Sunday, April 27, 2008

Review - "The Saturn Game", "Unicorn Variations", "The Pusher"

Michael Whelan
1982 Hugo Winner for Best Professional Artist
1982 World Fantasy Award Winner for Best Artist

Three multiple Hugo winners return this year and all three repeat their favorite patterns. I can only guess that the voters were looking for something familiar that year.

"The Saturn Game"
by Poul Anderson

1982 Hugo Winner for Best Novella
1981 Nebula Winner for Best Novella

This was a final Hugo win for an acknowledged master of science fiction. So naturally it's an award for his career not for the quality of this weak excuse for a story...

Wait a second. Something's wrong here... This story isn't terrible at all! Didn't Anderson realize that he could have just written anything and gotten the award? He didn't need to spend his efforts working on an interesting story. Some people just have no sense of tradition.

Which isn't to call "The Saturn Game" brilliant either. It's a solid effort that I think falls short in a few structural places.

On the long interplanetary voyages the travelers have taken to amusing themselves with free form role playing games. The first crew to travel to Iapetus, unusually mottled moon of Saturn, play a fantasy game which featured a fairy tale ice kingdom and when they arrive on the moon they lose themselves in their game. Disaster strikes and survival may be dependent upon them shaking off their fantasy world.

Anderson does a good job with overlaying the schizophrenic episodes of the explorers with reality and building them into interesting characters. The only major problem is some very large blocks of clunky exposition that set up the games. It breaks the pace of the story. Still I found "The Saturn Game" to be an interesting if not particularly deep story.

"Unicorn Variation"

by Roger Zelazny

1982 Hugo Winner for Best Novelette

Leave it to Roger Zelazny to write a macho story about chess.

Our rugged hero is a hiker who happens to also be a chess master who broke down under the pressures of a major tournament. While hiking through a ghost town he finds a chessboard and on a lark he sets up a game. He finds a magical opponent in a unicorn who has come from fantasy land to kill off the human race. The unicorn is challenged to a game with the fate of humanity as a wager. To help with this game the human chess player finds a sasquatch chess master to help coach him through the game.

Zelazny's story isn't as action packed as most he's written, though people still bond over beers and conflict. It's somewhat predictable and I didn't find the non-human characters that populate the story very interesting. I think Zelazny was trying for a lighter tone with this story but it just didn't work for me. It's not a horrible story, I just couldn't connect with it.

"The Pusher"
by John Varley
1982 Hugo Winner for Best Short Story

For those keeping score at home this is the fourth thing by John Varley I've read and the fourth that features pedophilia. I suspect Varley intended the protagonist to come across as sympathetic which would make it a fourth presentation of pedophilia as a positive thing but the character did come across more as a creepy pervert to me than the other pedophiles in his stories. I never want to read anything he's ever done again. I'm not going to get that wish since he won for one more novella.

So there's this guy who shows up at playgrounds when on leave from his ship that travels the universe at relativistic velocities and the story is about how he seduces little girls. Really. It's a completely unpleasant story especially in the context of the other Varley stories I've read. Independent of them it still is a disturbing story in how it tries to play up the sexual use of children as something sweet. If you can tolerate that theme then you might be able to enjoy the story.