J G Ballard’s Space-Sickness Trilogy

Booklet published by Interzone, 1982

Between 1981 and 1982, J G Ballard wrote what David Pringle, in his Ballard Chronology (published in the Deep Ends anthologies), has referred to as a “time trilogy of long short stories”: News from the Sun, Myths of the Near Future, and Memories of the Space Age. Ballard himself lumped these together in a 1984 interview, saying his recent work included “three long stories all about the same theme, really — … Light and time.” Not a trilogy in any conventional sense (they have different characters, and the nature of the “space sickness” in each story’s world is slightly different) they nevertheless share so many elements that they belong together in the same way the stories in The Atrocity Exhibition do. They could even be seen as a later, more thoroughly digested (and conventionally narrated) treatment of the same Atrocity Exhibition material, with their gone-rogue doctors/architects/pilots engaging in highly conceptual (not to say insane) artistic projects intended to solve some combination of personal trauma and cultural/global malaise.

All three of these early 80s stories are set in the now-unpopulated areas around an abandoned Cape Kennedy, years after the cessation of the US Space Programme. In all three a space-sickness, identified in some way with our venturing outside the Earth’s atmosphere, has taken grip on the world’s population, its symptoms consisting of an ever-increasing retreat from the world and an altered perception of time, which are in many ways reminiscent of the “supersaturation of time” portrayed in Ballard’s most hallucinogenic disaster novel, The Crystal World.

Ambit #87

In News from the Sun (first published in Ambit #87 in Autumn 1981), people are falling into a series of ever-lengthening “fugues”, mental absences during which they simply stop mid-action, coming back to consciousness minutes or hours later. Once started, these fugues increase daily to the point of total retreat from waking life. The protagonist, Robert Franklin, is a former NASA physician now caring for space-sickness patients in the environs of a derelict Cape Kennedy, while staving off his own increasing fugues. One of his patients is Trippett, the last astronaut to walk on the moon, whose daughter visits every day, urging Franklin to drive her father around at dangerous speeds (and anything over 10mph is dangerous, given that Franklin could fugue at any moment), in the belief it will counter the sickness. Trippet, on the verge of a fugue, seems to see the desert landscape around the space station full of lush vegetation.

The one man who’s managed to stave off the sickness is Slade, a former air-pilot. Frustrated in his desire to walk on the moon by having been declared (by Franklin) unfit for space travel, Slade engages in a whirlwind of semi-artistic activity including the assembly of “shrines” of seemingly unrelated objects, the building of an airport made of wood, and flying a man-powered aircraft rather too low over Franklin, while wearing nothing but a pair of aviator’s goggles. All this, Slade claims, is part of his own “space programme” (in the same way the Atrocity Exhibition protagonists were all trying to enact their own version of World War III, or some other disaster).

Interzone #2

In Memories of the Space Age (first published in Interzone #2 in Summer 1982), the space-sickness is a subjective slowing of time, leaving people paused in (as they perceive it) a single moment, only to emerge hours later back into the consensus timeline. The protagonist is, again, an ex-NASA physician, Edward Mallory, who has returned with his wife to live in an empty hotel near the now-abandoned Cape Kennedy. This time, there are two characters flying their self-powered aircraft dangerously low over the protagonist’s head. The first is Gale Shepley, who calls herself Nightingale — “a punk madonna of the airways”, as Ballard puts it — the daughter of the first astronaut to be murdered in space. The other is Hinton, her father’s murderer, whose pet impossible/conceptual project is to achieve wingless flight, which he’s attempting to do by piloting a series of ever more primitive flying machines.

F&SF Oct 1982

In Myths of the Near Future (published in F&SF in October 1982), the space-sickness is less well defined, starting with a vague reluctance to go out of doors and an increasing sensitivity to sunlight, followed by a “taste for wayward and compulsive hobbies”, until finally — almost comically, in all but Ballard’s hands — “the victims became convinced they had once been astronauts”. (This detail underlines how so many aspects of these three stories are interchangeable, including the titles. With its false-astronaut memories, Myths could so easily have been called Memories of the Space Age; equally, with a line like “he felt that the entire human race was beginning its embarkation, preparing to repatriate itself to the sun”, it could just as appropriately have been called News from the Sun — and vice versa with the other two stories.)

