Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, May 8, 2015

1976: The Book of John Brunner (Brunner, John)

Great cross-section of a talented man (4/5)

This hodgepodge collection of Brunner's, aptly titled, is dedicated “TO YOU and everyone else who reads my work. I always wanted to be a writer. But four you I've never have made it. Thanks” (5). And by hodgepodge, I mean there's a lot going on here—so many different facets of the man behind the novels and short fiction.

Within the mosaic of writing, the reader will find:

One (1) cryptic crossword with its solution
Five (5) original short stories (one, an excerpt)
Five (5) limericks
Five (5) essays
Five (5) songs
Five (5) very brief translations
Five (5) original poems

I had only known Brunner for his short fiction and novels... I had no idea he was well versed in so many areas including translations. I've read 27 of his novels and three of his collections... that's a pretty damn big cross-section of a prolific author, yet I've only caught a glimpse of the iceberg that is John Brunner.

While I love to read short fiction, the most interesting inclusion to this kaleidoscope of Brunner is his passing comments on a number of topic-related novels and short fiction that I've never come across:

Eric Frank Russell's Sinister Barrier (1939)
Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One (1948)
Naomi Mitchison's Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962)
Bernard Wolfe's Limbo (1952)
H.G. Wells' The World Set Free (1918)
John Hersey's The Child Buyer (1960)

Short stories:
Arthur Porges's “$1.98” (1954)
James Blish's “Common Time” (1953)
Hal Draper's “MS Fnd in a Lbry” (1961)
Rog Phillip's “The Yellow Pill” (1959)

I'm not one who enjoys reviewing crosswords, limericks, essays, songs, or poems... so I offer only six short reviews: four of the short stories (minus the excerpt), a French translation of a short story, and one of Brunner's poems which struck a cord in me.


“Bloodstream” (1974, novelette) – 3/5
There's a lot of history between Christopher Hill and William Bush, but that was ten years ago and in university. Chris has always envied Bill for his style, charm, and intelligence, but the same Bill he almost runs over in the middle of the street has fallen into disgrace. Unperturbed, Chris later meets Bill in his slum house where Bill launches a diatribe about human evolution and the city as an organism, all the while holding Chris captive by his own warped, internal logic. 18 pages

“Hide and Seek” (1973/1973, short story) – 4/5
Original: “Cache-cache” by Gerard Klein, translated by John Brunner
The often purported Theory of Everything has been rumored to exist in many places and faiths, but mathematicians and physicists know that it simply lies in the details. Most, however, feign from delving into exhaustive detail as it requires hundreds and thousands of pages and hours to describe details across multiple disciplines. Of course, that purported Theory of Everything is the existence of God, but where the details lie, does the devil lie within, too? 1 page

“Who Steals My Purse” (1973, novelette) – 4/5
Insults were directed toward the US by a southeast Asian nation and the President has announced that the American people won't stand for the accusations. Immediately, America is divided into the pro—those who seek direct resolution—and the con—those who urge pacifism. Barney is a TV political reported who is assigned to capture the mounting tension prior to the Senate's judgment in seven days. Meanwhile in southeast Asia, Cham Loc tends to his poor fields and family. 32 pages

“When Gabriel...” (1956, short story) – 4/5
Running and rounding a corner on their way to perform at a jazz concert, two musicians run into a shifty-looking miscreant  who, while upon leaving, gives a wrapped trumpet to the trumpeter. As he unwraps it, he sees it's the most beautiful trumpet of all, yet without make or serial number. Once at the concert, situated in a crypt, the man sticks to his regular trumpet, saving the elegant one for a jam afterwards. The notes blown are perfect, yet within the crypt, something has been called forth. 9 pages

“The New Thing” (1969, short story) – 4/5
More than 10,000 years ago, the human race created the Record Registry, a massive computer that's able to analyze every accomplishment bu every alien species that has ever existed in the universe. The creation of the Registry was a first amid the universe—it was also mankind's first and last Record of any sort. It was supposed to fuel ambition, but it has smothered progress. One man from Earth wishes to challenge three Records at once. 14 pages

“The Atom Bomb is Twenty-five This Year” (1970, poem) – 5/5

John Brunner has long been a fierce opponent of nuclear weapons. He once wrote lyrics along the same lines for a protest song called “The H-Bombs' Thunder”, sung to the traditional music of “Life is Like a Mountain Railway”. Here, Brunner asks why we and our children should suffer from our leaders' choices. The same theme is found in this poem, but on a much more personal note: Why can the government instantly kill thousands of innocent people with a bomb, but one woman can't euthanize herself from the effects of the bomb? 2 pages

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

1974: Administrator (Mayumura, Taku)

The humanistic and bureaucratic schism between policy and policing (5/5)

Translated by Daniel Jackson, 2004
Of Mayumura's work since 1961, only three titles are available in English, a situation which gives the reader little to work with when understanding the man behind the pages. Access to this small scope of work is difficult, but Kurodahan has made it much, much more accessible (and for which I thank them for providing me with a copy). Mayumura's work includes: a) “I'll Get Rid of Your Discontent” (1962/2007), a short story about coping with daily grievances or opting for the easy solution; b) “Fnifmum” (1989), a short story about a time-spanning alien entity who unexpectedly empathizes with two organic life-forms; and c) this collection, Administrator, of four novelettes/novellas that pinpoints a pivot of personal uncertainty when confronted between policy and application.

