Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Adventurer

Short Story by C.M. Kornbluth
Free from Project Gutenberg
Read for Starship Sofa by Lawrence Santoro

I wasn't quite as impressed with this story as I felt I should have been. It may be the reek of the 50s, but I find it in my heart to love Asimov and Bradbury, you'd think I would love Kornbluth more. The concept is good and there is a nice layer of satire in the story:

America is a few hundred years into the future, still engaged in a cold war with the Soviet Union. The people are stupid and disinterested, and, more importantly, the president is stupid and disinterested and has become a hereditary position with all the name-only trappings of democracy you'd expect from us. It's really a dictatorship where cabinet members get executed as traitors on a whim, everyone spies on everyone else, and the people are kept in line through a mix of mind-control, terrorism, random executions, and press censorship.

Like some of Bradbury's work, Kornbluth is hating on anti-intellectualism before it was common, although it isn't the center of this story as it is in some of his others. Basically, the cabinet members want to overthrow their idiot-king but are certain they'll fail if they try any of the traditional means. Meanwhile, we read about the seemingly unrelated life of a young cadet.

The last lines are actually very surprising. I'd foreseen the main development, as I'm sure most readers will, but not only are some of the root causes different than we'd have thought, but the ultimate future of the nation doesn't go where I was expecting either. Kornbluth sets us up for one thing, especially given the hopefulness of the era, and then gives us a rather sobering, but probably more likely conclusion. And, again, it was all there earlier in the descriptions and the explanation of the title. I'll be left thinking about the stealth-moral of this story for years, I think. What is the true difference between the conquering hero and the villain?

Still, there is something about Kornbluth's prose that doesn't really strike me here, although Larry's narration is great as always, and this story, at least, isn't quite brilliant or subtle enough to be a favorite. 3.5 Soviet Jovian moons out of 5.

First Published in Space Science Fiction, May 1953

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