Sunday, July 6, 2008

Review - "The Hemingway Hoax", "The Manamouki", and "Bears Discover Fire"

Michael Whelan
1991 Hugo Winner for Professional Artist

Once again I was relatively impressed with the short fiction that won this year. Every one of these stories is good. I'm starting to wonder if there was a short fiction renaissance for science fiction in the early 90's that I missed.

"The Hemingway Hoax"
by Joe Haldeman
1991 Hugo Winner for Best Novella
1990 Nebula Winner for Best Novella

I'm not a fan of Ernest Hemingway; I've read a few of the novels and a couple of short stories but none if it really thrilled me. Perhaps I'll give it a try again someday now that it's been a couple of decades.

The reason I mention that is "The Hemingway Hoax" is Haldeman's tribute to the author and I'm not really qualified to judge how well Haldeman's pseudo-Hemingway matches with the real thing. That's okay then because I found "The Hemingway Hoax" to be a fascinating story that was only let down by a weak ending.

A student of Hemingway's works, his wife, and a con man come up with a plan to make forgeries of several lost stories and a novel fragment. They had been lost when Hemingway's wife took the originals and copies on a train trip and the bag was stolen (so don't expect them to turn up like Metropolis has). Their scheme however is setting off a chain of dominoes that will result in a nuclear war and a supernatural being who prunes dangerous points in the time line is determined to kill the writer before this occurs. The problem for that being is that when the writer dies he wakes up in a parallel world where the plan is continuing.

Haldeman's prose is just as strong as it ever was and the story itself manages to be an interesting examination of Hemingway without ever feeling like a exposition dump. The characters are a bit on the shallow side and I can recognize some of the archetypes from what I've read of Hemingway but I think its fine for the story that Haldeman wants to tell. Where it becomes a problem is the ending which is particularly unsatisfying due to its confusing nature; a lot of stuff happens that I can follow the events but why these things are happening is beyond me. Still the vast majority of the story is worth it so I can't say that the last five pages make it necessary to discard the rest.

"The Manamouki"
by Mike Resnick
1991 Hugo Winner for Best Novelette

You might recall Resnick's "Kirinyaga" from a few weeks ago. I enjoyed that story but I was concerned that I was applying my own deconstructionist view on the story. "The Manamouki" is another tale in that setting where an ultra-traditional Kenyan tribe has been moved to a space colony so that they could maintain their way of life. And what I took from it was that I was not putting my own perceptions on the original story: Resnick is making a story where the conservative forces of an African tribe are not morally "better" by virtue of not being industrialized.

This time new immigrants arrive at the colony, a Kenyan man and his American wife. The American is determined to fit into her new life but even beyond a few missteps the newcomer is initiating changes in the society simply through her attitudes. For example, despite accepting her subservient role as an owned woman she doesn't respect the cultural hierarchy. By seeking to do the best she can she initiates anger and jealousy in her neighbors. The witchdoctor who rules over these people is forced to intervene in this conflict among women.

What I found effective in the story is that once again Resnick establishing a situation that is morally complicated. How far does an immigrant have to adjust to a society? What if that society holds to standards that are abhorrent to outsiders? And how far can cultural conservatism extend? How he manages to fit all of this into such a tight package I have no idea.

"Bears Discover Fire"
by Terry Bisson
1991 Hugo Winner for Best Short Story
1990 Nebula Winner for Best Short Story

Bears have figured out how to use fire and are organizing themselves into tribes but that's background to this story about a man who is dealing with his mother who has been dying for years. She has been in a retirement home for some time and he has been trying to maintain his connection with her in the last years of her life. Bisson crafts a gentle story that reminds me a lot of the better works of Clifford Simak; it's about a pastoral life that has a bit of wonder injected into it. Eventually Bisson brings the separate elements together in a touching conclusion that sticks with you.