“The Little Sailboat”

I’m not resuming my James Gunn series yet, but I happen to come across this story in a recent issue of Analog.

Review: “The Little Sailboat”, James Gunn, 2019.


This is a “Probability Zero” story. That’s an Analog feature of short-short stories. Many are humorous. Some, like this one, are fabalistic or outside of Analog‘ usual scope of hard science fiction.

Gunn, in Crisis!, was operating in science fiction guru mode. This is Gunn operating in, unfortunately, in sort of an Elijah mode.

A man builds a sailboat in his driveway. However, the driveway is “hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean”.

Since this story is sort of a combination of “The Little Engine That Could” and the building of Noah’s Ark, the sailboat is personified as “the Little Sailboat”, and neighborhood boys mock the Little Sailboat as they pass.

As men, these boys do all sorts of reprehensible things. They “cooked large slabs of meat on charcoal grills, drank cold beer, and ran their air conditioners”.

And, of course, they tell themselves that the warming temperatures are just “normal fluctuations in temperature”.

Then, one day, the global ice caps melt, and the sea expands hundreds of miles. The “thoughtless big men who had been born mean little boys” flounder in the water and the Little Sailboat sails happily away.

Even granting Gunn the license of fable and the reality of extreme anthropogenic global warming, this story annoys me. Even assuming maximum melting of polar ice caps, there aren’t that many areas where the sea would advance hundreds of miles. And there’s the inherent men-as-Earth-rapers assumption. Evidently, no women are in air conditioned rooms or eating charcoal grilled meat.

I admire the quality and longevity of Gunn’s 70 year literary career, but I hope this does not mark a new direction for him.


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

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