The Tom Purdom Project, Part 2

The imprudent title of this post refers to my intention to read the complete science fiction works of Tom Purdom.

Like most such reading projects, it will probably not be completed in my lifetime — not because of the time involved but because of my desultory ways and easily distracted personality.

The first entry of the Tom Purdom project is a review of his recent collection, the only one of his career so far, Lovers & Fighters, Starships & Dragons. I actually became aware of Purdom about ten years ago, so I’ll briefly review, or at least list, stories of his I’ve read to date and that aren’t included in his collection.

His “Romance in Extended Time” from the March 2000 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction was my first encounter with Purdom. While I recall liking it, I have not found any notes recording my detailed reactions. It is part of what Purdom refers to as his Casanova in  Space series. He talks about their inspiration and the details of writing them in entries four and five of his engaging literary memoir.

“The Noise of Their Joye” has, alas, not been reprinted from its first appearance in the May 2000 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction. Drawing on his knowledge and love of Baroque Era music and years as a critic of early music performances, Purdom’s time travel story looks at the life of Johannes Sebastian Bach. A bunch of academics go back in time to study Johannes Sebastian Bach, his lost music, the man, and the performance techniques of the time. The academic and artistic obsessions of the group rapidly sabotage the directive not to create potential time paradoxes (this is the first study to go back to a time of human civilization). Besides the interesting details of Bach’s life and the music of his time, Purdom ends this tale, like his “Romance in Extended Time”, on an unexpectedly serious note. Future Bach performer Cecili expresses the desire, against policy, to help Bach whose daughter is to die only months in the future and who will never really receive much compensation from his immortal work. She notes that everything their wonderful future has is built “on someone else’s pain”. That, of course, holds true for not only art or Cecili’s world of the future, but for us and our civilization. Cecili, having seen that painful past, can’t forget that.  The story also makes Bach an interesting character who knows there is something odd about the time travelers who show up at his house, especially the prodigiously talented Cecili who is reluctant to play his work in public. He even, at story’s end, schemes to secretly have her playing overheard. Purdom portrays artists and academics as passionately involved in their subject and the great ones having an abundance of emotion.

“Bank Run”, reprinted in Rich Horton’s Science Fiction: The Best of the Year — 2006, was the next Purdom I read. This story is another version of what seems to be a typical theme:  that no matter how much technology advances and how much humans are engineered, the old conflicts and emotions will remain. Here he gives us an impressively done adventure story on a world where no law or central government exists though the various private militias work at not escalating things up to a lethal level of violence (bad for business, destroys assets). The hero is a thorough example of Economic Man who loves nothing more than money, financial matters, and sex. All three are combined in his concubine/bodyguard/executive assistant who is genetically engineered to emotionally and physically be his type. The story involves his pursuit, with his concubine lover and another assistant, by a warlord intent on gaining access to his fortune. Purdom does an excellent job with his hero, engineered to be calm, nonplussedly multitasking business deals, financial manipulations, and combat operations on his computer screens while under pursuit and attack. But, if his concubine is engineered to selflessly give herself to him, the hero, in selecting her traits, is no less devoted to saving her life. The object of our desire, says Purdom, grips us tight whether random nature or engineering chose their traits.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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