I’m a big fan of Paul McCauley‘s writing: it’s smart, it’s entertaining, and it’s grounded in real knowledge of science and biology. the Invisible Country is a collection of older short stories (i.e., pre-1996) containing shards from Fairyland, Alternate History, and Confluence universes. Though some of the stories were duds, others opened up McCauley’s vision of science and future bio-engineering possibilities and his deeply humanistic take on what it means to be sentient in this vast never-ending roil. Here McCauley is summarizing (a version of) human history:
Saint Jack’s eyes were focused on infinity; his mouth lifted in an ecstatic smile that transfigured his hollow-cheeked, stubbly face. He said in his slow, gentle voice, “You know how it was, way back when in Africa? Tribes of man-apes ate these mushrooms that grew in the shit of antelopes and buffalo. They got smarter to deal with the visions, and they needed to share the visions, too , so they invented language. Language is the mind’s only reality, and so our reality is produced by language. But while the men hunted, the women grew things, and to do that they had to keep their heads straight, and they stopped eating the mushrooms. That was the first retreat from nature, the beginning of the Fall. Then the ice came, and drove the man-apes from Africa out into Asia, where the right kind of mushrooms couldn’t be found. Ever since, we’ve been truing to get back to the garden of the mind.”
What’s not to love about that?!
I’ll close with another quote from the same story (Children of the Revolution):
The trouble with the universal unearned wage is that most people can do what they want but can’t decide what to do. Wise up and think about what you want to do for the rest of your life. You’re old enough.
Which is good advice for just about everyone!
Highly recommended for science fiction fans and humans everywhere.