introduction by Brian W Aldiss
(PS Publishing, £10.00, 108 pages,
signed, limited edition paperback, published August 2003.)
is an American Studies Associate at a community college in Connecticut,
and shares his small office, including its desk and chair, with Lee,
a Texan Chinaman and Distinguished Professor of Higher Mathematics.
Cole is surprised when Lee reveals himself to be part of the same radical
environmental movement Cole once associated with, the group responsible
for devising Dear Abbey, a hypothetical doomsday scheme to save the
planet by sabotaging humanity's genome. He is even more surprised to
discover that Lee has a plan to realise Dear Abbey by travelling into
the future, to a time when the genetic formula needed to put the plan
into action will be readily available. Most surprising of all, Lee plans
to do this using only a palm-held computer and an advanced knowledge
of quantum mathematics.
The result is Stapledonian fancy with a human face and extremist green
sensibilities, as Cole and Lee cavort through the future ages of Man,
drawn towards the end of time by "the Old Ones". Along the way they
start to question the necessity of Dear Abbey; what's one apocalypse
more or less in a timescale of billions of years? They even get to meet
Gaia, or a close approximation in the form of ARD, and discover that
the planet really wouldn't be bothered either way. To compensate, humanity
has created RVR, an omnipresent sentience that actually cares. Appearing
as a small fold in space over every human's shoulder, RVR provides companionship
for the people of the future, and responds favourably to petting. In
other words, it's a kind of cosmic dog. ("RoVeR" -- geddit?) It also
provides a handy running translation facility for Cole and Lee.
One aspect of Dear Abbey rankles with me, and that is the prose's
frequent "authorial" moments. Bisson establishes the story and wraps
it up in the first person, as Cole; the bulk of the novella is narrated
in the third person from Cole's perspective, but is peppered with references
to "us", "our planet", "our 'present'", etc. It's possible, even plausible,
that these are phrases overlooked in a rewrite of the text that saw
all bar the first two and final chapters shifted from first to third
person. I hope not; the change of voice nicely separates the journey
through time from the main flow of the two leads' lives, and I'd like
to think this effect was intentional from the start. But then that means
the direct asides between author and reader would be intentional too.
Another possibility suggests itself: that Bisson is presenting himself
in the role of RVR, "translating" the story into the reader's ear through
these stage whispers. Well, whatever. It bugs me even more, now that
I've got the mental image of Terry Bisson perched on my shoulder, expecting
to be fondled.
Overall, though, a fine novella, with easy-on-the-eye characterisation,
some well-presented ideas, and a provocative philosophical core.
Review by John Toon.