Vector Analysis (1978) Book Review and Analysis
by Jack C. Haldeman II
Hard Science Fiction
I got this book from a used book store, probably for $2. As usual.
The blurb and the cover make this novel more exciting than it truly is. Not to say that it isn’t a well-written and interesting novel, but the back covers sets it up as more of a zombie-infection story, rather than what truly happens. This book is a hard science fiction. The author was a scientist - he passed in 2002. Interestingly, his website still exists. It's from 1999, so that itself is a kind of relic. He had a cool car.
The basic premise is that scientists on a space station are studying animal life from other planets. We follow a collection of scientists as they slowly start dying off due to some mysterious disease that makes people forgetful, lazy, and clumsy. The “dream disease” causes them to lapse in and out of reality. Only one person reacts violently. It’s an immersive, well-wrought story and I really enjoyed it.
There is no main character, but this does allow for more varied accounts of how the dream disease affects people, which was worth it as the writing in those scenes is evocative. The prose is descriptive and the dialogue realistic, but the star scenes are when the characters are in the dream disease state. It’s almost poetic – “He saw only walls, but in his mind there were mountains and storms.”
The novel was engaging, entertaining and a lot of fun.
3.5 /5 Mantas
Analysis - Here be Spoilers!
This novel is a winner for women! There’s tons of them! And all of them are ladies in STEM! There’s no pregnancy scares, no pining for children, no ass-grabbing. We have Johnson, the personnel coordinator. Jodie the technician. We have Linda, arguably, the main character. We have Julie and Maria. We also have women in the background in STEM jobs, such as Dr. Woods. Loved it.
We also have people of colour throughout. We aren’t given descriptions of most people, so a lot of this depends on names; for example Eng-Lai, Maria Rama-Diez, and Carlos Mendoza. Rob, the main character, could be a person of colour, as could any of the other non-described people. Yet, given the time period, authors didn’t feel the need to specify that someone was white, since that was the "default". Still, lots of diversity in this novel.
I’m a little torn about the queer representation in this novel. We have two lesbian characters who don’t have to hide and are accepted by the community. Great! We’re shown they have a normal, healthy life together. Then they die. Killing off lesbian couples or giving them a sad ending was considered the norm until Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt and even in the latter half of the 20th century they rarely got happy endings in stories. That being said, I don’t think this falls under that trope. Most of the characters die in this novel. And given Maria was the one working with the mantas the most, it makes sense she would die. Then again, of course the hetero couple live in the end, but, you know, at least the lesbians aren’t vilified or hypersexualized. And they have personalities and jobs.
You could argue that animals rights are a theme of the novel. It could also be nothing at all about that since the author was a scientist studying animal life, or perhaps he was simply arguing that we should be more careful when studying new species. As such, I think this book resonates far more today with the numerous petitions and outcries against things like animal testing, circuses, and improper zoo procedures. There is definitely an argument to be made here that it is entirely wrong to abduct animal life from other planets in order to study them on a space station. The poor mantas, trapped by their walls!