The protagonist this time is Roger Sheppard, an “outwardly cool architect who concealed what was in fact a powerful empathy for other people’s psychological ills”. He has come to an overgrown and abandoned Cape Kennedy to find out if his ex-wife, a sufferer of the space-sickness, is dead. This time, though, it’s Sheppard who does the buzzing with a low-flying aircraft, and his victim is a young neurosurgeon, Philip Martinsen, who was/is caring for Sheppard’s ex-wife.

Paladin PB, art by Chris Moore

Summing up the similarities between these three stories — even worse, listing all the resonances they set up with Ballard’s previous fiction — would be the work of a not insubstantial thesis. For me, the standouts, as already mentioned, are The Atrocity Exhibition and The Crystal World, whose crystal-forming time-dilation effect these three stories seem to be moving towards, particularly the third, Myths, where Cape Kennedy, rather than being a desert as in the first two stories, is overgrown with lush forest, and Ballard’s descriptions of various light effects approach the hallucinogenic vibrancy of that earlier novel’s prose. (And produce similar images. For instance, in Myths we have: “a large alligator basked contentedly in a glow of self-generated light, smiling to itself as its golden jaws nuzzled its past and future selves.” While in The Crystal World, there’s: “Invested by the glittering light that poured from its body, the crocodile resembled a fabulous armorial beast. Its blind eyes had been transformed into immense crystalline rubies…”)

(As another aside, I did find myself wondering, having since finally read Ballard’s keystone work Empire of the Sun, how much his more visionary and hallucinogenic passages evoke young Jim’s hunger- and fever-driven fugues as he wanders war-torn Shanghai, rather than LSD, as everyone assumed when The Crystal World came out. Certainly, these three stories are full of the sort of Ballardian imagery that would come together in Empire — drained swimming pools, abandoned motels, low-flying aircraft, not to mention the frequently emaciated and hallucinating protagonists. A particularly resonant quote, from Memories: “Cape Kennedy was even more sinister than he had expected, like some ancient death camp.”)

1984 Paladin PB, art by James Marsh

The most significant Ballardian trope in these three stories, for me, is the presence in each of what I might call a Vaughan-like character (to use the name of the instigator of Crash’s car-crash re-enactments). Here, he’s an ex-aviator or ex-astronaut, driven to create his own conceptual version of the space-programme, often trying to enlist the protagonist in some way as a means of saving him from the space-sickness while, all too frequently, also attempting to kill him. (Again, echoes of Empire of the Sun, in young Jim’s uneasy relationship with the American Basie, who takes the boy under his wing, but is just as ready to hand him over to the occupying forces or leave him to die, at a moment’s notice. Ballard is an authentic creator of rogues in the literary tradition of Long John Silver.) This Vaughan-like character always has some unspecified link to the protagonist’s wife, or she’s in some way drawn to him. It might be a former affair, or it might be pure fascination. Either way, the wife abandons the protagonist for this rival: the muse belongs to the artist, however crack-brained he is.

Reading these three so similar tales together, I got the feeling Ballard was fine-tuning his imaginative engine, delicately adjusting the weighting of each of his stock characters, images, and situations, finding the balance point that would allow the whole thing, as it were, to fly.

Arkham House HB

And something does seem to have clicked. News from the Sun and Memories of the Space Age both spend more time establishing the space-sickness as a real-feeling (even if magical-realist) phenomenon, and end with their protagonist sinking into a final fugue, with the stated hope that this would lead, in some way, to a new sense of inner fulfilment. (Though, to me, it always sounded far more like a euphemism for death.) But in the third story, Myths of the Near Future, it feels we’re dealing with a more developed form of this mutating narrative. For a start, Ballard seems impatient to get the establishment of the space-sickness over with, and is less interested in making it seem like a real thing (however weird), than just having it there, in place, ready for the next stage of this particular myth to play out. Significantly, he shifts the balance between his protagonist and the Vaughan-like rival. Now it’s the protagonist, Sheppard, who’s doing the menacing low-flying, while the rival figure is no longer an elder or peer, but a young neurosurgeon. It’s like we’re now seeing the same story from another perspective — a madder, but also perhaps more vital and artistic one. Whereas the first two stories move towards the protagonist’s loss of his wife both to the space-sickness and to the Vaughan-like character, Myths starts with the protagonist already having lost his wife — both to divorce and the space sickness — and setting out to recover her.

