Saturday, 17 August 2013
Murphy And Others
The story has three disparate elements:
an unexplained hereafter specifically for astronauts (!);
a succession of dystopian future scenarios in which social conditions deteriorate while space exploration declines;
a text that begins and ends with bleak closed comments by the narrator.
I will explain what I mean by this. The first incoherence is the discrepancy between the supernaturalism of survival after death and the scientific setting of the astronauts' hereafter. They stroll through the cosmos. The second is the transition from this implausible unreality to the all too plausible realism of the dystopian passages. But perhaps the hereafter passages should not be understood literally? Maybe they are an extension of the narrator's comments? (I am thinking this through further as I write.)
A dystopia is by its nature unpleasant so we cannot complain about this. However, the narrator's comments are additionally and unnecessarily unpleasant. By a "closed" comment, I mean one that explicitly rules out of court any alternative perspective. When the comment is also "bleak," what is being ruled out of court is any hope or optimism. The story ends, "Murphy's Hell." (p. 91) That is as closed and bleak as it is possible to be. ("Abandon hope all ye who enter...")
This narrator is not a character inhabiting the fictitious timeline of the story. He is the omniscient narrator of prose fiction. Yet, at the beginning and end, he speaks in the first person, thus becoming the author addressing the reader, telling us, I think, that the astronauts' hereafter is a lie, though he wishes it were not, and that he is glad that it is a lie that he is in the hopeless future described in the story. Or something. There are too many changes back and forth of perspective here. (In fact, I think that I am only starting to unravel some of them now.)
By the usual rules of writing, this kind of first person comment by a narrator who is clearly to be identified with the author should be edited out of a text that is to be published as fiction and should instead be published in a non-fiction article or essay. And the content of his comments sets up, I think, a false dichotomy between making "...everyone nice and safe and equal..." (ibid.) and exploring the universe. Society can surely aim for and afford:
the physical safety of all;
at least three equalities - of opportunity, of representation, before the law;
continued scientific research and exploration.
So I have problems with both the presentation and the content of "Murphy's Hall." But at the same time I commend the range of Anderson's writings and realize that his entire output cannot appeal equally to every reader.
When the author/narrator lectures us at the end, even addressing us as "...my friends...," he refers to Murphy's Law (ibid.). We have all heard of this but who was Murphy? Yet again, and ending on a much lighter note, I cannot avoid another reference to Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. The fabulous creatures inhabiting a Skerry of Dream refer to their world's creator as "Murphy." They turn out, of course, to mean Morpheus. I did not guess that although I should have. And, since I will soon be in bed, that is a good place to stop.