Thursday, 22 October 2015

"Faithfully Yours" by Lou Tabakow

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 Science Fiction, December 1955

I sort of love the above illustration, because it so perfectly encapsulates the sole role of the woman in this story. She's there to take care of him (okay, she's a doctor, but a doctor that falls for her patient), and then, the haunted man has to leave her behind because he can't settle down with anyone. She gets to look longingly after him as he continues on his trek. (She might not be a doctor, just a woman on a frontier world who knows as much medicine as anyone does. But I'll give Tabakow the benefit of the doubt, and upgrade it to doctor.)

There's even a hint of cleavage, to make sure we know what he's walking away from.

At any rate, the man above with the haunted eyes is an escaped prisoner from some futuristic space jail. We are never told what his crime is, just that the vastly different laws on different worlds make extradition impossible. So, when he escapes and can't be easily brought back, the administrators on Hades make a decision that haunts them - to unleash some sort of something that will track him down across the galaxy.

If there's a problem with this story, it's that not enough is given to the reader. It's the case where knowing more would create more tension. We know there is something after him, but not what. We see no trace of it until the very last paragraph of the book. We don't know what it's planning on doing to him, again, not until the very last paragraph. We see him evade it for ten years and it really starts to look not that threatening. It's not particularly understandable why he's so scared, always on the run, because we don't know what he knows. And if we did, it would mean more.

Since it's not a twist, why is this information withheld? It would be a much stronger story if we were inside the main character's head. Instead, we merely watch from quite a distance as he lands on frontier world after frontier world, always shaky and trying to find a way to get off and go somewhere else. He smuggles, flies test planes, and disappoints a beautiful woman. At the end, he shows up back at the prison and begs them to take him back, but they say that once the whatever they unleashed is unleashed, it can't be called back. (I really hope that it's never been unleashed accidentally, because some poor guy mashed the wrong button!)

And at the end, it shows up, and apparently it's not going to kill him, just rewrite his brain. Which in many ways is more terrifying, and it would have been nice to know that, and what that meant earlier. It might have helped pass some of the tension he was feeling along to me, the reader. As it was, though, I never really was invested in this guy's trek. Nor did I know how it was tracking him, nor why it was an inexorable fact it would catch up.

I've said my piece about the women, and as far as it is overtly mentioned, a wide-ranging galaxy seems to be entirely white. And all heterosexual. Neither are topics brought up at all in this story, and I wouldn't expect them to be. Just commenting on how it fits fairly precisely into the time period. (Seems a pity at times that all the suppressed homoeroticism seems to have disappeared after the 1930s. It tended to be over the top, but interesting.)

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