by David Brin
Reviewed date: 2004 Sep 6
357 pages
cover art

Otherness is a thematic collection of short stories and essays about what David Brin calls the Dogma of Otherness:

"Throughout history nearly every human society has worked hard to ingrain its children with the assumption that theirs was the only way to do things. ... But I am coming to see that contemporary America is very, very strange in one respect. It just may be the first society in which it is a major reflexive dogma that there must be no dogmas! ... The Dogma of Otherness insists that all voices deserve a hearing, that all points of view have something valuable to offer. ... [Where] and when else has the societal dogma also included such a powerful counter-indoctrination to defend otherness? ... Tolerance plays a major role in the legends spread by [our] new culture."

In addition to several insightful essays, Otherness contains a number of David Brin's short stories. For many of them he includes some brief story notes about why and how he wrote the story, and how it fits in with the Dogma of Otherness. Brin's short stories are perhaps even better than his novel-length works, so if you have read and enjoyed his novels, I can recommend this book without reservation. If you are not familiar with Brin's works, be assured that Mr. Brin is a true science fiction author: his science is rigorous, his extrapolation of trends and ideas is believable and logical, and he never stoops to using contrived plot devices to get his characters out of a tough spot. This is science fiction as it should be.

Given the theme of Otherness it is especially appropriate that many of the stories are set not in Western culture, but in a Japanese culture. We see the Dogma of Otherness not only from Brin's Western mindset in his essays, but from an Eastern mindset through his stories.

I recommend Otherness. Science fiction fans will love the stories and the essays both. But even for those who are not fans of science fiction (ha ha, I know everyone is a science fiction fan) the exploration of tolerance and the Dogma of Otherness that is apparently unique to Western culture is reason enough to read this book.

The stories in this book are: The Giving Plague, Myth Number 21, Dr. Pak's Preschool, Detritus Affected, Sshhh..., Those Eyes, Bonding to Genji, The Warm Space, NatuLife, Piecework, Bubbles, Ambiguity, and What Continues...and What Fails....

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