Short Story Review: “A Murmuration” by Alastair Reynolds

2 of 5 stars.

The “scientific” voice in fiction purports a clinical aura, one of restraint and logic. Fantastical observations become grounded in something more substantial than fanciful speculation. Indeed, it can be a effective voice for the unexpected or unusual.

In this tale, the narrator outlines her methodology in studying a remote gathering of starlings that amass by the hundreds of thousands, flocking and flying as if a single organism. The scientific paper being written on the observations of the murmuration of starlings repeatedly gets bounced back for rewrites during the peer review phase. As frustrated as the scientist is with the continuous professional criticisms, the same scientist also serves as a referee for a scientific paper on the same subject. And she seems just as critical.

There is an alone-ness in this remote scientific life, just the scientist, the instruments, and the flock of jockeying birds. Borders blur on exactly who is critiquing whose work. Also, the findings start to get more outlandish as the scientist quantifies the interactions between the individual birds in the writhing, flying mass as a series of 0s and 1s–a binary answer to unasked questions. So, she starts to ask questions of the flock and document the answers . . .

The e-reader form of this tale is a muddled formatting mess causing the intentions of the author to be left in question. Little distinction between paragraphs makes for difficult reading against the already psychologically compromised content of the tale. Perhaps a printed version makes things more clear.

This tale appears in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan. I received this new anthology from Netgalley.
[Check out my other reviews here.]


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