Saturday, January 17, 2015

Gregory Benford: the last of the Anomalies

These are the last stories from Greg Benford's latest collection of short stories,  Anomalies.

"Gravity's Whispers"
A CETI Tale:   A scientist with LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory--a real institution sponsored by CalTech and MIT) has detected a gravity wave fluctuation and sent it to a mathematician to see if there's something there.  There is, but it's an artificial pattern, obviously created by someone?  And, there's a problem.  To be able to create a gravitational wave with a signal requires the ability to "sling around neutron stars and make them sing in code." Do we really want to open communication with a race so powerful?

"Ol' Gator"
 Evolution seems to be the focus of this strange little story.  It's a narrative told by a GI in Iraq.  He alternates between what's happening to him during the conflict with Saddam Hussein's troops and  memories of his childhood days in the South.  It was that part of Iraq that had been swampland and then partially drained that brought back those memories, for the crocs in the swamp reminded him of the gators back home and his grandpa's war with the patriarch of the swamp--Ol' Gator. 

At one point in the story the narrator is separated from his unit and finds a very large contingent of Iraqi insurgents headed his way.   However he finds he's not alone, for he has some very unusual companions.  Rather than spoil the fun, I'll just quote Loren Eiseley, the eminent anthropologist and essayist:  "The world is fixed, we say: fish in the sea, birds in the air. But in the mangrove swamps by the Niger, fish climb trees and ogle uneasy naturalists who try unsuccessfully to chase them back into the water. There are things still coming ashore."  from The Immense Journey

"The Champagne Award"
According to a Note provided by Benford, this is a satiric look at the government and population control.  As the general population seems unwilling or unable to control the birth rate, the government steps in with its own program.  People are issued KidCred cards which gives each person the right to bear a child.  They can use the credit themselves or can transfer it to someone else.  Or they could offer it in a lottery in which they get the proceeds.  That could turn out to be in the millions of dollars, if offered at the right time.  The parents of children born illegally, to those without KidCred or who have used up their KidCred, are fined heavily, and the children receive no social benefits and no education.  There is even some talk about prison sentences for those who bear children without KidCred.

Inter-dimensional travel.  As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, one common theme in SF is the time travel story in which there is an attempt to go back in time to prevent some great evil or catastrophe: assassinating Hitler is a favorite among writers. This story doesn't involve time travel but a different method of preventing some evil.

Set some time in the future, Warren has become rich and uses his wealth to bring his dream to fruition.  He has hated serial killers since he first learned of them as a teenager.  It's too late to do something about those in the world in the dimension in which he resides, so he decides to do something about those in worlds in other dimensions, especially those so "close" that there's only a very small difference between them and his world.

He has the people who work for him research these other worlds for those who appear to be the counterparts of serial killers in his world.  He decides to kill them, and to kill them before they've started killing.  In other words, Warren has decided on a pre-emptive strike, since these people have not yet harmed anyone.  There's a problem though, something Warren did not take into account, but he eventually encounters it.

The moral question one might consider is Warren's justification for killing these people: they haven't harmed anyone at the point he is to kill them.  Is this justifiable? 

"Doing Lennon"
This is another cryonics tale. It was written in 1975, some five years before John Lennon was killed in 1980.  Henry Fielding has chosen "the long sleep" before he really needed it.  When he awakes in the 22nd century, he claims to be John Lennon and that he was "fleeing political persecution."  This is why he used the alias.

In his real life, Henry Fielding had been a broker who had done quite well financially, along with surreptitiously dipping into several accounts belonging to others.  He was a devoted follower of the Beatles, collecting records, memorabilia, and gossip about them, as well as memorizing the lyrics to all of their songs.  On his vacations, he haunted Liverpool, picking up the local colour and accents and visiting places important to the Beatles legend. Now he was going to put all that knowledge to work. 

Things go well for a while for him in the future: his singing and guitar playing are accepted by all.  Then things get complicated.  First, he is told that the corpsicle of Paul McCartney has been discovered, and everybody is breathlessly awaiting their reunion.  Then, he discovers Henry Fielding the Real.  Who then is he?

Brief comments by Gregory Benford about each of the stories.


  1. "The Champagne Award" reminds me of two different things: (1) China's former (or is it current?) one-child per couple policy; (2) Swift's "A Modest Proposal," one of the greatest satires ever written. In any case, I wonder about a government/society that would interfere with God-given human nature. By extension, therefore, even if the American government/society has not come close to the policies in the cited story (except if you discount federal government support of Planned Parenthood), I worry about similar abridgements to human nature here and how. And I guess that is the mission of SF writers: provoke reflection upon our here and now existence.

  2. R. T.,

    In his notes, the author, Gregory Benford, expresses his personal opinion about government actions in this situation. He calls it satire, as I mentioned in the post.

    Also, for another treatment of this problem, you might read George R. R. Martin's fix-up novel, _Tuf Voyaging_. Several of the stories focus on a planet in which the population refuses to control its birth rate, in spite of information and warnings about the consequences.

  3. R. T.,

    I think China rescinded the one child per couple policy because of the unfortunate side effect. Many families wanted a boy, so if the fetus was a girl, it would be aborted. This resulted in a disproportionate number of males being born and a shortage of females. This is what I've heard, anyway.

    1. Regarding abortions, there is an interesting link between Margaret Sanger, eugenics, racism, and Planned Parenthood. That linkage gets ignored by too many people. But perhaps I am being entirely too provocative.

    2. R.T.,

      Provoke all you want. I'm just going to sit on the sidelines to avoid getting caught in the cross-fire.

  4. Now I want to read "Ol' Gator". I'll have to see if my library has this collection.