"Watching Trees Grow" by Peter F. Hamilton
"Semley's Necklace" by Ursula K. Le Guin
I want to be more eclectic in my reading, so I'm making a change. I created a list of 100 Novellas that I'd like to read, and want to work that in to this weekly post. Or should those novellas be in separate posts? I'll think about that, but include the first one here. You can find that list of 100 Novellas |HERE|. In there are all the novellas (and then some) that were in my original short fiction list, so I edited that to remove all those novellas. The result is |HERE|. Aren't lists fun? Yes, yes they are.
So, first up this week is a novella by Peter F. Hamilton called "Watching Trees Grow". It's the first story in his Manhattan in Reverse collection.
It opens in Oxford, England, in 1832. The Roman Empire never fell, there are Borgias in the Vatican, and technology is progressing at a quick rate. In 1832 there are electric cars and telephones, and a murder which is surprising because that kind of thing just doesn't happen any more. Edward, the main character, is dispatched to solve the crime. The murder is going to take over a hundred years to solve, but Edward is one of the upper class and can live virtually forever, so he's got plenty of time. Chapter Two of the novella takes place in 1853, and Chapter Three in 1920. With each chapter Hamilton describes technological and societal changes, and Edward continues his search for the murderer. There's some thought here about the effects of virtual immortality on people, especially while AI's and other technology are doing much of the work.
In the year 1920 (in orbit around Jupiter), a character says:
"If we have a purpose, it is to think and create; that's our uniqueness. Any nonsentient animal can build a nest and gather food."
And after 80 more years of change, Edward notes:
"I believe it was our greatest defeat that so many of us were unable to adjust naturally to our new circumstances, where every thought is a treasure to be incubated."
I think of a person who was born in the early 1900's and made it to the year 2000. What change that person witnessed! Imagine if that person lived to see 2100. Or 2200. A thought-provoking novella. I really liked it.
I find that I don't have a lot to say about the next story, an early one from Ursula K. Le Guin. In her introduction she says that it was written in 1963 and published as "Dowry of the Angyar", then in 1964 it was included as the Prologue of her first novel Rocannon's World. The story flips between Rocannon and an alien woman whose tale she is trying to understand. Rocannon says that she feels sometimes as if she "blundered through the corner of a legend, or a tragic myth" which she doesn't understand. Some interesting world (or myth) building.
Also interesting in her intro to this story is that she's put the stories in this collection (The Wind's Twelve Quarters) in publication order so that we can see her progress as a writer from "candor and simplicity" to "something harder, stronger, and more complex". Most writers are just repeating what others have done. A small percentage of authors take what's come before and actually build on it in a way that's superior and unique. Ursula K. Le Guin is one of that small percentage. She's always worth reading.
My hope from here forward is to get through one novella a week, and as many short stories as I can manage. So next up on the novella list is "The End of the Affair" by Graham Greene. On the short story list, I need to get a copy of "Death on the Nile" by Connie Willis. After that is "The Music of Erich Zann" by good old H.P. Lovecraft.