Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Slipstream Nostalgia

"The Auctioneer and the Antiquarian, or, 1962" by Forrest Aguirre illustrates a trend in stories that ride the genre/slipstream line while tapping in to the rich vein of nostalgia surrounding the 1950s and 60s. (See also "The Boarder" by Alexander Jablokov in March's F&SF.) However, in "1962" it doesn't add up to much.

In 1962 Hayden is a young boy suffering from cancer. The US space program is in the midst of setbacks, suffering several significant (and public) failures to get unmanned probes on the Moon. Hayden's father passed away, so his mom has encouraged him to hang around Mr. Simms (the Antiquarian) and Lenny (the Auctioneer) who can act as father figures. Mr. Simms seems to represent rationalism, talking often about Cuba and worries about politics. He's rooting for the space program to work. Lenny seems to symbolize more magical thinking. He gives Hayden a "space helmet" with "healing" properties to help him fight his cancer. He thinks that aliens around the Moon must be sabotaging the NASA missions, and he's getting Hayden worried that the aliens may not appreciate human expansion. The reader is never sure how much Lenny believes and how much is him just trying to help the boy by making up stories.

Hayden is pulled in both directions. He's naturally skeptical, but after getting the helmet his cancer eventually goes into remission. He starts to think that he's hearing alien voices through the helmet as well. At the end of the story, the Cuban missile crisis is on, and the US is on the brink of nuclear war. The story ends without any clear resolution between the poles represented by Mr. Simms and Lenny. One would expect Hayden to either choose one or represent a compromise between them, but the story ends abruptly before that can happen. It has an interesting premise, but I found the ending didn't pay off the set up.

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