Thursday, 21 May 2015

"The Alternate Plan" by Gerry Maddren

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: Amazing Science Fiction Stories, September 1958

This is a strange little story, only barely science fiction. You could change one tiny aspect of it, and it wouldn't be science fiction at all, just a morality tale about suicide. Seriously, with very few changes, I could see this in a religious magazine, preaching about the evils of thinking you can or should take your own life.

So, the main character is a psychologist, but it seems one who has mastered a science fiction version of astral projection. (This is why I say it's barely science fiction at all.) He is undergoing surgery to find out if he has cancer of the larynx. He detaches himself from his body during surgery, with the theory that if he discovers he does has cancer, he's not even going to wake up to get the diagnosis, as obviously having cancer would steal his voice, his wife, and all his joy in life.

Apparently, "In my field I've seen a lot of crazy reactions to loss of basic ability," but he's seen absolutely no good adaptations to traumatic news. So, when he thinks he sees the surgeons frown, he decides (probably correctly) that he does have cancer, and tries to break the line connecting him to his body. From there, he travels to an Entirely-Not-Heaven-But-Totally-Heaven, a lush green place that he can't enter because of a forcefield.

A figure approaches him to more or less tell him that this was an act of weakness, and that alone has disqualified him from entering Totally-Not-Heaven. The psychologist says "oh yeah?" The resulting argument ends with Totally-Not-St.-Peter daring the psychologist to go back to his body to prove his mastery of whatever the science fiction version of astral projection is. Actually, it's reverse psychology. He dares the psychologist to try to reenter his body while Totally-Not-St.-Peter tries to stop him

The psychologist does it, even though he knows that it's a trick to make him accept life, and he succeeds and comes back to life, the end.

No seriously, the end. His heart starts beating, we're done.

So...that's it. There's little science, no real science fiction, and a "suicide is weakness" moral. I suppose it filled a few pages, but there's a part of me that wonders why it got accepted in the first place. Maybe the editor wanted to hammer home that message. I don't know.

Minority Report: The only female character is the wife, there to be stoic and stand by her husband. No people of colour that are referenced. Heterosexuals as far as the eye can see.

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