Myths ends with a far more genuine sense of fulfilment, however otherworldly it must be when combined with the ongoing symptoms of the space-sickness. By the end, the four main Ballardian archetypes that populate this loose trilogy fall into a sort of unity, as though about to adopt a peculiar four-way marriage: the now Vaughan-like protagonist, the young neurosurgeon, the protagonist’s no-longer-dead wife, and the young woman psychologist Anne Godwin (whose role was played by the astronauts’ daughters Ursula in News and the “Nightingale” from Memories). What’s more, Myths’ landscape isn’t the arid desert of the earlier two tales, but a place of lush, often glowing forest — “a world nourished by time”, as Ballard has it.

Of course, the fulfilment is of a distinctly Ballardian type, filled with strange light and a new relationship with time, but at least it doesn’t, this third time, feel so much like a hand-waving euphemism for death.

1982 Jonathan Cape PB, art by Bill Botten

What’s going on here? What space-sickness is Ballard himself afflicted by? It’s tempting to take his own advice from Myths of the Near Future: “It was always best to take the mad on their own terms.” In the same tale, regarding his suitcase containing a Terminal Documents-like collection of oddly-assorted objects (“film strips, chronograms and pornographic photos, the Magritte reproduction”), Sheppard says: “I’m trying to construct a metaphor to bring my wife back to life.” Which has a raw biographical resonance in the confrontation with Ballard’s own wife’s death that lay behind so much of The Atrocity Exhibition. Though, it can be hard to tell, with Ballard. Grief and loss aren’t emotions that ever seem to be foregrounded in his fiction — perhaps, however, that’s because they’re so much part of his world at an almost molecular level, they can’t be felt as something separable. Myths, or either of the other two stories, could be read as a post-grief phantasmagoria from start to finish.

Art by Tom Breuer

Another thing these stories address is Ballard’s feelings about the Space Programme. The space-sickness is at first presented as a punishment for daring to fly so high: “By leaving his planet and setting off into outer space man had committed an evolutionary crime.” — which, to me, recalls C S Lewis’s idea in his Space Trilogy that man shouldn’t leave Earth because his Creator said so, something I can’t imagine the futurophilic (and atheistic) Ballard would chime with. Another take on the cause for the space sickness, from Memories, is that “by travelling into space… [mankind] was tampering with the elements of his own consciousness.” So, is Ballard saying we just don’t have the psychological resources to deal with the vast void of the heavens, and the disappointing barrenness of its heavenly bodies?

In Myths, though, there’s a slightly more positive idea: it isn’t that we’re not meant to go into space, rather that it needs to be appreciated for the immense leap it is, analogous to the moment our fish-like ancestors crawled out of the sea onto the land, and not simply a moment of media spectacle:

“Could it be that travelling into outer space, even thinking about and watching it on television, was a forced evolutionary step with unforeseen consequences, the eating of a very special kind of forbidden fruit?”

(To which I just have to add this far more eloquent image of our psychological and technological poverty when it comes to facing up to the challenge of entering the void, in News from the Sun: “the rusting dish of a radio-telescope on a nearby peak, a poor man’s begging bowl held up to the banquet of the universe.”)

In a 1979 interview (in fact, a chat with his friend, the psychologist and computer scientist Dr Chris Evans), Ballard had this to say:

“…we’re at the climactic end of one huge age of technology which began with the Industrial Revolution and which lasted for about two hundred years. We’re also at the beginning of a second, possibly even greater revolution, brought about by advances in computers and by the development of information-processing devices of incredible sophistication. It will be the era of artificial brains as opposed to artificial muscles… Now it’s my belief that people, unconsciously perhaps, recognise… that the space programme and the conflict between NASA and the Soviet space effort belonged to the first of these systems of technological exploration, and was therefore tied to the past instead of the future. Don’t misunderstand me — it was a magnificent achievement to put man on the moon, but it was essentially nuts-and-bolts technology…”

I can’t help feeling that these three longish stories somehow resolved — or began to — the fragmented trauma captured in The Atrocity Exhibition over a decade before, and by doing so, perhaps, opened the way for Ballard to more clearly address the true root of it all, his formative childhood experiences in wartime Shanghai that in so many ways provide the skeleton key for understanding where the many obsessive images in his fiction come from. Despite being utterly magical-realist and surreal in imagery, these three stories are some of the purest pre-echoes of the world presented in Ballard’s most-read novel; and they could be seen as a summing up, and tying together, of so many Ballardian obsessions before he moved on to addressing a deeper, perhaps purer, version of the same thing in Empire of the Sun.


