Sunday, September 8, 2019

Winter Wheat, by Gord Sellar

[Asimov's]
★★★☆☆

(SF Epic) Over eleven years, a farm boy grows to a man on the Canadian prairie while new technology utterly changes the world he lives in. (24,559 words; Time: 1h:21m)

Recommended By: 👍STomaino+1 (Q&A)


"Winter Wheat," by (edited by Sheila Williams), appeared in issue 09-10|19, published on by .

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

Review: 2019.485 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: As epic stories go, it’s pretty good. It never gets dull, and it’s fairly realistic, at least in terms of the technologies involved. I was afraid for a bit it was going to be an irrational anti-GMO hit piece, but it focused just on the economic impacts and didn’t imply any far-fetched biological ones.

At its core, it’s the story of how Jim grew up, made a life with his wife, and managed to continue farming despite all the changes. Beyond that, there’s the implication that the “open source” people were able to use his father’s work to break the company’s monopoly, although it’s not clear whether that’s wishful thinking or not.

Con: Jim isn’t the ideal protagonist; he isn’t really trying to accomplish anything. Things just happen and he rolls with it.

In the real world, politics and bad press have prevented any of the big companies from actually trying to sell single-use crops. The story unrealistically implies that all political opposition would abruptly vanish.

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I'm pretty sure that it would take more than an "industrial process" to turn wheat with the opposite chirality into something consumable by humans (and I have a very hard time believing that such a process would be cost-effective), but I was willing to let that slide, because I thought it worked well as a metaphor for the entire problem with GMOs: it isn't that there's something inherently wrong with them, it's that the whole motivation for GMO strains is to make them more profitable for the company that manufactures and supplies them, and to lock out any farmers who refuse to sign on with them.

    I almost bailed on this story on the first page (he seemed to be going for Bradbury and, in my opinion, not succeeding), but I was glad I continued.

    My bigger problem with the story (and also why I agree with the three-star rating) is that Jim is such an incurious lump it's hard to care very much about what happens to him. He's too intellectually lazy to bother learning any of the stuff that will be important to him as a farmer, and just seems to think that everyone should keep their heads down and not make waves or try to resist any of the changes. That's not a criticism of the writing - I thought he was quite believable as a character, but it makes it very hard to see what the vivacious, determined Bonnie finds attractive about him. And he doesn't really alter for the better through the story: he sells out his own father, claiming it's for his own good even though the story makes clear Jim really did it for himself. And all of his father's genetic work would have been lost if Bonnie hadn't shamed Jim into saving it.

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    1. Yeah, the chirality thing was a bit hard to swallow. (So to speak.) :-)

      Jim was an unlikely protagonist for another reason, now that I think about it: he's the "hero" of a science-fiction story, but he's someone who doesn't like science.

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