Friday, March 6, 2015

Pale Blue Memories, by Tobias S. Buckell

★★☆☆☆ Not Recommended

Astronauts from an alternate Earth where WWII was a stalemate crash on Venus and are enslaved. (11,600 words; Time: 38m)

Recommended By: BASFF+1

"Pale Blue Memories," by (edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois), appeared in (RSR review), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

The political message drowns the story; it goes on and on an on. The story itself is a dismal one--a simple tale of failure. (But see N.R.E's excellent analysis for a completely different take on it.)

If that weren't enough, it's loaded with unbelievable and/or unscientific elements:

  • The missile waited until they reached Venus.
  • The rocket was not destroyed tumbling through the atmosphere.
  • Parachutes were enough to land safely.
  • It took only one month to get to Venus.
  • Yelling to the natives in English is very, very stupid. How did these guys get picked?
  • Giving cyanide pills to the astronauts. 
  • Humans and Venusians could have children.

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4 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. The story was written for an anthology called Old Venus, and as such is meant to echo the post-war era of science fiction tropes. Contra this reviewer, I found the story a refreshing way to view the horrors of historical slavery and racism.

    1. I wrote a separate review of Old Venus, and recommended it as a whole. This particular story didn't work for me, though, for the reasons offered above. I just expect more out of a story than a message--even when it's a message I strongly agree with.

  2. I wouldn't call this a message story at all. The message, I would presume, is that slavery is bad - which is universally enough recognized these days as to hardly be a message at all - but the _story_ is about how a slave system is even harder to escape than we think it is.

    The narrator is stranded on a foreign world, gets made into a slave, survives harsh treatment and treachery from fellow slaves, learns who he can trust, and then, through courage and ingenuity, engineers a spectacular escape. We've all read this story before and we know how it's supposed to end: with his arrival on free soil, or at minimum with him leading a growing maroon colony in the mountains. But then, wham: we learn that the dominant culture knows that the best time to thwart a maroon colony is when it's just getting started and has a policy of doing whatever it takes to find and destroy them.

    _That's_ the story: you may get away from the slave society, but it will then devote its massive resources to finding you, because, to paraphrase MLK, freedom anywhere is a threat to slavery everywhere. And in fact, in our own history, escapes and maroon colonies usually failed, and even those that became temporarily powerful, such as the Palmares quilombo, were often conquered in the end. It worked for me as a counterbalance (not a corrective, because individual escapes and communities of escaped slaves sometimes did succeed) to narratives of individual triumph over slavery.

    1. I like that analysis. I edited the review to point to your comment. This was one of the very first stories I reviewed for RSR, and my rules have changed a bit over that time. However, I think the suspension-of-disbelief elements would still cause me to give it just two stars. True, it's meant to mimic pulp-era stories, but there's such a thing as doing that too well.