Beyond the Burn Line, by Paul McAuley (brief note)

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Master Able had first won fame while he had still been a pupil of Master Hopestart, the natural philosopher who advanced the theory of selective change, which explained that the vast variety of plants and animals had developed from simpler organisms by the slow, cumulative acquisition of new characteristics. It had been denounced as heresy by priests and philosophers who claimed that because the form of every species was a perfect realisation of the Mother’s will, no change was possible unless She desired it, and those changes were always accompanied by global catastrophe. The great flood which had destroyed the terror lizards; the cleansing fire which had put an end to the wickedness of ogres and left the narrow line of char found in sites all across the Union and United Territories; the plague which had turned bears into crazed beasts after they strayed from the right path. Master Able had been at the forefront of debates which had overturned those old beliefs, explaining the principles of selective change with devasting [sic] clarity, mocking the chop-logic of its detractors and famously saying that just as natural philosophy should not seek an explanation for the Mother, so religion had no business measuring the world. He had reinforced his status with his work on comparative anatomy, including studies of selective change in bears and the ancestors of people, but by the time Pilgrim became his secretary his reputation was greatly diminished, his health was failing and he had fallen out with many of his colleagues because of his interest in sightings of the visitors.

I liked a lot about this – non-human sentient species on post-apocalypse Earth, frustrations of unfunded academic work in a corrupt society, the massive shift of perspective half way through. Not totally sure I got the ending. You can get it here.