SCI FICTION, April 7, 2004

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"This Tragic Glass" by Elizabeth Bear

"This Tragic Glass" is a Science Fiction story for the poetry fan.  Elizabeth Bear postulates a future where great thinkers are retrieved from the past and encouraged to continue their careers beyond their premature deaths.  When Dr. Satyavati Brahmaputra writes a software program that analyzes every word written by Elizabethan poets, she determines that Christopher Marlowe was actually a woman.  To prove her theory, she applies for permission to extract Marlowe.

The segments from the distant past are poetic and lyrical, capturing the fervor of the Elizabethan era.  The segments in the future, filled with a multitude of characters, holograms and time travel machines, jolt the unsuspecting reader into a culture shock similar to that survived by Keats, another poet previously yanked into the future.  The idea is fresh, but the anticlimactic ending did not transform any of the players, and any resolution was brought about by technology rather through any efforts by Marlowe or Satyavati.