How history works explained in fiction and essay
By Cory Doctorow
February 18, 2010
San Francisco-based PM Press were kind enough to send me a couple of their lovely little “Outspoken Authors” chapbooks, including The Lucky Strike, a volume by and about the science fiction great Kim Stanley Robinson.
The “Outspoken Authors” format is a good one: a novella, followed by an explanatory essay, followed by an interview with the author. For The Lucky Strike, the titular story (a reprint from a Terry Carr Universe anthology from 1984) is an emotional alternate history story about a man who finds himself in the bombardier’s chair as the first nuke is flown to Hiroshima, and the moral conundrum he faces at the thought of birthing the historical moment that separates the pre-atomic world from the one we inhabit today. This is a story that goes straight to the gut and the heart, a wrenching tale about morals and duty and hard choices.
Following The Lucky Strike is an essay, “A Sensitive Dependence on Internal Conditions,” (reprinted from a 1991 Pulphouse chapbook) that is a cerebral — but equally moving — look at the theoretical basis for alternate history stories, drawing parallels between science (especially physics, particularly quantum physics) and “scientific” theories of history, using several alternate versions of the bombing of Hiroshima to make its point. Here, Robinson is challenging us to consider why we find alternate history so satisfying, and what it says about the way we approach literature and politics today.
Concluding the volume is a sweet and collegial interview with Terry Bisson, 30 pages’ worth of material about how Robinson sees fiction and genre, his relationship to the American left and his literary predecessors (like Philip K Dick, who was the basis for Robinson’s PhD) and views on art and science and the culture of scientists.
Stan is one of the nicest, smartest and best writers I know, and that shines through in this volume. At just over 100 pages (plus bibliography), this is a perfect quick introduction to his work — or a great way to refresh yourself on why it matters so much.