Sunday, August 3, 2008

Review - "Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge", "The Martian Child", and "None So Blind"

Jim Burns
1995 Hugo Winner for Best Professional Artist

Burns's Hugo in 1995 is a perfect example of the flaws with the Professional Artist award. Burns has done fine work but none of the pieces he did in 1994 that I could find, the period that people were voting on, were of exceptional quality. I chose the cover to Pasquale's Angel as his representative piece because it was the one I disliked the least. Burns won mainly because he is a British artist and Worldcon was held in the UK that year. Even more than in the fiction categories people voted on the name not the work.

Also, this is it for the short fiction. I've reached the end of the Hugo winning short stories I have handy. Next week I'm going to skip ahead to the 2008 Hugo winners since I've already read them. After that, who knows? I'm going to be filling out the short stories but covering the short fiction is going to become more intermittent. I may round things out through the Nebulas since I want to collect all of the Nebula showcase books, cover a few stories at a time based on what I have handy, or just do something else altogether.

"Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge"
by Mike Resnick
1995 Hugo Winner for Best Novella
1994 Nebula Winner for Best Novella

Resnick is a perfect example of why I do this. While I think I've read things by him before I started it didn't make an impression. His Hugo winning stories on the other hand have all been absolutely brilliant and are driving me to seek out more of his work.

Mankind burst out from the Earth to conquer the galaxy, crush dozens of alien races beneath his heal, and then suddenly died out. An archeological team thousands of years later travels to the planet of mankind's birth to search out artifacts and hope to understand them. Among their number is an alien that can merge with objects in order to view their past and this alien plays witness to the history of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania which acts as a showcase for man's sins.

I suppose the worst thing you could say about Resnick's story is that it is very cynical. If someone told me they couldn't stand his story because no one was sympathetic in it then I couldn't really argue with that. I personally don't need sympathetic characters, I need interesting and "Seven Views" packs that in to its tiny vignettes. Resnick holds no one innocent and the them of the victims turning into the monsters is repeated in the different views.

What makes the story effective beyond being a catalog of man's inhumanity is that people in this story endure. They may enslave their fellow man or murder innocent children afterward but they endure. It's not be a warm fuzzy message but Resnick makes it more powerful in stripping away the pretense of being a victim as a virtue. It's that complicated worldview that made his other Hugo winners so effective and now I want to read more.

"The Martian Child"
by David Gerrold
1995 Hugo Winner for Best Novelette
1994 Nebula Winner for Best Novelette

And just to demonstrate that I do not in fact have a shriveled lump of carbon for a heart we're going from a bitterly cynical story to a sentimental one and I liked it too.

David Gerrold, who doesn't bother to disguise the fact that this work is semi-autobiographical, adopts a child and bonds with him. The boy tends to say that he is a Martian and Gerrold treats it as a defense mechanism that he needs to work through until he finds that his child is far from the only "Martian" in the world.

It's not a very deep story, it mainly exists for Gerrold to write about his then recently adopted son. On the other hand it is sweet and sentimental and about as well written as anything I've ever seen by Gerrold. You'd have to be carved from stone to not be moved by this story which avoids the easy paths that this kind of story has followed before. It strikes all the notes just right without descending into outright sappiness so I have to recommend seeking it out.

"None So Blind"
by Joe Haldeman
1995 Hugo Winner for Best Short Story

A genius asks the question "Why aren't blind people all geniuses since they have brain power to spare?" His quest for the answer may destroy his marriage, change the world, or both.

This story is all exposition but its exposition told in an interesting voice which makes that a bit easier to forgive but it's an awful lot of telling instead of showing. That narrative voice is really the only thing to read this story for; the concept has been handled before with more thought on the implications and a more structured telling. Consequently I would say that this isn't a bad story to read but it isn't worth your effort to hunt down.