(Jamie Bishop’s cover for the 2003 edition)
The fourth installment of my The Science Fiction of Michael Bishop guest post series was written by MPorcius (twitter: @hankbukowsi) at MPorcius Fiction Log—a valued and longtime commentator on my site. I have procured quite a few books due to his quality reviews which I highly recommend perusing. Check out his site (especially if you like classic SF)!
Over the course of this series we moved from Michael Bishop’s most well known novella (“Death and Designation Among the Asadi“) to his novels (Brittle Innings, No Enemy but Time) and now to an intriguing collection of lesser known short SF and non-genre stories.
MPorcius decided to only focus on the SF in Brighten to Incandescence but points out that all the stories in the collection are worth reading!
Brighten to Incandescence (2003) — Michael Bishop
Brighten to Incandescence, published by Golden Gryphon Press in 2003, is Michael Bishop’s seventh collection of stories. In the final chapter of the book, a series of notes on the stories, Bishop explains that he and the people at Golden Gryphon initially were thinking of putting out a Best Of volume, then decided to publish a collection of previously uncollected pieces instead. What we have in Brighten to Incandescence, then, are 17 stories, many of which were passed over for inclusion in previous collections for years or even decades; these stories probably do not represent Bishop’s best or most salable work.
Happily, the stories are all worth reading; Bishop is a good writer and takes the job of writing seriously, and revised several of the stories before they were published in this book.
Bishop has a wide range of interests and has worked in many genres, and is willing to collaborate with other authors and take on the challenge of writing stories around ideas commissioned by others. The stories in Brighten to Incandescence reflect this diversity. We’ve got mysteries (“’We’re All in this Alone’” and “Murder on Lupozny Station,”) we’ve got horror (“A Tapestry of Little Murders” and “Thirteen Lies about Hummingbirds”) and stories about religion (“Sequel on Skorpios,” “Simply Indispensable” and “The Procedure.”) There are stories inspired by pop culture figures like Mary Shelly, the Beatles, and Rondo Hatton, stories in which Bishop tries to write in the voices of these real-life individuals. And there are stories based on Cold War conflicts (“With A Little Help From her Friends” and “The Tigers of Hysteria Feed Only on Themselves”) and the 2001 terrorist attacks (“Last Night Out.”)
I read all 17 stories, and my favorites are probably the brief “Sequel on Skorpios,” and “A Tapestry of Little Murders,” which pack a lot of interesting images and powerful emotions into a small number of words. The stories I liked least, “Last Night Out” and “O Happy Day,” are well-written, but don’t seem to go anywhere; they were not bad enough to merit a thumbs down, but felt unfinished, shallow, or like experiments which didn’t quite pan out.
For Joachim’s special feature on Michael Bishop I decided to talk about three of the more “sciencefictiony” stories, “Murder on Lupozny Station,” “O Happy Day” and “Herding with the Hadrosaurs.” These stories are also linked by the fact that they address the theme of human evil by contrasting humanity with other, more-or-less fictional, species. I think they also give an idea of the range of Bishop’s work.
(I have notes about the other 14 tales which I will post periodically on my own blog, I expect over the course of a few months.)
“Murder on Lupozny Station” (with Gerald W. Page) (1981)
I’ve never read anything by Page before… I admit it, I’ve never heard of Page before. But there is a first time for everything. It appears that Page started the story, and, when stuck, sent it to Bishop to revise and finish.
This story is full of traditional SF and mystery trappings. There’s a space station in a solar system with no planets, just mineral rich asteroids; the station is the base of asteroid miners. Just before a starship arrives, the commander of the station is found murdered! The acting commander of the station asks the captain of the starship to help confirm the results of his investigation, so the captain sends over her astrogation team. The team consists of a human and an alien who have a quasi-telepathic link; such teams are required to navigate in hyperspace. There’s a lot of business you always find in mysteries, like interviewing suspects, checking the murder weapon for fingerprints, considering motives (the late station commander raped the computer officer, who is married to the astronomer) etc. One of the clues is so typical that I vaguely recall it being the subject of a skit on Saturday Night Live decades ago: a telescope is found by the dead hand of the station commander, an apparent indication that the astronomer was the killer.
