Short Reviews – The Mars Ship, Robert Thurston

I’m going to try to do some mini-reviews of the short fiction (and maybe some essays) from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction I picked up over the weekend.  I’m just about done with the June 1977 issue, and I’ve got to say: everything in it has been solid.  Honestly better than any of the more recent stuff – with a few exceptions (nods to Mr. Wright & Mr. Beale) – I’ve read by miles.  I’ll review these until I run out or I get my Hugo Packet.  

One of the complaints Jeffro voiced after having read Championship B’Tok was that discovery and exploration have forced science fiction into blander territory; as universal, planetary, geological, geographical, and other mysteries are solved, the room for speculation narrows. Old Science fiction gets criticized for failure at predicting the future* while current science fiction is criticized for inaccurately reflecting our present knowledge.

The Mars Ship is a story that is as resonant today as it was in 1977. The story’s protagonist is a disillusioned sci-fi writer who lives in a world where people repeatedly cryogenically freeze themselves and thaw out a few years later in hopes that there will be less ennui this time around. In this future, there’s little to no sci-fi writing, and the sci-fi writers of old are criticized as being anti-progress. This is just the non-sense crit-theoretician in me talking, but I’m guessing that the titular Mars Ship (a decadent 1/1 scale model monument/tourist attraction dedicated to an expedition to Mars that met a catastrophic end, setting back space exploration for decades) represents just how beautiful and impressive failures can be; everyone else remarks about what an eyesore it is, but the sci-fi writer is awestruck by it as a memorial to what mankind would dare attempt. Maybe he’s not impressed with the monument itself so much as what it attempts to memorialize, just as we fans of science fiction are impressed by works of the imagination and the visions of the future as we are by where the future ended up.

Fry perhaps summed it up best on Futurama: “The world needs Star Trek to give people hope for the future.” Even set 800 years in the past. Sci-fi can give us hope for the future, even if it’s crusty old sci-fi from half a century ago.

*: In The Mars Ship, IBM is out of the Type-Writer business, but is making bank off automatic bar-tending units that have printer/copier-like service contracts.  Also, the writer-protagonist ‘googles’ himself; a machine prints off a list of all articles he and his books have been mentioned in, presumably in dot-matrix.

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