Volume 20 Number 4
Here are nine stories in the increasingly popular genres of fantasy and science fiction. The themes are the fashionable ones: pollution, nuclear disaster, materialism - the ones we write slogans about for bumper stickers and T-shirts - and they are treated with about as much depth. For example, in "Tourists from Algol," aliens build a Walt Disney World type resort in the heart of a farming community, bringing both prosperity and problems. So what else is new? "Dark Christmas," a child's dream updates Scrooge's visitations; the teeming poor of London are now Ethiopians and Sudanese. Henighan's fault is not that he is retelling old tales, but that he is saying nothing new about them.
Since the time of Thomas More, writers have created other realities to give us insights into our own. The best were outside the culture they commented on, some literally (Swift was Irish, Kaflka a Jew; Orwell was born in India). And they were visionaries - not that they could look into our future, but rather that they could see beneath our skins. It is this incisive, "alien" perspective which gives fantasy/science fiction its strength and its purpose.
Henighan is no outsider. He is as mainstream as television, choosing popular issues and probing no deeper than the average TV movie. There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of his concern; nor is there any reason to listen to him rather than to anybody else.
Henighan's writing style is workmanlike, free of both cliché and lyricism. It might flow better if the erratic typesetting weren't so distracting. Strange Attractors may find an audience among sober-minded young people who plant trees in their spare time, but the ones who are mature enough to know that understanding our present is the only key to coping with our future are still better off reading the masters of the past.
Melanie Fogel is a freelance writer in Ottawa, ON.
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