Sunday, February 10, 2008

Review - "The Queen of Air and Darkness" and "Inconsistent Moon"

Frank Kelly Freas
1972 Hugo Winner for Best Professional Artist

I don't own a lot of the old science fiction magazines. By the time I started reading science fiction the days of the magazines had passed, but this is one of the very few that I actually do own. My copy is in much worse shape than this one but it's a lovely tribute cover.

"The Queen of Air and Darkness"
by Poul Anderson
1972 Hugo Winner for Best Novella
1971 Nebula Winner for Best Novelette

And here's the man of the hour with a great entry into his monumental pile of Hugo awards (my theory is that Anderson was actually a model rocket enthusiast who simply collected the awards for the attached rockets) and it has a great premise: Sherlock Holmes in the future fighting Celtic fairies. Oh it's not really "Sherlock Holmes", as noted in the story the character emulated the analytical detective archetype. And they're not really fairies but aliens who have hit on the use of those archetypes.

On a trip into the wilderness of an untamed world a researcher's child vanishes without a trace. Local legends tell of spirits that abduct infants and raise them in a magical world of their own. The local authorities refuse to look into the disappearance writing it off as an accident so the grieving mother hires a detective. The detective has a theory about all of the disappearances and it leads them to a confrontation with the Queen of the fairies.

This is a spectacularly good Anderson story particularly with regard to the characters. All of them, human and other, are richly portrayed despite being archetypes. Perhaps that's why it all works so well because the story is about a clash of archetypes. I would have enjoyed the investigation being a bit more fleshed out but that would have entailed expanding the story to a novel. All in all a very enjoyable story.

"Inconsistent Moon"
by Larry Niven
1972 Hugo Winner for Best Short Story

Late one evening the moon suddenly changes to become hundreds of times brighter than it was before and a few people up at that hour realize the implications of it. Since the moon's light is reflected it means that the sun has suddenly become so bright that it would have burned away the other side of the world and they have hours to live.

I enjoyed the story which focused almost entirely on two characters and hinges on the fact that each of them know just enough science to recognize the problem. It's not really about the science but instead is about what to do when there's only a few hours left until the end of the world. Niven's characters aren't as interesting as they could be (especially in comparison to Anderson's winner) but there is just enough there to hang the concept on. I liked it but this one was much more marginal.