The Norton Book of Science Fiction (Notes on Selec

Notes on Selected Stories from The Norton Book of Science Fiction

Cordwainer Smith: "Alpha Ralpha Boulevard", Theodore Sturgeon: "Tandy's Story", David R. Bunch: "2064, or Thereabouts", Clifford D. Simak: "Over the River and Through the Woods", James Blish: "How Beautiful with Banners", R. A. Lafferty: "Nine Hundred Grandmothers", Sonya Dorman Hess: "When I Was Miss Dow", Frederik Pohl: "Day Million", Samuel R. Delany: "High Weir", Suzette Haden Elgin: "For the Sake of Grace", Zenna Henderson: "As Simple As That", Robert Silverberg: "Good News from the Vatican", James Tiptree, Jr.: "The Women Men Don't See", Vonda N. McIntyre: "The Mountains of Sunset: The Mountains of Dawn", Joe Haldeman: "The Private War of Private Jacob ", Ursula K. Le Guin: "The New Atlantis",Joanna Russ: "A Few Things I Know About Whileaway", John Varley: "Lollipop and the Tar Baby", Philip K. Dick: "Frozen Journey", Phyllis Gotlieb: "Tauf Aleph" William Gibson: "The Gernsback Continuum", Carol Emshwiller: "The Start of the End of the World", Octavia Butler: "Speech Sounds", Kim Stanley Robinson: "The Lucky Strike",Lewis Shiner: "The War at Home", Karen Joy Fowler: "The Lake Was Full of Artificial Things", James Patrick Kelly: "Rat", Eileen Gunn: "Stable Strategies for Middle Management" Margaret Atwood: "Homelanding"

Some of the following notes require looking up passages in the Bible. You can access one at
Cordwainer Smith: "Alpha Ralpha Boulevard" p. 49
This story is one of a series with a similar setting and linked characters, themost famous of which is "The Ballad of Lost C'mell." What changeshave recently been introduced into this society? How are people reacting? Paul et Virginie (1788) was an enormously popular romanticnovel by Bernardin de Saint - Pierre dealing with interracial love. Why is theallusion to it here appropriate? What are homunculi? "Abba" is Hebrewfor "Father" whereas a dingo is a sort of wild Australian dog - likecreature (See a look at some dingoes.) What does the name "Abba - dingo" suggest to you? "Macht" is German for "might" or"power." What are the different kinds and functions of freedom treated in this story? How has Paul changed at the end of the story?
Theodore Sturgeon: "Tandy's Story" p. 74
Sturgeon often deals with childhood in his stories. It is fairly common forsmall children to have imaginary companions. Is the point of view of this storyadult or childish? What effect does that fact have on the story? What qualitiesmake this a sort of ironic horror story?
David R. Bunch: "2064, or Thereabouts" p. 93
Bunch wrote a number of short sketches, mostly published in little literarymagazines rather than commercial SF magazines (later collected in a volumetitled Moderan ). For that reason, hiswork has not become widely known, but he brought a special intensity to thisseries, all set in the same post - holocaust world dominated by automated warmachines. Who is the narrator? What would you say is the principal theme of thisstory? Is this a humorous story? A horror story? Or something else?
Clifford D. Simak: "Over the River and Through the Woods" p. 125
This story is set in 1896. What makes it a science fiction story? What hascaused the sudden appearance of these children? Do you know of any parallels inactual modern history? What doesn't Mrs. Forbes understand about the future?The title is taken from the first line of a familiar song; what is its secondline?
James Blish: "How Beautiful with Banners" p. 132
This story features an encounter between a futuristic bit of technology the filmwrap and an alien creature which is drawn to it, with the human caught in themiddle. In trying to escape the situation she gets trapped in, to what degreeis she successful, to what degree a failure? "Basta, per carita!" isroughly the Italian for "Enough, for goodness sake!" The myth ofNessus, the centaur, says that he took vengeance on Hercules for killing him (hehad kidnapped Hercules' wife Deianeira), by advising his wife to soak a shirtin his blood and give it to Hercules, telling her that it would cause him tolove her forever. It turned out instead to be fatally poisonous, killingHercules. In what way does this story reflect this myth? "Nun denn,allein!" is German for "Now then, alone!" A "sabbat"is a witch's sabbath.The myth of Psyche and Cupid says that during this youngwoman's affair with the love - god, she was forbidden to look upon him, makinglove with him only in the dark. When she lit a lamp in the bedchamber, he lefther. In what way is Ulla like that lamp?
