A retro review from January 8, 2013.
Review: North by 2000+, ed. H. A. Hargreaves, 2012.
There are four possible audiences for this collection.
Fans of Hargreaves or admirers of North by 2000 will want this book. It adds four stories to that earlier volume to make it a complete collection of Hargreaves’ science fiction.
Students of Canadian science fiction will definitely want it. As editor Runté notes, North by 2000: A Collection of Canadian Science Fiction, published in 1975, was the first collection of science fiction stories to be explicitly marketed as belonging to a Canadian. In his very useful and interesting afterword, Runté talks about the themes and their implications which set Canadian science fiction apart from that of the British or American variety. Like so many Canadian science fiction writers, Hargreaves was an immigrant – from the Bronx, specifically. He lived and taught literature at a Canadian college and eventually became a Canadian citizen. While Hargreaves submitted stories to the American magazine Analog, its editor, John W. Campbell, never accepted any. All the stories of the original volume were published in British publications, and some of the additional ones first saw light in non-genre Canadian magazines. Runté shows how the Canadian preoccupation with the polar world, national disaster (even if only of the political sort), and alienated outsiders plays out in specific Hargreaves’ stories, stories whose protagonists are often “victims, or losers with occasional wins”.
If you like to read old science fiction, however technologically dated, for insights into the time it was written (here 1963-2011), you’ll probably like this collection. Most share a common world, a future Americanada (which, as Runté notes, could be construed as a national political disaster for a Canadian) administered by vast computer banks, a universal welfare state where people carry their resumes and bank information on AP punch cards aka All Purpose Cards, where penal systems have been greatly modified (including, in one instance, mandatory hockey lessons), people live in Efficiency Living Spaces with fold up furniture, pipelines cross the wilderness and cities are being built in the Arctic waste. Yes, these stories are from that era in science fiction when vast national and international projects were dreamed, central planning and administration was the vogue, and the psychological sciences were thought to be able to solve old and new problems.
However, whether the fourth audience, the general science fiction reader looking just for entertainment, will like this book is more problematic. By my judgment, only about half the stories fit that requirement.
Let’s look at those first.
“Dead to the World” is a humorous story about a man who is declared dead because of an extremely unlikely computer error. The robots of this world – and the humans who incuriously and unfailingly don’t break out of their administrative routines – take his furniture, cart him off to the morgue when he goes to the hospital, won’t arrest him for vagrancy, and deny him meals at the “autoteria”. Darkly humorous, this Canadian finds a change in mental attitude is necessary for his survival.
“Protected Environment” is a straight-out, suspenseful man against nature tale. Its hero, identified only as the Roughneck, is sent out to fix damage in an oil pipeline’s insulation. The story can also be read as a play on Jack London’s classic “Building a Fire”.
“Cainn” is one of those penal system of the future stories where all the intrigues and rebellions and plans of the prisoner, here one 15 year old Jason Berkley, have already been anticipated by the wardens and calculated into their plans for his rehabilitation.
“More Things in Heaven and Earth” gets its prediction of remote learning right in spirit – if not in facilitating technology but is way too optimistic in its idea of how popular Shakespeare will become. The actual plot involves a lecturer and a cadre of tv producers and actors who demonstrate various interpretations of Shakespeare’s bare words. The tv program is threatened by sabotage conscious and unconscious, in the latter case from an telepathic student. The main interest for me was literature professor Hargreaves’ comments on particular Shakespeare works.
“2020 Vision” is a dark story from 1980 which imagines a very unpleasant set of years for Canada from 2015 to 2050, the year of its setting. Its repairman hero, also working, as a former political science student, on a history of the time, may be a man stuck in the past.
“In His Moccasins” is a follow up to “Cainn” and imagines another manifestation of Americanada’s juvenile justice system.
And now for the just ok stories.
“Tangled Web” has for a protagonist one of the minor characters from “Dead to the World”, a minister assigned to be the spiritual advisor of a “Closed Environment”, a domed city in the Arctic. It’s more about socially engineering bureaucracies than hardware. Its hero must work not only with a multi-faith community but the UN and Americanada.
“Tee Vee Man“, the earliest story (1963) here, has a repairman working in space on a tv relay satellite to avoid a political revolution in some unnamed African country.
“‘Fore’-Eight-Sixteen” is a future sports story – the invention of a form of golf with jetpacks and rocket powered balls and hi-tech drivers.
“Infinite Variation” has a missionary to an alien world wondering if he may be unpleasantly called upon to play the part of a particular character in a new rendition of the story of Christ.
“Venerian Vector-Transit Tales” is a goofy short-short written as the description of a pulpy science fiction book club selection – for aliens.