Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Sofia Samatar - A Stranger In Olondria (2013)

"But preserve your mistrust of the page, for a book is a fortress, a place of weeping, the key to a desert, a river that has no bridge, a garden of spears."

'A Stranger In Olondria' is a gorgeously written first novel by Somali American author Sofia Samatar, which has deservedly just won the World Fantasy Award. Written in prose that is ornate but never overripe, the book tells a story that is primarily about how important the act of storytelling is in how we make sense of our world, whilst managing to explore themes of privilege, conflict and the use of religion as a tool for social control. It is an engaging read, and pleasingly ambitious. The power, passion and depth with which Samatar explores her ideas reminded me of Ursula Le Guin in 'The Dispossessed' or 'The Left Hand Of Darkness', but ultimately 'A Stranger In Olondria' is very much its own beast; pleasingly unique.
   'A Stranger In Olondria' tells the story of Jevick, a rich pepper merchant's son who grows up on the Tea Islands, fascinated by stories of Olondria, the land in the north on which his father's trade is based. Jevick's people have no written language, only an oral tradition of story telling, but Jevick's father hires him an Olondrian tutor to teach him to speak and read Olondrian to help him when he inherits his father's business. When his father dies, Jevick can't wait to finally go to Olondria with the next shipment of peppers, but once he is there he becomes haunted by Jissavet, the ghost of a girl from the Tea Islands who died of an illness and wants Jevick to write the story of her life so that she can continue to live on in story. As news of Jevick's ability to speak to a ghost spreads, he finds himself embroiled in the political struggle between rival religious sects, the Priests of the Stone, who currently hold power, and the Priests of Avalei, a goddess of love and chaos, whose worship has now been outlawed.
Beautiful map at the beginning as well.
   The worldbuilding in 'A Stranger In Olondria' is simply incredible. Starting with the physical locations, the depth and range, from  Jevick's pepper farm in the Tea Islands to the bustling Olondrian capital of Bain, the temples of the Blessed Isle and the sparse bleak plateaus of the east, all rendered in exquisite detail, is impressive in and of itself. Beyond that, Samatar also invents numerous legends, stories, philosophies and tales to flesh out the different peoples and cultures that inhabit the book. Over the course of the book we are shown poems, folk songs, legends, folk tales, and quotes from academic writings. The sheer amount of skill and dedication required to write each of these, and have them convincingly portray a different voice from a different physical, social and cultural background, is staggering, yet Samatar proves herself a dab hand at this.
  A frequent criticism of worldbuilding is that it isn't necessary to the story telling, it simply provides window-dressing. 'A Stranger In Olondria' proves how profoundly worldbuilding can actually contribute to the story and characters. 'A Stranger In Olondria' is about how universal the desire to tell and hear stories is, and this is shown through how the thread of storytelling is constant throughout all the different settings, from the rich merchants in the city of Bain and the decadence of the priests in the Holy City through to those living in poverty in the countryside. However it is also a book about how story telling is a political act, and this is reflected in the different stories that different characters tell, and the reasons they tell these stories. Jissavet's story tells of her growing up in poverty in a small village in the Tea Islands, and her ostracisation both as a person with a disease and as a child of rape. She needs to tell her story because she is a person without a voice, disenfranchised, beautifully symbolised by her nature as a ghost who can only be heard by Jevick. Jevick's decision to write her story, which involves him devising a written form of his own native language, and translating it into Olondrian, are intensely political actions, giving this disenfranchised young girl a voice that more privileged individuals might finally hear and pay attention to. Auram, the High Priest of Avalei who manipulates Jevick's status as a mystic to gain power and traction for his sect, also constantly tells stories, from myths and legends, which he uses to reframe and justify his own manipulative actions, and to clarify how he sees other characters' roles. This reminds us how stories can be used to reaffirm political narratives, to maintain power over others. A main theme of the book is how subversive and dangerous the act of reading and writing can be, as shown by how it can be used to prop up or to subvert existing patterns of power, depending on who uses it.
   In addition to all this, 'A Stranger In Olondria' also has fantastic character work. At its most basic, it is Jevick's coming of age tale, as he goes from a state of innocence to one of experience, and to work the book relies on him being well developed. The book also contains Jissavet's story, which Samatar manages to make tragic and deeply moving without falling into the trap of idealising her; particularly important as we are experiencing her through Jevick's eyes, and he falls in love with her. Jissavet is a fully developed character with flaws and foibles, and her own distinctive voice that we can hear clearly underneath Jevick's writing of her. Auram, for all his manipulative nature, is also well developed and sympathetic. While his actions may have plunged Olondria into a vicious religious war from which its written culture may not survive, we understand that his actions are motivated by the state sanctioned violence meted out against his people. The relationship between Miros, Auram's son who helps to free Jevick from the Priests of the Stone, is another compelling aspect of the book. The two characters' desperate journey through the frozen wastes of the east recalls very much Ai Genly and Estraven's similar journey in Ursula Le Guin's 'The Left Hand Of Darkness', as two friends from very different cultural backgrounds come to better understand and respect each other, and is similarly moving. However what really makes Samatar's character work noteworthy is the extent to which she develops every character who appears, no matter how minor. Samatar goes to great length to ensure that everyone who appears in the book, such as the poor families who shelter Jevick and Miros on their journey east, all have interior lives and motivations for their actions. This deep understanding and empathy for all her characters is part of what gives the book its extraordinary depth.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Poul Anderson - Three Hearts And Three Lions (1961)

