posted Wednesday 18 November 2015 @ 10:47 am PDT
Another anthology this time, featuring African authors. Also the final Interzone of the year and a couple of regular monthly ezines.
AfroSF 2, edited by Ivor W Hartmann
A rather unusual anthology, comprised of five novellas—some of a length that certainly count as short novels and could easily be published as such. It’s good to see stories getting their chance to stretch out. As the title suggests, the authors are all Africans. In some cases, the settings and subject matter are distinctively African; in others, global; but readers will see a strong commonality of themes.
“The Last Pantheon” by Tade Thompson and Nick Wood
Superheroes, sortof. It seems that back in the early days of hominid evolution, a space ship with couple of aliens landed in southern Africa and they eventually took the role of gods. The pair broke up, the younger of them going north to the region where the Yoruba tribe would eventually settle.
“Oduduwa had something that looked like a barcode on his cheeks. There were already humans here. They saw the code and tried to copy it with their crude instruments. The barcode became the tribal marks.”
Time passed, and gods became obsolete, so the elder of them, now identifying as a Zulu, took on the identity of a superhero, Black-Power, complete with a cape and mask that his younger brother thought ridiculous. But he also adopted a superhero identity: the Pan-African. They were rivals, each other’s nemesis, for no good reason but jealousy and resentment. Eventually, in 1979, they fought, inconclusively. Afterwards, things might have gone on peacefully for some time, if it weren’t for the media’s insatiable appetite for spectacle. What could bring in more money for the promoters than a grudge match between two retired superheroes?
Although the time span of these events involves multimillennia, most of the story centers around the mid-twentieth century and the sacrifice of Africa on the altar of the Cold War, most notably the assassination of Patrice Lumumba at the instigation of the CIA. And much more along those lines. The characters both might, perhaps, have done much to alter this course of events, and even more had they worked together, but Black-Power, at least, held back, with
. . . his fear that taking sides so sharply would end up making the political bloodshed even greater. He had dreaded the sense that he might end up carrying so much more directly the vast weight of a multitude of dead souls, who might have followed him into an ensuing and even greater conflagration. So, instead he had straddled ideological fences through the following decades, concentrating on protecting the innocent from the smaller struggles of crime and the moral simplicities of natural disasters.
This is an interesting point of view, and one that has merit; not even superheroes or gods are immune to the law of unintended consequences, and hard as it is sometimes to imagine, things can always get worse. Yet it’s hard to admire either of the characters wholly, and particularly the petty animosity of Black-Power towards his once-younger-brother—a hostility personal, not political. Readers may want to take sides, to choose between them, not as in betting on the outcome of their combat but deciding which brother more deserves to survive. But it’s impossible not to regret the waste of their estrangement.
While the tone is largely cynical, there are moments of lightness, as when Pan-African looks in the mirror at himself in his homemade superhero costume and decides he looks ridiculous. I particularly like the moment when the story’s authors appear in a cameo, contracted to write the novelization of the superhero mega cage fight. It’s overall an entertaining read with occasional political overtones, not a screed, but at its heart a tragedy of two persons who once called each other brothers.
“Hell Freezes Over” by Mame Bougouma Diene
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
The author doesn’t quote Robert Frost, but I can’t help thinking of these lines as particularly apt for this piece, especially as Frost goes on to suggest that the real cause of the end will be hate. The story is a far-future diptych relating events that take place as humans attempt to survive a coming apocalypse.
It doesn’t seem that many are left alive on Earth. The oceans have risen and drowned most of the land; now a new Ice Age is gathering. In response, humans drag out the traditional stand-by: a new religion. Actually, a revived ancient religion based on classical tradition. As their Scriptures have it:
Millions of years past, a man-shaped demon named Plato, son of the wretched Socrates, Scion of Hell, had led to the fore an Age of Reason, dragging Man from the comfort of the Cave, and into the blinding lights of purgatory.
