GYPSY – Plus… – Carter Scholz (2015)

GypsyKim Stanley Robinson fans beware: Carter Scholz is a buddy of his, they go hiking in the Sierras together. It shows, both on the cover of this little gem, and in the content itself.

Gypsy Plus… is a 146 page booklet in the PM Press Outspoken Authors series. Its main attraction is the novella Gypsy (97 pages), plus 2 shorter stories (The Nine Billion Names Of God, 10 pages, from 1984 – not the same as the Clarke title by the way, and Bad Pennies, 8 pp., 2009), a political essay on contemporary US politics (The United States Of Impunity, 14 pp.) and a 12-page interview with the author.

Gypsy is hard SF about a team of 21st century scientists who crowd-source a secret starship and abandon a doomed Earth for the Alpha Centauri system. Scholz says an interesting thing in the interview:

I’ve never seen an SF story take full stock on how hard, maybe impossible interstellar travel is going to be. Gypsy is my attempt to do it “with the net up” as the “hard SF” writers say. Even in the most rigorous hard SF, you always reach the hand-wave moment where the net drops to permit some bit of story development. I wanted to play it straight and let the story come out of the constraints of the physics.

Those familiar with Aurora, KSR’s brilliant 2015 novel, will instantly recognize the same theme. One can just speculate about Stan & Carter, coming up with this angle on a hike, each working it out differently afterwards. Or maybe the conception of both stories isn’t related at all.

In the end, it doesn’t matter much, as Gypsy is singular enough. Its dystopic premise isn’t new, but as far as possible projections for the near future goes, it’s definitely convincing.  The middle class is dying and climate is changing. That’s not rocket science. Gypsy is a lot less optimistic than KSR’s latest book, and Scholz is outright grim. Those looking for just a fun science driven story: this is not The Martian.

To say much more would spoil the experience, but structurally Gypsy is a very interesting novella. There’s not a lot of characters, and not a lot of pages, but the way Scholz handles both character and story development is masterly. One would not expect its narrative choices to deliver the emotions it does. At times, Gypsy‘s atmosphere reminded me of Duncan Jones’ 2009 movie Moon.

Carter Scholz has been around for quite some time, but his output isn’t big. He has been publishing short fiction since the 1970ies, and wrote two novels – Palimpsests in 1984, with Glenn Hancourt, and Radiance, a 2002 nuclear thriller. I’m adding Radiance to my TBR, and I hope Carter will turn to long form SF soon.  (Update 7/2020: Radiance is a spectacular triumph!)

Suffice to say Gypsy comes highly, highly recommended. It’s one of the best short SF offerings I’ve ever read. The two additional archival short stories are interesting too, albeit maybe a bit gimmicky. The United States Of Impunity essay is excellent, and what it says can’t be said enough. It should be fiction, but sadly isn’t.

All and all, mandatory for all serious fans of both hard SF and KSR.



Gypsy, the title story, originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November-December 2015. It can also be found in the anthologies The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 1 (2016), edited by Neil Clarke, The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection (2016), ed. Gardner Dozois, and The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas 2016, ed. Paula Guran.


9 responses to “GYPSY – Plus… – Carter Scholz (2015)

  1. I liked Clarke’s 9Billion Names of God!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I purchased Gypsy on the strength of two short stories of Scholz’s that my buddy had translated (“On the Shore” and “The Ninth Symphony of Ludwig Van Beethoven and Other Lost Songs”) and also found it very good. In its “hard, maybe impossible” aspect, it complemented the film Europa Report, which I saw around that time; that one, however, is a much more flawed and less accomplished narrative. I remember telling somenone, not long after that, that Apollo 13 (the movie) is overtly rosy since no-one dies:-) (But then again, that journey is/was far from interstellar.)

    (The “Names” story is fun, but postmodern-fun-by-numbers. The “Impunity” essay I remember kinda handwaving as “same old, same old, vaguely agree”, but perhaps I should return to it.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I guess I should be on the lookout for a short story collection by Scholz. What language did your friend translate to?

      Viz. ‘Names’, you are right that it’s painting by numbers, but I felt it to be satire, so I guess that by-numbers approach is the way to go.

      ‘Impunity’ is old hat indeed, but it was well phrased, and powerful in its brevity & matter of factness. To me it felt mainly like a list of facts, so I don’t see how not to agree, aside from the inevitable ideological framing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: FAVORITE SCIENCE FICTION BOOKS | Weighing a pig doesn't fatten it.

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