A Practical Guide to the Resurrected
Gavin Miller & Anna MacFarlane
By Megan Turney
I tend to find it a struggle to write about a book that I’ve really enjoyed; this usually happens with those texts that have been so absorbing that it becomes a bit overwhelming trying to gather my thoughts and write anything even remotely eloquent enough to do the book justice. It is indeed for this reason that I’ve been unsuccessfully attempting to write about the short story collection A Practical Guide to the Resurrected. I flew through all 21 stories, with each as thrilling and alarming as the last. The idea for the collection began as a competition funded by The Wellcome Trust and held by the University of Glasgow. With over 600 entries, and only 20 winning places (as well as a bonus story by award-winning author Adam Roberts) it’s no surprise that this book is as outstanding as it is. The submissions have been inspired by an academic project that sought to highlight the connection between ‘science fiction and the medical humanities.’ The stories generally explore society’s tumultuous relationship with our health, the complex notion of humanity, and the increasingly complicated desire to improve our bodies; all of which are uncomfortably identifiable characteristics in a society that feels as if we’re progressively more dependent on the technology we create.
In their introduction, the editors Gavin Miller and Anna McFarlane outline how they’ve been motivated by their desire to increase the recognition of ‘the medical humanities in shaping the future of medicine, and as complementary to biomedical research’. However, an interesting undercurrent to the collection is the shared tendency to focus less on the specific biomedical developments involved. Instead, the authors collectively stress the often-harrowing emotional effects and the fundamentally human reactions that come as a result of that new technology, much of which is worryingly conceivable. With this core feature being so innately relatable, and as something that could arguably become ever more realistic as our medical research advances, the stories have the potential to appeal to such a varied readership. In addition, the winning authors come from an array of diverse backgrounds, spanning the globe from Nigeria to New Zealand, from doctors and professors to creative writers and journalists, providing further proof that they can be accessed and enjoyed by more than just those involved within the medical profession.
The broad range of writing styles are also evocative of several popular science fiction authors too; comparable to the skill of Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, Greg Egan, Ted Chiang and Philip K. Dick, to name just a few. But that is not to say that these stories weren’t original. I’ve read a fair amount of science fiction that considers the same kind of themes covered in this collection – some successful, and some not. Yet, I can easily say that all the winning authors have managed to approach their topics in such a provoking, creative way, and in so few pages, that I find myself still thinking about them days after putting the book down.
So, I can certainly empathise with competition judge, Adam Roberts, in the difficulty he found having to re-read and re-rank his favourites; it was a very ‘close-run thing’ for me too. For Roberts, his final decision ranked Seth Marlin’s ‘A Practical Guide to the Resurrected’ in first place, Marija Smit’s ‘His Birth’ as second, and Peter McCune’s ‘Blisstec Ltd.’ as third. Although I do agree that these three were deserving winners, there were a few other stories that were just so ingenious and haunting that they became prominent favourites of mine. Included in this list, I’d like to mention:
Hazel Compton’s ‘System Stable’
Maija Haavisto’s ‘The House She Grew’
Okaimame Oyakhirome’s ‘Doctor 213’
EA Fow’s ‘The Anthalopus Cure’
Alyson Hilbourne’s ‘Frozen to the Core’.
Finally, A Practical Guide to the Resurrected delves into a such multitude of significant issues that I’ve not even managed to touch upon in this review. And, although I’d love to probe and discuss every aspect of every short story, as there really is so much to consider, it’s for the best that I refrain from revealing too much and allow other readers to discover this dynamic collection for themselves. Therefore, as must be abundantly clear by now, I would recommend this book to any science fiction reader, or any reader looking for a disturbingly relevant, thought-provoking text. With such diversity and talent, there is bound to be at least one story in this collection that has the captivating effect they’ve all had on me.