tENTATIVELY, cONVENIENCE's Reviews > Breaking Point

Breaking Point by James E. Gunn
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review of
James Gunn's Breaking Point
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - June 3, 2015

I spent 4 wks reviewing the Larry Austin and Douglas Kahn edited Source - Music of the Avant-Garde, 1966-1973 ( "Re: Source": https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... ) & while I was reviewing it & working & otherwise busy I read 5 other bks that went unreviewed at the time I finished them. This was one of them. I finished reading it a mnth ago.

This is a short story collection. I often say I avoid reading short stories, preferring novels. That's true. I also end up liking the short stories much more than I expect to. That's true in this case. This was one of my favorite bks by Gunn. In his introduction, it's written:

"For nearly two hundred years—since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-eighteenth century—science fiction was a part of the spectrum of general literature. It was so much a part of the rest of fiction that there wasn't even a name for it: the man who proved that science fiction could be popular, Jules Verne, called his novels "voyages extraordinaires"; the man who proved that science fiction could be art, H. G. Wells, found his earliest, most successful novels labeled "scientific romances."

"Then in 1926 the German immigrant inventor, science enthusiast, and publishing entrepreneur, Hugo Gernsback, created the first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories. He also invented a word to describe the type of stories he was going to publish, "scientifiction"; it wasn't until 1929, when he lost control of Amazing Stories and started a competing publication, Wonder Stories, that he created the phrase "science fiction."" - p 7

All hail Hugo Gernsback! I have an issue of Amazing, Amazing Stories's descendent, from 1967. Close, but no cigar-shaped rocket ship. In the 1st story, "Breaking Point", the one the bk's named after, some astronauts have landed on a new planet & they're welcomed in English by a mysterious voice on their radio:

"A soft, smooth hum filled the room. "Carrier," said Ives.

"Then the words came. They were English words, faultlessly spoken, loud and clear and precise. They were harmless words, pleasant words even.

"They were: "Men of earth! Welcome to our planet.."" - p 15

Unfortunately, the astronauts were Russian & didn't speak a word of English & everyone died. Just Kidding. Later, one of the astronauts using the expression ""If we don't win the fur-lined teacup . . ."" (p 20) Is that reference to Mérit Oppenheim's sculpture, "Object (Le Déjeuner en fourrure)" (1936), or did her sculpture refer to some pre-existing expression that the story is also referring to? Apparently, Oppenheim wins the prize! & now I find a "furlinedteacup" blog online for "san francisco food, film pop culture and music".

But, alas, even a fur-lined teacup won't help these astronauts. they're trapped in their space-ship & the claustrophobia is increasing:

"The Engineer came into the cabin, crossed over to his station, and began opening and closing drawers. "They've moved." From the bottom drawer he pulled out a folded chessboard and a rectangular box. Only then did he look directly at them. "The food's gone."" - p 32

I'm reminded of Stanislav Lem's excellent Solaris. I don't want to give too much of the story away but the Russian astronaut heads turn into pumpkins at midnight. After that, in "A Monster Named Smith", the blob loses control to his host's sex-drive. "Uncontrolled sensations quiver along the nerves inside the body, quiver along the feelers that lie microscopically inside the nerves. Glands are discharging their secretions into the body. The process seems automatic; I can't stop them. The body, too, must have automatic responses. It reaches toward the woman." (p 75) "Cinderella Story" starts off w/ a reasonable enough premise:

"Private enterprise made ET exploration possible. Government could do it, but Government wouldn't. That had been proved. Space was fantastically big, and ET exploration was fantastically expensive. Et exploration was also vital: humanity needed a frontier for the good of its soul; for the good of its body it needed that frontier as far as possible from Earth,

"Laws were drafted to make exploration profitable, and humanity was unleashed upon the galaxy, Jonathan Craddock, Exploiters and Importers, was born—along with one hundred competitors, more or less." - p 78

This reasonable premise is followed up by a description of one of the new technologies:

"Fairfax himself had always insisted that it did no more than satisfy the brain's visual scanning mechanism, the alpha rhythm; it stopped—or interfered with—the scanning sweep, giving the watcher the sense of seeing something without specifying what that something was. From there on, the incredulity factor took over—that habit of the mind which directs it to seek always the simpler explanation. That there are aliens among us is a wild fantasy; it is simpler to assume that what one sees is something ordinary, seen badly.

"But not every mind has an alpha rhythm to iterrupt—for instance, M-types. Some epistemologists doubted that the field affected the mind at all, and photographs supported them: an object inside a Fairfax Field was optically blurred, even to the mindless eye of a camera." - p 82

Interesting, eh? On http://www.theofficialjohncarpenter.c... it's written that:

"They influence our decisions without us knowing it. They numb our senses without us feeling it. They control our lives without us realizing it. THEY LIVE.

