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Wasps At the Speed of Sound
Derryl Murphy
Prime, 196 pages

Wasps At the Speed of Sound
Derryl Murphy
Derryl Murphy lives with his wife and sons in Canada, back after a short stint in the US. He is currently a part-time editor with On Spec, was once a full-time professional photographer, and at a relatively late age has returned to university to finish his degree.

Derryl Murphy Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

Derryl Murphy's first collection of stories, Wasps At the Speed of Sound, is both a strong debut and the record of a growing writer. When I checked the original publication dates of the stories, I was pleased to note that the story I considered weakest was the first published (1992), and the two I thought strongest, "Summer's Humans" and "Island of the Moon" were most recent.

The latter story is told from the viewpoint of a CNN reporter assigned to cover the visit of an enigmatic alien emissary to a besieged nature reserve in Madagascar, which holds the very last Golden Bamboo lemur on Earth. Although he tries to keep his detachment, Mick finds himself increasingly affected by the tragedy unfolding around him, and begins to suspect that the alien's mission is the same as his own -- to document a dying species.

There are no surprises in this story, but Murphy's powerful writing and the vivid, exotic setting make it work. Similarly, "Summer's Humans" is driven by the very realistic tension between a family of naive, arrogant human colonists and the Mapaekie servants who are rebelling against them.

Murphy uses polished, economical prose to create intelligent stories that feel very real. He is very much a 'hard' SF writer in the sense that he writes "idea" stories, and he has done his research, resulting in occasional dialogue lectures, which are nonetheless smoothly handled.

He turns this didactic impulse to remarkably good effect in "The History of Photography," an unusual blend of essay, story and glowing eulogy to the art of film photography.

What raises all these stories above average for SF, is that Murphy visibly and tangibly cares. He isn't afraid of emotions and he wants to explore the tangle of relationships and motivations that drive human beings. He also cares deeply about the environment, so that his landscapes are far more than just backgrounds for action -- they are essential. Murphy is intense. He doesn't just want to get in your head, he wants to get in your heart and in your face.

And that is also the down side of this volume. In his introduction, Peter Watts refers to the collection as eleven ways for the planet to die, and describes Murphy as "another voice in the wilderness, showing us where we're headed in the faint but vital hope that you may yet prove him wrong."

The effect of such savagely pessimistic stories in one concentrated dose is depressing as all hell, and by half way through a reader might be excused for wondering: if that's Murphy's view of the future, why does he have kids? Why isn't he hanging from a rafter some place?

(Personally, my reaction to being bombarded with yet more apocalyptic warnings is: OK, I get it already! Now quit telling me what's wrong with this planet and show me how it can be fixed!)

If there's an antithesis to "escapist" literature, Murphy's stories may be it. But if you're looking for a relaxing bedtime read, or signposts toward a hopeful human future, best go elsewhere.

Copyright © 2005 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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