Saturday, October 18, 2014

Gregory Benford: Anomalies

Gregory Benford
a collection of short stories (1975-2012)

The following are three of the short stories found in Gregory Benford's latest short story collection, Anomalies.  The stories focus on a wide variety of topics, from wormholes to AIs to string theory.  I will post brief reviews of the other stories in the collection over the next few weeks.

"A Worm in the Well"

Claire, the pilot/owner of an independent freighter,  is deep in debt, so much so that she about to lose the freighter to her creditors.  She more or less controls the ship with the aid of Erma, a wisecracking AI.  Erma knows that she really runs the ship.

Claire takes on a high-paying but dangerous job--dropping down into the sun's corona to take photos of a wormhole that has suddenly appeared.  The scientific community is seriously bothered by the appearance of a wormhole so close to the sun and need the photos and other data gathered by her close encounter by the sun in order to determine what the dangers are.

Once there, however, she decides to do a career change from "nature photographer" to a "bring 'em back alive" hunter.  The photos and data still won't bring in enough money to pay off all of her debts, but capturing and bringing back a wormhole, something that has never been done before, will give the scientists an unparalleled opportunity to study and even experiment with a wormhole.  Claire figures that she can negotiate a much bigger fee.  Erma, of course, has her doubts.

The story naturally is heavy on the science, but the information is handled very nicely in the arguments (discussions) between Claire and Erma.

"The Worm Turns"
It's several years later and Claire and Erma are still broke and about to lose the ship again.   This time they are forced to take on a hazardous job: it's either that or lose the ship.  Since Claire transported the wormhole away from the sun, earth scientists have meddled with it and enlarged it.  It now is more likely to be dangerous to anything in the neighborhood, the solar system for example.

Claire's task is now to fly through the wormhole, check out the other side, and then report back.   However, life (or a wormhole)  is never that simple, so life gets exciting again.  And, what she finds at the other end is something neither she nor Erma nor the scientists expected. 

"The Semisent"
In literary criticism, a Bildungsroman,[a] novel of formation, novel of education, or coming-of-age story is a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood, and in which, therefore, character change is extremely important (from the Wikipedia entry on Bildungsroman).

What's unusual about this short story is that it's a bildungsrom or coming-of-age story, not about a human being but an AI.  The AI begins as a small box and by the end of the story it has evolved into a tall distinguished gentleman with sorrowful blue eyes.  And there's also a human involved.


  1. Most S/F has never been very accessible to me, and I think I know why: so much of it is written at an intellectual and technological level that is too far above my "pay-grade." In other words, I just don't get it. I feel like I'm on the outside looking in. It almost always makes me feel really dumb. (Note: I was always miserable in science and math classes. They were foreign languages that made no sense ot me.) At any rate, S/F never gives me an enjoyable reading experience. Fantasy fiction affects me in the same way. Of course, it is wonderful that different people like different things; otherwise, the world would be a tedious and boring place. In any case, I enjoy reading your postings about S/F. I may not "get it," but I appreciate the perspective of someone who does "get it."

  2. Your postings on S/F are always intriguing, but I confess: S/F seems "over my head" because of the intellectual and scientific components. Nevertheless, even though I am not a S/F reader, I enjoy your postings.

  3. RT,

    Greg Benford is an astrophysicist at Univ. of Cal. at Irvine, so his stories are fairly heavily science oriented. However, he does a decent job of providing context.

    One novel I always recommend to those who don't read SF is Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. I did a post on it, and it's at the address posted below. If this doesn't work, check the sidebar on the right for The Left Hand of Darkness and click on that.

    1. Yes, I think you've previously suggested the Le Guin novel. My issue with Le Guin is what I would call her heavy-handed political/social liberalism, which she does not attempt to disguise or soften. But I might just be reading her incorrectly. Yes, I've tried two of her novels (with several incomplete attempts) -- LHOD and The Dispossessed. Perhaps I just a cranky reader. Who knows.

  4. RT,

    Yes, she can get that way. The Dispossessed is an example, I think. LHoD struck me as being clear of any political leanings, though. It was a fascinating attempt, I thought, at trying to figure out what behaviors were genetically linked and which were learned.

  5. Hi Fred.
    I've just changed the setting of my blog. It's temporary, but is this your email address Or should I use another one?

  6. Always fun to see how others view my stories. You can find another adventure of Claire & Erma at

  7. Gregory,

    Thanks for stopping by and providing a link to another of the Claire and Erma stories. I'm glad to see another one come along. Life seems to be getting rougher for them, though.

  8. Fred: I write stories as they come to mind, & have no trajectory for Claire & Erma in mind. Did notice some fans have started writing their own & publish them in fanzines, though.
    I'm turning to novels more now, though will finish a new Galactic Center story soon and will send to you for a draft reading; you may know about the GC setting than I do, now.

    1. Gregory,

      I'm looking forward to seeing the draft.