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October 14, 2002
I was just thinking about
Gregory Benford's habit of This is not a new
re-writing after publication. thought with me. BENFORD
Let's try to make the call, (Certainly not a
thumbs up or thumbs down? first thought.)
And re-writing post-
publication is not a
First example: new thought that Benford
Benford wrote a number of shorter
pieces that were later glued Walt Whitman rewrote
together into the novel "In the "Leaves of Grass" many
Ocean of Night". times.
Some of them were In the science fiction
obviously chunks of the world, expanding a popular
work in progress that short into a novel is a
Benford packaged up as common enough practice.
In the "Jewel-Hinged Jaw",
One short in particular was Delany muses on the
definitely an independant differing virtues of
work long before he had any Zelazny's "He Who Shapes"
thoughts of the novel. and it's expanded form
I'll need to look up the
title some time. I think He decides to recommend
it appeared in Galaxy (and that people read both,
if I remember right, that the short form first,
was it's sole publication). then the long form.
Is that true in
the general case?
Not a bad rule
of thumb: read
the works in the
order the author
The short story was
fairly simple in
makes a "first contact" (I don't remember what dodge was
with an intelligent alien used to get around the language
space probe, and engages problem... probably the probe
it in dialog. picked up English by studying
broadcasts for decades.)
The character of the
astronaut isn't very
thoroughly fleshed out,
nor do we know much about
his life -- I think his
wife is mentioned, but
But despite this
spare framework, Or perhaps
the dialog with *because*
the space probe of it?
The probe was evidently
not intended to be conscious,
this is just a by-product of
it's complexity. It spends
centuries in isolation between
"Sometimes I scream
in the night."
A similar situation --
with much of the same
dialog -- occurs in the
novel "In the Ocean of
It's a very good book.
But it doesn't quite have the
same haunting quality as the
dialog in the short story.
The more complex framework,
the heavier characterization,
the multiplication of themes...
just a little
The novel "Across the Sea of Suns" was
written as a follow on to "In the Ocean I guess this is now
of Night". called the
I have no reservations at all
about this book. If I sounded Myself I'd prefer a
luke warm about "In the Ocean name more like
of Night", let me make up for
it with effusive praise for "The Watery Heavens"
Nigel Walmsley is getting old, "Flushed by the
nearing the end of his career, the Gods"
and yet he manages to win
a place on an interstellar
expedition, traveling with a
large crew -- in an environment
much like an O'Neill style space
colony -- to a number of nearby
Walmsley is greatly respected for his
experience, but he chooses to remain
something of an outsider in shipboard
politics, and despite lip service paid
to his wisdom, his opinions are usually
discounted in the heat of the moment.
He continually plays Cassandra to the
unresponsive ears the crew, who are all
lost in a kind of "group think", always
in danger of degenerating into a mob.
The central problem is that the
truth of what's really going on is
much too bleak for most people to
want to believe... humanity is
begining to encounter an extremely Similar to
powerful "machine" civilization Saberhagen's
that's hostile to all forms of "Beserkers".
biological life, and the humans
have little hope of any success in Except that
the conflict. here the
I suspect, that Benford
One of the few science fiction novels was thinking about the
about an older protagonist. Fermi paradox.
One of the few stories of Q: Why haven't we seen
interstellar travel that does evidence of extra-
not cop out and postulate some terrestrial intelligence?
sort of super-science faster-than-
light technology. A: Because something is
One of the few "tragic endings"
in Science Fiction, and one of Later novels in the
the few I've seen anywhere that series deal with
works perfectly: humanity struggling
as a conquered people,
At the close of the novel the barely surving as
catastrophe has happened, the rats in the walls.
humans are losing, Walmsley
and his partners are stranded In interviews,
and almost certainly about to Benford says
die, and yet... "for some that this has
reason, he smiled." to do with his
Because he's been vindicated. a Southerner.
He has no solution, but he
understood the problem before A large chunk
anyone else did. of the United
Because he's lived his life on itself as a
his own terms, and managed to conquered
keep his hand in the game territory, a
against pressure to retire and subject people.
Or so Benford
What better finish for an says.
explorer, than to die in the
unknown seas of an alien
And what better ending
has a science fiction
novel ever seen?
Or *any* novel for that matter.
I frequently have problems with
"tragedy", but here it all works, LEAR
everything that people say about
The Tragic -- sad, but uplifting,
life-affirming, ennobling -- all
makes sense to me here.
So then Benford rewrote it.
What I've been describing here
is the first edition hardcover
that I originally read.
There are newer editions out in
paperback which I don't own, but
flipping through them in the
stores, I see that the ending is
I gather that Benford decided he
wanted to keep writing about Walmsley,
and instead of doing a cheesy surprise
resurrection he decided to prepare
the way for it.
By messing with the
ending of a total
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