Sunday, September 14, 2008

Next up: a Star Wars convention...

In the ongoing quest to read all of Connie Willis' books, I finally got around to
Light Raid.
It's essentially a war spy story, almost Blitz-esque with its regular air raids. (And one of Willis' favorite periods for constructing alternate realities is the Blitz, as we know from some of her short stories...) Except in this delightfully cute story, a teenage war refugee escapes from a home for war orphans and heads home to find that her mother is accused of treason, her dad is shellshocked, and global alliances hinge on her investigative abilities. The hilarious assortment of nations at war, though, are Quebec and Victoria. (Sleeply little Port Townsend -- really in Washington State where, in fact, where my cousin lives-- gets a nod as one of the cities full of secret agents and military secrets.) In all, a great way to spend an evening when you're still tired from being cheap and walking around the city on errands.

Unlike a lot of Willis' stories, Light Raid did not involve time travel. This is only relevant because I also finally got around to reading H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. It is surprisingly short! Appropriately, it is the grandfather of time travel stories. Though I knew the general plot (especially since "Eloi" is a typical answer in many crosswords),

I didn't expect to like it as much as I did. But I was roped in from the very first pages with the dialogue and debate on the Fourth Dimension!

One thing that irked me (but only slightly) was the Time Traveller's assumptions about the descendants of capitalists and workers. The man goes 800,000 years into the future for all of eight days, manages to become semi-fluent in Eloi, and by pure observation of a completely unfamiliar world, manages to somehow know how human history progressed. Riiight... because if someone from a mere 1000 years ago traveled forward to our 21st century, they could definitely do the same thing. Also, though Wells had socialist leanings, there's still a smattering of classism in both the 19th-century characters' attitudes as well as in how the whole narrative of future class stratification between the Eloi and the Morlocks plays out. Ironic!

It did remind me at times of The Planet of the Apes ... but of course The Time Machine was not only the first (I'm pretty sure!) time-travel story, but one of the first to offer the "humans will annihilate themselves" theme. So many other stories have drawn from it heavily, and it's so much a part of pop culture at this point, that I didn't realize how much of the story was already imprinted in my brain. I'm glad I finally read it!

Both Wells' classic and Willis' story did reinforce some of my preconceptions about the sci-fi genre, though: that many sci-fi tales are really just concerns about present social situations (technology, racial inequality, sexuality, or war), transposed onto a thinly disguised alternate present or set in a future that can be altered only if present-day humans change their ways.

Classes resume tomorrow!

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