Saturday, December 1, 2007

Reviews - "Exploration Team" and "The Star"

Virgil Finlay
1953 Hugo Winner for Best Interior Illustrator

"Exploration Team"
by Murray Leinster
1956 Hugo Winner for Best Novelette

A rugged individualist has landed on quarantined planet to settle by himself. Meanwhile the quarantine has been lifted and a more full colony has been started with the help of robots. This colony gets in trouble as the robots cannot deal with the unexpected super-predators that occupy the planet so the interstellar law enforcement agency sends someone out to check on them. This law enforcement officer accidentally lands at the hidden illegal settlement. Together our odd couple must cross hundreds of miles of dangerous terrain to rescue the lost colonists. Leinster has his characters spend a lot of time ranting about the use of robots which apparently are a bad thing to let run unsupervised (I know, it's a shocker).

I've read this story before. Not "Exploration Team", but 90% of it could have been plopped down from other fiction. It wasn't even that special for science fiction of the period. The hypocritical anti-technology rants seeded in the short story are apparently done straight faced with the characters one minute decrying the use of robotics while being more than happy to use them when they have control.

The only thing I did like in "Exploration Team" is the idea of creating Kodiak bears that had mannerisms more like dogs. I wouldn't want one around my house but the idea of building off a hostile species so that it can integrate directly with man is interesting to me.

Sadly Leinster didn't carry that idea forward to the sphexes, the super-predators of his alien world. Humanity has decided it wants this planet and that it's perfectly okay to drive them to extinction to do this. Extermination is the option despite the fact that in the story itself there are several very good options that could be adapted to allow safe co-existence (train some of them like the Kodiaks to keep the wild herds away, for example). I'm not one for the hand wringing, "Oh look at what those evil humans have done to their environment!" stories that some science fiction writers are fond of but presenting this kind of alien slaughter as a positive thing is just over the line for me.

"Exploration Team" simply isn't worth reading. The writing is clunky, the story itself is redundant and has been done better hundreds of times, and the manifest destiny theme isn't going to sit well with any modern reader. It's completely skippable.

"The Star"
by Arthur C. Clarke
1956 Hugo Winner for Best Short Story

It's hard to find much to say about "The Star". It's a short and blunt piece of prose with the only character of note being the narrator who just gives us a bit of exposition and then it ends. The premise is that an exploration ship to a nebula that was a supernova finds the shattered remains of a civilization which some of the crew take as absolute proof of the non-existence of God. The Jesuit priest who narrates the story, however, notices a coincidence about when the star exploded.

"The Star" reminds me a lot of those e-mail messages that people pass around with poorly written stories about convenient miracles. Having received way too many of those for one lifetime I didn't like "The Star", but unlike "Exploration Team" I don't think it was worth actively avoiding. It just isn't anything special.