Friday, 22 February 2008

The Rose - Charles L Harness

The Rose, first published in 1953, is one of the great novels of science fiction. Well, strictly speaking it is a novella and there are many who say it is not science fiction. The length of the piece is irrelevant. It starts in just the right place, finishes exactly where it should, and has just the right amount of story in between those two points. Whether that makes it a novel, a novella, or a bowl of baked beans is one of those discussion that distracts from the content.

As for whether it is science fiction or not… well, I suppose it doesn’t contain much hard science (and that which it does seems somewhat quaint, ‘atomic oven’ being a great example). But that suits me. Most hard science fiction is dry as dust, peopled by cardboard cut outs, and inevitably mechanistic in its outlook. So, let us call it speculative fiction, or sf for short.

And speculate is what it does. On one level it is a philosophical argument about differing world views; on another it examines the differences between art and science. Yet it does this through the medium of a well-written beautifully constructed tale of love and jealousy. Whilst art and science are pitted one against the other, a new species of human is on the verge of emerging – one that encompasses both views of the world and so much more.

Poetical and passionate, this has long been a neglected work. Many sf writers cite it as a key work, but if you want to read it you will have to look for a second hand copy. That such an accomplished and intelligent writer should be out of print is a sad reflection of publishing today.

The edition I have contains two shorter works. One, about a chess playing rat, is a wry look at human nature. The other is another philosophical tale about ontology and the race to save the world from a change in reality. This last tale breaks one of the cardinal rules of sf, but does it with such wit, style, and fully in keeping with the logic of the story that it works well.

Charles L Harness is an author worth reading. Seek out his works and treasure them.