ResAliens — A Website Review Day 2
Today, on Day 2, I will review the short story, Some Assembly Required by T. M. Hunter. Before discussing the merits of the story, here is the bio of T. M. Hunter from the ResAliens website:
T. M. Hunter has always had a fascination with interstellar travel, spacecraft and beings from other worlds. Twice a Top Ten Finisher in the P&E Readers Poll for his short stories (2007, 2009), his stories have appeared in Ray Gun Revival, Residential Aliens, and more. His first Aston West novel, Heroes Die Young, was awarded Champagne Books’ Best-Selling Novel of 2008 Award. His second novel, Friends in Dead, is now available from Champagne Books. More can be found at AstonWest.com.
Aston West owns and flies his own spaceship around the galaxy making the most out of life, enjoying the heck out of it when possible, and trying his best to get filthy rich. In other words, he is your typical Han Solo type mercenary out for the next get rich scheme in outer space. He is a likable sort of guy with a ship computer named Jeanie. In this story, West’s ship is in need of repairs and unfortunately, he has no space cash. He lands on the nearest planet only to discover a “paradise” where everything you need is provided. The caveat is what you want is not always what you need.
He soon finds a way to trade some of his precious cargo for the parts needed to fix the ship only to meet a powerful local businessman, Jim Ford, who evidently defies the local mandate and has everything he “wants” and wants everything he can get. West has to trade all of his precious cargo to get enough cash for the repairs and in the process of the negotiations, he meets Mr. Ford’s rather beautiful and seductive assistant, Libby.
It isn’t long before West realizes Libby isn’t exactly human and because she has been “contaminated” by West’s association with her, she has to be “sterilized”. The remainder of the story will have to wait for you to read.
There is an ongoing tension in writing today between using characters that can be regarded as “stereotypes” and using characters that have built in “familiarity”. I won’t argue the merit of either designation except to say it is impossible to create truly unique and memorable characters anymore. The best most authors can hope for is a variation on a well known theme. Aston West is that variation and for me, the interest in this story was driven by my desire to see how an author was going to use this kind of character to develop a spiritual “theme”. In fact, the eventual “theme” if you will was the importance of each individual against the backdrop of a world where everyone has a role to fulfill and they should never step outside of that role or face “erasure”.
This, to me, is a strength in that the author did not overpower the story with the message. The message was a natural outgrowth of the story. It was not contrived or forced. This is a welcome development in Christian fiction.
The message is a strong point for this story. The “secret” of Libby and her final dispensation could have been the end of the story. But, the author took it one step further in translating West’s learning process to the ship’s computer. He left a “rock in the shoe” of the main character and something for West to think about every time he hears Jeanie’s voice.
The main weakness, if you want to consider it as such, is the familiarity of the character and the story. This is a typical rogue with a heart of gold who reluctantly rises above his selfish desires to help out the damsel in distress. We’ve seen this in so many stories and movies, I’m sure I could make a list of at least a dozen without thinking. But, this is not necessarily a profound weakness. It depends on the reader’s fascination with character.
Rather than be dismayed by stereotype, the author can use it to his or her advantage. In this case, while using a stereotype might be a weakness, this genre almost demands such a character. The story would not work without such a character. So, I leave it up to the reader to decide if ultimately, Aston West is a cliche and a stereotype. Personally, I rather enjoyed his adventure.
I find it a joy and a pleasure to be able to read well written science fiction stories that harken back to the era of Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and other authors of the golden age of science fiction. I don’t have to worry about gratuitous language for the sake of shocking the reader, or, gratuitous sexual situations just for the sake of titillation. And, I can rely on the fact the story will have some redeeming quality of spiritual significance. I had given up reading science fiction but It will be nice to return to well written science fiction.
Tomorrow, I’ll look at a thriller with the story, “Snow Angels”.