Sunday, March 22, 2009

Review - "Hardfought", "The Peacemaker", and "Morning Child"

I wonder what decade that cover could have been created in?

Once more I've got two years worth of Nebula winners and in this case an author who won twice in a row. Unfortunately I didn't find any of the stories to be especially compelling this time.

by Greg Bear
1983 Nebula Winner for Best Novella

There is a war between humanity and a species so alien that communication is effectively impossible that has raged for thousands of years across the face of the entire galaxy. The humans are shedding their humanity in order to fight the aliens better while the aliens have are attempting to adapt some captured human clones in order to understand humanity better. Eventually the two forces collide.

Bear wrote the novella in a style intended to invoke the distance between the reader and the characters; even the humans in "Hardfought" are radically different. So the language is intentionally obfuscated, hidden behind a vocabulary that the reader has to piece together as they read and grammar that makes sentences difficult to parse. This is not the first time that this particular literary device has been used and when I encounter it I have to ask myself, "Is this making the story more evocative or just more difficult to read?"

It is to Bear's credit that he manages to be very consistent with his use of language. That does make it easier for a reader to find the rhythm in the prose. That effect is undermined by the use of modern English in certain interludes later in the novella since they act as essentially stumbling blocks.

For "Hardfought" I think it didn't work. I wound up being annoyed by the language and I think it had to do with the length of the story. "Hardfought" was long even for a novella so having to continually interpret the strange prose for that period disengaged me from the story. If it had been one quarter of its length then my opinion might have been reversed.

The reason for that is the meat of the story is pretty good. Bear's central conflict is humans losing humanity faced with aliens trying to grasp it. The anti-war message in the story is less about right and wrong and more about having to bring conflict to an end eventually. If the style were different then it would be a very good novella or it could have been more effective in a shorter space. As it stands I can't recommend the story, though if you have a greater tolerance than I do to odd prose then there's a lot to appreciate here.

"The Peacemaker"
by Gardner Dozois
1983 Nebula Winner for Best Short Story

"Morning Child"
by Gardner Dozois
1984 Nebula Winner for Best Short Story

Despite being separated by a year these stories are surprisingly similar. They're both post-apocalyptic. They both involve a child's reaction to those changes to the world. They both depend on a twist in the last few sentences that isn't effective.

In "The Peacemaker" it's a flooded world as a result of global warming and the child is an orphan who has chosen to take a step that has divided a religious community. "Morning Child" features a world devistated by a war beyond understanding and a child who grows up very quickly as a result.

Of the two "Morning Child" is the better story; it's better in evocative description, characters, and style. It was a story about developing mood and since it aroused my curiosity I have to say it was successful in that. "The Peacemaker" on the other hand was all about arguments that had to be muddled in order to maintain the twist for the end. Since it's likely that the reader will catch on to the twist very quickly it damaged the impact the child's actions.

"Morning Child" wasn't effective to me because despite my interest in the concepts raised in the periphery of the story Dozois focused on one aspect of them that I was never interested in. So there I found it to be a close call that just didn't catch me. "The Peacemaker" on the other hand I think was flawed in its attempt to maintain a twist ending when the heart of the story would be enhanced by confronting the situation directly.