extremes of political philosophy [lacking] narrative strength or emotional impact.” John Skylar’s overly direct yet effective “When This Peace Thing Blows Over” – wherein a science-oriented, female-led government is proven as thoughtlessly evil as societies built on morality or religion – is the collection’s conservative peak.
The book closes on two high points. Nebula Award–winning author Katherine Sparrow’s “Why Lily Left” is a melancholy, horrifying glimpse into an anti-civilization mindset. “Amateur Night at the Global Mart,” Craig DeLancey’s technobabble-laden entry (“genemod symbiot lichen” being a prime example), is activist-oriented speculative fiction as strong as anything Cory Doctorow has produced.
The late, great Kurt Vonnegut wrote, perhaps self-deprecatingly, that if a writer “tries to put his politics into a work of the imagination, he will foul up his work beyond all recognition.” Strange Bedfellows sometimes wavers and stumbles, but the talents on display put the lie to his theory.