Science fiction survey

Science fiction survey

Science Fiction Survey SCIENCE FICTION I55 SURVEY Dennis Livingston John Crowley, $5.95, Garden Doubleday, Spider (184 pages, City, New York...

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Science Fiction Survey

SCIENCE

FICTION

I55

SURVEY

Dennis Livingston John Crowley, $5.95, Garden Doubleday, Spider

(184

pages,

City,

New

York,

1976)

Robinson,

pages,

$7.95,

Publishing, Ward pages,

Bemts

New

Telempath York,

(223 Berkely

1976)

Moore, $2.00,

Bring the Jubilee (194 New York, Farrar

Straus, 1953; 222 pages, $2.25, New York, Avon Books, 1976; L3.50, London, New English Library, 1976) The creation of alternative societies inhabited by believable characters for whom one cares is a difficult feat, but it is carried off successfully by the three noveIs under review. While very different in plots, all three have one thing in common-they portray a USA that has fragmented, and the implications of such disintegration for man and nature. The transition path, in world order jargon, to this future is violent upheaval. In the first two books, the resulting societies feature strong elements of a small-is-beautiful philosophy. Crowley’s tale is extraordinary, with the kind of writing that makes one rush to the bookstore for his first novel (Ihe Deep), and send Ietters to the publisher demanding sequels for what could easily become a future history series. There is wisdom on almost every page and a more diverse and deeply realised set of characters than in novels twice its length. The time is deep into the Zlst century. For unexplained reasons, civil wars have split the USA into autonomies and city-states, around which Dr Livingston is a member of the Department of History and Political Science, Rensselaer PoIytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12181, USA.

FUTURES

12

April 1977

hover the remains of a Federal government, dreaming of reunification, and its technocratic arm, the union for social engineering (USE). It is not simply political greatness (in all senses) that is gone, but technological hubris, “development”, dominion over naturethe whole Cartesian trip. There is a profound implication here that a Schumacher or Chandian vision can only be fully realised in a world of ministates. The tension in Beasts is between the USE minions, who hoId out the lure that systems engineering and faith in technology can bring back the good old days, and an assortment of characters who see humanity’s evolutionary future best ensured by the political system of the time. Central to the latter are the enigmatic Ieos, a new race created by fusing the cells of humans and lions. Neither talking animals nor Aesopian stand-bys, the leos simply are what they are : sentient beings, alien, incomprehensible, just out of reach, yet living with a solidity and existential sense of being that attracts a growing number of humans. At root, this beautiful and important book is exploring the relationships between humanity’s perceived place in nature, and the political order which reflects and supports that perception. Why things fall apart is simply explained in Robinson’s book-a wellmeaning scientist sets loose a virus which overnight greatly enhances people’s sense of smell. That finishes off the city, as people flee urban densities to recreate a village level, small technology way of life. It also turns out that our sensitised noses can now detect a race of gaseous, intelligent beings who have been flitting through the atmosphere from time immemorial and who

156

Science Fiction Survey~Conferences

have been half-apprehended in history as things that go bump in the night. An interesting sign ofscience fictions’ catching up with the 197Os-the hero here is black and his girlfriend is the village blacksmith. They live in a commune of R&D types who are going to get technology right this time around. The hero’s task is to learn why the air creatures have been attacking humans and what can be done about it. As with Beasts, an underlying theme is what bargain man will now strike with nature, when he temporarily no longer has the upper hand. Every possible loose strand works out for the best in the end but, that apart, TeEe?z$athis quite entertaining and witty, with its own lessons to teach. Jubilee is a science fiction classic, first published in 1953, and now happily reissued in the Avon SF Rediscovery Series. This is a finely etched portrait of a world in which the South won the Civil War (here, the “War of Southron Independence”“), seen through the eyes of a bookish, passive historian who gets the opportunity to travel back in time to the Battle of Gettysburg, and

inadvertently changes its outcomecreating the world we know. On one level, the book is an exploration of free will and determinism, of personal historical tragedy. The main character is a spectator of life, personally and professionally; ironically he is a spectator who changes history through his own blunder. But what is most fascinating is that the book depicts the USA as an underdeveloped country. In this alternative history, the triumphant Confederacy is a world power, stretching down to Mexico, while the USA (ie the North) is economically exploited-its best minds go elsewhere, its universities are third-rate; its peaple are poor, fatalistic, and bitter; its independence rests on the whim of others; robbers roam the countryside; and a rich elite class (Wan holds open the promise that law taxes for foreign investments and a cheap labour force will create enough wealth to trickle dawn to the masses. There is nothing like this empathetic reversal to give one a gut appreciation of the case for a new international economic order.

CONFERENCES Modelling in a cold climate The Third International Sympsium of Trends in Ma~ematical organised by Modelling, UNESCOJFundacion Bariloche, Argentina, l-4 December 1976 The host for this symposium, the Fundacion Baribche, have recently been under considerable political pressure from the Argentine Government. The work of the Fundacion is currently being investigated by military officials seeking evidence of subversive activities.

Since a high proportion of the Funda&on’s income has historically been derived from government sources the recent wave of witch hunting in Argentina poses a serious threat to the continued existence of the Fundacion. Considering this uncertain background, the relatively smooth and efIicient organisation of this symposium represented a considerable achievement. Unfortunately, however, the earlier stages of the arganisation of the conference were considerably disrupted by the abrupt departure of severai mem-

FUTURES

April 1977