1. An Editorial
“Science fiction is always based on verifiable scientific fact. (Good science fiction, that is.)”
2. Misogyny rampant!
We are in the world of Joseph Green’s “Star Probe,” where an alien object is coming for a near fly-by of the Earth, and one man works against the governments of the world to send a mission to meet up with the interstellar object. Sort of like Ayn Rand, but with rockets instead of trains.
The story is filled with scientific facts a la the editorial, by which I mean scientific verbiage. Science words. IT IS SCIENCE BECAUSE I TOLD YOU IT IS SCIENCE. There are lots of numbers and specifics about thrust and payload and how to get a rocket out into space in time, and how the person who goes won’t, possibly, be coming back. The story is filled with language like this:
“My God!” Jodie said softly. “He’s going to bring his father back by using his son’s brain!”
It sounds like the dialogue from a bad SFF movie, stilted and unrealistic and there purely to clarify the FACTS for the reader. (Man, I’m snarky at the moment–perhaps I shouldn’t write these before having my first cup of coffee.)
Also, the characters aren’t just unrealistic in dialogue. Or maybe not unrealistic, but Green wants us to accept AS THE HERO a man who’ll use his mentally-impaired son as a guinea pig to bring back the brain/personality of his father, and therefore erase his son. Sure, his son is supposed to reemerge after a short time, but the story doesn’t set that up as happening. Who knows? This is only part 1 of 3, so maybe the rest of the parts will combine to form a masterpiece.
Representative quote: “Jodie saw she was about twenty-five, with a somewhat lush figure, just tending toward plumpness. In a few years she would be fat and doughy-looking.”
3. An Idea in Search of a Story
Joe Haldeman’s “Anniversary Project” is a two-fold story. The frame involves a couple taken out of their own time in order to be studied by the humans of the far future who have evolved beyond all of our base desires and needs and, even, leisure activities. The meat of the story is the project of those far future aliens to understand the people of the past.
None of the characters in this story are much more than sketched out. I’m convinced that the couple were brought in, partly, to be reader surrogates. How can we understand these far future beings when, in a very real way, they are beyond our understanding? And so Haldeman shows some of the ways we’d fail to understand in the text itself, the characters trying to make sense of what–in the rest of the story–is told to us in a deliberately distancing fashion.
But, as a reader, I don’t care about those future people. They barely care about their projects or themselves–an almost cold, indifference to the universe being a trait of superior intelligence, apparently. And the two present-day humans are there simply to be shocked and awed.
And to provide the emotional dart of the story: how when they are sent back through time to their own year, a pregnancy causes a moment where the woman lives her entire life in reverse, including the deaths of her husband to suicide and her son to war–before forgetting it all and living her life forward again. Essentially, it’s a cheap trick.
Which is to say that it nearly works because Haldeman is a good writer and, at least, there’s no rampant sexism/racism/ismism embedded in here.
4. There’s a Saloon, but I’m Not Drinking
I need to read the copy of Spider Robinson’s CALLAHAN’S CROSSTIME SALOON which is in the pile of Unpulped novels, because the stories just aren’t cutting it for me. They are elaborate jokes, filled with puns and humor which seems self-referential for the most part, insular within the universe Robinson has created. And maybe if I dive into a collection all at once, I’ll be able to lose myself in it.
As it is, Callahan’s is a bar I go to where I don’t know anyone and none of the regulars are especially friendly to me. Robinson is a wonderful writer. He can draw a character completely in a few sentences, and then he keeps drawing until you feel like you’ve known the person you’re entire life. Callahan’s Saloon is fully realized, too, the details tangible and tactile.
But the stories I’ve read are heavy on the jokes, and I need a character connection in order to feel, well, anything. Even laughter.
SIDENOTE: The illustrations for this story by Vincent di Fate are amazing.
5. What Makes You You
Lord St. David’s story “In the High Court of Justice” is essentially a joke, too. However, the joke turns on a concept I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past few years: what makes you the original you.
If, in fact, all of ones cells are replaced every seven years, then are you still the same you after that time has passed? (In fact, parts of the body replace themselves at different rates, and neurons, at least, never die until you do (naturally, at least).) It’s the Ship of Theseus paradox: how much of the ship do you have to replace before it’s no longer the original ship? China Miéville played around with this in his novel KRAKEN, wherein a wizard teleports via home-cooked transporter technology, killing the original body every time he uses this power. Eventually, he’s surrounded by an angry swarm of ghosts of his former selves.
All of that is essentially more interesting than this story, which turns on inheritances and who gets the money of these people who have traveled via a transporter device. The most fascinating part of the story is that it’s written in the form of a ruling on a court case.
Which, frankly, is not enough to save it.