Monday, January 21, 2008

Review - "Nightwings", "The Sharing of Flesh", and "The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World"

Jack Gaughan
1969 Hugo Winner for Best Professional Artist

by Robert Silverberg
1969 Hugo Winner for Best Novella

In a future where civilization has collapsed and been rebuilt the earth has been regimented into a tightly controlled class system where most people are known only by their professions. Most of these professions are key to the function of society but one of them, the Watchers, just scans the sky at appropriate times each day watching for the invaders who caused the previous fall. "Nightwings" starts with a Watcher traveling to "Roum" (read that as "Rome") with a Flier and Changeling, two genetically modified individuals one of whom is accepted by the society and the other is not. Once there they encounter some difficulties and examine their roles in the society.

Silverberg's story takes a long time to get to its point but the narrative manages to carry it well. The three main characters are what carries the story and they are multifaceted. The Changeling is rejected but obsessed with the past, the Flier appears to be an innocent young girl but is willing to trade herself for safety, and the Watcher questions the value of watching. Most of the major portions of the plot are very predictable (which is why I avoided discussing it at all in my summary) but the details that surround it are not.

Taken as a whole I found "Nightwings" a good read. There isn't a lot of depth to it and I wouldn't put too much thought into the caste system that the story has but it was enjoyable.

"The Sharing of Flesh"
by Poul Anderson
1969 Hugo Winner for Best Novelette

This is my favorite of Poul Anderson's many award winning short stories. In his earlier ones I found that the narrative was weak or the prose wasn't very sharp but I really liked "The Sharing of Flesh". In it he posits a bronze age civilization where ritualistic cannibalism has become a regular part of life. Outsiders from other human settled worlds have found this civilization and must decide whether they should receive assistance in rebuilding. One of these explorers is killed and eaten by an inhabitant and his new wife who comes a culture that emphasizes retribution wants to hunt down the cannibal.

What made this story work for me is the conflict of civilizations that Anderson creates. The cannibals feel that their way of life is a necessity as does the woman who is seeking revenge. Other members of the exploration party react to both of them with horror at the requirements of their culture. Anderson's prose still isn't very polished but it is better than his earlier efforts. Still the central ideas work well enough to carry the entire story.

"The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World"
by Harlan Ellison
1969 Hugo Winner for Best Short Story

This short story reminded me a lot of "Riders of the Purple Wage". It too was pretentiously overwritten with purple prose that mainly existed to obfuscate the story and make it appear to be something more than it was. The key idea here is that the madness that we experience in our world is due to madness being dumped into it from another universe. Really its hard for me to say more than that because really the story is a chaotic mess. Ellison provides little in the way of exposition and while over done, clumsy exposition is a problem with a lot of science fiction here there's just enough to follow the basic point but not enough for a lot of what happens to have any real meaning to reader. The reader is stuck trying to puzzle out what's going on through the prose which makes "The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World" more annoying than clever.