REVIEW: “Vanguard 2.0” by Carter Scholz

Review of Carter Scholz, “Vanguard 2.0”, in Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures, edited by Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich, (Center for Science and Imagination, Arizona State University, 2017): 5-21 — Download here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

The hero of this story, Sergei Sergeiivitch Ivashchenko, taps in to all sorts of “lone troubled male genius” stereotypes — his parents divorced when he was young; his father died of cancer soon after; his mother didn’t love him; he spent his late teen years in a drunken haze and yet still managed to get a scholarship and then “blazed almost contemptuously through math, compsci, and astrodynamics” (p. 5). Of course, all the genius in the world isn’t going to get you a job in a bad economy, so after graduating Sergei was lucky to be doing menial work off-Earth at Uber’s “Near Space Logistics and Asset Management” division, with the job title “Orbital Supervisor”.

Despite my initial ambivalence to Sergei, the story drew me in. Scholz uses his economy with words to great effect, using only a few phrases here and there to paint detailed pictures, of the earth sprawling below, of the colleagues Sergei shares his space and his life with, of the way the future could be just a few decades from now. There is nothing about the story that seems unrealistic — although I’m not a specialist in astro-mechanics or related fields so maybe to an expert things would look different — even though it is fictional.

Two things did let it down. First, Scholz does not mark direct speech with quotation marks, which along with often not tagging speech with the speaker makes it hard to keep track of what is being spoken, and by whom. I do not think the story benefited from the adoption of these techniques. Second, throughout Scholz uses words like “crazy” quite cavalierly — “Pace was crazy, but that didn’t bother him. Everyone in the world was crazy, no exceptions” or “To Sergei that [Pace’s belief in the Singularity] was bonus crazy” (p. 10). The casualness of this use makes it hard to ascertain whether Scholz is cognisant of this terms use as a slur, and that reinforcing this sort of usage is problematic.

On the whole, though, I found Scholz to be a very competent writer; I’d like to read a novel by him.