Sunday, January 25, 2009

Review - "Born With the Dead", "If the Stars Are Gods", and "The Day Before the Revolution"

It's one of those cruel ironies that when I finally no longer have to order three anthologies to get another year of Hugo winners that I strike a block of Nebula winners where they agreed with the Hugo winners two out of three times. I wound up having to order the next five Nebula Winners anthologies to keep things moving. Somedays it's just rough to be a collector.

"Born With the Dead"
by Robert Silverberg
1974 Nebula Winner for Best Novella

In the near future of 1990 the dead are revived and once brought back they go off to live a separate existence from those who have died. One man pursues his former wife who has been revived like this trying to find his own answers and to determine if a relationship between them would be possible in the future.

I had a major problem with this story that undermined the whole thing for me: I never understood why this separate society would form. Silverberg does give some insight very late into the novella but I spent 90% of the story wondering how this was any different from someone revived with CPR. We were assured that those who died still had the same memories and desires and yet they all abandon their past lives as soon as they get up to go live with other revived people in an alien society that they would have never encountered until their death.

It seems to me that Silverberg was too busy making his point (the dead standing in for any segregated population) to realize that his metaphor didn't stand up to even casual consideration. I suspect that the metaphor may have resonated more with readers in 1974 than it does today which would explain how it won the Nebula but I can't recommend the story.

"If the Stars Are Gods"
by Gordon Eklund and Gregory Benford
1974 Nebula Winner for Best Novelette

An alien spacecraft enters orbit around the moon and the travelers on it demand to meet with an expert on the sun. The closest expert is an aging astronaut who finds that the aliens have come to commune with our sun as a benevolent god. Since the astronaut is the only man that the aliens will speak with tensions rise as they work to communicate.

I found the idea of aliens coming to us on a religious pilgrimage to be an interesting one and the authors do a wonderful job of presenting the interactions between the two species as our human viewpoint character tries to extract any information they can from the somewhat secretive aliens. They don't like to be recorded and dodge certain questions because of obvious concerns; it's not sinister, just a give and take. Unfortunately I think the spiritual aspects of the story fall short mainly because they're only defined in the broadest concepts. Still I found that the first contact portions were very well done and for that reason I'd recommend reading it.

"The Day Before the Revolution"
by Ursula K. Le Guin
1974 Nebula Winner for Best Short Story

I dead seeing Le Guin's name after a story since it means that it will either be a terrific piece of human insight or it will be shrill political ranting. This story falls solidly on the terrific side of the line.

It ties into The Dispossessed but the connection is the only thing that makes this story science fiction. In "The Day Before the Revolution" the woman who founded the anarchist movement that is the center of one of the cultures in The Dispossessed has reached the end of her life. She is the old revolutionary whose work was done decades ago, watched the consequences of her civil disobedience, and now is the revered mother. This story is simply her reflections on the past and weariness of the present.

Le Guin does a wonderful job at humanizing someone who has become a legend in their own life time; whose persona has outgrown their life. It's a great reflection on the difficulty of the old revolutionary. The story may only be science fiction by way of the associative property but I've never been one to confine myself to a genre. It's definitely a story worth reading.