Friday, January 11, 2013


There is just something about Card's works. I find myself really engrossed and excited to read them, yet there are very few that would be called "great". There are plenty of really interesting ideas. He also has a thing for literary allusions. Perhaps it is the writing style that degrades the work. But, I seem to like the style. Maybe it is just something missing there. Something that is hard to pinpoint, but that would be needed to launch his writing from the "good" to the "great".

Short story collections are always nice because they explore new ideas quickly. If one gets dull, there is not much time wasted before moving on to the next. Card is also very good with providing commentary on his stories - this is often some of the best stuff.

The last story in the work, "The Originist", was also the longest. As I started the story I did a quick double-take. These characters sounded familiar. Weren't they from Asimov's Foundation universe? No. That couldn't be. Card hates fan fiction. But, as they started talking about Trantor and foundations, I knew it was Asimov. What's with that? Well, it turns out that Card ended up breaking his own rules as part of a "Foundation's Friends" work. (Is that a sign of a great author?) The story was pretty good and did fit in well with Asimov's Foundation and Empire series.

"In the Doghouse" is a story about aliens looking for a new home planet. They only have their minds left and need to live in a host species. However, their morals don't allow them to live in highly sentient species. One scout comes down to earth "controlled" by a power-company monopoly. The company charges high rates, limits usage and prohibits solar panels. The alien scout comes down, assumes the body of a condemned man and starts selling doghouses with solar panels. This provides abundant power to people. However, so they don't get caught, he also requires everyone to have a dog. The power company now falls to its knees, and dog houses are spread all over the world. The scout goes back home, is commended for a setting up the ideal host situation, and is then asked to commit suicide (for being hosted in a man.) The aliens then come down, occupy the bodies of the dogs, and start showing their supreme intellect to the humans. The humans just laugh at the smart dogs, and the aliens end up going back to being just dogs.
This has a sly message about government and "do-gooders" getting mangled up in ideas that are not necessarily good. People conserve energy because it is so limited. Alternatives are made illegal. The great monopolists can grow rich in this scenario. Only through subterfuge can people overcome this. After gaining this victory with the aid of the aliens, the people turn around and do the same with the aliens. Rather than working together with the intellectual giants that have visited, they continue to hold dogs in their same subservient positions.

"A Thousand Deaths" is a gruesome tale of a man that is cloned and killed multiple times in an attempt to get a coerced "believable" confession. The confession is judged believable by the response of a test audience. He is never believable, eventually deciding to criticize the state and mentally "poison" the audience.

In "Clap Hands and Sing" a man and a woman independently travel back in time to kindle a childhood crush. This is one of the poorer stories.

"Dogwalker" is Card's cyperbunk about a password cracking man-boy who almost gets away with the perfect crime, but fails because the target always types his password twice. How hard would it be to guess somebody's password after knowing their life well?

"But We Try Not to Act Like It" is about a lonely man who is sick of his TV. Legislation has made TV watching mandatory for singles. Legislation also requires individualized programming for small minority groups, and restricts content based on tendencies (such as violence) of the audience. However, this attempt to control entertainment backfires as many people are harmed by problems with the programs. It contains some big-brother themes, but is an easily forgettable story.

"I Put My Blue Genes" is about a crew that returns to earth after 100s of years in space. They left right as the USSR and USA were on the brink of biological warfare. They find a small US base that is battling the Russian attacks. It turns out the Russians had been eliminated a long time ago, and it is simply the mutations of the past weapons that they are fighting. The earth, however, is nearly uninhabitable, and the people have significantly mutated and need to continue to do so to survive. Its a cautionary tale of war for war's sake. When your entire identity is wound up in fighting an enemy, its difficult to know what to do when the enemy is gone.

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