Friday, November 27, 2009

The Lucky Strike - Kim Stanley Robinson

Earlier this year Kim Stanley Robinson's latest novel, Galileo's Dream was released in the UK (the US release is next month). Robinson is one of my favourite authors so I jumped on that book and read it in three days. Shortly after I found out there has been another recent publication, although the stories it contained had been published before. The Lucky Strike is a novella length booklet in the Outspoken Authors series by PM Press. Outspoken is surely something that applies to Robinson. It contains his novella The Lucky Strike, the short story A Sensitive Dependence On Initial Conditions and a lengthy interview with the author parts of which have recently appeared online.

As the title of the series suggests, the topic of this book is controversial.The Lucky Strike deals with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In Robinson's alternative history the crew of colonel Paul Tibbets crashes during a training exercise, another crew is selected to deliver the bomb. Captain Frank January is the man who will be responsible for dropping the bomb on target. After the briefing he begins to have doubts about the necessity of the raid. Frank clearly understands the enormous damage to bomb will do. Surely a demonstration of America's new powers should suffice. Shouldn't it?

The debate about whether or not the dropping of these two bombs was necessary to end the war or a war crime still rages. Personally I think the appalling damage these two weapons did, and they did know enough in advance to know how bad it would be, should be answer enough. That has not discouraged people from debating the what ifs that accompany this decision. In Robinson's version casualties are minimal yet the end of the war is achieved. This story will be enough to enrage those supporting the decision to drop the bomb I am sure. If you strongly support that position reading this story will no doubt result in a fine rant on historical revisionism. All I can say to that is keep in mind it is a work of fiction.

Something of which Robinson himself reminds us in A Sensitive Dependence On Initial Conditions which explores the possibilities to describe history as a set of physics like laws and the problems one encounters in such an attempt. It's a complex but very interesting piece, one of his more philosophical writings. The story mixes history with quantum mechanics, chaos theory and the processes in the human brain (among other things). To illustrate his ideas he proposes a number of different scenarios of the future if the bombing raid on Hiroshima had turned out differently with wildly different results. As the title suggests, he finds that predictions of the future are highly sensitive to initial conditions. In other words, the choice is ours. Science fiction writers all over the world will be pleased with this conclusion ;)

The last part of the book is taken up by a thorough interview titled A Real Joy to be Had with questions by Terry Bison. It covers all stages of his career and many of his novels. Reading the entire thing is much more rewarding that the pieces that have been put online. The part in which Robinson discusses infodumps and his dislike of that word was probably the most amusing bit. He is frequently accused of infodumping in his books and, whether or not you use that word for it, he is guilty as charged. It is in fact one of the reasons why I loved the Mars trilogy.

Outspoken is certainly applicable to Robinson in this book. He gives us an awful lot to think about in a mere 120 pages. I very much enjoyed reading it and will no doubt reread is a number of times in the future. Robinson is way on the left side of the political spectrum and he makes no secret of it. This book is provocative and meant to be that way, something to keep in mind while reading it. While reading The Lucky Strike I realized I have only read a few of Robinson's short stories. Fortunately there are plans for a best of collection to be published sometime next year. I am definitely going to read that.

Book Details
Title: The Lucky Strike
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Publisher: PM Press
Pages: 123
Year: 2009
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-60486-085-6
First published: 2009

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