Thursday, 26 February 2015

"Blessed Are The Meek" by G.C. Edmondson

Hey guys! Did you realize that the Gutenberg Project has old science fiction? It does! (I don't know why this surprised me, but it did.) So, hey, why not read some of them and review them? Not to poke fun at the old science fiction, although there might be a little of that. No, I'm more interested in looking at what this old science fiction tells us about the worlds that were being imagined at the time. What did they think about science? Gender? Race? The eventual fate of the world?

From Astounding, September 1955

Interesting. Looking up this author on Wikipedia, it appears that that the author was born in Mexico and, if his full name is anything to go by, was Hispanic. That's particularly interesting, because this story is all about race, and posits that Asians are not only a different "race," but literally a different race. As in, from another planet. I guess they can interbreed, but that's not really explained.

So, what's this one about? Well, an exploration team lands on a planet that shows ruins that they've been finding all over the galaxy. However, it also has a small population of what appear to be Asian humans. They even speak Chinese. These Asians tell the approaching team (which is actually fairly multiracial, with both Asian and Hispanic members. The Hispanic member passes by with barely a mention) that all Asians everywhere are from their original planet, whose location is lost.

Every thousand years or so, a new set of white barbarians comes along, with their "curly hair, white skin and round eyes," and invades. This race of "dark, straight-haired" people survives by joining with them, going along until the new empire collapses and settling whatever world they end up on. They survive through being "meek," from the title.

It's hard not to be troubled by this, by the idea of Asians as literally a race from another planet who keep getting conquered over and over, and survive by staying in the shadows. The story seems to say they have the greater longevity as a species, but it also makes them passive, and incapable and uninterested in forming their own civilization, or creating, or inventing, or anything. They live, they farm rice, they survive. It's bothersome.

On the other hand, I couldn't help but be a little tickled when the author refers to the Asian crewmember as smiling an "inscrutable East Los Angeles smile."

(It might be an ethnically diverse crew, but there are no women in this story.)

There really isn't a story here. The crew comes, explores, meets with the natives, discovers they speak Chinese, and are told about how these people manage to outlive everyone by being so passive it hurts. That's really it. So dramatically, it's not that satisfying. From a point of view of assumptions about racial personality characteristics, it's troubling.

The scientists aren't evil in this one, unlike many of the first stories I read. Interestingly, those were from the 1930s, and most of the stories I've been reading more recently, from the 1950s, have scientists as the heroes. What a difference twenty years and two atomic bombs makes? Ugh, that's a troubling statement.

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