Search This Blog

Monday, April 24, 2017

“Vestibular Man” by Felix C. Gotschalk

First appeared in Edward L. Ferman's F&SF. Up for Locus Award. Reprinted by Orson Scott Card.
Derek has been conscripted for military service in 2800 AD. He tries to dominate his drill instructor but quickly learns that the DI is bionic and that it can disable him simply by grabbing Derek's elbow. Derek mostly follows orders but maintains a sharp eye out for weaknesses in the bionic DI. He eventually finds one.
To the left you can see this was F&SF's cover story. It illustrates the final moment of the bione's collapse after its cord is cut. It leans heavily on Asimov's laws of robotics without stating them although it implies that the laws are more legal ones than imprinted on circuits.

The tale yields a rather pyrotechnic display of words, mixing the academic or professional jargon with the vernacular in strong writing. This may make it difficult for some readers. Instead of saying "inner ear," for instance, he writes "vestibular." Makes for a cooler title and a little more pointed.

Card makes a lengthy introduction how academics require books that require expert interpretation. He makes an interesting case. This story, however, seems somewhat to argue against this premise. It is not an easy pill to swallow. On the other hand, it may not require an academic to interpret it.

The main challenge is whether the protagonist would actually use such jargon. Probably not. He sounds like a rube out of Old New Orleans, conscripted straight out of the future's equivalent of high school. There is little sense that the young man is particularly intelligent or precocious enough to prefer the high-falutin to the vernacular. Possibly.

He seems to like fighting, so it is slightly odd that opposes his conscription apart from what seems to be a semi-subconscious dislike of bionics, especially as they become closer and closer to machines.

Odd, too, that he is not both commended and lectured for his destruction of government property. I kept expecting a meeting of minds to point how closely aligned they were. Instead, they part ways.

The military during this era was often painted as the typical bad guy. If someone had a crew cut, you knew immediately whom the baddie was. This isn't surprising as the era was finally dealing with the Vietnam War after some delay. But it was still a stereotype that bled until the 90s by which time most realized it was hackneyed without nuance and retired the trope.

"Vestibular" and "man"--the operative words--indicate a man who has his proper bearings/orientation as opposed to those machines who/which do not. The story surveys the military and pairs them with machines, which even they can be vindictive. Vestibular, however, fails to become relevant to the tale except symbolically.

On a linguistic level, the tale is fascinating but flawed due to its character being out of sync with his language. On a story level, it works as a critique of the military but not one that stimulates much thought. Gotschalk is a fascinating writer, but his style requires the right character and tale. This is not it. I would recommend it for fans of Gotschalk or those with antipathy toward those in the military.

For a better story, see Gotschalk's "The Examination."

No comments:

Post a Comment