Young People Read Old SFF

Rediscovery: Of All Possible Worlds

Rosel George Brown

Young People Read Old SFF

29 Mar, 2020

This is the second Brown featured in Rediscovery. As mentioned last month, Brown was a promising author whose career was cut short by her death in 1967. I don’t have much to add to that, except to wonder if my Young People will enjoy this story more than they did the previous one.

I liked the self-examination David showed when he realized that he wasn’t thinking of the aliens as people.

The story reminded me a bit of Unhuman Sacrifice,” in that the natives of the planet are more alien than the narrator anticipates.

A second Rosel George Brown in a row but I have to say this one was a significant improvement on the last one. Whilst I don’t quite agree with the introduction’s claim that is like Le Guin or Star Trek but it definitely has a great literary style or an appreciation for the other” as a person.

I think the thing that stood out to me the most was the spaceships. They were only powerful enough to carry a human with no equipment whatsoever, and they would return automatically in five years… with or without their passenger. It’s the kind of cruel efficiency I would expect from a future (or present) capitalist Earth society. I suppose the stark contrast is part of the appeal of the alien culture explored in this story.

I had to sit with this one awhile. I gotta say it’s the best of what I’ve read so far. The naked on an alien world premise is a bit of a contrivance, but I’d say it works. It’s a fairly deep story, pondering the meaning of life and how in our modern society, life can seem pointless. Contrasted with the community on this alien world, which would be more pointless by our standards, it’s remarkable how fulfilling this life is to the main protagonist, who is, after all, here because of wanderlust.

I would agree with Gavin that this is my favourite of the stories we have read so far. I can see why the introduction compares the story to Le Guin — there is something Left Hand of Darkness about the basic premise of an anthropologist visiting an alien world alone, though Genly in Left Hand has rather more initial information about, and more in common with, the Gethenians than David does with the aliens in Of All Possible Worlds”.“Possible Worlds” does aliens pretty well — they do feel properly alien. The spaceship design is, I think, a little odd — it feels like the restrictions on space travel are there to set up the plot rather than for any coherent reason. And characterisation and plot are both minimal. Nonetheless, the story does do the things it is trying to do — exploring an alien society, and reflecting on our own — in an interesting and engaging way.