Sunday, June 15, 2008

Review - "The Last of the Winnebagos", "Schrödinger's Kitten", and "Kirinyaga"

Michael Whelan
1989 Hugo Winner for Best Professional Artist

"The Last of the Winnebagos"
by Connie Willis
1989 Hugo Winner for Best Novella
1989 Nebula Winner for Best Novelette

In the distant year 2008 society has been transformed by the extinction the dog. When it occurred the world responded by handing over vast police powers to what is essentially the SPCA. Its not only a major felony to harm an animal; failing to assist an injured animal can result in a lengthy prison term. A photographer spots a dead jackel on the highway as he heads to view the last Winnebago on the roads and it sets of consequences that could ruin several innocent lives.

Willis manages to weave several interesting themes into the story. The complications of a society that values animal lives more than humans form a framework. On that she adds the weight of decades of guilt and quite a bit about the passing of ways of life.

It is not a comedic story by any stretch which is a rarity for Willis. It is a harsh story for any animal lover since there are several injured animals at the heart of it. Even the people have been engaged in self-flagellation for decades. Still it is one of her best works.

"Schrödinger's Kitten"
by George Alec Effinger
1989 Hugo Winner for Best Novelette
1989 Nebula Winner for Best Novelette

A young woman in a middle eastern city has visions of alternate worlds and the ways her life can go. She knows if she does not take action she will be raped and have her life destroyed. She decides to kill her would be attacker and potentially set of a chain of events that puts her at the heart of physics in the 1930's.

The story isn't bad but there isn't much to it other than name dropping the major physicists of the early twentieth century (and it didn't help that I had just read Timescape which spent a lot of time name dropping every major physicist from twenty years later than the setting of this story). Reflecting on the paths that lives could have taken is a standard theme in alternative world tales and "Schrödinger's Kitten" doesn't really add anything to that genre. It's reasonably well told and I was never bothered by the narrative but at the same time it just didn't thrill me.

by Mike Resnick
1989 Hugo Winner for Best Short Story

A lot of science fiction deals with strange societies and rather than resort to aliens Resnick tells a story about a traditional Kenyan society that has been transplanted to a space colony. A witch doctor there kills a newborn baby drawing the attention of the maintainers of these colonies. A decision has to be made then whether to continue tolerating the society or if corrective actions need to be done.

It's a standard form in the stories that show us a native culture to present them from a position of moral superiority. Resnick doesn't do that as his story refrains from moral judgments. The witch doctor who is the main character is a terrifying figure as he is a man who rejects reason, logic, and science for the sake of his own personal power. That may be my own deconstructionist view of the story but the fact that Resnick keeps things neutral lets the readers draw their conclusions. As the best example of this kind of story I have ever encountered I have to recommend it.