Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Thousand Deaths, by George Alec Effinger

A Thousand Deaths is the first collection of George Alec Effinger's Sandor Courane stories. Courane is one of Effinger's science fiction alter-egos, though this may be more of an impact in the shorter Courane fiction than in the opening novel The Wolves of Memory.

The Wolves of Memory introduces the reader to Sandor Courane. Courane, in a future where humans have given up control of their lives to computers, is assigned three jobs for which he is entirely unsuited and he subsequently fails at each job: basketball player, science fiction writer, assembly line worker. When he fails at each Courane finds himself in violation of TECTwish (TECT being the overcomputer which everyone must obey) and is exiled to Planet D, an apparently perfect agrarian world. The problem: everyone on Planet D suffers from an illness which slowly robs the citizen of his or her memory, and eventually their lives.

Told in a fragmented style where flashbacks meld with the main storyline of Sandor Courane carrying the body of his love back to the farm, The Wolves of Memory is perhaps the perfect title for this novel because there is a sense that Courane's memory is quite literally being eaten away. This is an extremely effective and moving story, one which hints at something sinister with TECT and shows the nonsense of anyone knowing what a person wants most, including the person in question. The Wolves of Memory is an exciting opening to this collection which continues with seven short stories.

Unfortunately, everything that was exciting about The Wolves of Memory is lost in the other stories. In "Fatal Disk Error" TECT is only a figment of the imagination of Sandor Courane as he writes science fiction stories (and so only ties into The Wolves of Memory in a tangential way). "In the Wings" introduces Sandor as a fictional character waiting to be written into the author's novels or short stories. The other five stories have Sandor Courane as the primary character, but in situations that are simply stories with no tie into TECT or The Wolves of Memory.

Obviously this is the way George Alec Effinger wanted it and in this posthumous collection Marty Halpern, the editor, placed the stories in this particular order for a reason. A Thousand Deaths brings the Sandor Courane stories of Effinger together in one place, but it is only The Wolves of Memory which really connects or leaves any sort of impression. The collection is very much worth reading for the opening novel, but the short stories are mostly miss because of the lack of continuity or tie in with the novel. Had I never read The Wolves of Memory I may very well have felt differently about the stories.

Reading copy provided courtesy of Golden Gryphon Press.

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