Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Worlds of Science Fiction (Part 2)

The majority of my fiction consumption is in the form of short stories, and the collection I read most recently is called The Worlds of Science Fiction. I wrote about it before here. I finished reading the book recently and the highlights are as follows.

"A Saucer of Loneliness" by Theodore Sturgeon

Theodore Sturgeon is one of my all time favourite writers in any genre – he is classified as a science fiction writer but his style and subject matter is often hard to pin down to anything so specific. Sometimes very dark, sometimes really sweet, his stories always illicit a strong emotional reaction from me, even when they’re barely comprehensible.

This story is about a woman who is touched by a flying saucer while walking down the street one day and receives a special message. Afterwards, people view her only as the woman who talked to the flying saucer, and her life becomes a toilet flush of sadness and isolation. It’s a weird story, and beautiful in its weirdness. Sturgeon has a way with words that’s simple, and fantastical, and dreamlike, but also very real. “The novels were alright for a while until she found out that most of them were like the movies – all about the pretty ones who really own the world. So she learned things – animals, trees. A lousy little chipmunk caught in a wire fence bit her.” It's elegant but also frank. I think that juxtaposition is what I like so much about Sturgeon's work, and this is a great example of it.

"Now Let Us Sleep" by Avram Davidson

About a guy who visits a planet with no resources or strategic value, inhabited by a race of semi-humanoid aliens called Yahoos. Passing space ships stop on the planet to let their crews “blow off steam” by hunting the Yahoos and raping their women. The guy is upset by that and attempts to do something to stop it, with mixed results.

I really like science fiction stories that get into the ecology of alien worlds. Even if I don’t really care for the story, I find it interesting (and that’s pretty much how I got suckered into finishing Dune. It’s the worms, man). I did like this story. It was a little heavy handed maybe but it was good.

I also have some pretty strong thoughts on conservation and the fact that humans are super shitty to pretty much everything that's alive, so this story got me in the feels pretty good.

"The Ugly Little Boy" by Isaac Aasimov

I had read this story before, in one of those books that was one book on one side and then you flip it over and it’s another book on the other side (the book it was attached to was The Widget, The Wadget, and Boff by Theodore Sturgeon, I think I've made my feeling about him explicitly clear), and didn’t really like it a whole lot.

It’s about a time travel institution where plant, rock, and animal specimens are pulled out of prehistory to be studied. One such specimen is a small Neanderthal child who is put under the care of a nurse and taught to act like a human. After several years of bonding with the boy, she learns that the institution needs the space more than they need him and is planning on unceremoniously dumping him back in his own time despite him no longer having the skills needed to survive on his own.
It’s actually a good story and pretty well written, the setting is interesting and the conflict is both believable and heartbreaking. If it were written by somebody who had ever met a woman, I might have liked it.

It’s just that the main character, this nurse, is such a lame cutout of 1950s misogynist femininity. Okay, she’s maternal, that’s the point of the story, I have no problem with that, but it gets turned into this whole "women are so sentimental" thing which is grating to say the least. Plus she's got this weird, creepy infatuation with her boss, she gets really disappointed when she finds out he's married, and then acts really catty towards his wife and son. Coz, you know, that's what women do, we fall in love with any man that pays attention to us, even if it's in a professional setting. It's surprising that there wasn't a scene in the story about how she had mixed feeling about going to work for the institute because she couldn't bring all of her shoes.

Anyway, not a bad story, that stuff just annoys me quite a bit.

Any stories you want to recommend to me? Or maybe you're incensed that I slammed Isaac Aasimov? Either way, leave me a comment, yo, we can talk about it.

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