8
Oct 05

Decompression

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 267 views

I don’t read trad SF often these days, but was interested to notice in Farthest Star, by Fred Pohl & Jack Williamson (from 1975, though spiritually of an earlier age), some differences similar to ones that are much talked about in comic books these days. It’s brimming with strong ideas:

1. A race that thousands of years ago sent probes out in all directions, with teleport receivers – and when they were fanning out too far, sent through robots and materials to make more probes to fan out anew from each first-probe.

2. Except they aren’t teleporters: the original is scanned then recreated at the other end – but the original remains. This works on living beings too, and there’s good money in sending a copy of yourself for dangerous work, especially on one-way missions. The copy may be less thrilled.

3. There’s an object hurtling towards our galaxy, faster than anything else around. It’s a thousand billion times the size of Earth, the density of vacuum, yet solid.

4. When the galactic races get there, they find evolutionarily-variant versions of many of themselves, including humanity, on what seems to be a metal shell.

5. It is receiving transmissions not unlike our teleporting transmissions, from somewhere deep in our galaxy.

It comes in under 200 pages. These days it would be a 600-pager, or perhaps a trilogy, but Pohl and Williamson rattle through it in a hurry, with plenty of excitement and surprises, but not too much room to explore some beautiful emotional complexities they set up, and to be honest it feels as if it stops 20 pages early – I don’t know of a sequel, but there’s ample room for one.

In superhero comics these days, one of the buzzwords is decompression – we get retellings of stories from the ’60s where the new version takes often six issues, where the original took one. You lose something in excitement and intensity of ideas and action, but you gain, given a good writer (Bendis is the exemplar of this movement), in richness of character and interaction and feeling. I’m not sure where the ‘right’ balance is (and plainly it varies from one writer to another), but much as I want to believe the characters in SF and superhero comics, it’s not primarily why I go to those forms – just today I’ve been reading/looking at Anne Tyler and the Hernandez Brothers, and if you want stories of character, isn’t that the kind of source you look to? I sometimes think we are throwing out too much of the stuff that makes SF and superheroes great, and trading it for usually second-rate mainstream qualities instead. (I think SF has the balance more right than the current wave in superhero comics, by the way.)

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