For most of us who don’t have science degrees the face of science isn’t the math or rules it’s a handful of people. Perhaps it’s Einstein or Hawkings with wild hair and computerized voices and are larger than life, or it’s Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson who we watch on documentaries explaining complex ideas so we can understand. These people have plenty in common. They are brilliant, love science and barring a few twitter rants are excellent at sharing their ideas. “The Man Inside Black Betty: Is Nicholas Wellington the World’s Best Last Hope” by Sarah Langan is about a brilliant scientist who desperately needs to share his idea but isn’t as good with people.
This story is a mix of a science fiction story and character study in the best way. Both are important to the other and create something greater than the sum of their parts. As for the science it is a doomsday scenario I can’t speak to. The idea at its core is that a black hole from another dimension has broken through to ours. It doesn’t have the mass of a black hole in our dimension, but it is growing and according to Nicholas Wellington it will destroy everything, though the first real signs he’s right will be too late.
And that’s the core problem of the story. While Nicholas Wellington is universally acknowledged to be brilliant, he is not an easy man. He has a criminal record, a smug demeanor and a prickly personality all which make it easy for people to ignore him. This is understandable when he explains that his plan would cost trillions of dollars and may not work, but it is frustrating and even more so when you get the gut punch at the end of the story that this isn’t the first time that something similar has happened to Nicholas Wellington and while the first time it wasn’t about the destruction of the entire planet, it was as important to him. It is also a far more common problem than world ending events.
I can’t speak to the science of this story. It’s an interesting concept that is explored well and fits perfectly in the story that the author is trying to tell, but I’m not convinced it’s correct in the most literal sense of the word. That doesn’t really matter though as good science fiction isn’t a textbook with a story written around it and even if the core science in this doesn’t work the surrounding science seems strong and the characters are more than strong enough to make none of that really matter.
The author of “The Man Inside Black Betty: Is Nicholas Wellington the World’s Best Last Hope” is a horror writer and that shows through this story by creating vivid imagery that is often unsettling even when it’s not actually horrific. She also understands that a story can be explicitly about two things at once, something that seems more common in the horror genre than in the science fiction genre. Finally, she makes a flawed character that would fit perfectly in a horror story work well in science fiction, and I’m glad she did, because this story is one of the best I’ve read in a while and should be read by anyone who likes science fiction and if I hated myself enough to read horror I would go out to get her books right now.
You can find this story in the September 2011 Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine or find Sarah Langan’s other work at sarahlangan.com.