Andra by Louise Lawrence

1971 UK HB, art by Antony Maitland

Like the first Louise Lawrence book I read (1974’s The Wyndcliffe), I bought Andra (1971) because of the wonderful Antony Maitland cover to its UK first edition. But whereas The Wyndcliffe proved equal to both its cover and my expectations of it as a slice of vintage 70s British YA folk-fantasy, the best thing about Andra remains its cover, and it was mainly interesting to read because it was Lawrence’s first published novel (she wrote four — “very bad”, in her own words — beforehand, apparently).

It’s set 2000 years from now. Our world’s surface is no longer habitable, thanks to a bomb that “swung Earth from her orbit” — the year is now four times as long as ours — “just to end one stupid war and left us with a lump of useless rock”, as the titular heroine puts it. The action takes place in Sub-city One, one of three subterranean redoubts lit and heated entirely by artificial means. (There are a further five cities belonging to the rival nation-state of Uralia, which, ruled as it is by one Gravinski, is clearly a Cold War Russia analog.)

It’s a dull, mechanistic future. Children are separated from their parents at birth and raised by E.D.C.O. (whose initials aren’t explained, as far as I recall, but thinking of it as Education Corporation works), which separates the low IQs from the high, and assigns everyone, on adulthood, with a job and a spouse. People only ever wear the colour assigned to their job, all hair is cut short and, for some reason, everyone is blond-haired and blue-eyed.

1991 PB

Andra, a.k.a. Citizen C/22/33/5, whose age is given as 15 (though this must be our years, not theirs, otherwise she’d be a rebellious teen of 60), is a misfit from the start, classed as low IQ for her resistance to E.D.C.O.’s production-line style of upbringing. Playing hooky one day, she’s caught in an accident that destroys the part of her brain processing eyesight. Normally, she’d be terminated (“The city would not support any person who was not physically faultless”), but one Dr Lascaux takes the opportunity to try an experimental brain graft. The only available brain that will fit is one that belonged to a young man from 1987. The operation proves a success. Andra can see.

But she does so with the added memories of someone from the 20th century, who knows what such things as the sun, trees, fields and animals are. And she feels the hunger to see these things again. (To make matters worse, her hair also turns black and her eyes go brown, to the disgust of the more conservative dwellers of Sub-city One.) Having decided she’s nowhere near as stupid as E.D.C.O. says she is, Dr Lascaux recommends she be assigned to help the three-hundred-year-old Professor Kiroyo in the archives. Yet even this unusual, and perfectly suited, opportunity — Kiroyo is researching how people used to live before the surface became uninhabitable — grates with Andra’s intensely individualistic personality. She starts to display clearly 1960s-inspired signs of unacceptable free-spiritedness, such as growing her hair long and writing pop lyrics, putting her at the centre of a burgeoning youth movement which brings her into conflict with the the city’s autocratic director Shenlyn.

Andra is mostly a pretty straightforward free-spirit-versus-stultifying-society narrative. Everything about Sub-city One is an imaginative teen’s exaggerated idea of what being a dull, conforming adult is all about:

“…in this whole horrible subterranean place there is nothing, not one thing, I would class as beautiful. The language we speak is empty and void of any real meaning. Beauty no longer exists… This is not living… This is merely existing, being kept alive to keep our species alive and feed the demands of Shenlyn and the computers… With every breath I take I long to see the sun.”

It’s saved from being a straight-out dystopia when it turns out that Kiroyo is studying how people used to live so colonists can be sent to the newly-discovered, old-Earth-like Planet 801 in a fleet of rockets — so all the young people singing songs of rebellion and freedom are going to get their wish, freedom from the city and a chance to make their own way of life. But things, of course, don’t go quite so smoothly, thanks to those evil Uralians, and the novel ends on a rather abrupt down-turn.

Perhaps this reflects Lawrence’s own situation at the time. She was in an unhappy marriage (though soon to get out of it) and the dedication, “To my husband, for his tolerance during Andra’s creation”, can’t help, with that knowledge, sound distinctly cold.

There’s plenty of what would play out in Lawrence’s subsequent books, here in raw form. Andra’s brain graft — an alien and destabilising influence that opens her up to a new way of seeing things, bringing with it a host of sometimes dangerous difficulties — recalls the microscopic alien race that infects Jane Bates in The Power of Stars, the ghost that befriends Anna Hennessey in The Wyndcliffe, or the fascination Owen Jones feels for the nature-goddess-like Bronwen in The Earth Witch. There’s also the conflict between the worlds of potentially destructive technology and the raw power of nature, as laid out most clearly in her later book Star Lord.