"Hasten, hasten, best of horses! Oh, run, my comrade, run as no horses ever did erenow, for surely all men are pursued with us. Haste thee, my darling, for we ride against striding Time, we ride against marching Chaos. Ah, God be with thee, God strengthen thee to run!"

'Three Hearts And Three Lions' is another charming and hugely influential Poul Anderson fantasy. While it lacks the strum und drang atavistic intensity of 'The Broken Sword', much of that book's invention and storytelling deftness is on display here. Whereas 'The Broken Sword' is fully emerged in its brutal Fantasy world of vengeful doomed Vikings and manipulative gods and elves, in 'Three Hearts And Three Lions' Anderson uses a modern day viewpoint character who is swept into a magical realm, who acts as a viewpoint character for the audience. Holger Carlsen is an affable everyman who finds himself transported into a different world where it seems like he is destined to play a key role. As such he's the ancestor of all the subsequent modern day viewpoint characters thrust into fantastical situations they don't understand, from Michael Moorcock's Erekose to Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant, and 'Three Hearts And Three Lions' has provided a blueprint for subsequent variations and deconstructions of the chosen one story.
   Holger Carlsen is a Danish engineer who, during World War II, is hit by a shell and wakes up naked in a forest, in a world where it turns out that magic is very much real, elves, trolls and giants exist alongside the legends of our world, and the history of our world is just myths and legends. Carlsen finds that he is the knight of Three Hearts and Three Lions, a figure that appears to be of great importance in this world. Duke Alfric and Morgan le Fay, the leaders of the Faeries, are incredibly keen to have him either killed and out of the way, whilst a Saracen is looking for him. With the help of Hugi the dwarf and Alianora the swan-may, Carlsen goes in search of the sword Cortana, which is tied with his destiny as the knight of Three Hearts and Three Lions, and may have the power to send him home.
   Anderson uses Carlsen as a viewpoint character, through which the audience gets to vicariously experience the wonder and confusion of being plunged into a strange and fantastical world. However, while characters such as these can make an easy entry point for the reader into what might otherwise be a strange and disorientating world, they also run the risk of being so much of a blank slate that they come off as bland, or worse, as a wet blanket, oblivious to the wonders around them as they try desperately to get back home to rural Kansas. Anderson avoids this quite elegantly and inventively. Carlsen's stolid engineer's mind allows him to succeed as a knight by coming up with very modern and practical solutions to the fantastical challenges that face him. So he defeats a dragon not by expertise with a sword, but by using cold water to make it overheat like a boiler, and he works out that the curse of the troll's gold is caused by the radiation released when the carbon in the troll turns to silicon when it turns to stone in the sun.
   This rationalism extends to Calrsen's ontological understanding of the fantasy world he finds himself in. Calrsen theorises that, as quantum theory allows for an infinite number of alternate universes, it's possible that a universe exists in which all the myths and legends of our world are fact, and magic exists as a physical force, and that he has somehow been transferred across the boundaries between alternate realities. Michael Moorcock would later develop this idea as the basis for the multiverse, the ever shifting alternate realities through which the Eternal Champion wanders. It's interesting that a writer like Anderson who is so adept at writing wonderful fantasy stories should be so concerned with rationalising them, perhaps coming from his need as a writer of hard SF to make sure the worlds in his writing follow the laws of physics, and have vaguely plausible excuses for when they don't. Rather than making his fantasy world less magical, the fact that the non-magical aspects of the world are so realistically rendered makes the fantastical aspects of the world more believable.
   'Three Hearts And Three Lions' also presents another idea that would provide a cornerstone for Moorcock's Eternal Champion series, namely that of the eternal struggle between the forces of Law and Chaos. In Anderson's book, Law, as represented by humanity and Christendom, is under threat by the forces of Chaos, as represented by the forces of Faerie, which is mirrored by the conflict between the Allies and the Nazis in our universe. While the idea has the seeds of its origin here, Moorcock would go on to develop the idea of the balance between Law and Chaos more fully in his work. In 'Three Hearts And Three Lions', Law is basically the equivalent of good, whilst Chaos is evil. In Moorcock's work, neither Law or Chaos is good or evil in and of itself; they are two natural forces that need to be in equilibrium, and evil arises when there is an imbalance in either direction. This allows Moorcock to fully explore the nuances only hinted at in Anderson's work.
   Moorcock would later echo Carlsen's fate with that of Erekose. Carlsen discovers his identity as the knight of Three Hearts and Three Lions is that of Holger Danske, a knight of Arthur's round table who returns during times of chaos to save the world. Having saved humanity from the encroaching forces of Faerie, he is whisked back to our world where he helps to defeat the Nazis. But this means he is separated from his love, Alianora, as Erekose is from his love Erminzhad, and he is destined to search for a way to travel across alternate universes to find her again.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Cordwainer Smith - The Best Of (1975)

"You have waited for me. I have waited too. It is time to die, perhaps, but we will die the way people did in the beginning, before things became easy and cruel for them. They live in a stupor and they die in a dream. It is not a good dream and if they awaken, they will know that we are people too."

 'The Dead Lady Of Clown Town', 1964

"Scraps of knowledge have been found. In the ultimate beginning of man, even before there were aircraft, the wise man Laodz declared, 'Water does nothing but it penetrates everything. Inaction finds the road.' Later an ancient lord said this: 'There is a music which underlies all things. We dance to the tunes all our lives, though our living ears never hear the music which guides us and moves us. Happiness can kill people as softly as shadows seen in dreams.' We must be people first and happy later, lest we live and die in vain." 

'Under Old Earth', 1966

Cordwainer Smith was the pseudonym of Paul Linebarger, a man who lived a colourful life, (among other things, he wrote the book on psychological warfare). He also wrote a series of science fiction short stories, and his lone SF novel, 'Norstrilia', all set in the same vast future history. 'The Best Of Cordwainer Smith', (later reissued by Gollancz as 'The Rediscovery Of Man' in the SF Masterworks series), collects twelve of these stories and presents them in order of internal chronology. Written between 1950 and 1966, while the stories show their vintage, at their best they are a compelling mixture of untethered imagination and striking imagery.
   Smith's future history, extending from around the year 2000 through 16,000 odd years beyond that, is held together by a couple of key concepts. The stories trace humanity's early attempts at braving the dangers of space travel, through to the formation of intergalactic empires, all under the guiding hand of the Instrumentality, a group of powerful people who rule humanity. The main narrative thread, alluded to and foreshadowed several times before it actually happens, is the Rediscovery of Man. The Instrumentality creates an environment for humanity free of pain, suffering and death, where most of the manual labour is carried out by robots, computers, and the underpeople - artificially uplifted animals with the intelligence and appearance of humans who are forced into menial servitude and treated as second class citizens because of their animal origins. This society soon slips into decadence and despondency. The Rediscovery of Man, humanity's salvation, can only be achieved not just by returning pain and suffering into human life so that it has meaning, but also by the emancipation of the underpeople.

The Future, mapped out for your convenience. 
   Cordwainer Smith wasn't the first SF author to set all his stories in a mapped out, shared universe. What gives his stories their distinct flavour is in the telling of them. Smith sought to imbue his stories with the feel of future myths and legends, going so far as to base some of them on myths or stories from around the world, and adopted several techniques from Chinese fiction, learned from his time spent studying there. Although in practice this is hit and miss, this results in his writing being more ambitious and more interesting than many of the other pulp writers of the time. Like an SF Lord Dunsany, his stories are full of archaic words and fanciful turns of phrase; when it works, it gives the stories a genuine sense of mythic wonder, when it doesn't, his prose becomes repetitive and knotty. Perhaps more interesting is how this mythic approach effects Smith's attitude towards continuity. While there is a clear underlying narrative thread building up to the Rediscovery of Man, continuity between stories is frequently vague, making their exact nature in the overall chronology possible to guess at but difficult to pin down with any accuracy. There is a genuine sense of fragments of stories and history long since past, passed down through different media and contexts, from which the reader has to unpick the historical threads. The fact that all this happens in the far future, dressed up in the style and language of the distant past, creates an engaging disconnect.
   The other thing that makes Smith's work distinctive is their sheer oddness. SF is frequently guilty of overexplaining. In a particular strain of the most traditionally science fictional SF, what is important, over characters, situation or novelty, is the extent to which the science of the fictional world is rationalised and thought out. Smith's stories are notable for how much they don't explain. Stories like 'Scanners Live In Vain' assault the reader straight out of the gate with a disorienting blend of bizarre imagery and neologisms. The future technology described, from the various dangerous ways of tackling space travel to the ambiguous powers of the computers, have seemingly been chosen for their power and resonance as images and ideas rather than functionality. Everything Smith describes, from solar sales so large they block out the sun to cat pilots hunting invisible space dragons to gorgeous golden ships bigger than planets, is gloriously impractical yet possessed with a strange, haunting beauty.

The SF Masterwork 'The Rediscovery Of Man' is in fact this collection reprinted, and not the 1993 NESFA omnibus of the same name, which collects all of Cordwainer Smith's short fiction. 
   The stories do show their age in places. While Cordwainer Smith's stories do frequently feature female protagonists who are at least as well developed as his male characters and imbued with a fair amount of agency, from the pilot Helen America in 'The Lady Who Sailed The Soul' to the messianic D'joan and reluctant resistance leader Elaine in 'The Dead Lady Of Clown Town', they are presented as being exceptional to their gender. 'The Crime And The Glory Of Commander Suzdal' features a planet whose inhabitants are violent, all-male homosexuals. To be charitable to Smith, he portrays the people of this planet in sympathetic detail as they death of all the planet's female population by a virus, and one could argue the appearance of a single sex planet that reproduces parthenogenesically in a work of pulp SF paved the way for later, radical LGBT and feminist readings of the same idea, so that, say, when Nicola Griffith wrote the excellent 'Ammonite', it was ably accepted into the mileau of SF. However none of this makes up for the fact that this is a thoroughly offensive portrayal of homosexuality, especially as Smith outright states that their homosexuality was responsible for turning them villainous. The casual homophobia makes 'The Crime And The Glory...' the least palatable of Smith's stories on show here, and means that it is impossible to recommend the book without reservations.
   This is a great shame, as many of the other stories have much to recommend them. In other places Smith's work shows signs of being quite open minded. The Lords and Ladies of Instrumentality tend to be equally as powerful as each other, and from their names one presumes of reasonably diverse backgrounds. The whole story arc of the Rediscovery Of Man is that humanity can only achieve transcendence after it treats the underpeople as actual people. Smith never portrays the underpeople as any less than fully human, and the stories that focus on their struggle for equal rights are the most moving in the book. 'The Dead Lady Of Clown Town' reworks the story of Joan of Arc as D'joan the dog girl leading a tragic and inevitably doomed non-revolution of the underpeople, and is genuinely heartbreaking. The story is recapitulated more hopefully in 'The Ballad Of Lost C'mell',  and here Smith shows that he has a good understanding of systematic injustice:

"Perhaps the policewoman thought that raw hatred would be shocking to C'mell. It wasn't. Underpeople were used to hatred, and it was not any worse raw than it was when cooked with politeness and served like poison. They had to live with it."

   Smith's work also shows a healthy cynicism about how Empires achieve and maintain power, informed one suspects by his day job. The Instrumentality are not meant to be nice or pleasant, and the reader is not meant to approve of them. They hold their power over humanity by brainwashing, drug monopolies and manipulation. 'Golden The Ship Was - Oh! Oh! Oh!' shows that the Instrumentality is wily, deceptive and manipulative, and is willing to go all the way to genocide to maintain its control over humanity, while 'Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons' shows just how jealously the Norstrilians guard the drug that grants longevity to humans. Perhaps the most powerful story in the book, and almost certainly the most strikingly odd, is 'A Planet Named Shayol'. Shayol is the hell planet that the Instrumentality uses as the ultimate punishment for criminals, and in a sequence that would make both Dante and David Cronenberg shudder Smith reveals just what that punishment is. The damned of the Instrumentality are exposed to parasites which cause extra organs to grow on their bodies whilst preserving their life for thousands of years in excruciating agony, and the Instrumentality harvests these extra organs for medical use. It is intense and nightmarish, yet oddly lyrical and moving in places. It demonstrates both Smith's understanding of and his contempt of the extreme punishments governments use to maintain their power. As such it displays all of Smith's strengths as a writer, and nicely summarises what made him unique.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

M. R. Carey - The Girl With All The Gifts (2014)

"She also knows that not all the evils that struck this land had the same cause and origin. The infection was bad. So were the things that the important-decision people did to control the infection. And so is catching little children and cutting them into pieces, even if you're doing it to try to make medicine that stops people being hungries."

