REVIEW: Other Heads & Other Tales by Arland Andrews, Sr.

Friday , 20, March 2015 Leave a comment

51E5Daxmg-LI expected that the founder of SIGMA, the science fiction think tank, would incorporate a few interesting ideas into his fiction, but I didn’t anticipate that he’d be so funny. When a writer can make a pro-lifer chuckle about abortion and murder (but I repeat myself), you know he’s got a wicked, off-the-wall sense of humor.

And for stories written in the last millennium they hold up fairly well; making fun of bureaucrats never goes out of style.

“Souls on Ice” has government officials navigating some of the ethical difficulties of cryogenic freezing from an unethical logistical standpoint. Billions of men, women, children, and animals have been frozen, and nano-bots have made revivification possible, but when things don’t work out according to the government’s time-table, politically expedient antics ensue. (Andrews hangs a lot of his stories’ sci-fi on nanotechnology, which with his insider knowledge makes me think that government scientists are close to creating nanobot swarms, which has me worried about a nanoapocalypse.)

“Effacing the Truth” is set in the White House after the discovery of a face on the Martian surface, and is basically a short joke with an okay punchline.

“Sins of the Mothers” looks at the future of abortion technology as created by an almost aborted Nobel Prize winning doctor who lost an arm due to the botched job, as told from the point-of-view of a racist white trash criminal. The two meet in prison after the doc is thrown in the slammer for joining a pro-life protest, and they discuss his newly created technological solution to the abortion problem. I thought the story was pretty funny. Here’s a sample:

I nod; the PG’s are a nasty bunch.  They’ve killed a whole slew of abortionists, burning down some of the clinics–abortuaries, to use Doc’s new word– sometimes with the people still in them.  On LiveCop TV, I even seen one of their “Life Squads” Uzi-down a whole row of Free Choicers and the cops that were supposed to be protecting them.  At the public-TV execution the next day, one of them hollered out at the cameras while his damn neck was in the noose, “If we had done the same thing at Ouch – Wits, we’d be heroes, not criminals!”  Don’t know what the sucker meant, where that Ouch-place was, but they let him down kind of slow afterwards and he kicked and jerked for a whole god damn three minutes before he died.  Tough son of a bitch.   I still have no idea why anybody wants to kill anybody.  Too much fun in life to kill somebody.  Besides, you do, you might wind up in a place like this, but for three or four years, ‘stead of six to twelve months.  Hope that damn fairy roomie I cut don’t die out of that coma.

Andrew’s point of view characters are frequently odd, vulgar, and rambunctious, even when they are little green men from other dimensions. Taken in combination with his wacky worlds they make his stories more memorable than they have any right to be, as in “The Bar of the Worlds”. In that one, our main guy is an obese alcoholic with six hot wives after a world war decimates the male population. And that’s not even the premise; it’s a throwaway joke. The story has him working through the pesky problem of organic teleportation, or “chopping”.

“The Great Moon Hoax” basically pokes fun of Apollo 11 conspiracy theorists, but presents a scenario ‘credible’ enough that after the story appeared online in 2001, some people apparently took it for a kind of cover-up.  Here President Johnson is briefed by multiple men in dark-suits about the moon landing:

“Sir, all we have to do is fake some launches at the Cape; everybody wants to believe that we’re going to the Moon, and without some glitches, they’ll believe what we tell them and what we show them.  To coordinate all of this trickery and fakery – er, excuse me, Sir, this ‘national security simulation accommodation’ — we have kept all of the rocket engineering groups and space scientists working apart, separately. They never know exactly what anybody else is doing, and with the national security agencies’ active involvement—“ at that, CIA, NSA, NSF, DOD, DIA, NRO, CFR, IBM and Illuminati all beamed from their secondary vantage points along the north wall of the Oval Office “—they have no way of knowing who is doing what or what fits together with which.  We’ve even invented a way to coordinate the fakery – we call it ‘systems engineering’, where one head group collects all of the parts and supposedly brings them together, keeping every subordinate group in the dark.”

The only story that had me scratching my head at the end was “A Meeting on the Moon”.

Speaking of heads, “Other Heads” is the biggest and best of the bunch – a murder mystery set in a utopian world where nanoelectronic (again!) wearable rings have helped humanity ascend to superhuman levels of intelligence.  By adding extra “heads” to our consciousness, brain function is enhanced by several orders of magnitude. Most ‘Normals’ have thousands of heads, but the ‘Retarded’ can’t use the technology without experiencing extremely hellish mental pain. Society is so rapidly stratifying intellectually that the Normals can’t be expected to interact at all with the Retarded; or if they do, they tend to drift off in the middle of a conversation into transcendental thoughts, much to the annoyance of the Retarded.

Our main character Gruette is such a retard. He runs a farm in Indiana in a world where agriculture is entirely automated and world hunger is a thing of the past. He’s purposeless, until he’s inexplicably tasked by his two-hundred headed friend to solve a series of gruesome murders.

So I had all the basics.  Food.  Entertainment.  News.  Even verch sex when I wanted it.  Everything but a will to live. Until Jass’ visit, that is.  Funny that it took bloody murders to make my life worthwhile.

The contrast between the Normal and the Retarded provide much of the humor. The ending was surprising, but felt like a bit of a ‘Because Special’ cop-out.  All told though, it is a well told, entertaining story.

Andrew’s writing style begs to be read aloud at lightning speed. And at some 98 pages, that’s theoretically possible to do over your lunch break. Recommended.

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