We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (Phillip K. Dick) – Air Raid (John Varley).
‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale’ is a futuristic short story written by Phillip K. Dick, centered on the concept of memory manipulation. It takes on the undiscovered fields of new age science. The concepts involved in the short story are so complex and underdeveloped even in this age and time. But still the author immaculately and ostentatiously nails his narrative. In the same sense, ‘Air Raid’ written by John Varley, seems to be the perfect match for the pairing. Both these short stories are centered on high concepts that are still a relevant debate topic among scholars. And among other things, they both have a gripping narrative that not only do not fail to lock in the suspense element but also successfully explains the general idea behind it.
Storyline: Both these stories are based on the life of the protagonist as seen from a close perspective. The fact is that even though they are similar in the futuristic outlooks where they both have the primary notion that, ‘Earth is not enough’, they are pretty far in the concepts they express. But the similarities that separate them from the crowd are the ways in which the authors have chosen to narrate the concepts.
They both open in the middle of the life of the protagonist with minimal or no information available on their current life. “He woke and he wanted Mars” is what Phillip K. Dick wrote. And John Varley writes, “All around me in the darkened bunkroom the Snatch Team members were sleeping singly and in pairs” . Even though the first paragraphs in both these stories are hardly self explanatory, they are gripping even in the first read. But once the reader gets past these ominous first lines and into the core of the story, the reader shall realize that they both foretell the core theme. “Wanting Mars”, for “We can Remember it for you” and “Snatch Team”, for Air Raid.
Narrative: Even though Phillip K. Dick uses a third person narrative while John Varley uses first person narrative, they are both similar in the pace and the drive of suspense embedded in the story. “What would you think, ladies and gents, of a trip to the future? No? I can't say I'm surprised. What if I told you this plane is going to” , When a story that begins with a slight hint of futuristic notes starts saying something presumptuous as time travel, one is sure motivated to read the rest. “Our problem”, Lowe said sharply, “is something quite different” wrote Phillip K. Dick. It appears as though both Phillip K. Dick and John Varley are taunting their readers, as if daring them to read the rest. It is quite extraordinary for a science fiction. Only an author, especially of science fiction, who has something hard hitting or cutting edge to offer, can afford to taunt his/her readers that way.
And they were right in judgment. It is true that the concepts that they have decided to write about still haunts many. These stories has been rewritten and readapted for many generations that followed. The one outstanding factor about these stories is their ability to snatch a moment or two from the lives of the readers to make the gentle folk wonder, “How little do we know of our future!” It is no wonder that John Varley was nominated for Phillip K. Dick award for his ‘Millennium’ based on Air Raid.
Brian W. Aldiss and Harry Harrison are miles apart in their narrative styles and concepts they have chosen to convey. There is no way someone can mistake their stories as coming from similar origins. “Who can replace a man” is a story about a bunch of machines who, upon hearing of the extinction of their masters, decide to take over the world and rule it like men once did. “The streets of Ashkelon” is a story set in a foreign planet, that people deem as underdeveloped, and are fighting so hard to put their control over it. But what do these stories boast in common. Let’s analyze.
Storyline: There is something about these two stories that makes them seem very similar even in diversity. And in close inspection it is evident. They are both talking about humans and their unscrupulous ways disguised as the machines’ motivation to rule the world or the alien’s will to understand God by violence. They are both cynical outtake on men’s way of living and interpreting their role in this world. Who can replace a man is a derisive comment on the things that are created by men. They follow the same trivial and contemptuous patter as their masters.
These machines with brains, after gaining their freedom, are thrown into chaos much like the lives of many people currently in this world. They are so frantic about enslaving things while being so resentful of having led a slave life themselves. It is evident from the story that the author is mocking the hypocritical outlook of men on life. “Or we go and help to overpower the class-one brain,” said the minder. This is a great example of what the author means by his story.
The same goes for the ‘The streets of Ashkelon’. Harry Harrison’s derisive comments are targeted at people who follow religion in frenzy rather than in belief. He is mocking the people who are so hell bent in preaching and also hell bent in denying. The extends to which they are willing to spread their ideas, less evolved as they are, all over the universe is being brutally criticized. “Father Mark was stripped and draped in a carefully pleated loincloth” , Harry Harrison wrote. He is quite successful in establishing what he meant. Even though, in obvious ways, he says that the priest was trying to get them into the path of ‘light’, he is still criticizing the stupidity of men in thinking that whatever they believe is the right one.
It is quite amazing how two different storylines, quite apart in what they are narrating, are so similar in what they are willing to teach. People can be so strong willed about one thing and in one whiff of a time can be hell bent in going the other way. The fact is that we don’t believe in just one thing. We believe in whatever is necessary to get through our life.
