Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"The Waveries"

I'm always delighted when science fiction crops up in conversation with non-sf folks. Sometimes someone other than me even brings it up!

Case in point: At last week's book-group meeting, Bob Doyle (our astronomer) argued that many of the social changes advocated by Michael Lerner in his best seller The Left Hand of God: Healing America's Political and Spiritual Crisis will be imposed not by individual moral choices but of necessity by the disappearance of cheap petroleum. That prompted Keith Schlegel (one of our several English-department folks) to recall a classic Fredric Brown story, "The Waveries" -- the one about energy-eating aliens whose grazing habits have Luddite effects on human civilization.

That's the second "Waveries" reference I've heard in as many months. Joe Haldeman invoked it in his introduction of Vernor Vinge at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in March. Joe said talk of the looming Singularity sometimes makes him long for the slowed-down society depicted in Brown's story.

Originally published in the January 1945 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, "The Waveries" is included in the excellent collection From These Ashes: The Complete Short SF of Fredric Brown, published in 2000 by the invaluable NESFA Press.

Isaac Asimov included it years ago in his anthology Isaac Asimov
Presents The Great SF Stories 7
(DAW, 1982), but advised skepticism in his introduction:
I want to dissent on the thesis because I'm a technophile (that is, I love advancing technology) and don't think that walking backward is the route to a Golden Age.

I just want to refer to one small passage in the story where Pete Mulvaney says that the air in New York City is "better than Atlantic City, without gasoline fumes" because the automobiles are gone. The next question from George Bailey is, "Enough horses to go around yet?" and the answer is "Almost."

Well, I've passed the horses at Central Park that pull the buggies, two or three of them, and I have to hold my breath every time. They stink of sweat and manure. That's two or three. Fill the city enough to take care of even the "last million people" the story speaks of and everyone will long for gas fumes again. Particularly in the summer when there will be no air conditioning (something Fred, writing in 1945, says nothing about).

Enjoy the story, but keep your perspective, that's all.
Yes, one of the story's main characters is named George Bailey, also the name of James Stewart's character in Frank Capra's movie It's a Wonderful Life, released nearly two years after Brown's story was published. Coincidence?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When I was just discovering sf in the 50s, Fredric Brown was my hero. He was funny and dirty, but more than that, he wrote about doing things we can't do now, such as visiting other worlds or marrying people of different colors. But then there was this one story that was the opposite of sf: We would be shoved back into the barbarous past, and the author was presenting it as a Good Thing. As Joe E. Brown said, nobody's perfect.