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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Collector's Fever" by Roger Zelazny

  • Galaxy June 1964
  • The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth, Doubleday 1971
  • 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories, ed. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg & Joseph D. Olander, Garden City, NY: Doubleday 1978
  • 100 Amazing Little Alien Stories, ed. Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz & Martin H. Greenberg, Barnes & Noble 1996
  • Threshold: Volume 1, NESFA Press, 2009
  • online reproduction of text
  • Science has much strange vocabulary when you first encounter it. So does science fiction. What readers of science fiction do is temporarily suspend the immediate need to know, suspecting they can learn what the term is from context. See if you can do that with this story. Write down the new term. Each time it appears, jot down any new layers of meaning you might get from the context. Don't worry if you can't come up with much.
Summary: A human, who never earns a name, has come to the newly christened planet of Dunghill in order to collect specimens for his rich uncle. This human plans revenge, using what he knows about the scientific nature of the unusual rock species found on Dunghill.

  1. Stone asks a lot of questions. Why? When you finish reading the story, compare your experience of reading the story to Stone's experience of hearing the human's story. How are they similar? When and where do you think this happens on planet Earth every day?
  2. "Human" never gets a name. What does that do to him as a person? Does he deserve this? Using the text, point to where you get this feeling.
  3. How does human feel about his uncle? Using the text, point to where you get this feeling.
  4. Why does human call the planet, "Dunghill"? What does Stone think the human refers to?
  5. Human quotes, "one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind," in order to convince Stone of its future importance in a place he doesn't want to be. What text does this allude to? Country of the Blind by H. G. Wells (Wiki): "In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King." Knowing how well that works for Wells' protagonist, should Stone feel comforted by such an allusion? Explain.
  6. Half way through the story, the term "deeble" is introduced. Write down the new term. Each time it appears, jot down any new layers of meaning you might get from the context. Don't worry if you can't come up with much. The reason you will want to catalog this experience--at least once--is that it mirrors how you and infants acquired language.
  7. What happened to Stone in the ending? to human? Is it a happy ending? Justify your answer.
  8. What are two ways to refer to this statement by another sentient rock: "An excellent deeble.... It always pays to be a cautious collector."? (Hint: two creatures are collecting in this story.) Considering the first statement, which is the more likely interpretation? Might the author want us to consider both?
  9. What is fission? Does it release or absorb energy? How does society, especially France, use this energy today? [Tie-in to social studies] What makes alternative energy so attractive to world leaders today? Where has fission been used destructively in history?
  10. Stone says, "I've added so carefully to my atom collection, building up the finest molecular structure in the neighborhood [in order to deeble]." What sorts of atoms must Stone be collecting? Hydrogen? Helium? Lead? Uranium? something else? Explain your answers.
  11. "[T]he space... sedan, customized by its owner, who had removed much of the shielding." What's the point of shielding an atomic pile? Is this human very bright to remove the shielding? What is the atomic pile probably releasing?
  12. If you can think of other possible questions , please let me/us know.

On Teaching:
  • One way to use this story would be after an introduction to nuclear reactions. However, it may be useful at the beginning of a course for students to feel more comfortable with the upcoming unfamiliar terminology coming up.
  • For teaching physical science students the difference between fission and fusion, we break down the words: FISSion looks a lot like fizz, where bubbles leave your soda. So FISSion = FIZZ apart. FUSion comes from FUSe, where you fuse things together. An over-simplification, but the mneumonic solidifies their understanding well enough for that level. Also fUSion occurs on the SUn. Does the sun release energy? Do you think fusion releases energy? Fission occurs in nuclear bombs and in reactors. Do nuclear bombs and reactors release energy? Do you think fission releases energy?
  • Language
  • Psychology: Language Acquisition
  • Understanding Science Terminology
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Physical Science

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