Saturday, 14 December 2013

SF And Detective Fiction

In Poul Anderson's "The Serpent in Eden," it has to be deduced that primitive bipeds on the planet Cleopatra are mere animals without intelligence. The planet is an Eden but a human explorer realizes that:

"'We are the serpent.'" (A World Named Cleopatra, New York, 1977, p. 57)

In Anderson's "The High Ones," it has to be deduced that bipeds with technology including spaceships and a computer are no longer intelligent.

In Anderson's "Wings of Victory," it has to be deduced that winged beings on the planet Ythri are intelligent, in other words that their bodies can generate enough energy to sustain both flight and intelligence.

In these and many other examples, sf resembles detective fiction. Explorers find puzzling, apparently inconsistent, clues and evidence on a newly discovered planet, then deduce the course that biological and social evolution have taken in this different environment.

3 comments:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

What I remember best about A WORLD NAMED CLEOPATRA is the pleasure given me by the non fiction essay and "The Serpent in Eden" written by Poul Anderson. Alas, the two stories contributed by other authors were disappointing, even boring reading.

I fear round robin efforts like A WORLD NAMED CLEOPATRA will not always succeed, I think writers need to not only hew to the agreed on parameters of the framework, but also to CARE, be interested in the theme/frame/topic. I believe that is why the two non Anderson stories did not satisfy me--they didn't seem to have the "lived in" feeling I got from Anderson's contribution.

Sean

ndrosen said...

Tastes can differ. I did enjoy the other three stories in A WORLD NAMED CLEOPATRA, and I don't recall getting the impression that the other writers just didn't care.

There's also the matter of subjective feelings versus results. A writer may care, but prove clumsy in turning his feelings into a story that other people like, at least for some other people. Or he may entertain us with something which he personally doesn't much care about.

Best Regards,
Nicholas D. Rosen

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Nicholas!

Thanks for your comments. Yes, I admit I might have been too hard on the contributions made by Jack Dann, Michael Orgill, and George Zebrowski to A WORLD NAMED CLEOPATRA. It's hard to pin down and neatly define, but I think what bothered me most about these three stories was how "flat" they seemed, compared to Anderson's contribution. And, yes, a writer CAN care about a story he wrote, but was perhaps a little too clumsy in its writing.

Other round robins have pleased me much better. One of them being MURASAKI, to which Poul Anderson contributed both a non fiction essay and a story. I remember as well that the other stories in MURASAKI pleased me. They did not irk me the way the non Anderson contributions to CLEOPATRA had done.

Sean