Friday, November 21, 2008


When I was a kid, sometime back in the Triassic, I read a story about the hi-jacking of a space ship by rebel freedom fighters. I can't remember the name of the story or the author (although the names Gordon Dickson and Murray Leinster both come to mind -- which? or someone else?) What I do remember was my fifteen-year-old sense of awe: Something that really huge could just be stolen?

Now that Somalian pirates have actually stolen a huge oil tanker, holding 25 people hostage and using organized crime as the transfer point for millions of dollars in ransom, my visceral response is not "awe." Outrage, disgust, fear are closer. The Somalian pirates' motive is greed, and the SF story hi-jackers' was (I think) patriotic freedom. However, it's the lack of "awe" that interests me at the moment.

Maybe the world has gotten too grubby and jaded for "awe." Or I have. At any rate, a "sense of wonder" is no longer what I look for in fiction, including SF. I don't want to be dazzled by things I never thought of before, even though often that seems to be what SF values. I want to be emotionally moved, involved at a visceral level with the characters and the situation, not with novelty or landscapes or gadgets or derring-do. Take, for instance, Elizabeth Bear's Hugo-winning story "Tide Line." I loved this story for the portrait of the dying sentient war machine who passes on its heritage to a child. Whatever devastated the Earth and sent it back to the Stone Age is barely mentioned. I'm sure that war was awesome, but it was probably also boring -- UNTIL it's brought down to the level of personal suffering.

So -- not a sense of wonder. A sense of vulnerable humanity. Which, now that I think about it, that space-ship piracy story probably lacked -- or else I would remember something, anything, about at least one character?


Sophie said...

Well there are different kind of piracies.
I have a friend who has heard a taped account of a man cowering in a closet while his ship was attacked by pirates in the south china sea. The tape ends with his death. These pirates didn’t take prisoners or hostages, they just raped, plundered and killed, then took the boat.
But the somali ones are in for the money. Check this account :
One of the reasons they started it is because their collapsed government allowed developed countries factory boats to plunder their territorial waters fishing resources. Yet a third kind of piracy, this one not frowned upon.

TheOFloinn said...

Here is an intriguing pirate story, although I have not seen a follow-up.

Mr. JM said...

I want to be emotionally moved, involved at a visceral level with the characters and the situation, not with novelty or landscapes or gadgets or derring-do.

God, I thought I was the only one who thought this.



cd said...

Two questions nag me.

Does most of the SF audience -- or potential audience, or young SF audience -- prefers awe to character development?

Is there a tension between awe and character development?


Mark said...

I do tend to *still* relish the sense of wonder I had when reading Clarke, Niven, etc. as a kid. I also get a kick from reading character-driven stories though, which probably started in my later teen years when I picked up more Ellison. There are stories that succesfully combine both (Beggars In Spain springs to mind :-)) but due to space constraints I understand that short stories tend to be one or the other, idea/concept driven vs. character driven. Probably why I tend to stick with novels these days, the best of both worlds.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Didn't the Convention of 1850, signed by all the Western seafaring nations, declare pirates are Enemies of Humanity, and, as such, can be executed on the spot when captured?

marcinko said...

Nancy, I suspect the story you're thinking of is Robert Heinlein's novel "Methuselah's Children."

Totally different topic: I really liked "The Erdmann Nexus" and jotted down a few thoughts here, for whatever they're worth: