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| 28.1.04
'Dibs', by Brian Plante

If I didn't realize it already, I'm now gaining an even greater awareness that it is a real talent to write a good science fiction short story. In just a few pages an author must flesh out believable characters, motives, and settings. Then there is the added ingredient that makes the story SF --a compelling ethical, philosophical, or physical issue that is raised by or solved with science or technology.

I thought Brian Plante did a fine job of using these elements artistically in 'Lavender in Love', which I reviewed last January. That story dealt with robots and artificial intelligence. This time, Plante tackles the ethical issues raised by organ donation --both voluntary and involuntary. If three people's lives would be saved, is it justified for doctors to kill you and harvest your organs to save them? Shouldn't a truly moral person be willing to sacrifice themselves if they know they will do greater good dead than alive? Is it ever morally justified for someone in need to call "dibs" on your heart, liver, skin, or spleen? When do the needs of the many truly outweigh the needs of the few?

Plante imagines a near-future world in which available organs and needy recipients can be matched with computer precision, --and the sick can lay claim on the organs of the healthy under the right circumstances! Told in the first person from the point of view of David Danila, a government employee whose organs are in risk of being involuntarily harvested, we are taken on an emotional and ethical roller coaster ride. David struggles both for survival and with the ethical issues surrounding organ donation --all in just six pages!

Brian Plante is definitely an author to watch, both in the pages of Analog and elsewhere.

PUBLISHER: Analog Science Fiction and Fact (Astounding); Dell Publishers; ISSN: 10592113 (April, 2004)

The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2

| 3.1.04
Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man, (vol 2), by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Last June I reviewed volume 1 of this, what appears to be an on-going compilation of all the early Spider-Man comic books. In that review I mostly compared and contrasted with Superman, DC, and Smallville. While I'd still love it if DC put out a similar compendium of all the early Superman comics, I'm actually starting to enjoy Spidey more than Superman now that I've steeped myself in so much of the early story.

Volume 1 of this collection contains "Amazing Fantasy" (number 15), where Spider-Man is first introduced, along with "The Amazing Spider-Man" issues 1-10. Volume 2 contains "The Amazing Spider-Man" issues 11-19, along with "The Amazing Spider-Man" Annual number 1. These works were all originally published between August 1962 and December 1964. Reading historic comics like these more than 40 years after they were originally published is for me more entertaining than reading something contemporary because of all the interesting differences between that culture and ours today. Not only do the characters dress differently and have different hairstyles than would be fashionable today, but their attitudes towards dating, the sexes, computers, doctors, and technology is far more divergent from our own mores than one might first expect.

When I was a kid spending my meager allowance on comic books, I used to hate it when the story would refer me back to earlier issues I had not previously read. This series does that in abundance, but ironically I find it adds to the stories, giving them more depth. Especially when read back to back, this compilation doesn't seem nearly as episodic as volume 1, but almost reads like one continuing on-going story. Sure, Spidey fights all kinds of evil villains, but there are also more complex plot-lines exploring his relationships with the women in his life --Betty Brandt, Aunt May, and Liz Allen-- as well as how he interacts with rival schoolmate Flash Thompson and rival superhero The Torch.

Those whose primary exposure to Spider-Man may be the movie and not the comic books, you'll be interested to find that Mary Jane Watson gets hinted at near the middle of volume 2, although Peter and MJ have yet to even meet or go out on a date. Betty Brandt seems to be fading from the picture as Peter's love interest, although there is still plenty of room for developments here. Liz Allen, who Peter liked in volume 1, now seems to like Peter. So the classic love triangle that is present in Superman and Archie is also a part of the Spider-Man story. Finally, the Green Goblin is introduced in volume 2, although we do not yet know the Goblin's true identity.

Keep 'em coming, Marvel Masterworks! Re-printing these classic comics exposes them to a whole new pool of readers!

PUBLISHER: Marvel Comics, New York. ISBN: 0-7607-4957-4. Copyright 2003.

Common Sense for a New Century

| 1.1.04
Common Sense for a New Century, by Governor Howard Dean, M.D.

"No one is going to change America for you. You must participate to make it happen." --Howard Dean

This short pamphlet outlines Howard Dean's commonsense vision for returning America to its past position of moral leadership, democratic example, and idealistic benevolence in the world. This is a vision that Dean believes has become especially obscured and darkened during the current Bush administration. The key theme is simple: ordinary citizens need to get involved in the political process and take back power from extremists on both sides --especially moneyed extremists.

Weighing in at only 8 pages, the pamphlet doesn't get into too many detailed policy positions. It's more about a general vision. In order to really do your homework on Dean's views, I'd recommend two sources. First, see where Dean's campaign is coming from by reading the Dean for America web-site. This will give you Dean's positions from Dean's perspective. Secondly, go to Google News and run a search on Howard Dean. This will give you access to hundreds of news stories and blogs about Dean, from all kinds of different perspectives, especially critical ones.

Every candidate bellows about special interests, claims to be in favor of fair elections, and says they want more ordinary people involved in the political process. What makes Dean so compelling, however, is that in his case the claims are demonstrably true. The Internet has revolutionized the way political involvement can happen, and Dean's campaign has utilized this technology to hear the voices of some of those 50% of eligible voters who just choose to sit out election day. They have also revitalized the marginally active voter like me, who always votes but had never contributed monetarily or through boosterism.

Dean has raised far more money than any of the other candidates going up against George W. Bush, and he has done it with contributions averaging only $85. (as of last November). Bush, by contrast, raises most of his money from people who can afford to give the maximum $2000 a person contribution. Nobody I know. Yet if just 2 million people contributed $100, Dean would have as much money for this election as Bush does!

My state (Minnesota) doesn't have its caucus election until March. Normally by then the results of the nominations are a foregone conclusion, and it feels like one's voice and vote don't really count. In Dean's campaign, by contrast, I was able to vote last fall in an electronic primary sponsored by Moveon.org. Dean won that primary, giving him an early boost. The decentralized, Internet-based structure of his grass-root supporters has given him the edge, and inspires me to dare hope that individuals can actually make the difference in a presidential campaign.

For me, the Dean campaign epitomizes a revolution in the way politics can operate from the grassroots on up, instead of dictated from the top down by party insiders. I support Howard Dean, and give him my personal and official endorsement for the nomination, and for President in 2004.

But even if you don't agree with Dean's views, I think that the increased involvement of ordinary people in politics is nothing but a good thing for America. Watch out special interests, here we come!

PUBLISHER: Dean for America, 2003.
LINKS: http://images.deanforamerica.com/docs/cs/commonsense_all.pdf (1740 KB PDF document)

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