Sunday, 20 March 2016

Short Story Sunday 16: “The Blabber” by Vernor Vinge

This is our first Short Story Sunday edition where I write about only a single story. I’ve tried to avoid that as I’d prefer to showcase more than a single author by post (special editions notwithstanding) and more than a single story. Variety is nice and so are posts that are longer than just two hundred words. This post is different because the story being reviewed is quite long. It’s a novella, really. Still, it’s science fiction, it’s short, and it’s really quite good.

“The Blabber” by Vernor Vinge
Read in New Destinies Volume VI/Winter 1988 (1988), edited by Jim Baen
Originally published in Threats … and Other Promises (1988), editor unknown (but might also be Jim Baen)

“The Blabber” is part of Vinge’s Zones of Thought series which include a trilogy of novels that begin with the award winning A Fire Upon the Deep. Not only is that an excellent title, but it’s said to be an excellent read. I wouldn’t know as my copy remains unread. I’ll get around to it one day and likely sooner now that I’ve read this novella which takes place just after the events of the first book.

“The Blabber” takes place on a planet called Middle America which was one of the first Earth colonies. The planet is located in the Slow Zone, a location in space where commerce is slow and infrequent because tis impossible to travel at faster than light speeds in the zone. The planets in the zone are poor and isolated. The technological level of the zone’s inhabitant will never be great than human levels, because of the zone’s characteristics.  

Middle America is primarily a tourist spot. Its population spends their time trying to replicate 20th Century of Old Earth. As a tourist attraction, the planet is mostly known for having remnants of Old Earth, such as the music of Elvis, and other such things. In this story Hamid and his alien pal the Blabber dream of escaping the life they have on Middle America. Their ticket out seems to be selling the Blabber to Ravna&Tines who come from the Beyond. When Hamid refuses their first couple attempts at making a deal they attack the tourist colony visiting Middle America and Hamid, with the goal of forcefully acquiring the Blabber. Hamid, as you would expect, fights back and makes a few startling discoveries along the way.

Vinge takes this simple plot and fills pages with a huge amount of bizarre aliens (the best kind), plenty of thrills, space operatic action set pieces, really big science fiction ideas, all told in a densely informative but still accessible writing style. Along the way we learn more about the Blabber and its unique abilities with sound and communication. There is so much material here to be enjoyed by the reader and to be further developed by the author. However, further development isn’t necessary. The story works really well on its own. It ends not with a cliffhanger, but with a further development of the plot and the universe created by Vinge. It’s the kind of story that leaves you wanting more while also allowing you to marvel at its ability to standalone.

Ranking: 5 stars
I was worried that this story would be too long. Thankfully that’s not the case as Vinge includes so many really interesting things in his story, from well-developed characters to unforgettable aliens and neat futuristic ideas. He could have written a full length novel, and later he used the same setting to do just that. However, at this length, “The Blabber” gives readers the opportunity to enjoy a story in world that feels fully immersive without having to trudge through hundred and pages of a thick, heavy tome. The ideas are thrown at you at such a rapid pace, yet developed enough to make them stick and not be forgettable. It’s a fine balance and at roughly 85 pages, it’s strikes a nice balance in terms of story content and length. This is my second story by Vinge and I’m convinced he’s a writer worthy of attention. Once I have time again to read a full length novel I’m sure to turn to A Fire Upon the Deep.

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