Narrative: Both the writers have chosen the sarcastic notes throughout to make their statement. “We have read here of many smaller miracles, loaves, fishes, wine, snakes—many of them, for much smaller reasons. Now all He need do is make a miracle to bring us closer to Him” is one true example of that. Harry Harrison is willing to taunt the people’s notion to try and explain God using the silly magic stories they find in Bible while forgetting the much more important qualities given in it.
Brian W. Aldiss uses a similar strategy. He ends his story with the words, “Yes, Master,” said the machines, “Immediately!” said by the machines at the sight of their master quietly mocking the hypocrisy of men and that entire thing he has made.
Harrison Berglon (Kurt Vonnegut Jr.) – The Moon Moth (Jack Vance)
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and Jack Vance authored the books, Harrison Berglon and The Moon Moth. They have quite a different storyline where Harrison Berglon is quite straight forward and plain from the beginning while The Moon Moth is full of surprises and filled with intense suspense element towards the end. For The Moon Moth, under all the surprises and suspense in the story what forms the base of the story is the powerful way the author expresses his contempt for people who are fooled by the attires and masks that they use to identify others with. While for Harrison Berglon the author mocks the people who are fooled by the handicap bags or handicap radios that conceal the real nature of their purpose, slavery.
Storyline: Harrison Berglon boasts a comical outlook of a futuristic earth where the demand for equality had made some drastic changes around the inhabitants forcing them to carry ‘mental handicap radio in his ear’ or a ‘handicap bag’. People are so hell bent in avoiding the chaotic past that occurred due to lack of equality among humans that they are ready to neglect the actual truth walking past them. Harrison Berglon is arrested for defying such stupid notions. He would rather be dead than living like this.
The Moon Moth discusses a similar theme with a change in twist. Edward Thisell after commissioning in a different planet end up having a difficult time in locating an assassin because of some stupid masks the inhabitants wear. A suspense story finally takes a surprising turn when people mistake Edward Thisell for an assassin while the assassin disguises as Edward using his mask. This out of the earth experience for Edward Thisell shouldn’t have ended well but he realizes that the people are more willing to accept the assassin into their world than Edward who had defied their customs openly before. The people believe that the assassin is a better companion than the officer just because that is a fancier idea. Instead of trying to teach the people the difference like Harrison Berglon, who ended up dead for having done that, Edward accepts his new fate. He joins the people and decides to live among them as the assassin Haxo Angmark.
Narrative: The narratives of these stories are very different in first look. But the truth is no other story has had a better correlation with their narratives than them. The Moon Moth with its opening suspense and darker portrayal of the new world gives us a different sense of entertainment. But towards the end, it literally becomes Harrison Berglon. The Moon Moth uses the similar comical twist as Harrison Berglon to finish off the concept behind the story. “Would the Lord Hero consider a Sea Dragon Conqueror beneath his dignity?" a mask maker asks the “assassin” in The Moon Moth which is very similar to the comical outlook of Harrison Berglon. “I could tell that one was a doozy.” .
When it changed (Joanna Russ) – The Jigsaw Man (Larry Niven)
When it changed, written by Joanna Russ, is not a suspense thriller or a futuristic story meant to take its readers into a dream world or blow their mind off. It simply discusses humanity and the gender equality troubles of modern earth that is, for obvious reasons, simply set in the future. The people from Old Earth are a metaphorical reference to current times where the world is essentially a male predominant habitat. The story is not about the futuristic settings or terrors of change; it simply reflects the wrong things of our times disguised as the fears of the protagonist. The Jigsaw Man is very similar in this context. The Jigsaw Man reminds us of some truths we are more willing to deny than discuss. The darker tone of the story is really in tune with that of ‘When it changed’.
Storyline: In the Jigsaw Man we see a different time in the future where people are willing to kill criminals to extract their organs. This frenzy has finally caused the world to lower the bars for crimes that landed death sentences. The protagonist is about to be killed for jumping traffic lights. The story enters a darker tone when it reveals that the protagonist is actually in here for his organs. The truth is that the future was not different from what the author predicted. We didn’t have to travel very farther into the future for that to be made realistic.
When it Changed is about a planet where all the men have died in past. They are approached people from the Old Earth who are proposing to take some of them to Old Earth for mixing the gene pools to produce a better diverse generation. The women of Whileaway are concerned about their future if they were to move to Old Earth. They are afraid whether they would be suppressed or downtrodden by these men who are obviously stronger than them. The author is simply expressing the present age conditions in the world with her prose.
Narrative: The narratives of The Jigsaw Man and When It Changed are focused on expressing their current world concerns and fear of the future. Both these authors are inclined to avoid misinterpretations from the readers about the stories. They are at lengths preachy and direct in their narrative when they suspects that their prose is failing to convince people of the actual concerns or when they are afraid that indirect references to current world scenarios are not enough. Larry Niven writes, “What voter would vote against eternal life? The death penalty was his immortality, and he would vote the death penalty for any crime at all” to make a direct statement of his concern.
