Otherness, David Brin

Bantam Spectra, 1994, 357 pages, C$7.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-553-29528-4

David Brin is one of my favourite writers, ever. His fiction is full of technological optimism, cautious but determined environmentalist, good old Campellian human chauvinism and rockin’ action. More than anything else, Brin reminds me of early Niven stories, where the galactic void was the limit, characters dared to go beyond it and ideas flowed freely. He may not write the most polished prose ever, but Brin never loses sight of the reason readers buy his books: To be entertained. For that reason alone, a single of Brin’s short stories is worth more to me than truckloads of stuffy self-conscious literary dreck. (Okay, so I’m hyperbolating again. Shoot me.)

The River of Time, his first short story collection, was probably the best single-author short story collection I’ve ever read, the only other contender being Greg Egan’s Axiomatic. So, it’s really unexcusable that I waited so much time to read Otherness, more than three years after it came out on the market.

The bad news is that it’s less overwhelmingly impressive as The River of Time. The good news is that it’s still a Brin anthology; fun and fascination available for all.

This isn’t your usual “bag’o’stories” collection: The book is divided in five thematic sections, from “Transitions” to “Otherness”. Included in the mix are story notes (unusually placed in the middle of the section) and short essays mostly concerned about the theme of “Otherness”.

What is that Otherness thing Brin seems to be so enthusiastic about? Well, it’s a bit like this: Only in the Western world today, do we have an obsession at proving that we are wrong: Youth questions authority, historian question traditional interpretation of history, children are expected to be better (ie: not do what their parents did wrong), people often using the expression “But I might be wrong”, outright glorification of other cultures, etc… This is socially unprecedented, and a good thing, says Brin in a much better way than I can. The essay in which this principle is first explained is hilarious and profoundly fascinating. Recommended reading.

The rest of the book is mostly entertaining. The only dull section is “Cosmos”, where literary tricks take the initiative, and the story suffers. “What continues, what fails…” has a fantastic premise but an overlong execution that still didn’t grab me, even the second time around.

A seemingly disproportionate amount of stories deal with motherhood (At least four of them), an unusual theme for a male author. A typically Campbellian “human-uber-alles” story, “The Warm Space” is also the weakest of the volume. I particularly enjoyed “Those Eyes” (a story) and “What to say to an UFO” (an essay) for the coldly rationalistic perspective of the UFO hysteria. “Detritus Affected” was very interesting up to the ending, which is absent.

Overall, a pleasant but not really spectacular anthology. The cover illustration by Donato is lovely, and the whole anthology can be read in a short amount of time. Not to be missed by any Brin fan.

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