Journey to the Center of the Earth by Edward Morris

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(Accompaniment to Interzone #209, April 2007)

Published along with the other content of Interzone‘s 25th anniversary issue is a novella by Edward Morris, Journey to the Center of the Earth.  The title, of course, instantly evokes Jules Verne‘s classic novel of the same name, which it both quotes and praises before the beginning of the story proper.  As in most retellings of Verne’s tale, however, the descent is not through a naturally existing tunnel, but the creation of a path down using a giant drill—in this case, mounted on the Glomar Challenger.

That, however, is perhaps the most conventional thing about the story.  Like Kaysen’s "Tears For Godzilla" in the accompanying issue, "Journey" is a piece of "meta-science fiction," as much about the genre itself as anything else.  As Paul Di Filippo says above the title, "Ed Morris is the original Mashup Man—except that he plays with history and reality and fiction, rather than chords," turning Verne’s story into a "bop threnody."

Di Filippo, whose own stories include works like "And I Think To Myself, What a Wonderful World," in which Louis Armstrong is editor of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, is of course no stranger to this approach—and readers who know that piece will have some idea of what to expect here.

Morris’s Journey, rich in gimmickry as it liquidates and rearranges the past in good fun (rather than an attempt at serious extrapolation), succeeds on that level.  Set in a 1963 that never was, here Adlai Stevenson is president of the United States, psychotropics are legal, and the superpowers are swept up in a race to the center of the Earth as well as to the moon.  Implausible (and entertaining) cameos abound, from Howard Hughes as the driving force behind the American enterprise, to Rod Serling covering the event for CBS, to secret agent "008," dispatched to the scene to protect British interests.

Morris pulls off the Verne-style technical lectures, the rapid shifts of perspective (several chunks of the story are excerpted from the diaries and field notes of principal characters) and the musings that come out of some very improbable meetings of minds with considerable aplomb, but the fact that this is a novella-length piece of fiction demonstrates the weaknesses as well as the strengths of this approach.  While making for a good short story, it’s not easy to sustain a longer work this way, and with plot and action clearly relegated to the backseat, even Morris’s considerable talents can’t keep the story from sagging a bit after the middle.  Fortunately, though, Journey picks up steam toward the end, and the last twelve pages—in which the author unbelievably manages to top what came before—more than make up for the slow patches.  If you enjoyed tales like "And I Think To Myself," you’ll definitely find this worth your time, and even if you don’t, seeing the concept executed as well as this may very well change your mind.