1976 TV tie-in edition

Andra was adapted for Australian TV in 1976, apparently with such a low budget that shop window dummies were used as extras, and the scenery was mostly large coloured blocks. The novel was republished in 1991 in the US, with Publishers Weekly complaining of “the sometimes puzzling British slang” (I’d love to know what they were referring to) and that Lawrence “seems unsure of her message”, while Kirkus Reviews mentioned “Hackneyed writing, lack of science, and general implausibility”, but ultimately found it worked, “by establishing Andra as the one striving, scornful, yearning person in a world of drones”.

I have to admit I found the writing sometimes unpolished — occasionally a character would just start speaking in a scene when they weren’t previously present, and the point of view in the early chapters slips from one character to another mid-paragraph. I’d say it’s probably best read as part of an interest in Lawrence’s work, as the opening move in a soon-to-improve writing career, rather than as an introduction to it. Those of her later novels that I’ve read are all more interesting, and prove that she was up to taking on some strong themes. (Her post-nuclear Children of the Dust sounds rather Threads-like.)

I’ll still be keeping my hardback copy primarily for the Antony Maitland cover, though.


Hit Parade of Tears by Izumi Suzuki

A second collection of Suzuki’s stories, following on from last year’s Terminal Boredom, this book contains her breakthrough SF story “Trial Witch” — a title which wrongfooted me, because those words inevitably conjure the phrase “witch trials”, whereas in this case it means “apprentice witch on her trial period”. It’s the comical story of a woman who, out of the blue, is told she’s been selected by the League of Witches to become one of their number. She’s granted magical powers for a limited period, but finds her main ability is to transform her husband into a variety of new forms, which she either can’t, or doesn’t want to (he’s unfaithful), undo by the time the trial ends. It’s fun to imagine this story as the image of Suzuki herself, self-trialling herself as a writer in the fantastical vein. Only, unlike with the story’s protagonist, Suzuki turned out to have, with this story, won herself a place as a writer of SF in Japan (though not, it turns out, to have been allowed into the all-male SF Writers Club of Japan).

The main feeling I came away from in my review of Terminal Boredom was of emotional disconnection in human relationships, edging its way into emotional disconnection from oneself. With some of the stories of Hit Parade of Tears, that aspect is ramped up, with sometimes quite extreme self-alienation being a predominant theme in the longer, more serious tales.

That feeling of distanced relationships is still there, as in this, from the opening story, “My Guy”, about a young woman who finds herself picking up a man who says he’s an alien from another world:

“I guess I’d never really been in love, or even learned what was involved in ‘liking’ someone. This could be why I always seemed to wind up in relationships defined by mutual distaste and an inability to walk away.”

The alien man tells her things are the same on his world:

“Back home, everyone starts making love, so to speak, once they reach adulthood, except only with the partner that the government assigns them. Then they spend the rest of their lives as a happy couple who never fight. But that isn’t what you’d call ‘love’ now, is it…”

But elsewhere in the book — in what I feel is probably a later tale — Suzuki seems to have hit on something of a solution, only a messily human one, when in the story “I’ll Never Forget” she presents us with an ever-squabbling-and-making-it-up couple, who keep their relationship fuelled by the failures of previous ones:

“They were a strange pair, these two. They each prodded at some past infidelity, real or not, and that’s what formed the basis of their relationship.”

Which leads to the realisation:

“…love isn’t like a house you can just kick back and live in once it’s completed. No, it gets more worn and tattered day by day. So unless you keep on making it up, day by day, it disappears in all but name.”

But it’s the alienation from oneself that dominates Hit Parade of Tears. In what may be the longest tale, “Hey, It’s a Love Psychedelic”, a woman, initially called Reico, then Reyko, then Reiko, finds herself transplanted to what seem to be alternative versions of her own life. In each, she’s aware that things are wrong, usually through her knowledge of popular culture — an album that should have been out, or a brand of cigarettes that shouldn’t be available yet. The time-stream of her life is being manipulated by someone, taking her further away from the life she knew: whereas in the first section of this tale, she’s actively involved in the 1960s/70s rock music scene, by the last section she’s merely reading about it in a trashy novel called Groupie.

