Two evocative titles — and also two titles way too long for a blog heading.
More in the Zelazny vein with Samuel R. Delany thrown in.
Some spoilers follow in the discussion of two novellas about those who live apart or invisible from global, technocratic societies.
Raw Feed (1990): “Home Is the Hangman” by Roger Zelazny, 1975 and “We, in Some Strange Power’s Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line“, Samuel R. Delany, 1968.
“Home Is the Hangman”: An impressive work solo. This is the last of three stories — assembled as the fixup novel My Name Is Legion — involving a troubleshooter who has opted out of having his real identity recorded in the vast computer system that tracks the world in this future. Zelanzy proves why he was a sf master by weaving the ideas of telepresence and artificial intelligence with character and philosophy to produce a unified organic whole. Zelazny deals with guilt, religion, retribution, madness (not so strange for an author who studied psychology and Elizabethan and Jacobean drama in school), parenthood, the social order and the state of those who “dwell apart” (the Hangman in the stars and the narrator apart from society, loving a shadow life of non-existence). I liked the philosophical discussions of hubris and schizophrenia. I especially liked the Hangman reaching consciousness because of guilt (the theological question of sin being a necessary pre-condition to intelligence) and his comments on how guilt sets man apart from other animals because it is the evidence that he knows he is more capable of noble actions that he has not lived up. Guilt creates these impulses. I also liked the Hangman’s ruminations to the narrator on the futility of assigning ourselves guilt for what our presence or absence causes others to do. I also like Zelanzy’s exploration of Karl Mannheim’s description of humanity as either conservative gardeners (given to thinking about side effects, globality) and tinkerers (progressive reformers given to thoughts of modifying society.). I liked the ambiguous ending of the story with the narrator not knowing if he has caused this computer monitored and directed society to change. And I liked the narrator not knowing if he liked the Hangman remembering him amongst the stars. A evocative, poignant, downbeat ending.
“We, in Some Strange Power’s Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line”: The best part of this novella is its odd, very evocative, very memorable title so well suited to the story. This is the story of a group of what are essentially futuristic outlaw bikers who don’t want to join the world order symbolized by Global Power’s electric grid. Delany has a gift for nomenclature that is both natural and symbolically allusive: the Power workers are devils; the bikers (typically Delany romantic outcasts and criminals that left their mark on cyberpunk) are angels; the Power line laying machine is a Gila Monster. Delany even seems to have spent a fair amount of energy thinking out the details of laying out a global power grid. Unfortunately, Delany’s writing makes visualizing his inventions next to impossible — a paradoxical fact since Delany’s writing is packed with adjectives, some quite evocative but not on the technical aspect. The story’s major flaw was its plot with little payoff after setting up an interesting conflict. I was left with a feeling of “so what?”