The story also addresses gender and sex issues: few people in this future get married, and the station commander, even though he raped a woman, was a homosexual (in the future of this story they don’t say “homosexual” or “gay,” but “isoclinic.”) Bishop’s love of baseball and interest in religion also surface. Finally, the story is a criticism of human depravity: the alien in the story is from a race of people who never commit murder, in fact find murder incomprehensible, and they stand as a rebuke of mankind. Even the baseball game shown on a TV screen degenerates into violence when the fans rush the field.
This story was pretty good, a little above average. I’m a fan of all that traditional SF stuff, aliens and hyperspace and space suits and airlocks, so it was fun to see all of it, and even if I find most of the detective stuff (like hunting for clues and badgering witnesses and suspects) boring, the emotional and human elements of the crime interested me.
“O Happy Day” (1981)
This is perhaps the worst story in the collection; Bishop pulls the old switcheroo on us, showing us a middle class family in a world where rats are intelligent and tiny little humans live a precarious existence in their walls. The rat father and family sit in their apartment and watch a TV documentary about how a cold war enemy nation of rats is oppressing some primitive rats, the son has a pet human in a cage as a science experiment for school, and so on. In his notes on the story Bishop tells us that Omni rejected the story for being a one-note gimmick, and it was published in a short-lived periodical, Rigel Science Fiction. Bishop decided to include it in Brighten to Incandescence because he is “irrationally fond” of it.
There’s really not much plot or character or even satire to “O Happy Day”; the writing style is good and the setting and idea are fine, but it feels like Bishop just didn’t do anything with his setting or idea.
“Herding with the Hadrosaurs” (1992)
In Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of, Thomas Disch asserts that the dinosaur is like the rocket ship, one of the icons or “mythological figures” of science fiction. Not only is the dinosaur a monster, but it is a reminder of evolution and the “hard” facts-based science that was so central to early SF. SF is full of dinosaurs; many, maybe most, SF readers and writers love dinosaurs, and “Herding with the Hadrosaurs” is Bishop’s contribution to this tradition, appearing first in an anthology of dinosaur stories edited by Byron Preiss and Robert Silverberg.
“Herding with the Hadrosaurs” is a little on the jocular side in style, but describes horrible tragedies. Somehow an asteroid strike and earthquakes cause a cataclysm on 22nd century Earth. The western half of North America suddenly reverts to how it was in the Late Cretaceous, the people and buildings have vanished, replaced by herds of dinosaurs and a sky full of pterosaurs. The cataclysm also ruined the cities and suburbs of the East Coast, and so there are people willing to travel to the virgin lands of the dinosaur-infested West to start up farming, hunting, and trapping. Our narrator is among these homesteaders; at the age of 16, along with his little brother and his parents, he travels west. Unfortunately, Dad is a cheapass, and the second-hand dinosaur repellent he bought fails, so in short order Mom and Dad are eaten by tyrannosaurs.
The boys survive by tagging along with a herd of duckbilled dinosaurs. Reminiscent of the way in “Murder on Lupozny Station” that the aliens were more decent than the humans, and the switcheroo gimmick in “O Happy Day,” the dinosaurs keep the boys safe, while the humans the boys meet inflict on them atrocities of the kind found in James Dickey’s Deliverance.
This is one of the better stories in the collection, effective as an adventure and as a tragedy. The tone is a little discordant; I’m not sure if this undercuts or accentuates the tragic nature of the plot.
Covering a wide variety of topics, genres, and tones, Brighten to Incandescence is a collection worth the attention of speculative fiction fans, and those who have enjoyed Bishop’s other work will certainly find it rewarding
Links to previous Michael Bishop Guest Posts [updated]
“Allegiances” (1975) (review by Peter S.)
A Little Knowledge (1977) (review by Heloise at Heloise Merlin’s Weblog)
Blooded on Arachne (1982) (selections) (review by Carl V. Anderson at Stainless Steel Droppings)
Brittle Innings (1994) (review by James Harris at Auxiliary Memory)
Catacomb Years (1979) (review by 2theD at Potpourri of Science Fiction Literature)
“Death and Designation Among the Asadi” (1973) (review by Jesse at Speculiction…)
“In Rubble, Pleading” (1974), “Death and Designation Among the Asadi” (1973), and “The White Otters of Childhood” (1973), (review by Admiral Ironbombs at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed & Creased)
No Enemy But Time (1982) (review by Megan at From Couch to Moon)
“The Quickening” (1981) (review by Max at Pechorin’s Journal)
Links to my three previously posted reviews of Bishop’s work