The rear cover of Administrator says that Mayumura was inspired (uninspired?) by his experience as a salaryman, which he used to create stories of “bureaucracy and depersonalization”. It seems that Japanese speculative fiction specializes in just this field, as there are man notable examples: Ryo Hanmura's “Cardboard Box” (1974/1989), Kobo Abe's “The Flood” (1989), and much of Yasutaka Tsutsui's work, including “The Very Edge of Happiness” (1973/2006) and “Commuter Army” (1973/2006).

Where Administrator differs from these other works is its focus on the politics and policy of administration rather than on the toilsome drudgery of the underlings. Other stories mostly focus on the hardships of being a salaryman outside of work—in society, at home, on their own; Administrator focuses on the immediate frisson of the salaryman on location.

Largely, an Administrator is an independent entity on an assigned planet where they must direct Federation policy into the policing of the same planet (the words police and policy have a common root word in Greek: polis, which means “city” or “citizenship). Like textbook theory and real-world application, the Federation's policy isn't very applicable in the field. Each Administrator is thoroughly trained and is among the elite of the elite in terms of intelligence and education, but actual application of knowledge and degree of flexibility is unknown until that same Administrator is in the field.

In practice, however, an Administrator of a planet for the Federation is just a glorified care-taker, the equivalent of a human rubber stamp. Regardless of being the elite of the elite, their position is simply one of routine while planet-wide robots carry out the real tasks of management, of which SQ1 is at the helm as it commands the robots on a variety of tasks: surveillance, translation, surveying, censusing, and protecting the Administrator. Only when a face is needed to represent the Federation and its policy does the Administrator physically visit the natives of the colonists.

This administrative sense of redundancy evolves through the stories until the conclusion in “Bound Janus”. Progressively, as the administrative system evolves, the Administrators begin to sink into the feeling that all their granted power is mere illusion, that the strength they are bestowed is functionless, toothless, impotent—if only policy is to be mandated from the Federation to the natives and colonists, what is humanistic function of the Administrator? What cannot already be done by SQ1 and its host of submissive robots?

 “The Flame and the Blossom” (HonĊ to Hanabira, 1973) – 4/5

Kurobu's predecessor, Kalgeist, was a bitter man bent on militant life and black-or-white truths. But now that Kurobu is the Administrator of Sarulunin, his orders from the Federation are to keep the planet of flora as natural as possible. In the Amilla section of of the planet, the intelligent natives have asked for his help in regard to recent attacks. The opposing tribe, a motile flower with a gift for intelligence, makes Kurobu see his planet, his life, differently. 39 pages

Even with all the training to become clinically detached in his work, Kurobu experiences a sensation of extra-human dimension that rattles his perspective on his term as Administrator; the experience has left him with an awareness of his humanism and has planted the seed of discontent.

“A Distant Noon” (Haruka naru Mahiru, 1971) – 4/5

Nenegn is a planet covered in swamps, in which the reclusive natives dwell. The Administrator, Oki, takes a benevolent stance toward the low-intelligence natives while keeping the so-called colonists at arm's length because of their disrespect for the Nenegians and the exaggerated respect for his position. Oki is invited to the depths of a prosperous Nenegian fort where Gugenge shows him the amount of reform being done. Oki grants them the use of a laser, but the colonists learn of this. 39 pages

Oki is impressed with the performance of the natives so much that he allows them one benefit, but only for their own use—the natives are happy. The pseudo-colonists learn of his actions and, while being unhappy with the Administrator, follow in his footsteps by supplying other natives with the same tool. A hammer, saw, or drill can be a tool-cum-weapon, much like the Administrators actions—follow policy as the tool of a job, watch others use that same policy, pervert it, and bring about the Administrator's demise.

“The Wind in the Ruins” (Iseki no Kaze, 1973) – 4/5

The heavily perfumed winds of the planet Tayuneine make everyone content in the heady nostalgia that the scents give them. The human colonists and Kazeta, the Administrator, all know that it's not a perfect world—it seems green apparitions occasionally appear, possibly the ghosts of the long dead natives. Unfortunate for Kazeta, the increased spectral activity causes the colonists' outcry at the same time as a brusque Administrator cadet comes to train... all prior to a visit from the Federation's Inspector. 42 pages

Though head of an entire planet, an Administrator's system of administration is not a closed one; rather, the Administrator is a mere layer of onion—within the interior lay the local population and their problems, be they panicky or legitimate; without lay the Federation and their problems, which tend to be unidirectional and nosy. When these two layers of influence coincide with their troubles, the pressure within the Administrator's own layer increases... not an ideal circumstance even for the best trained.

