I stumbled upon the name of this novelette while reading Warriors 2, which features another short story written by Howard Waldrop. There, The Ugly Chi...moreI stumbled upon the name of this novelette while reading Warriors 2, which features another short story written by Howard Waldrop. There, The Ugly Chickens was mentioned in glowing terms, so of course, I had to temporarily set aside that book in order to find out why.
Through a lucky coincidence, a buss passenger recognizes in the depiction of the long-extinct dodo, the ugly chicken she grew up with. The main character, a Master's student in ornithology, embarks on a quest to unravel the mystery of the dodos and to unearth the history of the family linked to them.
The richness of this story, a Nebula and World Fantasy Award winner, comes from the attention to detail for (re)building the family's history. As I read it, I was under the impression that I watched a show on the History Channel. The fact that the ornithologist has always been obsessed with dodos—he used to have dreams involving royal families and dancing dodos—only adds to the illusion of reality. Here we have the (overly) passionate scientists, in search of academic glory, who forgoes sleep and food, in order to pursue the mystery of a (literally) stupid bird.
The best part—the ending, which had me laughing out loud. Brilliant!
I got this audiobook as a promotional freebie from Audible (as I write this review, they still offer it for free). Let me mention that I am not famili...moreI got this audiobook as a promotional freebie from Audible (as I write this review, they still offer it for free). Let me mention that I am not familiar with the Galactic Center Saga Series and hence starting with book #5.5 might not be the best way of getting acquainted with a series.
So, for those readers in the same boat with me, here are some of the author's notes related to this series:
The series comprises six novels, composed over a twenty-five-year span. The events stretch from the early 2000s to A.D. 37518, an immense scope imposed because its central focus, our galactic center, is 28,000 light-years away, and characters had to get there to take part in the galaxy's larger games.[...]
The themes of the series resolve in favor of humanity as unique and worth saving, even in as hostile a galaxy as I envisioned. But I suspect that if natural life is as foolish and vulnerable as we seem to be, quite possibly machines may inherit the galaxy, and thus sit bemused, watching us with cool indifference from afar.
This added story deals with an essential question asked of humans at the beginning of their decline, about A.D. 36000. It also reveals several aspects of the dreaded Mantis I never found room for in the novels." (Gregory Benford)
The question Mr. Benford talks about (or so I understood from bits and scraps of conversations) is why the Mantis, a superior machine or mech, harvests humans. And the answer is a rather unexpected: it sees humanity as an endangered species and tries to chronicle its existence through "art." What the mech understands by "art" is something each reader has to find for himself/herself.
What I think it's interesting about A Hunger for the Infinite is the fact that humans have nearly forgotten the concept of artistry, while the machine dwells in the "happiness" of creating statues. Hence Mr. Benford points our to a direct correlation between the development of a civilization and the existence art.
The story itself is rather episodic (it spans about 100 years in 50-or-so pages/2 hours of narration). I understand that this technique was intentional, as the author tried "to convey the huge scales of both time and distance that a galaxy implies" (Gregory Benford). Yet, at times it felt scattered, in spite of the rich, effusive writing.
The stories of this anthology are rather heterogeneous in feel and content, though located in the same geographical area, which give them a common pla...moreThe stories of this anthology are rather heterogeneous in feel and content, though located in the same geographical area, which give them a common playground.
In the Forests of the Night by Jay Lake is in my opinion the second best in the collection and it is by far the most character-driven story, or at least as much as one can accomplish this task in the limited space of a novella. Tyger Tyger, the main character, has almost a mystical glow about him. Any moment, you expect him to do something extraordinary, a miracle or at least a monumental deed. The fact that up to the very end, we don't learn his true identity, only fuels the transcendent atmosphere surrounding his persona. However we learn a lot about his interior dialogue and his emotional state. Stylistically speaking, this story is written in the most interesting technique of the entire collection, with the point of view switching between several characters and an omniscient narrator. What I found special about the technique is that no two voices sound the same - they have an individuality of their own like the characters they belong to. (4 stars)
The next three stories (Stochasti-City by Tobias Buckell, The Red in the Sky is Our Blood by Elizabeth Bear, and Utere Nihil non Extra Quiritationem Suis by John Scalzi) are very similar in message and, to some extent, in content. They all focus on their authors' ideas of utopia (or what they consider the next best thing). They have a very activist vibe, all of them promoting a green(er) way of life. I think they are interesting, but they didn't hold my attention too well. The Red in the Sky is Our Blood by Elizabeth Bear has the most elegant writing style in the whole anthology. (3 stars overall for these stories)
"To Hi from Far Celinea" by Karl Schroeder, the best novella of METAtropolis, brings a truly fascinating concept and an innovative cyberpunk plot. This story alone would be worth getting the book! Mr. Schroeder creates an (pseudo-)alternative reality so avant-garde that it left me breathless. I don't want to spoil anyone's please of discovering this reality for himself/herself, so I won't say anything about this concept and its hypotheses. The writing is matter-of-fact and the characters are only sketched, but that doesn't make the ideas of the story less powerful. (4.5 stars)(less)
For such a quick read, "The Mountains of Mourning" is the heaviest story in the series so far (and I just finished Ethan of Athos): it drips with mess...moreFor such a quick read, "The Mountains of Mourning" is the heaviest story in the series so far (and I just finished Ethan of Athos): it drips with messages and lessons for tolerance, acceptance, and respect even more than Barrayar did.
Yes, it is a bona fide mystery, but the crime is only a pretext for exploring the implications of being different in a world that prizes above all physical perfection. This theme in itself is not new; what is new, however, is the fact that Ms. Bujold delves into the causality of this compulsion for corporeal superiority: the reason the population on Barrayar is so obsessed with perfect bodies can be found in its tumultuous history, when regular folk were not able to care of the sick and weak. The author looks with understanding at the poorer population who initially became so intolerant not from evilness but as a necessity to survive. Even Miles's final decision is a exhortation toward tolerance, if not forgetfulness.
I found this novella a wonderful, if melancholic, addition to the saga.
P.S. "The Mountains of Mourning" is not a stand-alone story: there are references to evens and characters from the previous novels that someone new to the series wouldn't grasp. (I know this for a fact since my sister started the series with this novella and she was thoroughly confused.)(less)