Books Read- 203 Books to Read-282 Percent Complete- 41.86%

Just Finished (For the third time) - 'Mirror Dance' by Lois McMaster Bujold

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I took a quick break from 'Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell' to read Heinlein's short story '-All You Zombies-.'  I don't read very many short stories, I'd rather be able to sit down and read for a longer period of time, and I don't like reading more than two stories in a single day.  Every time I sit down to read a short story it feels like it's coming to an end just as I'm getting into it.  This poses a problem with some of the authors out there that are best in short form.  Authors like Italo Calvino (not really SF) and John Varley did the bulk of their work in short stories, and even people who enjoy their novels are quick to point out that their best work is in their short story collection.  I've known it was something of a blind spot in my reading but it never really bit me until now.

I picked up Zombies (only $1.25 on Amazon Kindle, this might be the sort of thing I start using my Kindle for) because in doing research for my review of 'The Man who Folded Himself' by David Gerrold I kept running across references to that story.  Other reviewers kept referring to Zombies as the basis for Folded, and referring to the latter as a novel length homage to Heinlein's story.  Since I wrote such a glowing review for Folded, and it's one of my favorite SF novels, I felt I had to get to the bottom of this.

I'm a little embarrassed that my dislike for short fiction made me miss out on this.  What am I writing this for if not to point out to you the roots of SF, and how can I totally whiff on something as obvious as this one?  Zombies is the inspiration for Gerrold's 'The Man who Folded Himself,' there's no denying that.  Both involve only one character who comprises all the roles in the story, his own father and mother included. Zombies basically lays the entire framework for Folded, Gerrold just fills in the rest of it.

Zombies is only nineteen pages long and accomplishes it's story in the most succinct manner possible.  The entire purpose of Zombies is almost to deliver the sort of shock inherent in a story in which a man is his own father and mother.  I once read a review for Richard Matheson's short story 'Button, Button' that called it an 'irony delivery device' because the whole story is aimed at delivering the twist ending and nothing else.  This rings true for Zombies as well, written in 1959 this would have been quite the shocker for that age, and I'm not even sure that Folded, which went to even stranger places, could have been published then.

This is not to say that either Zombies or Folded is a bad story, and I'm glad both have been written.  Zombies accomplishes everything a guy could hope for with a time travel story, presenting the paradoxes that would inevitably take place, and reaching the level of complexity that a story of that nature would have to reach to ring true, it just does it in a very short time span.  Folded takes the ideas presented in Zombies and expands on them, bringing in alternate dimensions and increasing that nineteen page story to novel length.  This diminishes neither story. 

It does however make me look kind of foolish for saying that most modern time travel stories owed a debt to 'The Man who Folded Himself' when really that debt should be paid to Zombies.  Anyone interested in time travel fiction would do themselves a favor to read both these books, but if I had it to do over again I'd say to start with Zombies and move on from there, and Folded is a pretty good place to go after that.

The funny thing is that now it looks like Heinlein borrowed some of his own ideas and based Zombies on a previous story of his, 'By His Bootstraps.'  It looks like I might have some more reading to do.

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