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Worst & Best in scifi

I just fin­ished read­ing "In­to Deep­est Space" by Fred and Ge­of­frey Hoyle. It is the worst sci­ence fic­tion book I have ev­er read. And I have read hun­dred­s.

Mind you, per­haps the trans­la­tion is to blame for the flat tone and the dread­ful di­a­logue. How­ev­er, the stupid sto­ry­line and the un­de­scribed lo­ca­tion and char­ac­ters sure­ly come from the orig­i­nal.

In this book, there are three alien­s, who come from Betel­geuse (although they are ge­net­i­cal­ly al­most-hu­man­s), and their names are Betel­geuse, Rigel and Al­cy­one. I have no idea how they got to be named as start­s, but any­way, it took me 50 pages to fig­ure out Al­cy­one was fe­male, and 120 to see a men­tion of her be­ing ro­man­ti­cal­ly linked to the hu­man (called, I kid you not, Dick War­boys).

But enough of that. Af­ter I fin­ished this garbage (which is at least short­), I start­ed think­ing, what was my favourite sci­fi book, since this one is sure­ly the op­po­site.

I have to say "The dis­posessed" by Ur­su­la K. LeGuin.

As I have dis­cussed with Uwe a few times (although we are both fans uf UKL­G, so it's no ar­gu­ment :-), the rea­son her books are so good is that they are about peo­ple.

She is one of the big­gest hu­man­ists writ­ers I know. While some au­thors write about peo­ple who are more than hu­man in some sense, like Hein­lein, whose al­ter ego is usu­al­ly triv­ial to rec­og­nize, and is su­per-­com­pe­tent and re­al­ly, pret­ty su­per-hu­man, LeGuin's char­ac­ters are more hu­man than us.

They are good, or evil, or some­thing in be­tween, but they are what they are for hu­man rea­son­s, with hu­man mo­ti­va­tion, for hu­man goal­s, with hu­man pur­pos­es.

You can un­der­stand the guys. You can hate them or like them, but you can un­der­stand them.

For ex­am­ple, Shevek, the main char­ac­ter in The Dis­pos­sessed, is, for hu­man eye­s, supreme­ly un­in­ter­est­ed in pow­er, wealth, ma­te­ri­al poses­sion­s, which would seem to make him su­per­hu­man or in­hu­man.

Af­ter al­l, we all con­sid­er am­bi­tion and de­sire of poses­sion, ma­te­ri­al or per­son­al as nat­u­ral, be­cause we ex­pe­ri­ence them, we em­brace them!.

But he is not de­scribed as a char­ac­ter who sim­ply is like that. He be­came like that through ex­ten­sive and deep ed­u­ca­tion, al­most brain­wash­ing, al­though brain­wash­ing with a seem­ing­ly pos­i­tive goal in the de­scribed cir­cun­stances.

Now, is it good? He seems to be hap­py. His so­ci­ety, formed of like­mind­ed folks is de­scribed as hap­py, and good, and he even de­scribes the wealthy earth­-­like cap­i­tal­ist world he vis­its as "hel­l".

Would we be bet­ter off if we were brain­washed in­to be­ing good? Aren't we, on­ly in­ef­fi­cient­ly?

Is there moral val­ue on Shevek's be­ing eth­i­cal af­ter he has been ed­u­cat­ed to be un­able to be un­eth­i­cal?

Does it mat­ter?

Those are ques­tions a Hein­lein book will not make you ask, and they are wor­thy ques­tion­s, and they have no easy an­wswer­s. And they are all deeply hu­man prob­lem­s.

And al­though the com­pe­tent men of sci­fi are fun to read, and cause me to think of prob­lems of dif­fer­ent na­ture, which are worth­wile in them­selves, I think Ur­su­la K. LeGuin's books ac­tu­al­ly make me learn and think about more im­por­tant things. I learn about peo­ple from them.

They are good for you. And they are well writ­ten. And they are a fun read. And what more can one ask?

A.R. Yngve / 2006-04-03 06:02:

You asked: "Would we be better off if we were brainwashed into being good? Aren't we, only inefficiently?"

The short answer is: "Who does the brainwashing? Is HE to be trusted?"

I tried to write about a "perfect" society in a book I posted on my website back in '99, "Alien Beach." The usual benevolent advanced aliens come to visit Earth, and everyone suspect that they are too good to be true... "What's the catch?"

And there is a catch: turns out one of those kind, civilized aliens is a "reformed" criminal. When it was discovered that he plotted murder, the other aliens had him lobotomized. They claim that this was not a casual decision, but they had to do it for his own good.

Of course lobotomizing people into being socially adjusted is a horrifying prospect. The problem, again, is who does the brainwashing. In my book, the buck is passed on to some vague alien ancestor spirits who do the ultimate judgment. In real life, we can't find a final authority.

Still, I think Saddam would be happier if he was lobotomized... ;-P

Roberto Alsina / 2006-04-03 06:03:

Well, if we consider educatin as brainwashing (or viceversa), I have been a professional brainwasher for about 10 years :-)

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