R. A. Lafferty: "Nine Hundred Grandmothers" p. 142
There are many stories about the quest for immortality; most of them offeringthe sour - grapes consolation that eternal life would be hellish, and deathdesirable. This one evades that simple - minded approach without offering theconventional consolation of religious or scientific optimism. It can be seen asmore about communication than life and death. What does this story have to sayabout the typical SF notion that we can learn the secrets of the universe fromwise alien races?
Sonya Dorman Hess: "When I Was Miss Dow" p. 151
This story can be seen as a variation on one of those typical 50s alien - takeoverfilms like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or IMarried a Monster from Outer Space (don't laugh, it's not all thatbad a movie). But the situation here is more complex. In what ways does thenarrator's relationship with the Doctor reflect certain patterns of humanrelationships?
Frederik Pohl: "Day Million" p. 166
Some SF writers like Isaac Asimov assume that "human nature" staysessentially the same. Pohl here makes an assault on that assumption bydescribing a future humanity that is almost incredible. What are the mainfeatures of the unusual narrative technique used here? What has not changed? What do you think Pohl's purpose was in writing this story?"Callipygean" comes from a classical Greek word meaning "beautiful - hipped." "Meet cute" is an expression used in filmcriticism to describe a charming but artificial way of having two charactersmeet who are destined to fall in love. Vincent d'Indy (1851 - 1931) composedseveral popular orchestral works. Thelonius Sphere Monk was a brilliantlyoriginal jazz pianist. Tiglath - Pileser and Attila the Hun were ferocious conquerors.
Samuel R. Delany: "High Weir" p. 183
Delany (be careful about spelling his name; it is often misspelled"Delaney," even in print) is the most distinguished black SF author.In some ways this is a traditional puzzle story with a technical solution. It isnot obviously about racism, but can you see any reflections of Delany'sAfrican - American heritage in it? Can you compare it to any story in Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles?
Suzette Haden Elgin: "For the Sake of Grace" p. 211
What effect does it have on this story that it is set in such an extremelysexist future? Are the lessons conveyed by this story applicable in any way toour own culture, which is much less sexist? What ancient culture historicallyvalued people primarily on the basis of their knowledge of poetry?
Zenna Henderson: "As Simple As That" p. 231
Henderson was a life - long schoolteacher, and the narrators of many of herstories are teachers too. Many of them concern The People, a supernormal alienrace which tries to blend in with humans in Appalachia. This story is not a partof that series however. What effect does it have on our experience of theeffects of the Torn Time to view it through the eyes of children? Do you findthis an optimistic or pessimistic story? Explain.
Robert Silverberg: "Good News from the Vatican" p. 242
Silverberg likes to play with the topic of religion, often in highly irreligiousways. This story would seem to have been inspired by the "ecumenicalmovement," a drive to reunite various Christian churches. This storyillustrates well a common genre in SF which might be called after a famousHeinlein title "If this goes on... ." A current trend isextrapolated to absurd lengths for satirical purposes. That this is a satire isannounced early on in the names of the Italian cardinals: Asciuga("towel") and Carciofi ("artichoke"), and made clear laterby the silly name of the new pope. What has brought about the proposal to electa robot pope? The Osservatore Romano is the officialnewspaper of the Vatican, and reflects official Church views. A "barmitzvah" is the ceremony of manhood through which Jewish boys go. The International Herald Tribune is an internationalEnglish - language newspaper published jointly by the New York Times and the Washington Post which is sold all over theworld. The Liebestod (love - death) scene from Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde contains famously aching harmonies. Hieronymous Bosch's Temptation of Saint Anthony, based on the bizarre visions ofan early Christian hermit, contains many strange creatures, including the frogreferred to here. There have been popes named Sixtus ("six") in fact,but it is especially appropriate for a robot to have a purely numericaltitle.
James Tiptree, Jr.: "The Women Men Don't See" p. 255
James Tiptree, Jr. was the pseudonym of Alice Sheldon, who disguised her sex forseveral years while becoming one of the most distinguished short - story writersin SF. Does it change how you read this story to know that it was written by awoman? Characterize the narrator: what sort of person is he? What sort ofthoughts does he concentrate on in regards to the women? Compare his attitudetoward the Mayas with Mrs. Parson's. What is his reaction to her feminism? Whatdoes Mrs. Parson's last speech mean? Noli me tangere is aquotation from John 20:17, in which the newly - resurrected Jesus tells MaryMagdalene "Touch me not." The phrase has often been sarcasticallyused of women who are not interested in sex (at least not in sex with thespeaker). "Quién estás? A socorro!" is Spanish for "Who are you? Help!" "Chingarse" is Spanish for "F*** you!"