Similarly, Joanna Russ writes, “I doubt very much that sexual equality has been reestablished on Earth. I do not like to think of myself mocked, of Katy defer to as if she was weak, of Yuki made to feel unimportant or silly, of my other children cheated of their full humanity or turned into strangers” . Here, she too chooses to make a direct statement of her concern instead of relying on any metaphors.
Light of other days (Bob Shaw) – This tower of ashes (George R.R. Martin)
Light of other days written by Bob Shaw takes the readers through the mundane conflicts between a man and his wife into a more interesting realm of slow glasses. This science fiction has a slow pace but an elaborate theme associated with it. The story revolves around the values that bring together a family. This Tower of Ashes has a similar theme. It is not a hard hitting science fiction story that keeps the readers on their toes. It focuses on love and sacrifice set in the backdrop of a new world. The mundane story of a young man, who left all that he called as life because of a girl, is taken through a series of adventures to teach us one thing, the importance of love and care in life.
Storyline: In the story, ‘Light of Other Days’, the simple factors that make life divine are brought to light, metaphorically, by using the example of the glass. Much like life where the biggest realizations of this world comes to people very slowly into their old age, the slow glass takes the light from the other side many years to pass through. By the time the light reaches the other side, the world behind it would’ve completely changed. It would be gone but for the ones left to ponder over, filled with regret, waiting for a chance at redemption. The author uses the slow glass to explain what we miss out because of simple vices such as envy, loathe and being inconsiderate. The seller of the slow glass is seen looking through the window for a glimpse into his past which he, much like everyone else, would’ve so inconsiderately let go. It is enough for Hagan and Selina to understand what they were missing out. It was enough to motivate them for a change.
George R.R. Martin chose this as the central theme of his story, This Tower of Ashes. In this story, the readers are taken through a series of events to realize the beauty of things that once existed around them and that would only be missed in their absence. The protagonist lives in a tower that was slowly turning to ashes surrounded by a forest that still hasn’t been destroyed by the aggression of man. “Never mind what other effects it might have on the ecology, right?” George R.R. Martin writes. These stranded sentences throughout the story help us realize that it is simply not the love the protagonist feels for his ex-girlfriend that is the theme of the story. It is rather the love for the ecosystem that the author implies, the one true beauty that can only be appreciated in its absence. “You’ve no damned concept of the kind of beauty you talk so blithely of wiping out” .
Narrative: Both authors have adopted a slow pace to portray the central theme. More appealing elements such as the use of science fiction, a love angle, and conflicts of normal life are used intermittently to grab the reader’s interest. But the fact is, ultimately, they are just tools of the author to ease the readers through to realization of the real theme of these stories. This is what makes these two stories so similar even in their uniqueness. The love angle used in This Town of Darkness is similar to the petty family quarrel of Light of Other Days. They are just ornaments of a much more appealing picture.
Kyrie (Poul Anderson)-Dolphin’s way (Gordon R. Dickson)
Kyrie, written by Poul Anderson is one of the first attempts to capture the magic of a black hole. Written in the 1960s, the story truly transcends time with its attempt to capture the magic of science and love and throw them together in an urn that could last forever. But the love factor of this story inadvertently gives way to the magic of science fiction. It is truly the science fiction that ultimately triumphs in the narrative. The Dolphin’s way has a similar narrative that gaudily boasts of a love angle and an intriguing love story which gives way to science fiction that almost defeats its original purpose towards the end.
Storyline: Let’s speak of Kyrie. Eloise is a telepathic human, of a few first kinds among humans, who is in an intergalactic love with Lucifer, a plasma-based being. The story is about Eloise’s trip to explore a supernova which ends up the team in danger. Lucifer is trying to find a way to help them out but he falls into the black hole. The fact is that this story is, at times, overwhelmed by the complexity of the science associated with it which was mostly under developed at that time and age. The concept that ‘time shrinks to zero and the cry of Lucifer shall be echoing in Eloise’s mind forever’ was too complicated for science fiction readers at that time.
Dolphin’s Way is a similar take on science fiction writing. The story is at times overwhelmed by the intricate science embedded into it . The suspense towards the end is quite like the lack of absolution Kyrie taunts its users with.
Narrative: Both these stories have a slow and weakly gripping narrative. Kyrie is a little bit better at the narrative though. The defect in their narrative, subjective as it maybe, is possibly due to the mostly overwhelming science associated with it. Especially for Kyrie, the author seems to have put too much effort in trying to explain the underlying science behind his fiction. But it is excusable since, at the time of publishing, there were only few people who could’ve understood what black holes were or what time slippage means. Dolphin’s Way wasn’t always one of the reader favorites of Gordon R. Dickson’s works. But still, the concept and theme is still worth taking a look into.
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