“Bound Janus” (Genkai no Yanus, 1974) – 5/5

Gun'gazen is richly endowed with heavy metals and is controlled by Administrator Sei. Though his robots tend to automatically do all the surveying, contact, and planning, Sei is needed to dictate Federation policy and act as the face of that policy with locals—both the native Gun'gazea and the human colonists. The two are prohibited from trade, yet they continue to smuggle goods, regardless of the robots' intervention. Sei meets with the colonists only to learn that their resistance is being organized by an ex-Administrator. 79 pages

With increased redundancy, an Administrator helps useless yet responsible. They go through their actions as numb as routine, failing to see their impact on their worldly task, which is governed largely by untouchable policy and efficient robots. Who used to be a player is now a pawn, but that pawn has been trained to a fine degree and their sense of responsibility doesn't slacken... even when push comes to shove, the Administrator will fight back to show they are not a failure.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

1977: Travelling Towards Epsilon (Jakubowski, Maxim)

Humanistic and bizarre are good, Jakubowski's idiosyncrasies are not (4/5)

Walther, Daniel: “The Gunboat Dread” (novelette, 1971/1976) – 3/5
Synopsis: Within the Confederation, being on assignment on Celaeno of Peroyne is one of the most being duties. The planet, with its Long River, is seemingly uninhabited of higher lifeforms, yet it's still a dangerous jungle-ridden landscape. When one gunboat approaches near Outpost 3, they see a scorched derelict of the old outpost and, amid the ruins, one survivor is found—Moyra Farsan. Her naked body drives thoughts into all of the men, but there's more than chemistry at work among their minds. 28 pages

Analysis: The dangerous planet Celaeno of Peroyne is reflective of many other science fiction stories which have untamed, destructive fauna. The planet and its peculiarities aren't quite original, nor is the background of the human space colonization (The Confederation) or even the mystery of the destruction of the outpost. The main focus of tension within the story is the uncanny sexual attraction radiated by the senseless naked girl at the burned down outpost.

Celaeno of Peroyne represent a primeval earth with its wild expansive fauna and the danger of death by fauna around every corner. Without any sightings of humanoid life, over time, the fact that the planet is uninhabited becomes an ingrained fact. Yet, the massive blaze at the outposts suggests either human treachery or alien meddling. Given that there was no distress call, the only answer seems to be the most unlikely of answers.

Immediately upon viewing the prone body of the girl, waves of lust penetrate the men from the gunboat. Each consider it a passing whim as they have been secluded on the boat on duty for a while and the girl, though motionless, has a rather comely figure. Though aboard the gunboat in safe keeping under the doctor's watch, the memory of her prone-in-many-ways body has seeped into the long-term memory of the men, each of whom beg to see her again. When she awakens, she's catatonic yet still exudes some heightened sense of sexuality.

When one man finds the convenience of a rendezvous, his and her passions are unbridled in their furious attempts to copulate. This awakening of the primitive human sexual drive brings the entire gunboat, and the entire colonization of the planet, one step closer to everything primordial about the planet's existence. The radiate lust of the woman still can't be explained, but when the boat is attacked by a fearsome river creature, a humanoid pair are viewed on the riverside, which is an impossibility because of the absence of the fact. The doctor considers: Could their lusty fever be a result of isolation or could there actually be aliens attacking our outpost and our humanity?

Malaval, Suzanna: “Where the Astronauts Meet” (shortstory, 1963/1976) – 4/5
Synopsis: When the transient patrons of Dax's file out in the late evening, only the lonely nostalgic astronauts from the early days of planet exploration remain on their stools and in their seats. Rather than bawdy jokes and drunken slurs, the have-been astronauts relive their glory in nostalgic speech, and one such astronaut pens his compilation of said stories spiced with his experiences in “Where the Astronauts Meet”. Dax's tapers, patrons taper, nostalgia remains. 3 pages

Pre-analysis: “Where the Astronauts Meet” was written in 1963 when only Soviet Vostok missions and American Mercury flights had been launched in orbit around the earth, after which, incidentally, the Russians changed call-signs from Vostok to Voskhod and Soyuz while the Americans from Mercury to Gemini and Apollo. The population of earth orbital flight astronauts is limited to a very small population (533), but the number of people to have walked on the moon (1969-1972) is only twelve, eight of whom are still alive. Considering Malaval wrote “Where the Astronauts Meet” in 1963, the atmosphere of the story carries with it a reverent, nostalgic, and oddly prophetic air in regards to in the limited success of space travel.

Analysis: Anywhere in the world, expatriates can be seen congregating among themselves: Americans with Americans, Brits with Brits, Myanmar with Myanmar. Even domestically, people tend to segregate themselves according to some held pride... just look at high school, look at clubs, organizations, etc. Nationality and pride are quite superficial, yet we choose who we associate with by these petty trends.