Ages followed, leading to the current Time of Neptune, but the Time of Hades is upon the Earth now, when humanity will return to the Cave. Creating the underground caverns and tunnels is the Divine Undertaking, in the name of which “all Men must labour, and all Men must sacrifice.” Humans have been divided into specialist castes, and in the age of Neptune, the Fish ruled—oppressively. They were overthrown by a revolution led by the Moles, who make it their point not to forget or forgive
The first of two sections [“Hell or High Water”] is from the point of view of Ari, a young Fish susceptible to the Dream, in which Fish hallucinate the summons of strange underwater beings. Many Fish have succumbed to these visions, leaping into the depths to whatever fate awaits them there. Their labor in the Undertaking is to scour the drowned lands and salvage materials necessary for survival in the caves during the coming age. But now the Mole-led Council has decided to send them north to the glaciers on a suicide mission. My favorite parts of this piece are the vivid descriptions of the oceans freezing, trapping the swimmers.
Where thin particles of ice lit up the dark only a few hours ago, the water was now thick with them, almost slush. Another few hours, less, and the slush would thicken, coagulate, and harden until the moving glacier solidified, creating explosions on the surface, like a giant’s thump blowing dust in every direction, blasting ice further south into the waters ahead.
The second part of the story [“Hell or High Lava”] seems to take place a hundred years earlier, during the Mole revolt, and features a Mole woman named Rina, whose family men are leaders of the uprising. Mole women are obliged to spend their lives in constant pregnancy, except for those like Rina who are barren and sentenced to serve as comfort women for the Fish and other castes. But she soon joins her brother’s revolt in the secret tunnels, wearing a fire-suit to protect her against the upwelling lava—by which we realize that the Divine Undertaking will be largely powered by geothermal energy.
The rumble deepened, and small flakes of stone started crumbling from the wall. High-pressured sulphur blasted stone chips at Rina and into the lava stream, and droplets of magma leaked through, sending ripples through the cracks with a powerful crunch as the wall gave way to the superheated basalt behind.
Rina is punished severely by the leaders of the revolt for the resulting collapse, although it’s not quite clear to me why. Indeed, this section is less than clear in several respects, as the account jumps rapidly from scene to scene in a manner stroboscopically blurred. But it’s easy to make out that the subject is power and the corruption thereof, and we learn here just what the Moles have against the Fish, the longstanding grudge that leads directly to the betrayal of the first section. Even accounting for the shift in point of view, the disempowered, Dream-ridden Fish of the first section are much more sympathetic than they appear as armed oppressors in the second. I also note that women are shown no less likely than males to abuse power once they grasp it.
The overall takeaway from the piece is discouraging—not that humans will fail to survive the Time of Hades, but that they succeed, having learned nothing, still clinging to the hate and vengeance that marked their previous ages. The story doesn’t make a great point of human activity being the cause of the apocalypse; the central themes here aren’t environmental. But as life on Earth originally rose from the sea, we might wonder if such a time might come again in future ages, the creatures of the Dream taking material form. And perhaps doing a better job of it, the next time around.
“The Flying Man of Stone” by Dilman Dila
In this one, we can see themes and tropes of the previous two stories deployed in different ways. Kera is a teenaged boy when soldiers come to his town to forcibly recruit young men. He flees the ensuing slaughter that kills his mother and younger siblings, and ends up taking refuge with his father in a cave near stone formations believed by the townspeople to be haunted by spirits. In fact, the cave is inhabited by hissing humanoid aliens who seize Baba and transform him into a being much like themselves, with the power of telepathy and the knowledge of advanced technology. All Kera wants is for him to bring his mother back to life, which readers as well as Baba know to be a very bad idea. In the meantime, the people of the town are burying their dead and listening to the rants of the local demagogue, who blames all their problems on whites and their foreign religions; he takes Baba’s new powers as a sign that the ancestral spirits are at work.
During the raid, Kera’s older brother was taken by the soldiers, and Baba makes a long-distance weapon for Kera to use to rescue him.
Kera had vivid dreams of Kibuuka, a warrior who could fly like a bird and shoot arrows at the enemy, and of Luanda Magere, another invincible warrior who was made out of stone. In the dream, Kera was a superhero with the combined ability of Kibuuka and Luanda Magere. He got flying power from his mother, who in the dream lived in the moon, and he got his stone flesh from his father, who lived in a dark cave just outside their home. He darted about in the sky, unleashing lightning onto the warlords, putting an end to wanton rape and murder and all the evils that the war had brought upon his country.
But Kera is immature and weepy, more a child than a young man, and again the law of unintended consequences is at work.
