Thursday, 25 February 2016

"The Glory of Ippling" by Helen M. Urban


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: Galaxy, December 1962

It's so nice to get back to these! The one I'm starting off with has the interesting distinction of being written by a woman, although in the story itself, women don't fare any better  than they often do in these stories, and even a bit worse than some. It makes me sigh. But we'll get back to this.

In this book, the main character has come to Earth to expose it to the glory of Ippling, their obviously amazing civilization of the stars. If only he can get those damned humans to pay attention!

That's actually pretty much the plot. At first, he tries at a wrestling match, then at a strip show, then as a carnival barker/streetcorner preacher. However, as he fundamentally doesn't understand the Earthling mind (I'm not saying human, and there's a reason), it all flops. Urban's last few lines say that the defining feature of Earthlings (although really, all we see is a small section of the United States) is that they don't really "believe in their religions and superstitions." That also seems like a bit of a broad statement, particularly to apply it to the whole planet.

Let's start with the first thing. Urban apparently subscribes to the trend in science fiction where all aliens are humans. There's rarely any discussion, but they're physically identical, and apparently interbreedable. I've decided to call this school of thought Pan-Spermanic.

So Boswellister (the names are absurd, and maybe that's why no one takes him seriously) is here to show the earth the glory of Ippling. At first, it seems like he's a representative of a galactic government, but then it later appears he's the youngest scion of a feudal society, out to make Earth his fiefdom. This story is inconsistent like this quite a lot, and that's too bad.

First, he tries to show off the glory of Ippling at a wrestling match, then at a strip show (the only appearance of a woman, with no dialogue), then on a street corner, trying to emulate a carnival barker. He is ignored, ignored, and then pursued by people who think he's giving away free samples.

(Also, the glory of Ippling seems to be a bright light. No wonder people aren't that impressed.)

How could he have misjudged so badly, he wonders? Well, rather than giving it another try, he gives up and moves on to another planet, where he will misjudge them just as much.

It's funny, but the first thing that struck me was that it was a fine example of Boswellister trying to be "hot" in how he forced people on Earth to notice him, a la Marshall McLuhan, when he should have tried to be 'cool' instead. Freaking out and yelling how awesome you are and how you have all the answers to everything on Earth - not really a great selling point at a wrestling match. Or street corner. Certainly not at a strip club.

The story is weak, and that's a problem. But it's amusing in its lightness. Except for my disappointment that a female author included only one female character, gave her no lines, quickly disappearing clothes, then ushered her off-stage. Literally.

No mentioned non-white characters, either, and the strip show is all we get of sexuality, so it's all very much about the male gaze.

If this story had been more pointed, it would have been better. Instead, it sets up a straw man and then proceeds to demolish it, which leaves the reader going "yeah, but...."

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