Hardfought & Cascade Point

A continuation of my Raw Feed series on Greg Bear works.

I’m going to call my younger self to task for accepting the clichéd notion that warring parties become more like each other. More how? Technologically, culturally, morally? I can think of plenty historical examples of wars where this isn’t true. (Though, in many, the losing side probably should have become more like their opponents to win.)

Raw Feed (1990): Hardfought, Greg Bear/Cascade Point, Timothy Zahn, 1988.Hardfought

Hardfought” combines some fairly good characterization with stylistic techniques (mainly in choice of nomenclature) that convey the alienness of the future and of the ostensible humans in it. There are some old, but nevertheless valid, themes here: that you have to see your enemy as something other than yourself in order to emotionally handle killing them and that in fighting the enemy you become more like them. Bear adds the additional corollary that to really defeat the enemy you must understand them, and this can also mean reaching an agreement. Here the humans develop a mandate much like the brood mind of the alien Senexi, and clone individuals who lose their personal identity. Aryz the Senexi becomes more a creature of his own by studying his captive humans.

There is something compelling about its dual study of the confusion wrought by the conflict of love and duty, the struggle of the individual against group regimentation (here ultimately lost), studying and becoming like your enemy. The alienness of the language cleverly highlights the strangeness of this future war while obscuring (deliberately) some of its details.

I found the most interesting element of the story what I took to be its use of the concept of information theory. Individuals are the bits of information that convey the message of history. According to information theory, if all the bits become the same (as all the humans become Clevas and Prufaxs and other types) the message — history — is lost. The same holds true if a sequence is repeated as seems to be the case at story’s end when Aryz’s experiment is destroyed by humans (all of a identical type). It is implied the humans and Senexi have become so formulized, so inflexible, so unvaried that the end scene of the story has happened many times. “History”, as one Prufax says, “is killed.” The Prufaxs of the experiment never get a chance to assert their differences, introduce information into the system again. A clever use of a rather (for dramatic purposes) abstract concept.

Since I often think award voters make strange choices, I’m not going to ponder long why “Cascade Point” won a Hugo. The description of the central technology, the Collotton drive and resulting Cascade Points, seemed to be vague and so much double talk. (There’s nothing wrong with that — sf authors often use technique to give a veneer of technology and science to an arbitrary concept — it just means the story doesn’t, to me, have a compelling scientific idea at its heart). The idea of Cascade Images being part of alternate universes wasn’t, to my mind, deeply exploited.

The best part of the story was the characterization, particularly of the narrator/captain, and the interaction of crew and passengers that enables the spaceship to find its way back to the proper universe. Nevertheless, I didn’t find that aspect of the story exceedingly well-done just a little better than the usual Analog standard, the magazine where the story was first published.

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

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