The Square Root of Man
by William Tenn
Review by Timons Esaias

This collection of nine short stories (Copyright 1968) is introduced by an Author's Note that tells us he was "sorely tempted to do rewriting jobs" when compiling them for republication. Indeed, several of the stories now feel dated, and have not borne up as well as those in the other Tenn collections I've read.

Frankly, I was glad to see that there had been some weaker stories in Tenn's early career. It gives me hope. But I was also impressed by the variety of voices in which he has been able to work.

The first story, "Alexander The Bait" (1946) boldly predicted 23 years before the fact that the first man on the Moon would be named Neil, and that the first words would be flubbed. It also correctly predicted that what would get us there would not be pure exploration and science, but a baser motive. It's a nice light satire on human motivation (in the vein of Bradbury's "The Toynbee Convector") though in a dated vernacular.

"The Last Bounce" (1950) is a space opera that reminded me of Stanislaw Lem's 'straight' pieces. The psychological tension is between the forces that make explorers go, and those that make them toss in the towel and settle down. Unlike many such stories, this one does not come to a neat and pretty resolution. This piece has the Tenn edge.

"She Only Goes Out At Night" is a cute, humorous little vampire tale. It's followed by "My Mother Was A Witch", and I was expecting more of the same, but it's a delightful gem. Tenn admits in the Author's Note that it's not strictly a genre story, but it is worth looking for. I've put it on the list for things I may read at the next Passage Party.

There are two stories in the collection that, together, illustrate Tenn's satirical strength. They are both comic tales of events on a spaceship, and they both take numerous swipes at our presumptions about gender roles in society, but they are set in futures with opposing political assumptions. "Confusion Cargo" is a humorous Mutiny on the Bounty/Pitcairn Island in space, and "Venus Is a Man's World" is something of a "Here Come the Brides". In the first story men rule society, in the second it's women. Either way, Tenn can make us see through the thin and facile arguments of gender determinism.

Return to Review Indexes by author or reviewer.

Click here to return to the SIGMA mainpage.

This page maintained by Greg Armstrong