Visions of Paradise

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Six Great Short Science Fiction Novels, part 2

Algis Budrys wrote some of the most thought-provoking sf, and “Chain Reaction” is no exception. It reminded me of Star Trek’s “prime directive” that forbade members of the federation from interfering with native cultures. I also thought about Christian missionaries who tried to convert savages while simultaneously raising their level of existence. Budrys’ story examines a native culture which has been kept enslaved by superior beings from space, but then are freed when their captors are overthrown by superior beings from Earth. But the Earthlings feel obligated to keep the natives healthy and alive, which requires their abandoning many of their traditional practices and which they refuse to do. This is a well-done study of culture clash.

My least favorite story in the book was “Incommunicado,” by Katherine MacLean. The first few pages were confusing, and I almost abandoned it, but for some reason I kept going and the story became more interesting when the main character visited a space station where all the residents were speaking what seemed to be nonsensical gibberish, and he assumed something had made them crazy. His investigation and eventual realization were both interesting, and I ended up liking the story, although less so than others in this book.

My favorite story in the book was Damon Knight’s “Rule Golden.” Knight is mostly remembered as a critic and anthologizer himself, his Orbit series was one of the foundations of the New Wave in this country. But prior to that, Knight was an outstanding writer of short fiction, much of it in Galaxy in the 1950s, stories such as “To Serve Man,” which became arguably the second most-famous episode of The Twilight Zone (after the story of William Shatner having a breakdown on a plane flight), and the vastly underappreciated “The Visitor at The Zoo” (The Other Foot in novel form).

“Rule Golden” takes a premise which many people, including myself, have often considered: how would human civilization differ if humans automatically felt whatever pain or suffering they inflicted on another person? Knight makes the premise more interesting by bringing to Earth an alien representative of a galactic union whose members all possess that ability before they are allowed to leave their home planet and venture into space. And since Earthmen are now venturing into space for the first time, the alien intends to infect all humans with that ability, like it or not.

In some ways, this story is a companion piece to “Chain Reaction,” as its alien interferes with human life for our own good, or so it believes. This is an incredible story which is available in this volume and also in Knight’s collection Three Novels.


  • All of the authors in this post are ones that you don't read about today. Algis Budrys is another one of my favorites. "Rogue Moon" needs to be on everyones reading list.

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 7:24 AM  

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