[Reading Room] Surface Tension by James Blish

Verdict: Fabulous.

Surface Tension is a science fiction story originally published in 1952 and so qualifies as being either from (or near) the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of science fiction. (I found it in The Big Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer.)

Fear not, this is not all heros saving damsels in distress and wearing silly outfits in space. It is very different from anything I’d ever read from that era, and from most sci-fi that I’ve read from later eras.

Yes, there are space explorers, but rather than take a ‘lets conquer the alien environment’ tack, this story has the explorers changing themselves to fit in. What happens next is, well…you’ll have to read it, but it wasn’t what I was expecting!

In terms of the writing style, I was worried about some of the “as you know, Bob” dialogue at the start, but my sensitivity to this is probably an acquired problem. I’ve been to so many writing classes now, where they tell you not to ‘info dump’ or always to ‘show not tell’ or never to write in omniscient voice (or whatever that particular teacher’s bee-in-the-bonnet is), that I’ve become sensitive to things that weren’t necessarily a problem for earlier (or current non-writing) readers.

So I soldiered on past the part where the Captain explained to the navigator things he should clearly have known three years into their mission, and I was so glad I did.

It was worth digging in.

This is a story full of Big Ideas. It was, as an enthusiastic consumer of science fiction (including ‘hard science fiction’), a story that still managed to bend my mind a bit.

And also, I really, really liked the ending. Surprising and satisfying ending. 🙂

Read it online here

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