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Friday, December 27, 2013

"How the Heroes Die" by Larry Niven

First published in Galaxy.  Caveat:  I will "ruin" some of these Larry Niven stories as it is impossible to discuss the science without revealing the key plot points.

Inside a Martian colony, John Carter (different than Burrough's character) kills Lew because Lew became homosexual on an all-male crew.  Lew tries to wreck the colony's bubble, not anticipating the colony members would be able to suit up in time to live and repair their colony bubble.

So Carter takes in a buggy.  Alf, Lew's brother, chases after.  They taunt each other on the radio.  Who will turn back first?  Who has the stronger will to live?

During the chase, evidence of living Martians appears (evidence of dead ones in "Eye of an Octopus"), but they are too busy trying to kill each other to do anything about it--the reason they are both there:  to learn more about Mars when they're only interested in destroying each other.  Nice thematic quirk, that.

The cool thing about this story is how it keeps revising the "ticking time bomb" effect (See classic opening to Orson Welles' A Touch of Evil also below).  This is what scientists or engineers have to do on occasion:  This didn't work, so what do we do now?  The "bomb" or the death of one or both men keeps getting revised as they calculate a new scenario.

What may be less popular is the change point of view.  This didn't bother me much, but it will some.  What makes a homosexual may disturb people on both sides of the political fence, but oh well.

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