Here we again see the limitations of superheroes and the toxic consequences of colonialism. And again the primary theme of this piece is power and its use. It’s notable that the aliens, while possessing power, use it only to ensure their isolation. They bestow power on Baba because they need him, but Baba is reluctant to use it for other causes. Kera is irresolute. But as Yeats reminds us, the worst, in their passionate intensity, are eager to deploy it. There’s a strong spirit of misanthropy here, generating a very pessimistic outlook for this world’s future. The aliens are wise, despite their powers, to wall themselves away from the murderous presence of humans.
“VIII” by Andrew Dakalira
Science fiction action-thriller in a very near-future setting in Malawi. As is typical in this subgenre, it’s a multiple point-of-view narrative with numerous voices. A series of inexplicable killings occurs, with some of the victims mutilated and branded with the numeral VIII; suspects are apprehended and even apparently killed, but they later disappear, leaving behind more branded corpses. A village teacher known locally as Sir Gregory reveals his secret to his children: He comes from an alien race of hunters who’ve stocked a number of planets with their favorite prey animals; when the population reaches VIII billion, the hunt begins. A few of these “metsu” have been stationed on Earth to report on the progress of the population. Sir Gregory was one of them until he fell in love with a human woman and married her. For this, he’s now become a target, along with his three stepchildren, along with the entire human population.
The president was about to turn his attention back to the defence minister when something on the television caught his eye. One of the metsus had landed on top of the Clock Tower. Then, stretching itself to full height, it launched itself from the tower like a bird and went straight for a woman below. The woman was sent crashing onto the tarmac road and the child she was carrying on her back went with her. The metsu was not finished. In one swift movement, it ripped the woman’s right arm out of its socket, and with its foot, crushed the toddler’s head.
This one is all fast-paced action, done for a rapid tension-filled read. Readers are going to be wondering how humans can possibly defeat this invasion of thrill-killers; Sir Gregory promises his advice and advanced weaponry. Then . . . it seems that, despite the story’s length, it must only be the first chapter of a novel. Or ought to be. This sort of thing is highly frustrating to a reader who’s become engaged in the plot.
“An Indigo Song for Paradise” by Efe Tokunbo Okogu
A report: “a selection of the mind states of certain individuals we recorded during our latest visit to Planet Terra, in the reality we have designated RX42373, along one of the time-lines that we have been unable to track fully due to a temporal interference upstream.”
A good place to begin here is with a person named Ecila, living on idyllic Gaia. One day, a storm exposes a strange “artefact” to view, and as he approaches it, suddenly he is elsewhere, in a dystopian world called Terra, a ruined desert of Amerika surrounding Paradise City. Terra, we learn, was once the seat of the Empire of Man, but long ago, the Emperor took most of the population away with him to the stars, leaving only a remnant behind. Paradise City is controlled by TerraCorp, a stereotypical Evile Corporation that ruins the environment and exploits the population. Criminal gangs roam the streets, doing criminal things.
Or perhaps Paradise City is a simulation running on a computer, as some characters declare. Or perhaps it’s one of many alternate realities, as the opening suggests. Certainly the name is ironic. One consequence of Terra’s degradation seems to be an increase in ultraviolet radiation from the sun, as it’s the oft-repeated wisdom that more melanin permits a longer life. Small populations of pale-skinned persons exist, known as vampires and generally despised, although they also seem to constitute the ruling class of Paradise City. The rest of the population is called hueman—an obvious reference to deep skin color.
The McGuffin is an experimental reality displacement “devise” that the criminal gang of Babylove Brown has stolen from TerraCorp. Readers should immediately connect it to Ecila’s displacement from his homeworld. But the devise is in pieces and one is missing, as one of the criminals failed to make it to their rendezvous point. The gang mounts a desperate mission to retrieve it, as in the meantime Ecila has picked the missing piece up off the street, finding it strangely familiar. Riots, uprisings, mayhem, corruption—the usual dystopian activity—complicate the crowded scene.
If we were to believe that Terra represents the far-future state of our own world, the scene would seem quite odd, as it greatly resembles our own Amerikan 20th century in such phrases as “black on black crime” and the diction of many characters:
“Nigga’s Mama look like a pus bag! She one big ol’ pimple! No wonder he an only child. His papa scared to squeeze her too tight! Afraid she might go splat! Got Milk! Ha ha ha!” Shit like that. I got into lots of fights defending my mama’s name but then so did a lot of kids. ‘Your Mama’ jokes were a common game.”