'The Girl With All The Gifts' is a competent and thoroughly readable post-apocalyptic thriller, a good example of the kind of consistency that can be achieved late in a genre's run simply by cannily assembling or recombining the best ideas and tropes a subgenre has to offer. It has solid main characters that it develops thoughtfully along the way, a reasonably original concept for the lead and a powerful and even moving ending. Unfortunately, the novel fails to rise above its influences. For all that it plays with the tropes and ideas it evokes, it never quite manages to synthesise anything new or particularly striking from these component parts. Perhaps more problematic is the way the lack of balance and nuance between the characters means that the book ultimately falls short of doing justice to its big themes. Be warned, there will be spoilers from here on out.
   It's impossible to talk about 'The Girl With All The Gifts' without giving away the Big Twist, which is that Melanie is a zombie, and the book is a zombie book. Melanie, the protagonist, is a ten year old girl who has spent all her living memory in an underground base, restrained to a wheelchair and locked in a cell when she's not in class. She and a bunch of other children are educated by teachers and minded by soldiers, while outside the world is overrun with hungries (what we're calling zombies this time round, not one of my favourite terms for them). The book keeps Melanie's ontological statues a secret from the reader and from Melanie herself for the initial portion of the book. This is an interesting idea, used to immediately humanise Melanie and her classmates and so to start the discussion about what it really means to be human, which is the major theme of the book. I have to say I liked this portion of the book the best by far, with Carey very effectively subverting the trope of the creepy child. Melanie is instantly likable, and the treatment she and her classmates receive from the adults tips the reader off immediately that something is very wrong. That something of course is ultimately the dehumanising treatment the zombie children are receiving at the hands of the adults at the facility who fail to see them as human. Now, none of this is particularly original. The set up and its execution echoes Kazuo Ishiguro's 'Never Let Me Go', which unfortunately for Carey is a much better written exploration of similar ground. Science fiction in general has a long history of engaging with the Other to explore how people dehumanise those they deem less than human, and frequently does so very effectively via children, as John Wyndham does in 'The Chrysalids' and 'The Midwich Cuckoos', books whose influence is felt very strongly here. Perhaps some of the problem is Carey's lack of subtlety. The Big Twist is so heavily foreshadowed that, if you're familiar with the kind of games that genre fiction likes to play, you're unlikely to be surprised when the reveal comes. I also suspect he misses a trick by slipping out of Melanie's viewpoint into that of the teachers and the soldiers. It's possible to imagine a shorter, more intense book set entirely in the underground bunker, making the most out of Melanie's unusual perspective to create a work of Wolfean ambiguity.
   However, Carey soon moves us away from the bunker. Melanie is chosen by Dr. Caldwell for vivisection - the entire point of the base is to study these sentient zombie children in the hopes of developing a cure - and avoids having her brain removed by a fortuitously timed attack on the base, which leaves Melanie, Dr. Caldwell, her favourite teacher Miss Justineau, and Sergeant Parks and Private Gallagher from the military detail guarding the base, stranded outside. The book quickly changes into a post-apocalypse survival thriller, as the mismatched group of civilians and military men must make its way through zombie-infested terrain to Beacon, where the last remnants of humanity is holed up. From here on out the book takes a disappointing nose-dive into utter predictability. Carey takes us through all the stations of the crash, running through a virtual checklist of post-apocalyptic tropes. Does the stolen car break down almost immediately? Check. Does Sergeant Park get frustrated at the civilians for not following his orders, but the civilians ultimately come to realise that under his gruff exterior he genuinely has their best interests at heart? Check. Did the government try to contain the spread of the zombie infection by using increasingly unpleasant and heavy-handed methods against its panicking population? And so on. Carey faces the problem that anyone writing a post-apocalyptic zombie thriller in the year 2014 faces, which is that this is ground that has been very well trod on. Yet one does not need to be heavily versed in the genre to be familiar with everything he wheels out here. Anyone who's read 'The Death Of Grass' by John Christopher and seen the Romero zombie films is going to recognise nearly every scene and scenario that plays out. 'The Girl With All The Gifts' doesn't do enough to distinguish itself from these predecessors. By the end of the story, the largest shadow cast over the book is Richard Matheson's 'I Am Legend', which plays exactly the same trick with humans assuming that the monsters they are fighting are, well, monsters, instead of sentient living beings who will replace them, and indeed the endings of the two books converge, to the extent that the not inconsiderable emotional impact of Carey's ending is attenuated by how similar it is.
   This is a shame because there is a lot of stuff that Carey does well. Sergeant Parks' character arc may be familiar, but it is done very well here, with Parks developing into a genuinely likable and sympathetic character from his early portrayal as a vicious meathead. Both Miss Justineau and Dr. Caldwell are female characters with agency, strength and some depth. And Carey's explanation of the zombie apocalypse is very well thought out. Carey's zombies are caused by infection with a variant of the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the fungus that manipulates the brains of ants, as popularised in the David Attenborourgh documentary 'Planet Earth' and various zombie-themed Cracked articles. While post-Max Brooks and '28 Days Later' the infection model for zombies is nothing new, Carey thinks it out and its relationship to its human host, and how this allows for the zombie children like Melanie to retain control of their higher brain function unlike the first generation of zombies, in convincing biological detail. However I wonder if this isn't part of the book's problem. 'The Girl With All The Gifts' commits the very SFnal sin of explaining everything in incredible and often unnecessary detail. One of the advantages of operating in such a well-worn corner of genre is that you can actually assume that the vast majority of your readership will be familiar with at least the general shape of the story you are trying to tell; so you can show the reader the charred fields between the towns without having to explicitly point out that this was caused by the government raising the villages to try to stop the infection, say. Suggestion and insinuation, followed by leaving it to the reader's imagination, can be a more powerful technique than exposition.
   However I felt the book's biggest problem is the treatment of Dr. Caldwell, and to a lesser extent Miss Justineau. Dr. Caldwell represents science untethered from its moral and ethical responsibilities. Whereas Melanie is a person who happens to look like a monster, Dr. Caldwell is a person who happens to be a monster. She is the kind of person who is totally happy to remove a child's brain without anesthetic. Dr. Caldwell's brutal experiments recall the worst technological horrors of the 20th century. For the book to succeed, it's vital that she works as a character. However she is easily the least convincing character in the book. Carey tries to set up Caldwell in opposition to Justineau, with Caldwell claiming that her research will save lives, whereas Justineau's kindness to the children won't help anyone in the long run. However not even Caldwell believes this; her characterisation is ultimately that of a sociopath. She is not remotely interested in saving people, she is only interested in solving the intellectual puzzle that the zombies pose for her. You suspect she'd happily vivisect her own mother if it brought her closer to the truth. This renders her argument and any counterbalance she's narratively meant to be against Justineau entirely moot. The thing is, history has taught us that there are people who would do such unethical experiments, and whilst a good many of them may well have been shrieking psychopaths, a good many of them probably weren't. 'The Girl With All The Gifts' misses a chance to explore the banality of evil; the SS officer who goes home and has dinner with his family. Additionally, Dr. Caldwell's failure as a narrative counterbalance to Miss Justineau winds up having a negative impact on Miss Justineau's characterisation. Without a well-developed opposite to bounce off, in order to stop her from coming off as too perfect Carey decides to give her a back-story in which she accidentally ran over a kid and never reported it, getting away with it because society collapsed straight afterwards. It's a tin-eared decision that would probably have been avoided if Dr. Caldwell was a deep enough character to be able to make Miss Justineau reflect on her own complicity in Dr. Caldwell's programme.