Vonda N. McIntyre: "The Mountains of Sunset: The Mountains of Dawn" p. 287
This is an unusual story in that it contains no human beings. The early part ofthe story uses the concept of artificial gravity induced through centrifugalforce created by rotating a space vehicle. You can experience this phenomenonyourself by swinging a bucket full of water around your head on a rope, notingthat the centrifugal force presses the water against the bottom of the bucketand prevents it from spilling. However, if one imagines a large space vehicle inrotation, there would be no "gravity" at the hub and the highest"gravity" at the rim. Therefore in the "higher," morecentral portions of the vehicle, flying would be considerably easier. What isthe nature of the relationship depicted in this story? Why is it important thatthe young man participates in the old woman's death ritual?
Joe Haldeman: "The Private War of Private Jacob " p. 300
Haldeman is a Vietnam veteran, and many of his stories reflect his warexperiences. In what ways might this story be read as a metaphor for the VietnamWar?
Ursula K. Le Guin: "The New Atlantis" p. 317
The title echoes the title of a utopian work by Francis Bacon. Why is it ironichere? What was the fate of the original mythical Atlantis? What has happened tothe environment? What effects have this events had on social organization? Whyare such drastic efforts being made to reduce the population? The passages insmall type portray poetically the thoughts of the original Atlanteans, nowreclaiming the world after centuries of being drowned beneath the sea. How dothey interact with the main narrative? Can you tell who has written them? (Hint:look for the manuscript to be deposited safely on a mountain top at the end ofthe story.) Alfred Nobel hoped that his invention of dynamite would terrify theworld into peace, and used some of his wealth to set up the Nobel Peace Prize.Many "ultimate weapons" have been proposed since with the same goal."Sammy's Dot" is a phonetic spelling of the Russian term Samizdat ("for the drawer"), used to designateworks written illegally, outside the regular state publishing system during theSoviet era. On p. 332 there are a number of historical allusions. "Mr.Watson, will you come here a minute," was the first message delivered overthe experimental telephone of Alexander Graham Bell. Wilbur Wright was one ofthe two brothers who built the first successful airplane. Alexander Flemingdiscovered penicillin in bread mold. The pre - Mousterian era is when ourancestors discovered the use of fire. What do all these references have incommon? "Brighter than a thousand suns" and "The physicists haveknown sin" are both famous quotations from Robert Oppenheimer, leader ofthe project to develop the atomic bomb during World War II. What two verydifferent technical approaches are being taken to dealing with the crisis inthis story?
Joanna Russ: "A Few Things I Know About Whileaway" p. 337
When Seattle author Russ' The Female Man, which incorporatesthis story, was published, it was fiercely attacked as the product of a radicalfeminist lesbian separatist - - all of which was true, but neglected the fact thatit was also brilliantly written and a wonderfully satirical. Since an all - femalesociety is not probable in the near future, what functions can this sort ofstory serve? Compare Whileaway as a utopia with Anarres. Why does JE say thatthe women of Whileaway hack off their hair with clam shells? "Nichtwahr?" is German for "Right?" What messages does thebear myth (deliberately different from " Goldilocks and the ThreeBears") convey? In some forms of Zen Buddhism the master tries to shockthe novice into enlightenment by striking him abruptly. What criticisms oftraditional romance/fairy tale values does section 13 make? Who are the gnatsthat block the way to Whileaway?
John Varley: "Lollipop and the Tar Baby" p. 357
Varley is well known for his interest in women and in challenging sexual taboos.Could this story pass for the product of a woman? Is this a feminist story?Compare it with James Tiptree, Jr.'s story in its values, point of view, andmain concerns.
Philip K. Dick: "Frozen Journey" p. 386
What kind of mind does Kemmings have? What is the end result of exploring hismemories nonstop for ten years? Note how Dick has found here yet another way toexplore his favorite theme of interpenetrating realities. Dick was closelyassociated for a time with psychedelic hippie subculture. This story contains anaffectionate tribute to the brilliant comic art of Gilbert Shelton, one of themost important contributors to the classic underground comics of the sixtiesand early seventies. His main characters were the "Fabulous Furry FreakBrothers," a sort of stoned Marx Brothers. Fat Freddy was the leastintelligent and most lovable of the three. A collection of the Freak Brotherscomics is in the underground and alternative comics collection in HollandLibrary's Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections room(PN6728.45.R5F74x).