Think of a deep, symbolic facet of your life and think about how many people can share that idiosyncratic sensation with you. Let's limit that experience to a mere dozen of people... something so unique that it penetrates your very being, that it has become who you are, that your name resonates with your accomplishment.

Sternberg, Jacques: “How's Business?” (shortstory, 1957/1976) – 5/5
Synopsis: A nameless interstellar salesman for an Earth-based soap company pens a journal following the dramatic rise in soap sales for the Company. His life is soap, his passion is soap, and so, when the Company takes an exciting new direction, he follows in suit eagerly. They buy a planet Draguere of grease with its dull, sluggish denizens so they can make soap directly from the planet's natural resources. The soap is an instant success across the galaxy, but the hired hands of Draguere fumble and flounder. 13 pages

Pre-analysis: There's some quaint notion to a story of bureaucracy which drives itself in to the heart of my readership. Ever since I read Jack Vance's “Dodkin's Job” (1959) in 2008, I've been struck by the wit of this type of story: white collar versus blue collar; the subjective absurdity of the work floor driven by the hand of the objective hand of detached administration; the brain not knowing what the hand does and the hand not know how the brain thinks. Perhaps this stems from my curiosity of affairs when my father was antagonistic with his company yet cooperative with his union. Even at the naive age of 11, I felt a intellectual conflict between the responsibilities of the employer and the employee.

Analysis: In “How's Business”, the reader observes two ends of the anonymous spectrum from both sides of the employment divide:

A) The nameless company lackey bent on following through with company directive for the good of the company, for the company's progress, for the company's welfare. We can see his dedication to the soulless company by wavering care for his own family. When a dollar is to be had, he supports the efforts to earn that extra dollar for the same of the company.

B) Meanwhile, on the borderline-enslaved planet of Draguere, the mentally dull and physically sluggish denizens are forced to work against their nature—they must focus and toil when their nature suggests ambiguity and sloth. When they fail to progress to the human-standard of the concept of the production line, stringent measures are places and some are put to death in view of the others.

Considering both perspectives, in “How's Business”, capitalism is a faceless, insensitive train of so-called progress which robs the souls from the bourgeoisie and the stamps the flames of nature from the lives of the proletarians.

Klein, Gerard: “Jonah” (shortstory, 1966/1976) – 5/5
Synopsis: It weighs half a billion tons, it can travel faster than the speed of light, it's composed entirely out of organic matter, it carries 25,000 people between the stars, it's piloted by eleven mind-melded jockeys, and it—a ubionast (unit of biological navigation over starways)—has just killed and consumed everyone. Richard Mecca has been hired to help kill the beast or wrangle it. Being an odd sort of human himself, Mecca finds sympathy for the ubionast; rather than kill or tame, he attempts a humanistic approach. 25 pages

Analysis: Richard Mecca is unique—he's a man made between the stars, a man with physiology meant for weightless orbit. He's as much as a recluse as he is unique. He shies away from extended contact with earthmen who don't understand him and his frail structure. Being self-exiled from mankind, he also has a particular/peculiar expertise. The massive organic spacefaring vessels are occasionally prone to kill all aboard (safety doesn't seem like much of an issue, I guess). Richard, teamed with the landlubber humans, need to decide to tame or destroy the beast.

While assessing the murdering behemoth, the standard humans are quick to settle upon the direct assassination of the organic ship so that it doesn't threaten the planet or the sun; Richard, however, doesn't get along with these men nor does he agree with them their rash judgment. But the ubionast doesn't behave like other massive yet dumb vessels—this one seems to be under its own volition. Glancing at the detached earthmen, Richard sees in himself an affinity for the hulk, another solitary and misunderstood being.

Rather than attempt once last bond with the odd earthmen, Richard decides to tempt fate and bond with the murderous yet misunderstood ubionast—an endeavor that may result in being appreciated by another or being dealt death by another.

Mathon, Bernard: “Until Proof to the Contrary” (shortstory, 1975/1976) – 5/5
Synopsis: An exotically beautiful woman catches all the men's eyes at the beach and that same woman catches a lonely man on the dance floor, from where they head back to his place—him in a drunken stupor and she shifting sexes like a magnet's polarity. It seems that her Control Center short-circuited and she tells him of her alien mission on Earth, by which she dissolves and a small lizard appears, who speaks condescendingly to the man. The lizard's pronunciation is terrible, so he uses it as a weapon against the lizard. 18 pages

Pre-analysis: Comic absurdity in science fiction is, largely, a hit-or-miss affair. Fritz Leiber and Robert Sheckley usually hit the mark but Cordwainer Smith almost always misses the boat with his bizarre stories, which, while they may attract the nostalgia of some, seem to me like a ragtag jumble of randomness and indulgent poetry. In Travelling to Epsilon, Bernard Mathon has a story that's hugely entertaining throughout and serves up a good twist at the end.

