Monday, June 2, 2008

Adventure Tales and Philosophy

"No Traveler Returns" by Dave Creek is a story centered on Mike Christopher, a character he has written about before. However, it is perfectly readable on its own without having read the other ones, which I haven't. This is an adventure story. Christopher hired passage on a ship piloted by an alien with its own agenda. Instead of taking Christopher where he wants to go, they've made a stop at the Station of the Lost and wrecked their own ship in the process. The alien is running from something, and has decided that his best option is to go to this no-alien's-land of smugglers and villains to try to make the next step in his voyage.

At first I thought that this would be a "two very different beings learn to understand one another as they journey on" story. They land at the wrong side of the Station, bickering all the way, and begin to trek down the axis of the Station to the place they want to be, encountering thugs, alien colonies, and arms dealers along the way. However, the story takes a different turn when the folks pursing the alien catch up with him, with Christopher caught in the middle. An unexpected ethical dilemma presents itself, and Christopher takes matters into his own hands. It all comes to a satisfying conclusion, although perhaps not the most sensible one.

"The Ashes of His Fathers" by Eric James Stone also takes an unexpected turn at the end. A young man has traveled over a year to get to Earth, carrying the ashes of the founding fathers of his colony. He was raised strictly within a fundamentalist-style religion, and believes that these ashes must be returned before the millennium of the year 3000. Many bureaucratic and diplomatic tangles ensue, as the founding fathers did not leave Earth on the best of terms so many centuries before. A customs official takes pity on him, and tries to help him work through all the red tape. As the millennium date approaches though, he must take matters into his own hands. He may not have been the best seminary student the planet ever had, but he really believes in what he's been told.

The story makes unnecessary self-sacrifice in the name of an arbitrary belief system seem very noble, which, while a common sentiment, isn't really one I approve of. I can appreciate the craft of the story, with its very empathetic and noble characters, but it all seems a bit wasted on a relatively unpalatable philosophical stance. I'm sure that Stone is not making any sort of statement that religious suicides are in general Good Things, but the unquestioning heroism and nobility of the guy's sacrifice seems a little shallow. C'est la vie.

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