SCI FICTION, October 26, 2005

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"Bears Discover Smut" by Michael Bishop
This week’s SCI FICTION Original, "Bears Discover Smut" by Michael Bishop, is a near-future tale of a wayward minister, and his struggle with his smut addiction against the backdrop of genetically modified bears. Rev. Tommy Kyle lives a life of deceit and lies—his wife and young children at home don’t suspect that his charity and counseling work takes place mostly at strip clubs and nightstands that sell smut. The augmented bears are just starting to enter society as a cheap labor alternative; understandably, the animosity between humans and "urseys" grows.

The story is beautifully written, and despite the thoroughly unlikable protagonist, I found the prose enjoyable. I had a bit more trouble with other aspects of the story. For one, the modified bears are present in the background and have only a tenuous connection to the main story line—the protagonist keeps bumping into the same ursey. While the reasons for the bear’s presence are revealed in the end, it still felt a bit tacked on. There’s also a stripper enlightening Rev. Tommy Kyle about the bear lifestyle, and his brother-in-law who lost a job to a bear. I found myself wishing for more focus on bears and less on Rev. Tommy Kyle—a personal bias I readily admit to.

The conceit of bears as a cheap labor alternative didn’t quite ring true—the sheer implausibility of creating expensive alternatives to cheap and numerous humans seemed too great, even for satire. Considering that the world Mr. Bishop describes runs on methane and animal waste, it seems even more unlikely that such energy-consuming procedures as genetic engineering would be preferable to low-tech human reproduction, which so far managed to overpopulate the world just fine. The parallels between the treatment of "urseys" by their human counterparts and the plight of immigrant workers are quite obvious; however, the use of bears offered no new insight, and felt mostly like a fanciful and fun premise, without much substance.

Overall, an enjoyable and quite funny read, but not quite as deep as many others SCI FICTION originals.