Analysis: Just as the stoic philosophers once said that no one learns as a blank slate, relationships never start as a blank slate either. Both partners carry a history that affects their emotions regardless of the current events, actions are guided by past results, and paths are chosen that lead to higher chances of happiness. “Until Proof to the Contrary” is a absurd take on this notion, where the woman is question is definitely not who she seems to be. Through folly, wit and circumstance, the man peels the layers of truth from the woman; each peel as ridiculous as the last. This exfoliating of her layers comes by the sometimes active manipulation of the man and sometimes by passive carefree manner at the passing events.

The woman maintains her beautiful facade, but only with a coping mechanism of conformity (the robot), behind which lies her inner rage (the lizard), but lying unseen to many is her multiple personality disorder (the Jelly Nineteen), and so forth. The story psychologically deconstructs the mind, through absurdity, of a common woman going through a relationship with her own set of experiences... all in front of the man; initially only wanting to share sex, he receives so much more.

Jeury, Michel: “Toward the High Tower” (shortstory, 1974/1976) – 4/5
Synopsis: Teri experiences a seperation from reality as he awakens on the shores of the mysterious Oraduk Ocean with a beautiful, cherubic woman professing her love above above him. Her reverence for Hi-Wang and the precepts for following immortality govern her actions and her care for Teri. As the High Tower calls to the cherubic Lorleim, she awaits the judgment of acceptance into immortality from the Tower's daimons. Teri soon learns that he, too, may be accepted in to this mystery. 11 pages

Analysis: The mind is such a creature of habit that even while in dream-state, people will act as they usually would in real life. Rarely do dreams live up to their fantastic potential, and rarely do people live up to their potential in dreams—living their dreams in their dreams. Common everyday routine holds our minds back from exploring their ethereal potential in dream-state.

Back in humdrum reality, sometimes find ourselves in extraordinary circumstances—let's call it a favorable circumstance where we're swept up in a series of remarkable events—yet we tend to follow an all-too-common path of the passive observer, the watcher rather than the participator. Even in wonderfully unique experiences, the shackles of personal and social routine still bind our actions to the habit of our everyday routine.

Now, imagine a grand spectacle in the surrealism of a dream yet completely mindful of your every action without the impediment of routine or norms. Rather than be skeptical of your new environment or cast doubt upon your fortune, you embrace your new reality like a pragmatic child but through the experienced eyes of the adult you are. What impossibilities could you conceive? In which unthought-of pleasures could you indulge yourself? And.., would you want to return to your true reality?

Curval, Philippe: “It's Only Pinball!” (shortstory, 1959/1976) – 3/5
Synopsis: Himself a ball-bearing in French dystopian society, Yorge is one of many on a quest to become Gottlieb IV, the master of all pinball machines. Yorge considers himself nearly ready for the multidimensional and multi-temporal machine, which, is he wins, he becomes crowned the emperor over the whole pathetic dystopia. Paul, his friend, is a likely candidate for pinball wizard, but his recent failures highlight Yorge's own strengths. With his senses clear after a tame game of pinball, the threat of Gottlieb looms near. 13 pages

Pre-analysis: Gottlieb was the pinball industry king through much of the twentieth century. They were always innovating and improving the game experience; they developed interactive flippers in the 40s, digital scoreboards in the 50s, and solid state machines in the 70s before being overcome by the same technology in the form of “1978's Space Invaders, 1979's Asteroids, 1980's Pac-Man, and 1981's Galaga” (Wiki). Though originally written in 1959, the English translation was first published in 1976 in this collection... right before the death of pinball. This story of a “pinball wizard” even predates The Who's “Pinball Wizard” song (1969).

Analysis: Pinball swept the distracted minds of millions and the companies producing the machines kept finding ways to add more bells and whistles in order to attract the yet-to-be-occupied minds of the youth. The fervor of gameplay was probably unintelligible to many non-players because, after all, the game was just hitting and batting around a small ball-bearing. To play well and achieve status through this mindless activity would, to outsiders of the gameplay, seem trivial, pointless, indulgent, and wasteful. But when the machines become more complex, the stakes are also raised and soon society is governed by the whims of the most complex machine and its master. Surely, many scream, “It's just a game!”

Jakubowski, Maxim: “Summer in the Death Zone” (novelette, 1973/1976) – 1/5
Synopsis: MJ, a science fiction writer in front of his typewriter, struggles to pen a story even with the influence of Kafka and the ever notable Max Jakubowski. As he daydreams an erotic memory of his long-gone lover, the Erotic Brigade come to his door and ask to interrogate him about his thoughts on women. He mentions “phosphorus” in the interview because “blue phosphorus islands” had been on his mind recently, and it's his password to another realm. 20 pages

Pre-analysis: When plunging the depths of science fiction, certain subjective results occur: there are some deep clear oceans of literature out there (Banks, Mann, etc.), there are some undersea caves of complexity and beauty (Kafka, Tsutsui, etc.), then there's the muck as the floor that sticks to your feet even as you rise from the bottom (van Vogt, Silverberg, etc.). The ocean—of earth and of literature—is also full of oddities like the humor of Brunner, the shapelessness of Lem, the pecularity of Leiber or Sheckley, and the metafiction of Malzberg. These eccentricities aren't without their own folly, however—Brunner has had his flops, some of Lem's short stories are too silly for their own good, some Leiber and Sheckley, are way out there, and but Malzberg... ah, Malzberg, you do metafiction so damn right.

