Funded via a Kickstarter that exceeded its goals, Mother of Invention is an anthology of short stories (and one essay) from award-winning Australian Twelfth Planet Press. It’s co-edited by Hugo-award-winning Tansy Rayner Roberts alongside Rivqa Rafael. Possessed of a theme that concerns itself with maternal genius, with non-male scientific (and sometimes fantastical) creators and their creations, this was always guaranteed to be an interesting anthology. But I didn’t expect that it would turn out to be this good, too.
There are twenty-one stories in Mother of Invention, and one essay. The essay, by Ambelin Kwaymullina, is “Reflecting on Indigenous Worlds, Indigenous Futurisms, and Artificial Intelligence,” and on first glance, it doesn’t sit easily with the theme. On second glance, the essay is a fascinating exploration of the category “artificial,” and sidles subversively alongside the anthology’s collection of stories.
With twenty-one stories, there are bound to be both hits and misses. For me, the “miss” category really only includes two, though. Lee Cope’s “A Robot Like Me” is a little too bluntly “nonbinary people exist and are hurt by binarist assumptions in the world” as its entire story. (Nonbinary people do exist. They are hurt by binarist assumptions. But I want a little more from a short story.) And E.C. Myers’ “Kill Screen” pushes the teenaged-suicide-mediated-through-the-internet angle in ways that strike me as a bit too simplistically pat—though that could be my own biases at work.
Of the remaining nineteen stories, I felt four of them were outstanding. Stephanie Lai’s “The Goose Hair of One Thousand Miles” is a story about heroism, family, and creation, while simultaneously using its footnotes to highlight its metaphoricality (this is not a word, but it has become a word for my purposes), its existence at once as a story in its own right and as a parable. Lai’s voice is light, edged with humour, and fantastically readable.
Bogi Takács’ “An Errant Holy Spark” is a story that’s partly about religion, partly about communication, and much more than the sum of its parts. It’s glorious and lovely and just exactly perfect.
John Chu’s “Quantifying Trust” is a story about trust and artificial intelligence (and maybe, a little bit, about time travel). It’s got a gorgeous voice: Chu has the frustrations of the Ph.D student down exactly, and the story hits its emotional notes really well—as one might expect from a Hugo Award winning writer.
Lev Mirov’s “The Ghost Helmet” also stands out. A young woman’s helmet is haunted by the ghost of her brother, in a future filled with danger. Smoothly written with excellent characterisation, this story had a strong emotional impact for me.
And a shoutout to Cat Sparks’ “Fata Morgana,” which is the kind of post-apocalyptic war-machine creepy motherhood fiction that I really want to see.
Above all else, the word that might characterise this anthology is diverse. It collects a diverse range of authorial voices, and presents a diverse set of stories and storytelling approaches. In places it’s queer and post-colonial (and sometimes anti-colonial), but a commitment to inclusion is visible in its arrangement—as is a commitment to showcasing really good fiction. For the most part, even the stories that didn’t wow me are still very good. They follow each other smoothly, too: arrangement is frequently underrated in a good anthology, but here all of the stories feel connected, part of the same thematic argument even in all their differences.
I really enjoyed this anthology. I think it has something for everyone.
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.