THE WIND FROM A BURNING WOMAN
Greg Bear

 


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Arkham House Publishers, 1983
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Short Stories, Science Fiction and Fantasy

In his Preface, author Greg Bear says, “Science fiction is much too restless to accept…genre regimentation… .” THE WIND FROM A BURNING WOMAN is a six-story salvo against those who would seek safety and shut out exploration and creativity.

The Wind From a Burning Woman

Giani’s grandfather died and her father was disgraced in the failed Psyche project, an attempt to turn an asteroid into a spaceship. Giani intends to see to it that the people responsible for the disaster clear her family’s name – or else. A falling asteroid is a hard weapon to ignore. Shot through with passion and pyrotechnic imagery, The Wind From a Burning Woman is as fine as its title.

The White Horse Child

A young boy meets a storytelling couple who awaken the storyteller in him. To the boy’s fundamentalist family, storytelling is evil. The White Horse Child is a heavily symbolic battle between natural creativity and book burning, but the author has grown a prairie setting for us that is so real the issues don’t feel symbolic at all – they flower. I first met this story in another collection; it is the reason I went looking for more Greg Bear.

Petra

Decades ago the structure of reality fell and everything in the world was transformed. Only the strongest minds can hold reality stable, while most people’s minds create monsters from their nightmares and tremble at the chaos. Petra represents a new life form, so ugly that he would be killed if he were caught in the humans-only section of the enclosed cathedral community. What chance is there that anyone will listen to his revelations about enlightened living? I could use the words “courage” and “childlike” about Petra; they would be technically accurate, but they conjure up conventional images that don’t fit his character at all. His origins are particularly inventive.

Scattershot

The people who made “Anything can happen” a household phrase had no idea. A disruptor weapon scrambles universes and time lines. It separates groups and brings together other groups: beings who have no understanding to prepare them for each other. The opening sentence of Scattershot reads: “The teddy bear spoke excellent Mandarin.” It’s all disorder from here, until Geneva meets someone who has some minimal control of the situation. I don’t think Bear actually intended for us to get a handle on this – he wants us to see his main characters working with chaos.

Mandala

On the world known as God-Does-Battle, men built automated cities and programmed them with the highest ideals. The cities, with machine-like idealism, cast mankind out to live in the wilderness. A thousand years later Jeshua, deformed and with nowhere else to go, decides the cities are his only hope. Bear created this world with such detail and coherence that it cries out for a longer life than one novella. Mandala became the seed for his novel STRENGTH OF STONES.

Hardfought

The Senexi have been sentient for almost as long as the galaxy has existed. Their vitality and adaptability has run out, leaving them at a disadvantage when vigorous humanity begins to overrun the Medusa Nebula. A platoon of human child soldiers falls into a trap set by Aryz, an ostracized Senexi. Their forced attempts to understand each other come up against mutual abhorrence. Both species are so different from us that Greg Bear resorts to impressionism to convey their states of mind and a form of joining.

The psychology of war isn’t new, but it bears repeating. Hardfought exposes several of its ramifications, projects several tendencies to their extremes. The result is both repulsive and elegant, like poison and cure in the same chalice. Because there is a cure, one we recognize instinctively when we see it. We may accept the cure – or reject.

 
Think the previously unthought, try the previously untried. Bear is claiming that right for himself and us. As long as we retain our care for ourselves and our fellow living beings, that road can only lead up, away from stagnation and toward unimaginable growth.

November 2005 Review

 

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