Thursday, 17 September 2015

"Code Three" by Rick Raphael

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: Analog, February 1963

When picking a picture from this story for the review, it was pretty much this, or an extremely phallic looking emergency vehicle. Or another of the same thing that looked remarkably like a sperm. At any rate, I'm kind of impressed that the woman in this story rated a picture, and so it is perhaps not surprising that I picked her.

This is a story where the consumer desire for faster and faster automobiles far outpaced any sort of reasonable regulation on speed, leading to jet-fueled cards on superhighways with roving police/ambulance vehicles that roam the road looking for accidents and infractions. Because nothing can slow the people down!

The story follows the three-person team who operate one of the emergency vehicles on one of its two-week tours of duty, coast to coast. I say person deliberately, because miracle of miracles, there's a woman on board! She's the doctor, and she takes a lot of teasing from the younger of the two men, who obviously has a crush on her. She's also part Native American, which also gets teased, but at least in this case its in an affectionate way, rather than an entirely wince-worthy one.  (Doesn't, you know, make it great, but in comparison with some of the stories I've read? It's a definite step up.)

They start out after their month-long vacation, helping out in an accident, stopping joy-riding kids from splattering themselves from here and gone (and delivering lectures on why going easy on the kids will only get them killed). Then there's the man speeding because his wife's in labour, and the cross-country crime spree that leads to a hell of a chase.

The roads are shown as deadly and held together only by the skill of these officers. The effectiveness of cross-country tours makes me wonder how they could possibly always be in the right place at the right time in order to keep the entire road from devolving into chaos. Even if they set out daily - that's still a day apart.

It's a day-in-the-life type story, as they travel the roads. (Which have something in common with Heinlein's slidewalks, with similar ideas of strips for different speeds, except that instead of them being really really fast conveyor belts, there are still individual cars and drivers.) They banter. They save lives. The younger two are obviously attracted to each other. (There are apparently other stories in the series, so I can guess where that goes?) The woman says she's probably not going to get married, as she'd have to leave her job, which is a nice nod to that social convention, and I'm glad to see that the female character ain't just in it till marriage - she actually really likes her job. I sort of expect the long term to end up with her getting married, but I guess we'll see!

As for non-white characters, well, the woman is half Native-American, half Irish, so again, better representation than I've seen in a lot of stories. There are a lot of Hiawatha jokes, but without that particularly nasty tinge. So...it's on the good side of what I'd expect for this time period, without being great. And hey, there's a Canadian character! (I'm always so excited when we show up in stories.)

The story isn't bad. It's not mind-blowing, but it's a solid life in the future for average joes type of science fiction story, and that's interesting. As is the ongoing belief that the need for speed will never be curtailed.

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