Reading Science Fiction
I recently read the first five stories collected in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One. While I enjoyed "A Martian Odyssey" by Stanley Weinbaum the most, all of the stories were excellent and many of them demonstrated interesting features. In our class discussion the connections with classical literature was noted for several of the stories starting with the Weinbaum story, for as the title suggests it has aspects that appear to be variations on Homer's Odyssey. The main character, Jarvis, goes on a journey outward bound and when he attempts to return his journey is derailed or lengthened by encounters with an amazing variety of aliens, each of whom are unique.
The third story, "Helen O'Loy" by Lester del Rey, presents a robot that appears to be comparable to Helen of Troy as the story opens with this description of the titular robot:
"I am an old man now, but I can still see Helen as Dave unpacked her, and still hear him gasp as he looked her over.
"Man, isn't she a beauty?"
She was beautiful, a dream spun in plastics and metals, something Keats might have seen dimly when he wrote his sonnet. If Helen of Troy had looked like that the Greeks must have been pikers when they launched only a thousand ships; at least that's what I told Dave." (p 42)
In spite of this opening the reasoning behind the name they give the robot is an allusive resemblance to "alloy". This only adds to the levels of meaning and interest presented by this fascinating story. As with the other stories the human relationships (in this case the apparent human-like characteristics of a machine) become as important as the scientific aspects of the narrative.
And in Robert Heinlein's "The Roads Must Roll" the militaristic depiction of the Road support organization reminded me of the concept of the "Guardians" in Plato's Republic. The dedicated class of cadets who man the roads seemed similar to Plato's idea for his ideal society. Who would have expected allusions like these in tales of the future? The most important thing about these stories was the questions they raised and the ideas they presented. What will happen to man in the distant future when machines have taken over control of the earth? What happens when one man can create and manipulate human-like life for his own ends in a way that mimics the god of the Old Testament? These and other questions made each of these stories exciting reading for anyone who wonders: "What if?"
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume One, 1929-1964, ed. by Robert Silverberg. Orb Books, New York. 1998 (1971).