Brief Rant: If taken as the centerpiece of the entire collection—here, I suggest that the editor's own story is meant to be BOTH the implied centerpiece as well as being in the exact middle of the collection (starting at page 145 of 288 pages)—the story symbolizes not French science fiction as an objective state of the art, but rather of the editor's subjective concern (that being mainly erotica). Look to “Summer in the Death Zone” first to find characteristics that can then be found in many—but not all—of the other stories; the result? It seems that this collection of French science fiction isn't a broad and objective selection of the genre, but a subjective fixation of Jakubowski's; thus, his own story's inclusion taints the rest of the collection. A kaleidoscope of fiction?... No, this is a fixation of conclusion. <<This reminds me of Ellison's own inclusion in Dangerous Visions (1967), Silverberg's Deep Space (1973), and Bruce Sterling's Mirrorshades (1986)... all of which were among the worst in the collection. Hmm...>>

Aside: The fact that this editor's inclusion into the collection is also a metafictional foray into the author's own by-name fantasy must be a symptom of some type of egoism or exceptionalism. Consider: Jakubowski was—still is, actually—bilingual from birth, which implies that he could easily have written this story in English or in French, so the fact that it's “translated fiction” really dies with its conception of being “translated fiction”.

Further Aside: “Translated fiction” should come from the heart of the cultural/lingual ethos of the nation rather than the simple language with which it was written. I could easily pen a story in English, have it professionally translated in Thai, give myself a Thai pseudonym or allow the translator to use their name, and call the story Thai in origin. That all defeats the purpose of it being “translated fiction”, doesn't it?

Last Aside: “Summer in the Death Zone”, prior to its publication in Travelling Towards Epsilon, had never before—or ever since—been published anywhere else. This so-called French Science Fiction collection is the birthplace and graveyard of Jakubowski's story.

Analysis: None needed.

Douay, Dominique: “Thomas” (novelette, 1974/1976) – 3/5
Synopsis: Alduce huddles down with Thomas as they observe a figure approach from the concave horizon. Alduce's simple male fantasies are awakened with the coming of the dull yet beautiful girl. Ever unsatisfied with their location, they continue to trek only to come back to the same point in their seemingly closed universe. All of this is observed with clinical interest by Georges the human physician and Psychan the machine, who thinks Thomas isn't who he seems to be. 28 pages

Pre-analysis: There are many situations in social life that reflect different facets of our personality. We're all dynamic in that sense—able to adapt our outward personalities to fit a friendly atmosphere or ones of uncertainty, hostility, awkwardness, or flirtatiousness. Like chameleons, we change and react; we act and adjust; we either integrate or segregate ourselves.

Much of this adaptation is done unconsciously. We can feel the change in ourselves, so we can choose to control it, too—for example, rather than feel fear in strange circumstances, we can choose to feel playful. But lying under all these masks of outward emotion and often faux personalities, there sits out true self—the unseen hand that guides our wants and needs. If you subscribe to Freudianisms, this id is the “the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends” and goes beyond simple wants and needs, but it is also the steam train locomotive of our libido. Choo choo.

Regardless of internal/external pressures or intrinsic/extrinsic motivations, all of our actions are governed by who we are—there not one iota of id within ourselves that is someone else, that is otherworldly, that is alien... even barbarous reactions to extreme circumstances are part of ourselves.

Analysis: Georges and Psychan observe the closed-universe mind of Alduce in an attempt to understand his unconscious motivations. Psychan ignored Occum's Razor when it comes to the diagnosis while Georges concludes that Psychan, the machine, is actually crazier than the man whom they're clinically observing. The machine diagnostician thinks that Thomas isn't a figment of Alduce's id, that that past of his dreamscape is actually in interloper. Georges deems this insanity in itself, until Thomas begins to react to their observations, altering the closed-universe, and spelling relative danger for the mentality of the patient and the reality of the doctors.

Figments of personality in the unconscious state can span the range of the urbane, the excitable, the reproachable, the repugnant, the demanding, the libidinous—all aspects probably resides within ourselves, even the saints walking among us. Though Thomas's motives lay outside of Alduce's own, the blueprint for Thomas is probably already available within his mind. We all have our own Thomas lurking within us, a Thomas with both internal and real-world ramifications. Name this facet of our id anyway you like—be it Doubting Thomas or any other caricature—but there certainly lurks that anonymous agent of our fears.

