Monday, March 16, 2020

A Solitary Crane Circles Cold Mountain, by Gregor Hartmann

★★★★★ Cool characters in a chilling setting.

(Dystopia) Lili’s Foundation is close to launching their generation ship if Lili can figure a way to make the society stable and if the world government can be convinced it doesn’t undermine harmony. (6,025 words; Time: 20m)

"A Solitary Crane Circles Cold Mountain," by (edited by C.C. Finlay), appeared in issue 03-04|20, published on by .

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

Review: 2020.149 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: On the surface, the plot is about Lili finding a way to get the generation ship launched despite the awful totalitarian government. Separately, it’s about Lili and Victor finding a way to be together despite the huge differences between them.

The intellectual problem is a real one: how could you design a generation ship with any hope that it would still be functioning after hundreds of years? Even if you staff it with the best and brightest, people tend to revert to the mean; there’s no reason to believe the next generation will produce enough rocket scientists to run the ship. But if you automate everything, giving the people little purpose, won’t they eventually revolt?

The separate problem is that the global government is essentially a religious dictatorship where the religion is based on preserving the environment, and sending a ship to the stars violates their principles in all kinds of ways.

I found it very uplifting, then, that Lili’s solution worked for the ship, it worked for the government, and it even let her and Victor be together. It very nicely brought all the pieces of the story together.

Con: It was actually kind of horrible that the colonists agreed to have most of their minds erased in order to regress them to the level of Tang-Dynasty peasants. Yes, it was a solution, but it’s bad if you think about it too closely.

There were several hints that the world was on the verge of a civil war between the two main factions, but nothing was ever done with that.

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1 comment (may contain spoilers):

  1. I agree this was a very good story - I'd easily give it four stars. The only thing I'd disagree with is the characterization of the government as 'religious' - to me it read as if the modern CCP became eco-fanatical, but still completely authoritarian, and the two factions were reminiscent of the ideological splits in the CCP during the Cultural Revolution (encouraged by Mao until he decided which faction he would use to annihilate the other).

    However, I didn't find anything uplifting about the ending. The idea of people lobotomizing themselves into superstitious peasants to make the generation ship function is absolutely appalling, and I don't think the story sells the dystopia as terrible enough to make it plausible that anyone would willingly choose that alternative. And of course, it's Lili's dream to build and launch a generation starship, but she quite pointedly doesn't go with it.

    OT: something appears to have changed in RSR's page settings that has broken the preview function, at least in Firefox. You can bring up the preview window and switch to the edit window, but if you then hit 'Publish' you get a message from Firefox that the page's security settings prevent the page from being reloaded in that way. Publishing without previewing works. I ran into this problem on both my laptop and a tablet.