Phyllis Gotlieb: "Tauf Aleph" p. 427
Many SF writers are Jews, but few of them are religious, or depict Jews in theirworks. Gotlieb's affectionate portrait of the last living Jew is an exception.How does this story treat religion differently from the Silverberg story?Compare it to A Canticle for Leibowitz. If tauf is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and "aleph" is the first, what does the title of the story mean? The title may also involve apun on the name of the planet where Begelman lives: Tau Ceti IV (the fourthplanet of the prominent star called "Tau Ceti"). "Sol" means"sun," so "Solthree" is the third planet from the sun:Earth. The Talmud is a vast, many - volumed commentary on the Jewish scriptures.How long does O/G5/842 study Judaism, and why is this significant? O/G discovers that illegal drugs are being smuggled out in the guise of powdered drink mix."Pardes" means "orchard," but also "paradise." Itis often used to refer to the Garden of Eden in the Bible. To some extent namingthis forlorn place "Pardes" was a cynical promotional gesture, likethe naming of a frozen island "Greenland;" but what othersignificance might the name have in this story? The Zohar is a Medieval mystical Jewish work, part of the Kabbalah."Shalom" is "peace," often used as a greeting in Hebrew.The medieval legend of the golem tells how a brilliant rabbi created thismonster to take vengeance on the Christians for the sufferings they had causedthe Jews. It ran amuck, however, and had to be destroyed by its creator, likeFrankenstein' s monster. Compare the Golem in this story to the legendary one.Kaddish is the ritual prayer said for the dead. Baal was a Middle Eastern god,according to the Bible, to whom were sometimes offered children as ritualsacrifices. This practice is identified as among the worst of all sins in somepassages. "Clean" foods allowed to Jews are kosher, "unclean," forbidden foods are tref. A tallith katan is a fringed prayer shawl. A convert can becalled "ben Avraham" ("son of Abraham") or "batAvraham" ("daughter of Abraham") to indicate adoption as a childof Abraham, the ultimate father of all Jews. Begelman uses the neuter"b'nei" instead. The referenceto the victory over Og uses Hebrew spellings; non - Jewish Bibles spell"Moshe" as "Moses" and "Kana'an" as"Canaan." In what way is Zohar like Moses? Look at the psalm that Ogrecites as Zohar is dying. In what ways are its images appropriate to a story ofinterplanetary travel and of renewal? The Shema is thecentral statement of the Jewish faith. It occurs at Deuteronomy 6:4 - 9 andbegins, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone." Mishnais commentary on the Jewish law. In what respect do the Cnidori replicate theexperience of Earth's Jews at the end of the story?
William Gibson: "The Gernsback Continuum" p. 457
Gibson originated cyberpunk in Neuromancer, but he cannot bepigeonholed in any one genre. However, this story displays one fairly constantaspect of his style: a dense allusiveness which demands a good deal of generalknowledge, particularly of popular culture. Hugo Gernsback was the founder ofthe first science fiction magazines and in some ways the inventor of the modernconcept of SF. The annual award for the year's best writing is called the"Hugo" in his honor. His main era of activity was the 20s and 30s,and this story is an affectionate look at the "alternate future" described in the pages of and depicted on the covers of his magazines. A commonconcept in SF is the notion of parallel worlds. For various reasons it is argued that an infinite number of variations on our universe may exist side byside, so that every sort of world that could exist, does exist. None of thescientific speculations about this theory involve being able to pass from oneparallel universe to another, but that is of course the main point of interestin SF treatments of the theme. Gibson takes for granted that his audience isfamiliar with the concept, and then begins to play with it. The version of theworld dominated by " American Streamlined Moderne" will be moreentertaining if you are familiar with the style, which was especially prominentin the thirties and forties, promoted as futuristic, but now looking hopelesslythough charmingly dated. If you' ve ever seen the old black and white movieserials of Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon you'll have some idea, but better sourcesare the two films mentioned in the story: Fritz Lang's silent Metropolis and Things to Come, based on a book and introduced byH. G. Wells. Ming the Merciless was, of course, the cruel ruler of the PlanetMongo and Flash Gordon's greatest enemy. How have modern times prevented theyoung girl from Virginia from being identified as a witch? What does thenarrator's last speech mean?
