Insistence of Vision
by David Brin
Review by Sam Lubell
Story Plant Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781611882209
Date: 22 March 2016 List Price $26.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
While David Brin has not been a prolific novelist lately, with only two novels this century, he has continued to write short stories. Insistence of Vision collects some of his recent stories into a volume grouped thematically with illuminating afterwords. The stories are excellent examples of hard science fiction and sufficiently varied to keep the book interesting. There is even a novella in his famous Uplift universe. The essays are very thought-provoking about science fiction, science, and the universe.
The book opens with an introduction by Vernor Vinge and an essay, "The Heresy of Science Fiction" in which Brin tries to define science fiction. He contrasts science fiction as thought experiments about change with fantasies in which lords, priests, and wizards continue to rule. The book ends with another essay "Waging War with Reality" on logic and imagination.
The first section What We May Become has stories on transformation.
"Insistence of Vision" is an interesting story on how technology affects crime, punishment, and what we choose to see and un-see.How We'll Endure has a set of related stories in which humanity has been conquered by the Coss aliens.
In "The Logs" the wife and daughters of a man imprisoned for being an Enemy of the Czar (and of the Coss) work as part of a logging crew on a planetoid lumberyard. The theme here is the Russian capacity to endure hardship.The stories in When We Overcome are more positive.
In "Mars Opposition", Martians come to Earth to murder Bill Nye, Joe Haldeman, and others on a list. This is a puzzle story that turns into an examination of pragmatism.In Who We'll Meet, the story "Fortitude", about aliens who refuse to deal with humanity until we prove our genealogy, has a humorous inversion of his Uplift premise. "An Ever-Reddening Glow" has a science fiction twist on "the tragedy of the commons" when Earthlings' FTL space drive contributes, ever so slightly, to the expansion of the universe. "The Diplomacy Guild" looks at how aliens would view humanity's use of robots. "The Other Side of the Hill", the oldest story here, plays on the idea that humanity can always find another planet when we have used up Earth's resources.
Where We Will Go has a long Uplift novella, "Temptation", about the dolphins left behind when Streak left Jijo in Heaven's Reach. Both Makanee, the caregiver for the dolphins losing their sapience, and Peepoe, a captive of dolphins reverting to primitive behaviors, are well-drawn characters. There are also a few short pieces including a collection of six word stories and a "Reality Check" in the second person.
Overall Brin is strongest in creating intriguing situations and working philosophical ideas into his plots. He writes idea driven science fiction with mostly straightforward prose. Nearly all of the stories have little characterization beyond what is needed for the plot. Brin's writing comes from his head, not his heart.
Readers who like traditional hard science fiction, who enjoy Analog magazine, and who like stories that make the reader think will enjoy Insistence of Vision.