Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Glorifying Terrorism - Farah Mendelson (Ed)

It's an old truism that one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, and the difference between them is entirely subjective. The ANC vs the IRA? Al Qaeda vs the Boston Tea Party? Who gets to say who the bad guys are? Unfortunately, this ambiguity hasn't stopped our idiot government from adding to last year's Terrorism Act a clause banning all "glorification of terrorism," past and future, along with some feeble hand-waving about how some nice terrorists are exempt, and a verbal assurance that probably no-one's going to prosecute fiction writers or satirists. Phew, that's all right then. Farah Mendelson's collection deliberately raises a middle finger to this ludicrous bit of legislation, with a set of stories that go out of their way to break the law and expose it for the unenforcable piece of would-be totalitarianism that it is.

It's not just a bunch of loony lefties, either; the introduction is by The Telegraph's Andrew McKie, and the authors come from all parts of the political spectrum. There are some big names - notably Hal Duncan, Charles Stross and Ken MacLeod - and also some authors getting their first ever story published. The quality is variable, but simply by being illegal, even the weaker tales have teeth, and the better ones have claws as well. Overall, the standard is very high, and there's a nice mix of styles - most are standard linear short-story format, but there's a Fighting Fantasy-style exercise in civilisation building, some poetry and alternate-universe almost-essays, and even the minutes of a near-future Labour conference where the new BNP government have taken these terrorism laws to their logical conclusion.

One more thing that stands out is how tame some of these stories are, reinforcing the idiocy of a law that would ban such things. They're not all Jack Flash flinging his bombs with gay abandon; there's tactics of all kinds, from sabotage to psychological terror to presidential assassination; swords 'n' sorcery to spaceships to suicide bombers. The only one that didn't really work for me was Gwyneth Jones's 2020: I AM AN ANARCHIST, about the disruption of an international shit-eating contest; it was probably supposed to be satire of some kind but fell rather flat. Other than that, this is a very fine collection. Go on, buy it and break the law!



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