Carol Emshwiller: "The Start of the End of the World" p. 466
In the 50s there were many stories published that depicted sweet little oldladies, hopelessly naive and uninformed, encountering invading aliens, andusually saving the Earth. This is a witty variation on that theme. "Womanof a certain age" is the translation of a French euphemism for amiddle - aged woman. Compare this story with War of the Worlds. How is this invasion different? Since this story makes fun of an oldwoman, is it anti - feminist; or can you detect feminist themes in it?
Octavia Butler: "Speech Sounds" p. 513
After Samuel R. Delany, Octavia Butler is the other most distinguishedAfrican - American SF author. Like him, she does not usually concentrate on racialissues; she is particularly interested in the healing of damaged societies. What have been the main effects of the loss of language on society? What hope forthe future is presented at the end?
Kim Stanley Robinson: "The Lucky Strike" p. 538
The title is a pun alluding to the name of the most popular brand of cigarettesduring World War II. What is its literal meaning in this story? This is analternate - history story, somewhat related to the parallel world story. Theauthor takes a well - known period of history and imagines how things might havegone differently. This is a detailed, well - researched variation on the eventssurrounding the first use of the atomic bomb. Nuclear scientist Leo Szilard, thephysicist who had first conceived of the bomb and urged Roosevelt (throughEinstein) to build it proposed to demonstrate the bomb to the Japa nese leadersat sea or on an uninhabited island to convince them to surrender. He was joinedby many of the other scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project under him inChicago. Debate continues on whether this would have worked. The actual names ofthe bombs used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki were "Fat Man" and"Little Boy." What does January's dream suggest? What leads January tobelieve that there will be more wars? How did January's act alter history? Whyis he so interested in the fact that one of the guns aimed at him will beunloaded? The novel referred to toward the end of the story is a minor work byWilliam Faulkner: The Wild Palms.
Lewis Shiner: "The War at Home" p. 577
A popular slogan among the more radical Vietnam War protestors was "Bringthe War Home." In what way is this slogan ironically realized in thisstory? No scientific rationale is offered for this transformation, so the storyis more strictly speaking fantasy than SF. A Huey is an Army combat helicopterof the kind that was used extensively in Vietnam. Clare's costume is animitation of traditional Vietnamese peasant wear. "Fragging" was thedeliberate assassination of commanding officers by their troops, usingfragmentation grenades. Does this story have a message? What is it?
Karen Joy Fowler: "The Lake Was Full of Artificial Things" p. 580
How has the Vietnam War affected the people in this story? How does cabletelevision function differently in this time than in ours? How is this aparticularly woman's experience of the war? What is resolved at the end of thestory? What is left unresolved?
James Patrick Kelly: "Rat" p. 654
In this cyberpunk story the protagonist is literally a rat, though clearly notan ordinary one. What affect does it have on the story to make this drug dealernot only figuratively but literally a rat? To "nova" is to becomesuddenly much brighter, like an exploding star, called a nova because ancient astronomers considered them "new" stars when theysuddenly appeared. The Checker Cab Company built taxis for many years. TheFrench on the first page means "Don't pretend to study, my little one. Whatare you doing?" What is a Bahamian laundry loop? Why does the cabbie dareto defy Rat? Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass is an epiccelebration of American life. Why is its use significant here? What rat - likeuse does he make of the profits from his drug dealings? Where has Rat hidden thedrugs, and what happens to him at the end of the story?
Eileen Gunn: "Stable Strategies for Middle Management" p. 705
This story is a variation on the famous Franz Kafka story "TheMetamorphosis," in which a meek bank clerk named Gregor Samsa istransformed overnight into a giant insect, usually presumed to be a cockroach.Samsa is rendered unable to continue his ordinary occupation as a bank clerk ashe takes on more and more of the characteristics of an insect, and deterioratesslowly to a wretched end. How does Gunn reverse this pattern? What are thetargets of her satire? What insects is the protagonist transformed into duringthe course of the day? How does her character change? What qualities make hergood executive material?
Margaret Atwood: "Homelanding" p. 794
Canadian writer Margaret Atwood sometimes uses SF language in her philosophicalsketches like this one. What effect does it have on how we view ourselves to begranted the perspective of an outsider? What is her attitude toward death?

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