Renard, Christine & Cheinisse, Claude F.: “Delta” (novelette, 1968/1976) – 4/5
Synopsis: Elizabeth's simple life as an orphan in her own aunt's orphanage is broken by her innocent and desperate attempt to make friends. The people she befriends, however, are two Arcturians who do not share a bonhomous relationship with mankind. Her aunt kicks her out yet the two Arcturians—Imonea, whom she implies is a female, and the handsome Irveille, whom she implies is a male—take her under their metaphorical wing. She senses something odd in the triangle until the truth hurts someone. 27 pages

Pre-analysis: I'm the second and last child my parents had. I'm the brother of a loud, demanding sister. So, I grew up well taken care of—being the baby—but often by myself—away from my sister. Lego's, toy cars, army men, and Nintendo were all activities where I shut myself off from everything else. I really enjoyed time alone, I suppose. In grade school, my class only had twenty-five students. The smallness of the experience was comforting. Then came high school.

I hated high school: a sea of people, never a time to be alone, and cliques that people organized. I was a loner—still am—and just wanted to get through it. I didn't take to this group or that group, I just maintained a small group of friends through it all and came out of it with a low GPA but with the knowledge that I was myself through it all. University was better—ah, the girls.

Analysis: Some loners don't have an identity on which to ride through life, in which to have pride, or with which to flaunt for no reason other than “I am who I am”. Circumstances tend to batter them about, where they become vulnerable to society's sub-cultures (i.e., goths, hippies, jocks, etc.). To the sheltered and those who lack identities, there are unseen dangers on the fringe.

Elizabeth is without a solid sense of self-identity. As she literally strays from her fixed place on the earth, and before she knows she has figuratively strayed, Elizabeth finds herself befriended by an unwelcome extraworldly race. As innocent as she is, she welcomes the friendship because she has no friends of her own; she doesn't question the niceties or platitudes. However, those with unalterable and fixed ideas damn her actions as selfish, bordering on treasonous.

Continue her innocent ways, she starts to live under the man's house and soon discovers that he has a partner. She accepts their generosity and companionship while totally ignorant of their alien social customs... then soon finds herself emotionally involved when she blunders into sensitive social territory. Still lacking identity yet feeling obliged to their generosity, she commits herself to their ways even though the layers of understands are deep and troublesome; regardless, she makes a decision to find herself through this awkward relationship, be it for better for for worse.

Verlanger, Julia: “The Bubbles” (shortstory, 1956/1976) – 4/5
Synopsis: Sixteen years and two months ago, the bubbles descended to Earth with unknown origins and unknown intentions, but their actions were clear—kill all humans. As the bubbled burst above a human, they would either dissolve to their death or become an Other with multiple mutational appendages. Monica has witnessed this her entire life while secluded in her home with robot servants. With her parents dead, her only hope is the TV that has begun to broadcast a promise of resolution. 17 pages

Analysis: Grown up isolated aside from her parents and automated servitors, Monica grows up a hermit shut off from the world by the force of circumstance. Her knowledge of the world outside comes from two sources: 1) what her father has told her and 2) what she can see from the window. Though her deep humanistic intuitions plays afoul with her judgment sometimes, these two sources of knowledge tend to agree with one another. Actually directly experiencing the truth behind the armored door is much too dangerous according to the facts she understands, but these are not facts she knows.

Regardless of the eerie images she views from the window, she is content with her sheltered life and her limited knowledge of the outside world. When unforeseen external knowledge intrudes upon her hermetic yet fragile world, her reality suddenly teeters between hope and disbelief. It isn't hope which is her danger, but the false sense of resolution that is a contrast with her collected knowledge of how her world operates—inside is safe, outside is fatal.

Consider our own personal banks of knowledge; we have knowledge taught to us and we have knowledge experienced. These are always, whether we know it or not, always in silent conflict. But there do come times when immediate truths are reveled to us in the form of an aha! moment, in a dream, or an epiphany. These can radically change our perspective on life or any any given matter—for better or for worse.

Andrevon, Jean-Pierre: “Stars, Here I Come!” (shortstory, 1971/1976) – 4/5
Synopsis: The Aliens came to Earth and nothing much actually changed. Life was normal for Joseph Kapek until he was accepted as a candidate for the Aliens' Stellar Fellowship as an interstellar transport pilot. Not very well qualified in anything at all, the news was very much surprising to Joseph, who is ushered in to the Base, shown the walled-off wonders of the Base, told of the untapped powers of the human mind, and led to his final conditioning. His senses are awakened and he doesn't like what he sees. 8 pages

Pre-analysis: I don't think flattery is a form a hatred, like the Bible says (Proverb 26:28); rather, I think flattery is a form of manipulation. In my work, compliments and flattery are part of the job, but not as much as understanding education and emotional wants and needs. Flattery isn't just given out at the door; rather, certain people are more prone to it that others. The strong-minded, conscious ones objectively view the term of flattery with detachment, looking at it curiously and suspiciously—as they should; more superficial people chase after flattery like a dog after a laser pointer. These same people are quite entertaining, like a dog and a laser pointer... they also tend to be a bit socially dull and lack a box of wits upstairs where it matters; with them, flattery is an easy tool with which to manipulate them.

