Thursday, October 27, 2011

Science Fiction Themes

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame:
Volume One, 1929-1964
Robert Silverberg, editor

"a roster of outstanding stories" - Robert Silverberg

Having just concluded my traversal of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume One, 1929-1964 I find myself reflecting on some of the themes.  I have previously commented on the intersection of the SF and Horror genres but there are other themes that we noted in our discussion of the stories.  These were all selected by the editor, Robert Silverberg, based on voting by the  Science Fiction Writers of America.  One theme is that of extreme situations exemplified in "The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin where a shuttle space ship (Emergency Dispatch Ship) is unprepared for even and ounce of excess weight when a stowaway is found on board with disastrous consequences.  Not unexpectedly many of the stories emphasize the theme of the "other", whether aliens from outer space -- Mars is a popular choice from this era -- or aliens from the future, or aliens among us who, but for the vagaries of biology or psychology, would otherwise be human.
In the famous story by Daniel Keyes, "Flowers for Algernon", Charlie Gordon experiences the feeling of being the "other" both due to his low intelligence and subsequent extreme high intelligence level that he reaches before returning to his original mental state.  Through it all his emotional state develops so that there is some hope for whatever future he may have after the story ends.
The theme of monsters who are beyond human control is also prominent.  Both "It's a GOOD Life' by Jerome Bixby and "The Country of the Kind" by Damon Knight present monsters that are unsettling in their ability to change the world around them and the humans who survive are challenged beyond what one would expect they could manage.
I found paradoxical the hubris of the scientists in "The Nine Billion Names of God" by Arthur C. Clarke when they attempted to create a computing machine for Tibetan Monks that would catalog all of the names of god.  They did not believe they could succeed and the result when they did was astonishing.  I challenge the reader of this story to consider the possibility of an infinite number of universes in god's creation (if that is what this is).

The beauty of the prose style of the writers was never more evident than in Roger Zelazny's award-winning story "A Rose for Ecclesiastes".  In it a scientist on Mars falls in love with a dying civilization and one representative of it whose response is not what he expects.  There is even a hint of Eve's Apple haunting this story.
The result of all the stories in this engaging medley is a reader's delight that does justice to the "Golden  Age" of Science Fiction.


Parrish Lantern said...

The nine billion names of God- Carter Scholz. a Borgesian play on the original tale. I've just ordered this that you may find of interest - Ten billion days & a hundred billion nights by Ryu Mitsuse
An epic, cosmic adventure in the manner of Arthur C. Clarke, covering the evolution of humanity, the lives of Plato, Christ, and the Buddha, a future technodystopia, and the very heat death of the universe itself. Will let you know what I think. Another fascinating book read recently was Kobo Abe's the face of another, which I hope to post on soon. Enjoyed this post & am finding myself becoming nostalgic for,my old Sci Fi reading.

James said...

Thanks for the comment and recommendations. I currently have a full plate of reading, but will keep these in mind. I have long considered Abe but have yet to read anything by him and so will eagerly await your post.