Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Posts Tagged ‘the ascent of wonder

‘The Snowball Effect’ by Katherine McLean

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This is perhaps a satire on the hard sciences or perhaps a satire on the soft sciences. Either way, its characters are so thin and its view of human nature is so ludicrously deterministic that it is indistinguishable from any other hard SF story.

Quality: *
Hardness: ***

Written by Martin

4 February 2011 at 07:42

Posted in sf, short stories

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‘Chromatic’ by John M. Ford

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This is a series of vignette-length fables set in an imaginary post-revolutionary country and based around a new set of metaphorical (and ideologically pure) colours. As I have come to expect from my meagre exposure to Ford’s work, it packs a heartbreakingly dense emotional punch into an extremely economical set of words.

Quality: ****
Hardness: *

I’m sure I said I would stop posting the introductions to the stories but I just can’t help myself. Every time I think H&K have reached the limits of their ability to contort the definition of hard SF they surpass themselves:

John M. Ford is equally adept at fantasy and science fiction, but is known more for the variety and richness of his works than for his rigorous use of science. He is impatient, it seems, with conventional approaches; in such stories as this one, he applies the techniques of and exploits a conventional setting of the school of magic realism to embody the idea of paradigm shifts (from contemporary philosophy of science)… It also demands, by implication, some familiarity with the tradition of “alternate universe” sf — which is usually not hard sf… Since this need not involve either science or technology, this has become as useful to writers out of the genre as in, resulting in a blurring of genre boundaries… What we have here is a story at the very fringe of science fiction that teases at genre definition, yet plays by the rules as Ford perceives them.

Written by Martin

2 February 2011 at 10:09

‘The Indefatigable Frog’ by Philip K. Dick

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Between the ages of about twelve and thirteen I read every short story Philip K Dick wrote. There are quite a few of them, hundreds in fact; his Collected Stories run to five volumes. I read them because I liked Dick and because they were available when so much else wasn’t. He is a writer who repays being read in bulk since so much of his work was variations on a theme. Inevitably, however, they all blurred together a bit.

‘The Indefatigable Frog’ is one of the few that stuck in my mind. This was because it introduced me to Zeno’s Paradox (technically the dichotomy paradox). Re-reading it now, I find that Dick used this paradox to produce a lame joke. Or perhaps I should be charitable and say several lame jokes: a satire of academia, a raspberry at the two cultures and zany version of the paradox itself. Dick doesn’t seem to have any real awareness or understanding of the elements he is using though and the results are fundamentally dumb.

Quality: **
Hardness:

Written by Martin

7 December 2010 at 21:51

‘The Last Question’ by Isaac Asimov

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This is Asimov’s third and final story in the anthology and for a minute I thought it might be okay. It isn’t. It is another Multivac story and, after a hard day’s inputting, two of its attendants retire for a quiet drink. As they shoot the breeze we get the only decent line of the story:

Lupov cocked his head sideways. He had a trick of doing that when he wanted to be contrary, and he wanted to be contrary now, partly because he had had to carry the ice and glassware.

It is one of the few times you feel Asimov is writing an actual human being. What the two are discussing is entropy and whether there is any way of avoiding the heat death of the universe. Multivac doesn’t know. So then the story repeats itself but further into the future. And again. And again. Eventually humanity is dead and we are rewarded with a cheesy punchline.

Quality: **
Hardness: ***

Written by Martin

4 December 2010 at 13:18

‘Relativistic Effects’ by Gregory Benford

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It takes a few pages to find out what the relativistic effects of the title are and it took me those few pages to embrace the story. ‘Relativistic Effects’ starts as just a day in the office with blunt worldbuilding and a clunky future dialect. I thought I was faced with another competant man Miner of the Future story. But no, Benford is interested in peeling away the surface layer of the universe and looking at what is underneath, not just bashing up an asteroid.

And then it becomes clear what the context of this all is. Our sub-space miner is on a spaceship stuck in fifth gear, they are hurtling forward at almost the speed of light with no way of slowing down. Earth is five million years in the past. In their introductions, Hartwell and Cramer talk of the universe as antagonist being a hallmark of hard SF and it is perfectly demonstrated here. The weight of the implacable universe crushes the characters and turns what could have been another lump of coal into a diamond.

Quality: ****
Hardness: *****

Written by Martin

2 December 2010 at 10:04

‘The Pi Man’ by Alfred Bester

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Almost, for a moment, I thought I would have to attack the conductor of the Opera Comique, but fate was kind and let me off with nothing worse than indecent exposure, and I was able to square it by founding a scholarship at the Sorbonne.

A sentence like that is worth the price of admittance alone. Our narrator is a “compensator”, providing cosmic balance against his will. He gets into some scraps. The rest of the story is fun but fun of the hectic variety which gives you a bit of a headache. As always, Bester is so much more vibrant than his contemporaries though.

Quality: ***
Hardness: *

It goes without saying that this isn’t hard SF and, as has so often been the case, H&K come right out and admit this: “He was pyrotechnic, self-consciously literary, artificial, and brilliant, and utterly rejected the style and affect of hard sf.” An obvious candidate for inclusion, I think you will agree.

Written by Martin

30 November 2010 at 19:44

‘The Longest Science Fiction Story In The World’ by Arthur C Clarke

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‘The Longest Science Fiction Story In The World’ is not the the longest science fiction story in the world. In fact, it isn’t a story at all; it is a one page joke about an infinitely recursive rejection letter. Hilarious.

Hardness: *
Quality: *

Written by Martin

23 November 2010 at 20:20