Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A city not recorded in the 'Other Cities' catalog: Omelas

On further pondering the stories of Benjamin Rosenbaum's "Other Cities" series, mentioned previously in "My Other City, Quall", I realized that they greatly resemble the Ursula K. LeGuin story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," which you can find on the web here, and which is well worth a read. My friend and coworker David Cramer was the first to point me at this story, some months ago. It's unusual in that it never quite takes a specific character's point of view. But that, too, is something the "Other Cities" pieces do. LeGuin's story is a story of utopia and the costs of achieving it.

"Omelas" seems unusual among LeGuin's stories. LeGuin's main branding for me is her Hainish stories, stories of an advanced culture analyzing a devolved or deviated human culture, and of the culture shock that results when two cultures meet. Probably her most famous work of this type is The Left Hand of Darkness, but I love the short stories she has written in the Hainish setting, such as those collected in The Birthday of the World

Rosenbaum, too, has other good stuff out there. I recently read his story "Biographical Notes to 'A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-planes' by Benjamin Rosenbaum"....yes, his name is part of the title, and in fact the main character's name is Benjamin Rosenbaum, though the story is not autobiographical.  This is a steampunk story in a sense: it has zeppelins, at any rate, which ought to qualify it.

But if zeppelins alone aren't enough to grab you, know that it opens up a wild way of looking at other worlds. Rosenbaum has considered a world far more different from our own than most stories ever give us, while clearly harking back to our own at the same time. 

And it's a rollicking good read. How are you going to resist a story whose main character begins by explaining that he has just come from Plaus-Fab Wisconsin, which turns out to be a speculative fiction convention, but in his world, they're called Plausible Fables? And if that isn't enough, then read it to get to the point where he's confronted by someone who mistakes him for a different, more famous, Benjamin Rosenbaum.


  1. The Rosenbaum story sounds interesting. Have you ever read any of the Tuesday Next mysteries by Jasper Fforde? They deal a lot with the intersection and overlap of fiction and reality.

  2. I have not read Tuesday Next. Have you read any Samuel R. Delaney? The Nevèrÿon books deal with language and reality, at any rate, which is sort of related.

  3. I HAVE read some Samuel R. Delaney. He deals with language issues in a lot of his work, including the sci-fi novel Babel-17 (might have the number wrong).

    Unfortunately for me, Delaney is much the same as Gene Wolfe: a writer that other writers constantly praise as brilliant whose work is filled with sections whose language, characters, and events confuse me to the degree that I've only managed to finish one novel by Wolfe and none by Delaney.

    I've been able to get through a number of short stories by each of them, however. Still usually left scratching my head a bit, which is frustrating.

  4. Then there's Michael Swanwick. I seem to like roughly half his stories and hate the other half, so I'm on the fence.

    I'm thinking of getting a short story collection of his from the library just to see what happens.

  5. I've really liked all the Delaney I've read....at least 3 books. I think he had one that stumped me.

    Wolfe, now...the only books of his I've finished are the Sword of the Lictor, etc. series. Which were good. But mind-bending. He asks a lot, I think. You have to work hard to figure out what happens. Then you learn that that was all wrong. It's like when someone changes their name, and then changes it again: Miss Manners says you can't expect anyone to stay with you for more than one change. That's why you'll always be Doub to me, Doub.