The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 22 August 2002

The New Atlantis

by Ursula K. LeGuin

In this short story (a novelette? just 42 pages), LeGuin envisions a dark future in which environmental collapse is accompanied by a massive bureaucratic dictatorship that controls all aspects of life and thought. Mathematics is more or less forbidden, and the colleges teach a purely business oriented curriculum. The government imposes a dystopian vision upon a world of apparent automatons. Here, though, Simon is putting together an experiment that could free the people from the control by a government and corporate structure that strictly rations energy resources (Enron?). Interleaved in this dark, Orwellian story, LeGuin describes a mythical place, an Atlantis, rising into the light. Atlantis rises from the waves, a metaphor for Simon's dreams. But what hope is there in this collapsing world? Perhaps not one of her best stories, it does enfold some of the dark visions of its time (1975) and is a glimpse into a not entirely impossible, future.

This short story was printed in the 1989 Tor Double Novel Number 13, a small, curiously printed, and out of print book which also included:

The Blind Geometer

by Kim Stanley Robinson

This is an intriguing longer short story (87 pages) by an author who is quite good at putting vivid personal and scientific detail into his books. Carlos is a geometer, a mathematician at a Washington DC university. Carlos, also, is blind. The plot centers on Carlos' fall into a conspiracy to trap and steal his exotic theories of n-dimensional manifolds. One might expect Robinson to go in to accute detail on the math, but he doesn't in so short a story. The spy game plot is also a little weak and has little payoff. However, Robinson has put into the story his own prodigious imagining of the life of a blind man whose life is given over to geometry. He describes the dark but complex world in which Carlos lives. The history and structure of his exotic work govern his internal existence. Robinson manages to convey a convincingly real vision of Carlos' inner life (one wonders at his research). Robinson's writing, in general, is light, with some flashes of interesting insight. In general I'm not crazy about books that describe the sexual act in such technical detail, though. Along the way, Robinson frequently uses the word "haptic" in his story. While the word is sufficiently descriptive, its obscurity is actually jarring while reading the story. The unusual word takes the reader out of the story for a moment, distracted. Robinson is not the only author given to this sort of distraction, though.

Finally, this volume includes a shorter story by Robinson, The Return from Rainbow Bridge, the best of the three in this small volume. This little story reads as both a fiction and as a memoir. I'd like to believe it is the latter. Robinson tells the story of a teenaged boy visiting the Navaho reservation on Independence Day weekend. He connects with his family and a mysterious native man named Paul. On the return from a gruelling hike to Rainbow Bridge (before the coming of Lake Powell), something mysterious and powerful happens. This is a surprisingly gentle and evocative story of a young man coming to terms with mystery in the world and the potential of human spirit. A nice little story.

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Also by LeGuin: [The Left Hand of Darkness] [The Dispossessed]

Also by Robinson: [The Gold Coast] [The Wild Shore] [Pacific Edge] [Antarctica]

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