There are also quite a few suggestions of a cyberpunkish environment.
The characters talk a lot. They talk a WHOLE lot, often rambling for pages and pages, expounding some mystical theory.
“Breathe in the prana of the universe, full and deep for it sustains your life, breathe out all that no longer serves you, that it might be of use elsewhere. Contemplate the reality in which you live and meditate on the source of it all. Ask yourself, who am I? Pray. It really works. Speak from the heart and be clear in your prayers; your higher self will respond. Serve Life and I promise you the Lord will reward you in this life and the other. Exercise and do good work that benefits the All, in order to sustain yourself and the All, even as the Lord sustains the entire universe.
In addition, there are intervals in which non-plot characters come onstage to deliver similar sermons. This is the longest work in the book, about 150 pages worth, and this kind of stuff makes up about half of them—more, I suspect, than most readers are likely to put up with. The impulse to flip past the preaching to get back to a part where something is actually happening may be overwhelming.
I can’t be quite sure how seriously to take all this, how much it can be considered satire or deliberate surrealism. Unfortunately, especially as the conclusion heaves into sight, it grows increasingly and more tediously sincere.
Interzone, November/December 2015
This issue’s stories are all science fiction, but of the domestic sort, tending to dullness.
“Five Conversations with My Daughter (Who Travels in Time)” by Malcolm Devlin
One night, after yet another fight with his wife, Dad’s six-year-old daughter comes to join him on the sofa and begins to speak in the voice of an adult woman. It seems that from time to time her future self can rejoin herself as a child, in moments when two points converge—whatever that means. She’s come now to ask a favor, later.
“There’s something I need to change,” Carrie said. “But I’m not going to be able to do it on my own. We need to calibrate so I can judge the right time, so I might be in and out. I’ll be back later on and I’ll talk to you again, so if you have questions, save them. And don’t tell anyone about this. Not Mum, not even me. Do you promise?”
He does, of course, promise, and as the years pass he comes more and more to believe her. But the favor she asks, when the time comes, isn’t what he would have chosen.
A story of fatherly love, of course. The encounter with Carrie makes him determined to maintain and strengthen his bond with her, to be a better father and, perforce, a better husband. A better person. The thing is, he always seems to be a good father. And not such a totally rotten person, from what we can see of him, despite the fact that his wife wants to kick him out and his girlfriend calls him an asshole. Seems to me that mainly he needs to grow belatedly up.
“We Might Be Sims” by Rich Larson
The three disposable convicts on an experimental trip to Europa [“We’re cheap enough already,” Mack says. “We’re a tin can full of human detritus.”] have long since gone stir-crazy, each in different ways. Jasper has decided it’s all a simulation, that they’re really locked in a bunker somewhere on Earth. He wants to open the hatch, to prove it. Lots of argument about the nature of reality.
We could say this trip wasn’t a good idea, but that would be missing the point. The point is the fragility of the mind under pressure, when the minds in question weren’t too well-tempered to begin with.
“Heartsick” by Greg Kurzawa
Here’s quite an opening: Martin on an examination table, the doctor’s arm up to the elbow in his body cavity.
There came a sharp pinch deep in his chest, followed by the swift unraveling of something bound too tightly. Medhira withdrew his arm in one smooth motion, dragging from Martin an involuntary sob. Martin didn’t know if this was due to the release of pressure, or to the sudden hollow left by the absence of the doctor’s arm, but he felt as though he’d delivered a prodigious bowel movement. He drew a deep, shaking breath, and when he let it out he found – to his
surprise – that he wasn’t done crying.
In the doctor’s hand is an object that looks like a lump of mud—Martin’s heart, that died seventeen years ago, with his daughter. Now he has to figure out how to live without it.
After the grossly surreal beginning, we find a story about love. In some ways, it’s something like the Devlin story above, except told in the opposite direction.
“Florida Miracles” by Julie C Day
A YA problem story. Esta and David live in a town deserted by the space industry, just as they both have been deserted by their parents to different degrees, most drastically David’s mother by suicide. Now David has his razorblades and Esta has the alien who’s been living inside her head, a benevolent presence she calls Mrs Henry. Mrs Henry makes promises. She says she’ll soon be leaving Esta to fly away, and they can fly away with her. As far as Esta’s concerned, any kind of away will do.
