Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thursday Preview: A Gift Though Small

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'Twas twenty years ago next Wednesday. I'd been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation since it premiered, more than fifteen months before. Like, I think, many Star Trek fans, I was so glad to have new episodes on television, I wouldn't miss an episode, even though many of them weren't particularly... well, good.

But that evening in February 1989, I almost held by breath through the episode, because it went from strength to strength. Could it keep this up, or would it stumble short of the finish line (as I've always felt my previous TNG favorite, "Conspiracy," did)? It could! TNG had finally had an episode that earned a place in my personal Trek Top ten. "Now we're getting somewhere!" I said.

Unfortunately, the rest of Season Two turned out to be pretty hit-or-miss, but "The Measure of a Man," written by Melinda M. Snodgrass, became the episode I'd weigh Next Generation's drama against for the rest of the run.

(All of this isn't to diss the other writers who worked on the show at that time—such as Diane Duane and Michael Reaves. I've been told the creative process, especially during the first season, could be chaotic and unrewarding, with notes and rewrites from on high sometimes bordering on the inexplicable.)

So what I'm saying is, I'm pleased as punch to have a story by Melinda Snodgrass in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2. Like her classic Next Gen script, "A Gift Though Small" uses science fiction not to tell a slam-bang, broad-canvas sort of story, but to provide a setting for a story of dramatic and emotional depth.

An interesting thing to me is the different ways in which the settings bring focus to the two tales. "The Measure of a Man" tackled some of the Big Questions science fiction is so good for: what is sentience? What does it mean to be human? The basic themes in "A Gift Though Small"—of trying to maintain dignity and hope for advancement in a patently unfair society, of a parent's delicate balance between guiding and letting go—certainly don't need a science fiction backdrop. But in this case, I think setting the story in the far future—removing it from the identifiably "real" world—helps isolate and strengthen the very recognizable, universal human issues it's really about.

Yikes, this is sounding like a college Lit essay. "A Gift Though Small" is groovy, and you'll love it. Okay?

The illustration is by Don Anderson, whose work we recently saw gracing Diane Duane's "Palladium." I love that it looks like it could have come out of an issue of Galaxy Science Fiction in 1952, without seeming at all an exercise in retro. Like "Gift" itself, it achieves a certain timelessness in its use of SF motifs. Which is one of the things I revived Thrilling Wonder Stories for in the first place.

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