Science fiction survey

Science fiction survey

Books tutions alike have been content to leave judgements as to project feasibility to a narrow circle of engineers, rather than drawing on genuine i...

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Books

tutions alike have been content to leave judgements as to project feasibility to a narrow circle of engineers, rather than drawing on genuine interprofessional teams from which specialists can be delegated to deal with matters within their own fields. Forecasts of financial feasibility should, for instance, be made by people with some knowledge of finance. But this is a side issue.

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The whole vocabulary of modelling future contingencies may be transformed in the coming decades, as training in the more advanced techniques becomes more widely understood and more generally available. Reference 1.

Erich Jantsch, Technological Forecasting in Peqbectiue (Paris, OECD, 1967).

SURVEY

DENNIS LIVINGSTON Arthur C. (303 pages,

Clarke, ~~p~~~~ Ear&% L3.50, London, Victor

Gollancz, 1975; $7.95, New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976) ; Alan Dean Foster, MidworZd (213 pages, $1.50, New York, Ballantine Books, 1976) ; Magoroh Maruyama and Arthur Harkins, eds, Cultures Beyond the Earth: The Role of Anthropology in Outer Space (206 pages, $2.95, New York, Random HouseVintage, 1975) One of the favourite themes in science fiction is the depiction of extraterrestrial cultures, of civilisations, both human and alien, located elsewhere in space that have developed in response to their own environmental and biological conditions. In particular, authors have naturally been fascinated with speculating about contact between Earth people and inhabitants of other worlds, both for its own sake, as a vehicle of inherent drama, and for making points about humanity’s foibles as revealed in the nature of the contact. In Ciarke’s new novel, the point of contact is between one of Earth’s colonies and the mother planet; with Foster, it is Dr Livingston is a member of the Department of History and Political Science, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy NY 12181, USA.

FUTURES

June 1876

between Earth people establishing a base on another planet and the humans who inhabit that planet; and for Maruyama and Harkins, the issue of off-world societies and their relationships with humans is itself under examination. 1mpetial Earth takes place in the year 2276, the quincentennial, no less, of America’s independence. In form, the book is a Bildungsroman-the son of the leading family in one of the “provinces”, in this case Titan (a moon of Saturn), goes to the big city (Earth), has a series of adventures casting light on both his character and the larger society, and returns home, affected to some extent by his experiences. Earth in this distant future has basically solved its major problems, after a vague time of troubles, apparently thanks to the technological marvels of fusion power, matter duplicators, and the “cornsole”, a communications/data retrieval device in every home. Earth is imperial u&&z& the other settled worlds of the solar system, not politically, but culturally. In Imperial Earth Duncan Makenzie journeys to the home planet to give a 4th of July speech on behalf of his people, have himself cloned so as to continue his family’s dominance of Titan, and ensure that the hydrogen exports which form the basis of Titan’s economy are maintained. What I

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would look for in such a workspeculation on future alternative sociopolitical systems and lifestyles-is largely absent here; life goes on pretty much as we know it today. Clarke’s attention, characteristically, is on the technology of the future and the reaction of an individual from a low gravity, enclosed (underground) society to Earth. Here, there are some nice moments. Clarke, as always, is superb in describing alien landscapes, and sometimes the descriptions of the hero’s encounters with Earth ways are moving. But the technology is not so awesome as to heighten one’s sense of wonder, the plot is thin, and the major characters uniformly uninteresting-in short, a book whose sum is less than that of its parts. Far more sophisticated and involving is Foster’s excellent novel, Midworld. A band of descendents of human space colonists inhabit a distant world on which their ancestors unintentionally crash landed. Their planet is Amazonlike, covered by a vast and gigantic rain forest in which a riotous variety of life forms live. As in the best such environmental SF, the author describes a complete ecosystem and the myriad ways it has shaped the society struggling to survive within it. The plot is familiar in both fiction and history, but loses neither suspense nor tragedy in the retelling. As in LeGuin’s The Word for World is Forest,l a technologically primitive, but socially complex culture is confronted with Earth people who intend to exploit the resources of their world. The chaps from Earth are very much as we are today-no lessons have been learned on respecting, or even recognising, the fragile links between culture and environment. Nature is treated as something to be dominated by man. As the native hero realises what the Earth people’s intentions imply for his environment, he determines to destroy them utterly, and succeeds in doing so with the telling aid of the local flora and fauna.

The characterisations on all sides are rich; one can have empathy with the clashing cultural perspectives as the inevitable, fatal outcome emerges. The ecological relationships are explained gradually, in the light of the natives’ behaviour. And not least provocative in the book is a reversal of the usual SF stereotype-the Earth female is more aggressive and knowledgeable than her male partner. This is highly recommended reading. The Maruyama and Harkins anthology is the product of a 1974 symposium at the American Anthropological Association. It is a first stab at analysing the ways in which anthropology might be useful in serving as a speculative mirror to humanity by looking at the nature and evolution of cultures on other whether human colonies or planets, entirely alien, and the consequences of contact with such cultures. The book is blessedly free of jargon, and there are interesting pieces on moral obligations of anthropology in this setting (in view of the field’s close connection with colonialism in the past), the legal strictures relevant to social experimentation with space colonies, and possible social relationships in the closed world of a colony. However, there is virtually nothing here that would be unfamiliar to an SF addict. The book also lacks either a piece of first-rate scholarship that a treatment in depth might provide, or the drama offered by a good work of fiction. But the non-SF reader making with these notions “first contact” should find the articles entertaining, and the goal of avoiding the mistakes of the past as we move into space is certainly important. This book can be recommended for general social science classes.

Reference 1. Ursula LeGuin, The Word for World is Forest ($6.95, New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1976).

FUTURES

June 1876