A heavy overload of angst here, with rose-colored sentiments at the conclusion.
“Scienceville” by Gary Gibson
For most of his life, Joel has been obsessively working to create his imaginary utopian city, a place “where advanced scientific research for the betterment of humanity could be carried on free of interference.” He has maps, citizen biographies, an official history, all in meticulous detail. Recently, though, he’s been contacted by a few others who claim that they, too, know Scienceville. They want to meet him. This creeps out Joel. Scienceville isn’t real, he doesn’t want it to be real.
In many respects, this one has a distinct Golden Age tone, especially at the conclusion. I can certainly imagine many nerdly youthful SF readers creating such cities and giving them names like Scienceville.
“Laika” by Ken Altabef
Laika the cosmonaut dog has become a recognized SF trope. I’m sure many readers have shared the impulse to fictionally save her, but that isn’t what happens here. Frank is a cop in the US when he gets word that his uncle Dmitri has a deathbed request. Dmitri worked for the Soviet space program, back in the day, when it turned out that Laika didn’t die, after all. She came back.
How old was she? A full-grown, black and white, mixed breed terrier. No gray, and her eyes were clear, but she acted like she was sixty and moved like she was eighty. Who knows what living with that crazy old man had done to her?
An effectively depressing tale about cruelties, purposeful and inadvertent.
Lightspeed, November 2015
An enjoyable issue.
“Rock, Paper, Scissors, Love, Death” by Caroline M Yoachim
This one begins as if it were a very short, contained story about three people who meet on a bus that’s crushed by a rock in a landslide. The two survivors fall in love, then separate. It’s told from the point of view of Nicole. After which, we rewind back to Andrew’s version, in which an older version of himself instructs him in building a time machine. They want to program the machine so that they can both live and spend their lives together, but it’s not simple.
Rock crushes scissors.
Test: Andrew doesn’t go back in time.
Result: Nicole dies in bus accident.
Probability of timeline collapse: 0.01%
Probability of death, Nicole: 99.78%
Probability of death, Andrew: 0.45%
Neat little time machine story. The author makes good use of the three cardinal elements.
“When We Were Giants” by Helena Bell
Girls. I doubt that many formerly-girl readers will be able to look at this one and not say, Oh, yes, that’s how it was. And still probably is. The girls were in a Catholic girls’ school, back in the day when Abbey was best friends with Samantha, until Samantha took a boy away from her—the ultimate crime. Back then, the girls used to play a game in the woods at recess, when they took off their clothes, ran into the trees and turned into giants. But the real game was the eternal game of girl rivalries.
For a while I worried that Samantha would latch on to me. That she’d invite me over to her house, and we’d be friends like she and Abbey had been friends. She’d tell me stories about her old schools, and how her mother once pinched the sides of her waist and told her to watch her diet. How her father didn’t understand the importance of holy cards, of medals and ribbons and why it mattered if you had a good grade in Posture. Samantha did none of these things. She thanked me and went back to her desk and hunched her shoulders over her worksheet.
Which is why it’s not important if readers don’t entirely believe in the giant game. What it means is the freedom to run wild, away from the strictures and rules and Mother Superiors, where the games can turn real.
“The Plausibility of Dragons” by Kenneth Schneyer
Malik ibn Ali of Cordoba, wandering scholar, has fallen in with Fara, a freelance knight on a quest to find the dragon that killed her sister. Problem is, no one has ever seen it, or any other dragon. Malik, a rational person as well as an educated one, explains:
“If dragons walk the earth now, breathing fire and eating men, if they fly through the air and crush whole villages , then why does no witness or writer speak of seeing them in person? Why is it always a distant legend, or a tale told by someone who told it to someone else who told it to the writer’s grandfather?”
But then they do begin to encounter persons who’ve seen a dragon, and finally the dragon itself. But Malik, being a rational person, can explain that, too.
Clever use of logic. Love the last line.
“Here Is My Thinking on a Situation That Affects Us All” by Rahul Kanakia
Says the twenty-mile long starship that’s been over New York City for the last few decades. The government has sent an emissary to convince it to remain and share its knowledge, but the ship has a mission, given to it by its creators five billion years ago. The ship is a credulous entity.
Abhinath once asked whether the creators had perhaps bound me so subtly that I did not realize it and suggested that the only way to prove I’d been left free was to stay here, but he was wrong: The creators are not capable of such lies.