Analysis: The Aliens' Stellar Fellowship seems to be congenial with their human counterparts on Earth, but some of their intentions are veiled. Pointedly, their recruitment for the position of “interstellar transport pilot” is filled with formality, exclusiveness, and flattery. Their government-level relationship seems formal, candid, and healthy as the aliens have been given their own land and facilities. Unfortunately, they aren't so felicitous towards all of mankind. Through the failing mind of one man, the reader experiences the series of gimmicks that were used to snare the man into becoming the honored position of “interstellar transport pilot”. The title hold high expectation for him, but the aliens, too, have high expectations for him.

Seeing the aliens' chicanery of enlisting “interstellar transport pilots”, one must look at all other matters between them and the humans. If they could be so manipulative to to prey on a feeble-minded mind to take this position, are they also capable of higher forms of manipulation toward mankind on the social level, on the level of the destiny of the species? From the Human Resources perspective, if you see a company using shady tactics with their customers or employees, the reverse it also probably true. Manipulation is a diseased mindset of an organization, so when something seems too good to be true, take the offering with a grain of salt... or be smart enough to observe the situation objectively.

Cartano, Tony: “The Leap” (shortstory, 1975/1976) – 3/5
Synopsis: A researcher into some forbidden realms of knowledge discovers a long-buried intellectual secret that threatens many—mainly meddlers and businessmen. The pursuit drives him and his team into hiding in order to continue their research, but eventually he's tracked down by the knavish cronies of a powerful businessman. Dedicated to his intellectual knowledge and landmark discovery, the researcher doesn't give in to pain through torture so that he may become a martyr. 9 pages

Pre-analysis: What kind of people have a bias against good ideas? When the ideas are small and have little impact on, say, a procedural level of a small business, there are nine so-called “hidden traps” in decision making. Most often, ideas are pooh-poohed from the start because of the “Comfort Trap”—a bias toward alternative—or the “Recognition Trap”—a placing a high value on that which is familiar. This is a common administrative tool for assessing decisions, but when applied to not just good ideas, but a great, ground-breaking idea that had far-reaching implications on a societal level... does it still apply? Sadly, the theory flies out the window, giving way to one of the most basic Christian tenements: greed, of the seven sins.

Analysis: There are always conspiracy theories floating around about revolutionary technologies or inventions that could lift a common burden from society, but some big-company is actively combating the idea so that they remain in power of whatever field. These powerful titans of the corporate world maintain their grip on their respective field by, supposedly, quashing any new developments that challenge their dominance. Conspiracies or not—it's not my place to say, but there's certainly some believability behind it because we see greed all around us... we have the ability to scale simple everyday greed to global corporate conspiracy.

Most of these conspiracies are aimed at labor-saving devices or resource-saving methods, of which would have mere convenient impacts on our everyday lives. But what if that big something came along that could our existence better—something bigger and more logical than religion. If these common conspiracies are fringe knowledge met with skepticism, how would we confront a rumor like “Technological salvation is a possibility” or “Transcendence through technology can be a reality”? We'd probably pooh-pooh the idea—we would fall into the “Comfort Trap; that being, our current reality is just fine and any exotic offering of another reality would be too much of a change.

Henneberg, Nathalie: “Wings in the Night” (novelette, 1962/1976) – 2/5
Synopsis: Representing the Service for War Reparations and Recuperations, a naive girl, who dreams of a Parisian life for her art evaluation, takes a train ride to the dark swamps of a Polish national park where a castle has an intriguing history. Felicia Ferrari meets her at the station, Krasek ushers them to the castle far away, and the very elderly Rachel sees to their needs. There for the yet-to-be-seen bounty of paintings, the castle offers an odd history, conflicting accounts, and bizarre dimensional coincidences. 32 pages

Pre-analysis: What's mainly known about WWII is just that—the war. Behind the actual military engagements lay heaps of untold stories of civilian victimization at the hands of both the Allies and the Axis, the lasting ecological damage of shelling and gassing, or the looting/pillaging/robbing of estates, banks, and museums. Though murder may be the ugly face of war, underneath its mask of death sits the silent sins of thousands bent on greed, lust, and numerous other transgressions.

Away from the arena of death and destruction of central Europe, the fringes of the war in eastern Europe offer a comparative safe-haven, where it's ripe for tantalizing rumors of hidden loot. Combine this with the mythic lore of eastern European castles, isolated and haunted in their ramshackle estates, and the plot is fertile with possibilities.

Analysis: This story is more horror/fantasy than science fiction, as the book claims to represent. In the introduction, Jakubowski even says that the story is “on the very borderline of fantasy” (257). This is the longest story in the collection, one that doesn't mesh well with any of the others, and is tagged on to the back of the collection. The author had nineteen other stories from 1958 to 1971 to choose from. It seems a poor example of an author's work because it feels awkward among the other stories in the collection, like Jakubowski's own story in the collection that he edited. Nathalie Henneberg is known for her works of fantasy rather than science fiction, like her husband. Perhaps an inclusion from her husband's work may have been more appropriate, but at the same time his work doesn't sounds very progressive in thought.