Bewildering Stories

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Rick Combs

In our new forum, Rick Combs playfully asks a question that gets right to the point. The answer can be found in music:

Don, shouldn’t a challenge be, at least theoretically, something that is achievable?

Heh... feasibility is in the eye of the feaser, Rick. The Challenges are all “talking points,” topics for discussion. People can pick up on all, some or none. Or they can propose their own; I’d be thrilled.

Jerry says he just wants to relax and enjoy, not think. Only, he does think! Hey, I’m right there, too: I’m a great one for just sipping sparingly at my drink, relaxing, enjoying... Picture me in a hammock.

Reading a story is like acquiring a new car: you can walk around it and admire it or even sit in it. But after a while, I get this unaccountable urge to turn the key and go on the road. When we share thoughts and viewpoints suggested by stories, we can go for a drive, so to speak, and take our enjoyment to a new level. That’s a big reason the Analog and Asimov’s forums are so lively and entertaining: each topic hands you the key to a new vehicle, as it were.

By the time stories appear, Jerry and I have already read them. And formatting usually requires that I read them very closely. I’ve begun — call it professional deformation — to think about them.

The “Challenges” are a very French way of looking at literature. French schools can use a number of different series of classroom editions. They’re all crammed with “challenges.” Talk about intimidating! I would hate to have to write a “term paper” — heck, a thesis — on almost any of the topics.

The poor students must be appalled at most of the questions. But they do understand what’s going on, and it’s a vital part of French culture: they’re being treated with respect; they’re not being fed canned answers by an authority figure who claims to have the last word. What could be duller — and easier to ignore?

If stories are like automobiles, the Challenges are more like a jazz number: I play the saxophone and provide the melody; you get to improvise on the theme. A symphony they ain’t: a symphony is the performance of a composition; a jazz concert is the composition of a performance. Anyway, if the Challenges suggest new viewpoints, they achieve their purpose. If we can take them further, so much the better.

Well, Rick, it looks like you’ve created a kind of “meta-Challenge” all your own. Keep up the good work!


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