It has no real interest in human beings, but it’s become fond of the emissary—the only other person it actually knows.
A too-talky piece, overly infodumpish. Despite the title, I don’t see that anyone else but the spaceship has a problem. I also thought we were over having every alien event set in/above NYC. This is the only story in the issue I don’t really care much for.
Strange Horizons, November 2015
A typical month’s worth of offerings this time.
“Needle on Bone” by Helena Bell
This is such an SH story. Every fantastic element is ambiguous, every reference full of metaphor and symbol. There’s a phrase functioning as a refrain. The narrative is in the 2nd person, as the nameless narrator ostensibly addresses her departed lover, who will never hear or see it, but is in fact talking to herself about herself.
The narrator has trouble with memory; her mind doesn’t hold things well. She yearns for permanence in her life. A tattoo, such as her lover has, is a permanent thing. Scars, such as she has, are permanent. People, relationships, are ephemeral; they fade. The aliens in her grandfather’s attic are/were ephemeral.
They appear in the attic. Sometimes they are still conscious. Sometimes they look around. Sometimes they are able to reach out and touch. My grandmother’s wedding dress was a favorite item, because it was white and the neck was lined with small crystals. Then the alien shudders. The alien collapses. Dies. Within hours it will be as if they were never there at all.
I like these descriptions of the dust-aliens, but it seems odd that the narrator claims to identify her lover as an alien by the tattoo, a sign of permanence. However, it isn’t the tattoo that’s the identifier but the fact that the narrator continually fails to remember it at the time. We see that the narrator is writing all this down in order to retain it, as she failed to retain her lover. The last line is quite moving.
“Liminal Grid” by Jaymee Goh
Another 2nd-person narrative, in this case “you” reading as “I”. Set in a near-future Malaysia become an extreme surveillance state, with everyone and everything implanted with tracking devices. The narrator is part of a revolutionary conspiracy to take people off the grid. The conspirators have colonized a deserted housing development along with the local farmers, making it a hidden model of hi-tech self-sufficiency.
Because you live there, in that condemned building, you know that the plants in the buildings are carefully planted into a low-maintenance, edible garden. What looks like lalang is actually serai. The branches of the trees hang with fruit that feed the local fauna on the outside, but inside, they are covered with discarded CDs to confuse the birds. There are window boxes on the inside growing leafy vegetables, and chickens are allowed to run free to keep down pests. The courtyard used to have a pool—it still sort of does, but it is home to a crop of water-plants.
The revolutionaries are indecisive. They know that things could be worse, that their actions could provoke a brutal crackdown. Chien, the narrator, is particularly vulnerable; Chien has grandparents who would suffer if the government connects them to any illicit activity.
Readers are likely to share in Chien’s ambivalence because the narrative doesn’t overly dwell on the dystopian aspects of the police state, doesn’t show us scenes of extreme brutality. The oppression is a slower thing: “the government keeps siphoning food and finances from them, cutting off electricity and water arbitrarily.” Chien’s grandparents lost their land, taken over by developers. I like the grandparents, the way they’ve made this future existence work for them, despite setbacks; I love their bountiful hydroponic garden. But mainly, as a gardener, I’m seduced by the landscape, the verdant spaces. And as a pessimist, I have to wonder with Chien if it’s worth risking all this.
“First Do No Harm” by Jonathan Edelstein
The setting is a devolved far future after humans have apparently colonized a number of exoplanets. They are now attempting to recover the lost knowledge of their forebears; the technological level seems to be somewhat near our own—they have microsurgery but not nanomedicine. Mutende is a medical student in a system that concentrates on mastering the old knowledge, but he sees new diseases all around him for which the old knowledge has no cures. He’s frustrated by the apparent disinterest in experiment and empirical research, particularly when his adopted grandmother is suffering from one of the new diseases and turns to a street healer when his own medicine can’t help her.
“You scavenge for the Union’s books but you don’t care about the diseases that come on the ships every year. You learn the lessons your professors memorized but you don’t want to learn the ones your patients teach you. Did I call you a dog? Dogs would know better than to do what you do.”
There’s no real sense of a future here, which I believe is because we’ve seen this general situation before, in our own past, when before the 19th century medical education was based on lectures out of the ancients, with little scope for experimentation and research. This same conflict with the reverence for past knowledge informs the story.