Posts tagged short story
Review: Short Story: The Roads must Roll
As the world becomes more technological and populations grow the need to keep the machinery of the civilization working becomes more important and while we may be able to trust machinery the true question always lies in the men who run those machines? What would happen if those who ran the internet, or the airlines, or the truckers who bring us our food went on a general strike? This question is as relevant or more so now than it was in 1940 when Robert A. Heinlein wrote "The Roads Must Roll" and while the technology that is used in this story can feel a little silly the basic idea that is explored is one still worth exploring. The roads in "The Road Must Roll" have been replaced with what amounts to moving sidewalks. These can be used to move people and goods quickly across the country. Their only real flaws are that the belts can break, though that has been largely fixed and the technicians who are needed to run them. The story is about those technicians realizing the power that they have and the attempt to exercise that power. The main character of this story is about the chief engineer of those technicians. A large part of his job is to ensure that the technicians continue to run the road well so when one of his chief deputies shuts down a major roadway and threatens to attempt a general strike it is him who is forced to deal with it. More impressive than the technology in this story is the political idea that is set forth of a new type of social order. This group call themselves the functionalists and believe that each man should be able to use the importance of his function in society to get what he wants. This idea works because each person believes that his function in society is vital and in large part it is thanks to the interconnectivity of our society. It works especially well with the road technicians who have a near monopoly on transportation in this world. Of special note in this story is the use of what amounts to a Segway. It is described as a two wheeled vehicle that is kept upright and used to travel though the small areas of the roads mechanisms quickly because it is little wider than a man's shoulders. I don't know if this is the first description of this technology but as this story was written in 1940 it seems likely. All of Heinlein's work is fun to read. With reasonable action and a quick pace he spends more time than I would like describing the technology of the road but he does it well and makes it seem like a real technology which is what was required and this is a story I would strongly recommend. Picture from alltellering on deviant art
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Review: "The Big Front Yard" 1959 Hugo Winner
While stories that want to be important are great sometimes you want something that is simply fun. A story that doesn’t try to be a lot more. "The Big Front Yard" by Clifford D. Simak is just that fun. It is the story of that guy that seems to be in every town who has lived there forever and can fix anything, as well as dickering so well that he can make a living trading and selling his stuff. Hiram Taine is just such a man. He repairs anything ad sells antiques and while he isn't rich he is making a living doing that, but one day while he is preparing to fix a TV he discovers that his basement suddenly has a roof that he didn't put there. What is more odd the glass like material under the wood appears to be almost indestructible. Over the next days he begins to have more things around his house repaired with no explanation and he begins to worry but whatever is here seems friendly enough. And then one day as he is returning to his home he sees that the entire front of his house is gone. Rushing inside he finds that whatever has been fixing things has connected his house to another world, and within hours the secret has slipped out and everyone in the world is clamoring to take over his home. The U.S.A. government is threatening emanate domain and the U.N. is arriving. First contact stories are common and in many ways the ideas of this story are not new. Aliens visit earth and give us a new way to connect with the universe, yet by grounding this story so fully in the time(the fifties) and place it makes it seem far more real than many of those stories. In addition this is not a story of war or aggression. The humans react relatively calmly to the news and the worst thing anyone does is try to hack open a bigger door in Hiram's house so they can get vehicles through it and one of the major conflicts is the loss of Hirum's dog and Hirum's sense of duty for the entire situation since it happened in his front yard. "The Big Front Yard" won the 1959 Hugo award for best Novelette. Clifford D. Simak won two other Hugo awards, one for "Way Station" in 1964 and in 1981 far "Grotto of the Dancing Deer". In addition to this he was named a grandmaster of science fiction by the science fiction and fantasy writers of America. You aren't likely to have any great revelations while reading "The Big Front Yard" but it is an enjoyable story and one that is so grounded in reality that you really feel as if you're hearing something that could actually happen even while much of it is quite absurd. Got the picture from This Website, a bunch of reviews there too.