"A rugged loner (RODDY PIPER) stumbles upon a terrifying discovery: goulish creatures are masquerading as humans while they lull the public into submission through subliminal advertising messages. Only specially made sunglasses make the deadly truth visible."

Many people know & love the movie "THEY LIVE" but, as I recall, it's never explained how the "g[h]oulish creatures" [maybe they mean goulash creatures?] succeed as "masquerading as humans" unless it's all done thru advertising subliminal messages. Gunn explores how one might fool the eye of another creature to make them accept one as one-of-them. I don't remember running across that idea before.

&, yeah, "The Cinderella Story" has tech update:

"Suddenly she said, "Pip! I lost my show!"

""Which shoe?"

""The right shoe. The one with the unit in it!"" - p 89

At least she's probably still got her keys & her cellphone. In "Teddy Bear", Gunn uses his name for one of the characters:

"And then the cold thoughts: Some of us aren't real. And: Somebody slipped.

"But that was a foolish thought. I wasn't prepared to accept the inevitable consequences. It meant—

""Mr. Gunn?"

"I swung around." - p 95

&, yes, they made James Gunn into paperback bks. This one talks to me from time-to-time. It says things like "In such a world of law and order, nothing should be inexplicable. There should be no such mysterious disappearances as those of Ambrose Bierce and Judge Crater. (Had they learned too much?) There should be no mysterious appearances of men who are dead or long lost, who should be gone forever. But Enoch Arden returns—so often that we need an Enoch Arden law to protect the "widow."" (p 102)

"The Enoch Arden doctrine consists of the legal principles involved when a person leaves his or her spouse under such circumstances and for such a period of time as to make the other spouse believe that the first spouse is dead, with the result that the remaining spouse marries another, only to discover later the return of the first spouse. Generally, in most states, it is safer for the remaining spouse to secure a Divorce before marrying again." - http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictio...

If I ever get married, I think I'll change my name to "Enoch", ask my wife to change hers to "Arden" & propose that our last name be "Divarriage". That shd get us off to a good start. Speaking of the future,

"["]Can you fix that thing?"

"The plumber flinched. he said meekly, "What seems to be wrong with it?"

""It—won't—flush."

"Gingerly the red-haired plumber twisted the handle on the water closet. Water gurgled into the bowl and swirled up dangerously close to the edge before it subsided. Slowly the level dropped. "Well," said the plumber. "Well. My suggestion is that you get rid of the whole affair. I can get a crew of men in a few days, rip this thing out, and put in a modern disposerbot—"" - p 122

Car w/ a computer in it anyone? Gunn even gets into what seems to be his literary philosophy:

""Every science that deals with man ignores everything except what it deals with. Medicine deals with the physical man, economics with that simplification known as Economic Man, psychiatry with a fictitious creature in whom it would have no interest if he were 'normal,' and one branch of psychology with I.Q. Man, whose only significant aspect is his ability to solve puzzles.

""Literature is the only thing that deals with the whole complex phenomena at once. If it were to cease to exist, whatever is not considered by one or another of the sciences would no longer be considered at all and would perhaps vanish completely." - p 129

Fair enuf. More philosophizing:

"The most important single gift of science to civilization was freedom from superstition: the idea that order, not caprice, governs the world, that man was capable of understanding it. Beginning with Newton's discovery of the universal sway of the law of gravitation, am felt himself to be in a congenial universe; all things were subject to universal laws.

"But that conviction arose from the narrowness of his horizons. When he extended his range he found that nature was neither understandable nor subject to law. For this we may thank Planck, Einstein, Bohr, and Heisenberg." - p 134

Speaking of scientists, "The Power and the Glory" has this set-up:

""What are you then?"

""Scientists, experimenters. In your language those words might describe us best."

""And we are your experiment."

"The visitor turned around. His face, too, was shadowed.

""Yes."

""And now the experiment is over."

""We have found out what we wished to know. We clean the test tube, sterilize the equipment. You should understand."" - p 140

I like it, the idea of Earth as an experiment, the scientists who created the experiment are done. Imagine if you were experimenting w/ incorporating a plant from yr backyard in a recipe & yr dog ate it & died. Wdn't you throw the food away?

Finally, the last story, "The Listeners", originally published as a short story in September, 1968, is verbatim the 1st chapter of a novel of the same name published in 1972. I've reviewed that bk here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10... .

Plenty of thoughtful ideas in this one & it was very entertaining too. A Good Read for GoodReads.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
May 3, 2015 – Finished Reading
June 4, 2015 – Shelved
June 4, 2015 – Shelved as: sf

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