This post stems from a discussion following my review for 1980 Annual World’s Best SF, a utopia themed anthology, in which I was asked to expand on an author or story I particularly liked. It was split between Steven Barnes and Larry Niven’s The Locusts and Orson Scott Card’s Unaccompanied Sonata so without giving too much away…
In the Locusts, society, humanity, and evolution are questioned. A last hope for humanity, emigrants are sent in “Moses’ Ark” to a naked planet, which they dress to resemble their old home. The children born are simple-minded ape-men, much to the parents’ shock and dismay. Questions arise: how can they be human or the ‘mutation’ natural? Despite technology and advancing, is human life and humanity doomed?
Unaccompanied Sonata is horrific. Seen as a musical prodigy, a child is placed where he can create music that’s truly his and uncontaminated by others. People have their designated jobs to perform, including the Watchers who protect and supervise “a system that needed little supervision because it actually made nearly everybody happy”. When the rules are broken consequences are paid with maiming and deprivation to cure the madness. After all, the system is for the greater good of society.
The Locusts is the 4th ‘book’ that I’ve read by Steven Barnes and a common theme I noticed is society and the human soul- what’s good, what’s evil? My first read was his alternate history, Lion’s Blood, where slavery is flipped. It’s a most excellent read and one that I’ve shared with several friends.
When it comes to science-fiction I’m not so into the high tech Star Trek-like genres. Rather, I enjoy those that use the universe, time, and technology as ways to explore the infinite possibilities (good and bad), society (any species), the questions of “humanity” and other topics they bring to mind and the discussions that can follow. For bookworms, Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian Fahrenheit 451 is a nightmare- banned books and thoughts suppressed. Like with most things, science-fiction spans the tastes and it can merely be a matter of finding what one likes.