Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Murmuration, by Alastair Reynolds

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(Hard SF) Scientist studying flock behavior of starlings gets astonishing results but struggles to get her paper accepted. (5,100 words; Time: 17m)

Rating: ★★★★★ Award-Worthy
Recommended By: SFRevu:4 NClarke JStrahan LTilton

"A Murmuration," by (edited by Andy Cox), appeared in issue 257, published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: The way the story builds up the narrator's insanity is brilliant. We realize that she's reviewing and rejecting her own paper. There are no other researchers; it's just her. There is no research on starlings; she is imagining all of it.
Illustration for 'A Murmuration'
Illustration by Wayne Haag
When she takes her medicine, clarity returns for a bit. She remembers that she isn't a scientist anymore. She remembers that there has been a global catastrophe. The road out is flooded. The power lines are down. The road is filled with "Cars, vans--all stopped. Some of them tipped over or emptied like skulls. Burnt out."

She's been holding on, hoping for help, but almost out of fuses for the windmill and having used up the last of her medicine, things look very bleak.

And yet the weird behavior from the birds seems to be real.

Con: It takes a long time to get going. Given the message at the end of it, there seemed to be a lot more imaginary research than there needed to be.

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I agree with the rating and the review. I would nitpick and say reality, not clarity, returns for a bit when she takes her medicine. The scary thing for me about the story is how clearly and rationally her two insane "selves" can think while doing the research on murmuration. I'm not a mental health expert, but my impression had been that insanity precludes the sort of clearheadedness described in the story. Still, I really enjoyed reading the murmuration experiments and didn't find it slow at all because of the interesting "insider's view" of conducting research and the iterative process of writing a scientific paper.