Some Japanese covers to Suzuki’s books

“The Covenant” starts with a somewhat useless-seeming husband figure who claims to be telepathic and in contact with aliens from another world, who he somehow helps with his mental powers. Then we meet a girl whose self-alienation starts out as an emotional self-disconnection similar to other Suzuki characters:

“Akiko had been alone ever since she was a child. She’d never had friends. She’d been a taciturn, expressionless, polite child. Her good grades had made her something of a teacher’s pet, but she never cared about any of that. After many long years of resenting the fact that no one loved her, she had conceived a vague hatred for this world.”

But she comes to realise these feelings are because she is (or so she believes), an alien from another world, here on Earth to fulfil the covenant of the story’s title. She forms a friendship with another similarly outsiderish girl, and things get a bit Charles Manson-ish.

The starkest image of self-alienation, though, is in “Memory of Water”. Here, the main character is a woman whose agoraphobia has led to her being mostly cut off from the world, and barely leaving her flat. But there are inexplicable (and, to her, alarming) intrusions into even that safe space, such as phone calls from a man who seems to know her, and items of clothing she’d never wear suddenly appearing in her wardrobe. Unknown to herself, she has a second self, one who is not anxious, depressed and sick, but whose idea of a free, adventurous life is one she’s so afraid of, she has cut that whole self off to the point that it has managed to break away and live an independent life. But instead of embracing this new self, the anxious woman only retreats further.

This feeling of being linked to another person, one whose mental and physical ill-health is dragging you down, also pops up in a tale I’ve already mentioned, “I’ll Never Forget”, which is actually a sequel to the story “Forgotten” from Terminal Boredom. “Forgotten” presented us with an alien but humanlike race, the Meelians, who never forget, which is why they don’t have war on their planet. In “I’ll Never Forget”, though, we learn there’s a downside to this never forgetting, as Meelians’ emotional experiences never fade; as a result, when “their heart has exceeded its capacity”, they tend to take their own life. (Human beings, on the other hand, merely descend into “a sort of hellish torment”. Thanks.) The main character, a Meelian woman who’s on Earth to do some modelling work, finds herself unconsciously targeted by the telepathic emanations of the human woman from “Forgotten”, who loved a Meelian man, Sol, who’s now dead. Alongside this feeling of being burdened by a stream of negativity that mixes physical ill-health, depression, and a feeling of life-failure, there’s the helplessness of not being able to do anything about it. In this sense, both “I’ll Never Forget” and “Memory of Water” are quite despairing tales.

Cover by Araki

As with Terminal Boredom, there’s no indication of when the Japanese originals from Hit Parade of Tears were first published, but I’m willing to bet that “The Memory of Water” and “I’ll Never Forget” date from the end of Suzuki’s career. That feeling of being burdened by longstanding physical ill-health, as well as mental ill-health and a feeling of the failure of human relationships chimes too much with Suzuki’s biography to ignore. (And I realised I should have taken my own advice from my review of Terminal Boredom: “I’d like to read some more stories by Suzuki, though perhaps I wouldn’t read them back-to-back, as that malaise of disaffection can be hard to read too much of.”)

There are some tales in Hit Parade of Tears that escape this negativity, though. Perhaps my favourite is one of the most explicitly genre-science-fictional, “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise”, about the human crew of a spaceship exploring other planets, not for the purposes of scientific advancement — there are just too many planets out there for every one of them to be treated with such care and attention — but as part of “a get-rich-quick scheme to collect unusual animals for Earth’s leisure class”. This mismatched, flawed, and very un-military-SF crew, collect a bunch of animals from various planets, half of which die, some of which injure or poison the crew. On this planet, they find what seems to be a human baby, and their disagreements about what to do with it lead to a near mutiny. But the captain, who is equally fed-up with their mission, decides to take a new, and very un-Captain Kirk-ish solution: she says maybe they should give up and just live on this planet as they are.

It would be interesting to know when this story was written. The idea of a crew setting down on an alien planet and collecting specimens has been done in SF before, but the crew’s mismatchedness, and the detail that, back on Earth, there’s a “nerve centre linking the computers used by the various government ministries” called “MOTHER”, recalls the fact that the Nostromo’s computer is also called “Mother”, which makes me wonder if this isn’t a jokey take on Alien.

I think I like Suzuki most when she’s engaging explicitly with the sort of big ideas you find in genre SF — she inevitably has a fresh and meaningful take on them, alongside a carefree sense of humour and a wide acceptance of human foibles. But elsewhere there’s that overpowering emotional malaise and feelings of despair that just can’t be channelled into the sort of punky kicking back at society that would give this collection the life it needs. I really didn’t enjoy that aspect this time around.