7.09.2004

Larry Niven and... Ambiguity?

Larry Niven's story in Flights was a two-pager about the god who invented the boomerang, which ends in this world-famous disaster. Editor Al Sarrantonio touts it as a "gem" although I'm not sure I'd go that far. It's not an ingenious play of language, packing more inside than it appears. The economy comes from employing the speedy style of most mythological tales, cutting both nuance and chase for a sketch of plot, which can be a highly effective mode.

But there may be more than meets the eye--as most good SF stories work--making the reader think outside the conventional frame of the tale.

I originally closed the book, thinking, huh, Niven did it again, sneaking science into a fantasy tale: another science-fantasy. But then, I wondered, could Niven be asking the age-old question: supernatural vs. natural? In this light, the story becomes interesting--did god or meteor cause this disaster?--unless this ambiguity is the same impetus driving all science-fantasy, but I don't think it is.

What?! How dare I think ambiguity interesting?

It can be if it challenges our assumptions.

But interesting is not necessarily enlightening, either, so it's less a story than a vignette with something to think about--that is, if it challenges those who think God has more of a two-percent probability than a sixty-seven one.

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