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Short Story Review: The Sandkings by George R.R. Martin
One of the creepiest and yet most interesting science fiction stories I have ever read is "The Sandkings" by George R. R. Martin. This is the story of Kress a man who loves exotic pets but finally finds some that are just a little to exotic for him. The story begins with Kress going on a vacation. When he returns most of his pets have died of starvation. He is not really all that worried about their deaths as he thinks of them far more as entertainment than pets but he does want something new, something more exotic. He visits the pet stores he has in the past but there is nothing good enough for him or he has owned that type before but on his way back he discovers a new store that sells lifeforms. And is shown the Sandkings. Sandkings are small insect like creatures, though they aren’t insects. They build castles in the sand and war with each other. They are partially physic forming a hive mind and if you project your face into their aquarium they will even worship you building your face into their castles. Kress is primarily interested in the wars, but they don't come fast enough so he begins to starve the creatures so they will war over the small scraps of food he gives them on the nights when he invites people over to watch the wars. The man who sells him the creatures warns him that this is a bad idea and that they will fight better if given plenty of food but Kress doesn’t care. Eventually they grow bored of the sandkings wars with each other and begin to put other animals into their aquarium to see which will win. Each time some of the sandkings are killed but they come out victorious. There is little doubt that by the end Kress will be destroyed by his own creatures but knowing that doesn’t lessen the impact of the story . Each of the characters in this story is well developed and even the four races of sandking that war with each other have their own personality, from the whites that eventually go insane due to the stabbing of their Maw(queen) to the orange who are never as strong as the others . Then there is Kress, a great villain who never sees what he is doing as wrong. They are after all his pets and if he wants them to fight for him he has ever right. I'm not sure if the moral of this story is that you should treat your pets well or if this is simply an examination of a strange alien creature but either way the story has stuck with me far longer than many other short stories and is well worth reading. Check it out here
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Flowers for Algernon: Short Story Review
"Flowers for Algernon" is the perfect example of what science fiction can do better than any other genre. By using science as a instigator of massive changes in Charley mental state it allows the author, Daniel Keyes, to examine human intellect, the desire for knowledge, love, sexuality and more in ways that could never be achieved in more traditional stories, allowing us in the end to know more about Charley than we ever could have in those stories. "Flowers for Algernon" is the story of Charley a janitor with an IQ of 68 who wants to be smarter. He is studying at night to learn to read and write but even that simple task is nearly impossible for him. He is given the opportunity to be given a experimental surgery that will triple his IQ. The title character of the story, Algernon, is a laboratory mouse who has been given the procedure before Charley and regularly defeats Charley at tests of intelligence early in the story as well as being an indicator throughout the story of where Charley is likely to end up. This story is told through a journal kept by Charley. This is the key to this stories success. Charley as the narrator tells as much about his increases and eventually decreasing intelligence through the words he uses, spelling and punctuation as he does through the actual stories he tells. This keeps the focus of the story on what is important, Charley rather than attempting to deviate into other interesting but superfluous piece of the story. There are numerous lessons and themes in this story but perhaps the most important is the reminder that people with low IQs are still people with feelings and emotions just like ours. This is most clearly seen in one of the stories Charley tells at the near peak of his intelligence of being in a restaurant when a busboy drops a stack of dishes. Charley finds himself laughing with everyone else until he sees the look in the boy's eyes and recognizes who he was previously. He then becomes angry, more at himself than anyone else. It is this moment, along with the changing of how other people see Charley, that makes the end of this book less melancholy. In the end the effects of the operation wear off and Charley slowly reverts to his previous mental state, but even as he returns to who he was the emotional lessons seem to remain. Those who had made fun of him because they were smarter now understand better after he has, inadvertently, done the same to them. This is one of the most powerful stories in science fiction in large part because it is so perfectly suited to the genre. Doing things that could not be realistically done in any other genre it examines the range of both human intellect and human emotion and the connections between them nearly perfectly.
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Nightfall by Isaac Asimov: Review
I haven't written nearly as much as I want to about one of my favorite Science Fiction formats, short stories. There is something about science fiction that fits the short story format perfects. I suppose it is that often the main point of the story is the idea and if you can put that across in 5 pages that's better than 300. So I am going to begin to discuss short stories more and I am going to start with my favorite Nightfall. Nightfall was written by Isaac Asimov and is about a world with 6 suns. They are at our general level of technology so this isn't a story of fantastic technology, just fantastic science. Because they have six suns there is a nightfall only once every 2049 years. As this date approaches the scientists try to discover why civilization collapses whenever there is nightfall. Here I would like to say that if you have a choice get the short story. There is a novel and in my oppionon was completely unnecessary. The short story by itself tells everything that the story needed to tell. Now to the spoilers of the story. If you haven't read it then consider skipping the end. The punch at the end when you find out what is driving them insane is worth reading. I can't speak with complete authority, but I suspect that Asimov used social science more than most writers. He had characters with phobias in his robot series, psycho-history in the foundation books and in this book he deals with a sudden revelation that destroys their minds. It seems so obvious to us we don't even think about it. Stars, and not just a few. The planet of nightfall is far closer to the center of the galaxy than ours so there world is completely filled with stars. The sheer immensity of the galaxy is what breaks their minds. Perhaps the complete collapse of their civilization is a bit more than should be expectud but when you think about the way humans reacted to the information it becomes a bit easier to see. Humans have always seen the starts yet when it first was suggested that these could be stars as big and important as ours they were burnt at the stake. There is a great deal to discuss in nightfall. The characters are well written, a society with a fear of the dark is unique and interesting, even the science of how a solar system with 6 stars would work can keep your mind busy and that is what Asimov did best. Creating ideas that make you think about the way you look at the universe.
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