Friday, December 25, 2009

Formidable Caress

Novelette by Stephen Baxter

This novelette takes place is a very complicated world that has been extensively developed in Baxter's other works, none of which I have read. I assume the story would work better had I read some of these at least, but the last time one was published in Analog was April 2006.

Anyway, Telni is born to a mother who rebels against the sentient machines who have been selectively breeding humanity. Since the machines fear they are accidentally breeding out traits like curiosity and initiative, they take a special interest in him. Telni becomes a scientist measuring the strange time distortion between the 3 layers of his world, fails at love, and survives to a bitter old age, but is able to figure out things the machines cannot.

All the missing background I haven't read doesn't bother me until the end. Some bits are confusing and I know I'm missing something, but context gives us all the important things and the unseen richness of the world makes the story better.

Minor gripe: I can't see how having his hopes dashed with a girl Telni knew for a day really ruins his chances at happiness forever, but it may be the complaining of a bitter old man who never met anyone else intelligent enough to keep up with him.

So the story is quite good, up until the conclusion. Because of not having read the earlier works, I don't understand at all the "solution" to the biggest mystery that has been threaded throughout, despite the probably not-that-subtle revelation of it at the end. Really, THE CONCLUSION JUST LEAVES ME CONFUSED AND FAILS TO SATISFY. The central mystery is left unresolved unless one has read the previous works, and perhaps it wasn't meant to be a mystery at all and should have been obvious to those with the background. Besides the conclusion, this was an excellent story, but the ending falls so flat I can't give it more than a 3.5 out of 5.

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