Cover of Lucky Strike, by Kim Stanley Robinson

(Lucky Strike, by Kim Stanley Robinson. Oakland: PM Press, 2009, 122 pp., $12.00)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon


Science fiction readers who have problems with Kim Stanley Robinson’s novels should give his novella, Lucky Strike, a try. It’s part of PM Press’s “Outspoken Authors” series, and shows just how fine a writer Robinson can be.

Lucky Strike is an alternative history novella concerning the atomic bombing of Japan at the end of World War II. In the novella, it’s not the B-29 Enola Gay, but the B-29 Lucky Strike, that drops the first atomic bomb on Japan. The central character is the plane’s doubt-wracked bombardier, Captain Frank January.  And the central question is what does January do after he succumbs to peer pressure and agrees to fly the mission to bomb Hiroshima.

From there, the tension builds relentlessly as the Lucky Strike takes off and draws nearer and nearer to its target. What will January do, and what will be the results of his actions? What will be the consequences for him and for society if he just follows orders? What will be the consequences if he disobeys orders and follows his conscience?

What fleshes out the story is Robinson’s characterization of January. Very quickly, you feel that you know him; and through their actions and dialogue you also quickly come to feel that you know January’s flight mates and the army brass. The detailed physical description of  January’s B-29 also adds considerably to the you-are-there feel of the story. It’s quite evident that Robinson carefully researched the background for Lucky Strike.

There’s not a wasted word in this fine tale.

Following its conclusion, there’s an addendum, “A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions,” that requires careful reading. In it, Robinson explores the questions of individual choices/actions  in determining historical outcomes, and whether history is convergent or divergent (whether individual choices and actions will lead to the same general result, or whether they can lead to radically different results), citing different choices January could have made. In this addendum, Robinson demolishes historical determinism, in light of  scientific modeling approaches (“strong covering” and “weak covering”), chaos theory, and quantum mechanics (for once, cited appropriately — no new age absurdities here).

The book concludes with a lengthy interview with Robinson conducted by fellow sci-fi author Terry Bisson, which covers ground ranging from Phillip K. Dick, to science fiction as a genre, to Robinson’s writing style and his other works.

Very highly recommended.

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel and on an unrelated sci-fi novel.

Free Radicals front cover

  1. […] Lucky Strike. (2009) A fine if short parallel-universes novella on the morality of “just following orders.” […]


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