View From a Height
Joan D. Vinge is best known for her Snow
quartet. In the 1970 and 1980s, she was a frequent contributor to
magazines like Asimov’s and Analog, as well as to respected
anthologies like Orbit
to do a special Woman’s Issue (only about half of which was by
men), Vinge’s contribution was the cover story. Although
fibromyalgia and a car accident in 2002 prevented her from writing
for some time, she began writing again in 2007. Her most recent book
is the 2013 novelization of 47
Hugo Nominee “A View From a Height” first appeared in the June
1978 issue of Analog.
It was selected for Terry Carr’s The
Best Science Fiction of the Year, #8, Gardner
Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Eighth Annual Collection, Pamela
Women of Wonder, the Classic Years: Science Fiction by Women from the
1940s to the 1970s, as
well as other collections and anthologies. The theme of irreversible
life decisions cast into doubt by new revelations seemed to me one
that would have aged well. Let’s see if I was right.
From a Height can
be found in The
Road to Science Fiction, Volume 4,
People Read Old Science Fiction would like to welcome high school student Raya to
the ranks of the Young People.
lot of the relentlessly depressing science fiction I read when I was
younger was about dying alone in space with no way to return home.
Usually it was because of some accident or malice, not by design.
story takes my habit of dwelling on decisions, wondering if I made
the right one, and blows it up to astronomical proportions. I can
really empathize with the narrator. I don't know which choice I would
have made. Though I have trouble suspending disbelief that the whole
program got ethics approval.
the story isn't focused on scientific oddities, just using astronomy
as a backdrop to the real story, I feel the whole thing has aged
well. I didn't spot anything wrong about the cosmology. The only
thing missing was earth-based or near earth telescopes quickly
outpacing the abilities of the probe as engineering moves on, making
it nearly obsolete before arrival at the first 1000 AU. Of course
maybe that did happen, but nobody is going to tell the narrator that
was late sending this review to James. He asked me to write it twice.
I have been busy with work/life/etc, but I've also been busy reading
books I like. I was in the middle of a book I really liked on the
weekend, and didn't want to stop reading it for something that I
wasn't going to enjoy.
not sure what to think about this story. It talks about how people
sacrifice big things to go to space. In Emmylou's case, she makes
extra big sacrifices because she's on a one-way mission (to do
something that I don't think was ever made clear, but I guess that's
not the point), and medical advances have made her terrible
lack-of-immune-system-disease possible to cure. She finds out that
she could have been normal (eventually) if she'd stayed on earth, and
is very sad, then gets over it and goes on with her work with a
renewed sense of purpose.
story is interesting enough, I guess, but not amazing. I appreciate
the point that some people sacrifice a lot of regular stuff to do
great things. I also appreciate the point that out in space, weird
people are normal (because normal people hang around on earth I
guess)? And maybe the story points out that no matter how weird you
are, there's a place where you can fit in if you look far and wide
also enjoyed comparing space travel as described in “View from a
Height” compared with space travel as described in some of the
earliest stories we read. Space travel as described in books becomes
a lot more boring once it's not 100% invented out of the author's
imagination. On the other hand, it becomes a lot more realistic,
which can be kind of a relief as well.
was the story worth reading? I guess. Was it worth waiting until
after I'd read the book I really enjoyed to read? Yes, definitely.
Similarly to the
last short story, this one benefits from reading at least twice.
Once I knew what was going on, I knew that I would want to re-read
This story smacks of
the YA genre before the recent YA boom was a thing. It reminds me of
the YA genre (Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, etc.) even though
the main character is neither young nor is Earth a dystopia. There’s
a hint of political unrest, but really she’s created her own
personalized dystopia in space.
She’s also a
40-year-old with the arrested social development of a 20-year-old.
It’s actually quite comical imagining a 40-something simultaneously
going through adolescent angst and a mid-life crisis. I’m sure I
wouldn’t think so if 40 didn’t feel so distant to me, but such is
my perception. The more I do, the slower time goes. (Yes, this is
opposite of how time perception supposedly works. But if I board a
train of thought, 15 minutes can feel like an hour.) But for the main
character, it’s the opposite. She has so little to do and with
which to divert herself that the years slip away. Maybe that’s what
getting older feels like for people? That’s what I hear, anyway.
This story works best if you suspend your disbelief. What’s the
logic of sending a person into space on a one-way trip? It seems
strange to me: why not send a probe like Voyager into space? Wouldn’t
launching equipment to sustain a person be very costly compared to
just sending a machine? What does this Forward Observatory do? How
would communication that far out work?
The solar sail was a
fun concept to include. The only time I’ve seen this concept on
screen was in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, so I couldn’t help
thinking that it was a lot like that. Fragile. Beautiful. Manned by
insane, hopeful pioneers.
I was doubtful about
the ineffective immune system of the main character, but a cursory
google search makes me suspect it’s not so outlandish – and
possibly even curable these days.
This story has many
flaws, but I can’t help liking it for some reason. Maybe I favour a
conversational tone. Maybe it’s because I can relate to the
isolated feeling – I was quite lonely up until 15 or so. Or maybe
it’s because the misogyny content is trending downward in recent
stories. In any case, this story’s worth a read-through.
don’t even know where to start with this one.
should have liked this story based on the premise. A woman does
science in space! However, any enjoyment I could have gotten out of
this story was overshadowed by it’s massive issues.
are several problematic concepts here. One is the idea that the best
thing to do with a person who needs to be isolated is to literally
send her into space where the apparently only person she’ll ever
get to talk to again is the PhD supervisor that sexually harassed
her. Another is the inevitability that chronic illness will be cured
if you wait long enough. It is nowhere near inevitable in a person’s
lifetime that they’ll get to be “normal” (and all my rage at
declaring people with health problems not-normal).
there is the recurring idea that romantic relationships are only
possible with physical touch, which is extremely problematic. The
narrator doesn’t seem to have any friends either. Yes, she had to
be in a suit, but that doesn’t explain why she doesn’t seem to
have any people who talk to her other than her supervisor. Not even
thoughts about friends from Earth that she misses/lost contact with,
except the love interest that she of course couldn’t possibly be
with because of her illness. *headdesk*
also want to note that the character considers self-harm is in this
story, but I can’t comment on how it was handled.
a note about the SF premise, it seems odd to me that a story that was
written about the same time that the Voyager probes were getting
ready to launch would be so convinced that a human on board would be
the best way to conduct that kind of research. I know automation was
nothing like it is now, but surely it was obvious that supplying life
support for a lifetime would be much more complicated to manage than
sending data back from an automated probe.
"View from a Height" is the internal commentary of an astronaut
approaching the Oort cloud on an interstellar mission. The beginning
of the story is somewhat confusing
as the narrator frequently switches topics without transition: which
given the lack of context makes it difficult to follow. The latter
half of the story is enjoyable as it is more focused and is more
related to the human experience
than a theoretical journey. The latter section is reasonably
relate-able for modern readers, which enhanced the story by making me
more invested. One critique would be the lack of action: while the
commentary has some level of substance there is only one event which
progresses the plot at all, which does add an element of drag to the
A View from a Height was generally enjoyable, however there is lots
of room for improvement.