TagNot the Only Planet

Paul J. McAuley, ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ (1997)

In the distant future, a ‘transcendent’ human attends a gathering of her clone descendants on an artificially-created Earth; it’s a world built for partying, but one guest seeks to spoil the fun. To an extent, McAuley’s future is so alien that one is almost inevitably emotionally distanced from it; but the juxtaposition of the galactic and human scales can be quite affecting, especially at the beautiful ending.

Rating: ***½

This is one of a series of posts on the anthology Not the Only Planet.

Robert Silverberg, ‘Trips’ (1974)

Christopher Cameron travels through various iterations of the universe; but, despite the infinity of existence, his main concern is to seek out versions of his wife Elizabeth, stranger though he may be to them.

I’m ambivalent about this story. Silverberg’s prose is vivid, both in its descriptions of place, and elsewhere; such as when the author explains the differences between being a tourist, explorer, and infiltrator of other worlds:

Tourism hollows and parches you. All places become one: a hotel, a smiling swarthy sunglassed guide, a bus, a plaza, a fountain, a marketplace, a museum, a cathedral. You are transformed into a feeble shrivelled thing made out of glued-together travel folders; you are naked but for your visas; the sum of your life’s adventures is a box of left-over small change from many indistinguishable lands.

But I don’t find the characterisation of Cameron to work nearly as well. His stated motivation for travelling is the pure desire to search; but he’s drawn too sketchily to feel like a restless soul. The twist at the end is neat, but those issues of characterisation reduce its emotional heft.

Rating: ***½

This is one of a series of posts on the anthology Not the Only Planet.

Joanna Russ, ‘Useful Phrases for the Tourist’ (1972)

A four-page piece written as a series of phrases uttered by a tourist to an alien planet. This manages both to be amusing (‘This cannot be my room because I cannot breathe ammonia’), and to hint at a complete story. Very neatly done.

Rating: ****

This is one of a series of posts on the anthology Not the Only Planet.

Garry Kilworth, ‘Let’s Go to Golgotha!’ (1975)

This piece – Kilworth’s first published story – deals with one of theoretical questions about time travel: if it were possible, wouldn’t there be time tourists? Simon and his family join a tour travelling back to witness the crucifixion of Jesus; they’ll be fine as long as they follow instructions to blend in. There’s a neat twist, which adds a layer of irony to the tale, as well as suggesting plausibly what might happen to time tourists; but I don’t think the story builds up quite enough to give the ending sufficient impact.

Rating: ***½

This is one of a series of posts on the anthology Not the Only Planet.

John Varley, ‘In the Bowl’ (1975)

In a human-colonised solar system, Kiku travels from Mars to Venus in the hope of finding blast jewels – naturally-occurring objects which can be caused to explode, leaving gems behind as debris. His guide is Ember, a young Jill-of-all-trades with a pet otter. I enjoyed this: there’s a drily humorous note to the narration; the precocious Ember is an engaging character; and the closing twist is nicely dark.

Rating: ***½

This is one of a series of posts on the anthology Not the Only Planet.

Stephen Dedman, ‘Tourist Trade’ (1996)

Alan, our narrator, is very keen to help a woman who has arrived on Earth as a tourist, despite the fact that she appears quite capable of taking care of herself (she’s had her mind copied into a combat android for the trip); he’s keen because the tourist trade is all that Earth has left. In a few pages, Dedman sketches in the elaborate details of a future Earth controlled by aliens. But the resolution depends almost entirely on those details, and I find there isn’t time to digest them in order to then feel the emotional impact of the ending.

Rating: **½

This is one of a series of posts on the anthology Not the Only Planet.

Gene Wolfe, ‘Seven American Nights’ (1978)

I’ve enjoyed Gene Wolfe’s novels in the past, but always seem to end up disappointed by his short fiction. ‘Seven American Nights’ is a novella in which one Nadan Jaffarzadeh travels to anAmericawhose civilisation collapsed as a result of genetic damage; whilst there, he becomes infatuated with an actress he sees on stage.

I don’t find the story of Nadan’s journey engaging; don’t feel the sense of uncertainty that I’d expect from a subplot concerning whether or not he has ingested a hallucinogen; and the twist ending and odd moments of disjunction between Wolfe’s ruinedAmericaand the one we know are not enough to carry the story. Not one for me.

Rating: **½

This is one of a series of posts on the anthology Not the Only Planet.

Brian W. Aldiss, ‘The Difficulties Involved in Photographing Nix Olympica’ (1986)

Sergeants Ozzy Brooksand Al Shapiro take a week’s leave to travel across Mars from their base, to fulfil Brooks’s ambition of photographing Olympus Mons. The trip brings out the pair’s different characters, with Brook’s romanticism (when they spend the night on the floor of a giant ravine, he says: ‘wouldn’t this spot make a dramatic tomb?’) contrasted against Shapiro’s more practical nature.

I’m not sure what to make of this story: despite the closing twist of the protagonists’ fates, I can’t shake the feeling that there’s little else to the piece besides that contrast in personalities. I may be missing something; I hope I am.

Rating: ***

This is one of a series of posts on the anthology Not the Only Planet.

Greg Egan, ‘Yeyuka’ (1997)

Egan’s story is set in a future where most diseases can be cured by a single device built into a finger-ring – but not all parts of the world enjoy equal access to that technology. Our narrator is Martin, an Australian surgeon who goes on a three-month stint to Uganda, where he has volunteered to treat Yeyuka, a new form of cancer to which surgery is the only halfway-effective response.

I rather liked this story: cleanly written, and painting a thorny moral landscape. There’s a tension between Martin’s altruistic and other motives for going toUganda(he acknowledges that this could be his ‘last chance ever to perform cancer surgery’, so there’s an element of career-advancement at play); and the issues faced by other characters are no less clear-cut.

Rating: ***½

This is one of a series of posts on the anthology Not the Only Planet.

Lisa Goldstein, ‘Tourists’ (1985)

Charles wakes up on vacation unable to remember where he is, and with no sign of his companion, or his passport; the rest of the story chronicles his attempts to make sense of – and get away from – the place in which he finds himself.

Goldsteiin builds the strangeness of her tale slowly: there is nothing out of the ordinary in the first few pages (and Charles’s disdain for the natives who don’t speak English is a familiar attitude), until a few odd-sounding place names appear. Even then, it often feels as though we could be on Earth; it is central to the affect of ‘Tourists’ that the nature of its setting remains uncertain.

But the crux of the story is its ending, which both disorientates as the best sf should, and is satisfying in storytelling terms, as Charles gets his just deserts..

Rating: ****

This is one of a series of posts on the anthology Not the Only Planet.

© 2019 David's Book World

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: