Sunday, April 12, 2009

Review - "The Blind Geometer", "Rachael in Love", and "Forever Yours, Anna"

I'm not sure what it was about 1987 but there seemed to be a real rise in Campbellian scientists in that year's Nebula winners. All three stories feature that old science fiction cliche of a scientist working in isolation coming up with an amazing breakthrough that would revolutionize the world if someone noticed it.

"The Blind Geometer"
by Kim Stanley Robinson
1987 Nebula Winner for Best Novella

There's a point in most badly written conspiracy fiction where I get annoyed beyond the breaking point. It's inevitable that the agents of the evil corporation/government agency/religious sect/whatever will do some obviously illegal things to get the macguffin and yet the protagonist refuses to do the most obvious thing: be public about it. Go to the police with a reporter in tow and drop that massive pile of evidence in their laps. Even if the evil conspiracy can buy their way out of court (and in pretty much every one of these stories they couldn't just based on the sheer quantity of witnesses and physical evidence they leave behind) the evil scheme inevitably would fall apart when placed under public scrutiny. Bad writers ignore the plethora of options available to someone under such harassment or try to hand wave it as "They control everything" without thinking of the implications of "controlling everything".

Obviously "The Blind Geometer" is one of those stories and in it our conspiracy harassed victim doesn't go to the authorities or make the situation public even when he has handy evidence to shut them down and send them all to jail for a few decades because he's "self-reliant". The protagonist is blind and refuses assistance whenever possible even when it takes suspension of disbelief well beyond the breaking point.

A coworker of the titular blind geometer approaches the mathematician with some special government work. The population of a scientific outpost on the moon has vanished with the exception of one woman who has been drawing complex geometric projections. The projections look like something similar to what the mathematician has been working on so he agrees to look and is pulled into a web of conspiracy.

Besides my problems with the plot structure the story also lacked interesting characters. The protagonist was defined more by his handicap than any personality; everything was about how he was blind and that made him boring. And since he's the only major character in the story who isn't "mysterious" there's no one else for the reader to attach to.

There's nothing in "The Blind Geometer" worth reading. It's a poorly told story about an uninteresting character doing stupid things because the author demands it. It definitely is not worth seeking out.

"Rachael in Love"
by Pat Murphy
1987 Nebula Winner for Best Novelette

A scientist develops a technique for placing a mind into a new body and after a tragic accident uses it on his own child. When the scientist dies, though, the child is forced to depart into the world where the robot becomes a superhero...

Hang on, I seem to have "Rachael in Love" mixed up with Astroboy.

Okay, in "Rachael in Love" the scientist overlaps his daughter's mind with that of a chimpanzee. When the scientist dies she is caught by animal control and is sent to a research center where they breed chimps for labs. And there Rachael has to figure out what her place with human and chimpanzees.

The most surprising thing to me in this story is that Murphy didn't spend the story preaching about the evils of animal testing. The humans treat Rachael like an animal and are consequently indifferent to her but that's goes back to the story's theme of trying to find the dividing line between human and animal when someone has poured in an equal mix of both. Murphy pokes at that theme from a variety of angles though many of them are used subtly.

It's her exploration of Rachael that makes "Rachael in Love" worth reading. The tension between human and animal, instinct and thought, childhood and maturity, and child and parent are all given an interesting perspective.

"Forever Yours, Anna"
by Kate Wilhelm
1987 Nebula Winner for Best Short Story

In a world where graphology isn't simply a scam along the lines of astrology a graphologist is asked to analyse some love letters between a scientist who died under mysterious circumstances and an unknown lover. The letters have all been carefully edited to remove anything that could identify her but the lover must be found because she is in possession of the results of the scientist's research. As the graphologist examines the handwriting he becomes obsessed with finding the woman himself.

There's a twist at the end of the story which gives me a headache. I won't say what it is since I hate spoiling stories; it's just that in this case I can't work out how the story comes together with the new information. It falls apart when examined and so it left me at the end with a bad taste in my mouth.

Even before that I wasn't feeling much affection for the story. Wilhelm's use of graphology as a science struck another sour chord for me and I didn't care about the graphologist. He was a boring non-entity for the majority of the story and at the same time he was really the only character in it. On the positive side of things Wilhelm is just as skilled in forming her prose as she has demonstrated for me in the past. This time out I just couldn't care.