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Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

Swift Thoughts - George Zebrowski, Gregory Benford Rating: 2.5* of fiveThe Book Report: Twenty-four short fictions from philosophical scientist Zebrowski. All the stories in the collection are centered around Big Ideas...what if Gödel's incompleteness theorem can be disproved by artificial intelligence? What if Lenin's assassination by Sidney Reilly succeeded in 1918?...and are, in the finest sense of the word, speculative masterworks rendered in prose.My Review: What they aren't is any fun at all to read. The characters are wooden, the dialogue is sermonific (as sleep-inducing as a sermon, with all a sermon's stiffness that induces the neck's looseness and the eyelids' heaviness), but the concepts are stellar.There are two stories that I like: “The Eichmann Variations,” which explores the nature of revenge, forgiveness, selfhood, and evil, all in about 3200 words. It's compact, it's eerie, it has as a background a fascinating alternative to our own history, which is simply put out there and assumed that the reader got it, processed it, and took in the implications of it. I found this story compelling while reading it, and still think about it days later. I appreciate being treated this respectfully by an author.And “Lenin in Odessa,” an alternative to the events as played out in our own world surrounding a British-backed attempt to rid the world of Lenin in 1918. It's nothing short of superb. The narrative voice is Stalin's, and that seems to make the chunkiness of the dialogue okay to me; I can imagine with ease that the voice of the real Stalin would sound this windbaggy swaggering way.The other twenty-two were not fun for me to read. I found “Gödel's Doom” unpleasantly reminiscent of a workshop piece that didn't quite make it; I liked “Swift Thoughts,” the title piece, so little that I was outraged to read Zebrowski's self-assessment of the piece as like Elgar's or Mahler's music. The others passed by my eyes, doing little enough damage to them, but offering little reward for the effort.I read fairly frequently in reviewers' comments reported to us by Zebrowski himself comparisons of his writing to that of Olaf Stapledon ([Last and First Men]). Yes. Exactly. Agreed. Wooden, awkward, overweeningly self-congratulatory stuff by a minor talent.