Thursday, January 10, 2019

"Encounter With a Hick" (1967)

Once again, in Jonathan Brand's story for the Dangerous Visions collection, we see "dangerous" equated to a challenge to religious convention. And once again I am thinking about the "Is God Dead?" cover of Time magazine. Brand is among the most obscure writers in the collection. I can't find much about him on the internet. It sounds like he was some kind of graduate student who wandered into the right science fiction convention at the right time, with this story in hand. They liked it. They really liked it. And it's not bad—lively, fun, and sharply written. It's on the short side and does have the familiar problem of explaining concept while advancing plot. As it comes into focus, it involves terraforming corporations in a far future. A brochure describes the six-day process—you can guess where that's headed. At least it leaves the literary sledgehammer alone for resting on the seventh day. It's a bit unnerving, or "dangerous" (and certainly impressive), for the way it seamlessly yokes a fundamental creation myth with the glad-handing air of corporate sales. Someone in the story—the hick in the title, actually—hears it as we would, through our cultural filter, and of course finds it blasphemous. It's not really necessary, in fact it's overkill, but the encounter is practically the only thing that happens in the story. Everything else is concept. Actually, that's not true. There's another story about the scions of two terraforming companies in competition arranging a marriage of their children to each other, with hopes of future corporate consolidation. That's a pretty good story in itself, but leaves no good way to get the brochure in, which is more or less the point and dangerous part of the story. I find myself slipping dangerously myself now toward second-guessing workshop mode, tempted to kick around alternative ways to make the story work. Maybe the marrying children have a slight Romeo and Juliet thing, and reject their parents in terms of the terraforming work for some reason? Well, it's way too late now for anything like that, of course. But the story, not bad as it is, seems like it could be better somehow. Translating the first book of Genesis into jargon-riddled marketing copy (slightly dated more than 50 years on, but recognizable PR jive) is so inspired—that alone is worth a gold star. It just needs a better place to live.

Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison

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