Strange Horizons, 6 June 2005

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"A Field Guide to Ugly Places" by Patrick Samphire

Patrick Samphire‘s tale of redemption is played out in a setting well described by its title: "A Field Guide to Ugly Places." This is a dead and abandoned industrial park, "sagging asbestos and rusted iron spars," a graveyard for decaying factories, the victims of recession. The workers, too, have been abandoned, but Jamie Barton is as much a victim of his own moral weakness as the economy. When the bars close, he wanders back to the only other place he can now call home, the ruins where he used to be employed.

Enter the Goddess, to set all to rights. Unfortunately, this fantasy solution to a real-world problem fails to convince. It is quite true that Nature has an astonishing capacity to reclaim its own, as we can see from the ruins of Mayan cities swallowed up by the jungle and New England farms returned to forest. But transforming an industrial site to a pristine wilderness where stags gambol amongst the flowers is not going to create any new jobs for the former workers now relegated by unemployment to the bars. Ask the workers what they need, and they’ll tell you it’s a bulldozer to clear away the trees and flowers and build a new factory.