Time, Art & Criticism by Paul Trembling

I was linking the fabulous website East of the Web to my blog page, when I stumbled across the excellent sci-fi short story Time, Art & Criticism by Paul Trembling.

A would-be artist, Taran Vechery, has used the alien technology of time control to capture a tree and make it grow from acorn to death in one minute, it grows, and the seasons change-- everything--then the process begins over again. The most influential art critic in the world, Demidi De Soliel, has passed judgment that what Vechery has created is not even art. But just an engineers imitation of life, and poorly done at that. After several attempts with different and more sophisticated pieces, Vechery still cannot convince De Soliel at creates a final sculpture that contains... De Soliel himself.

This is an excellent story that at its heart tackles the question, "What is Art?" Is a piece of work called "art" because the person who created it says it is, or does it have to mean something to someone else, too? Well then, what makes it "good"? This is something that every person asks himself or herself at some point in his or her life. How do we know what is beautiful? If something helps us illuminate the human condition, or touches us personally in some way, it is something that affects us. Why?

I think that using the genre of science fiction is excellent choice as well, because this story is exactly what science fiction is about, social criticism. Here Trembling tackles several topics such as art, science (technophobes), racism (xenophobes) and crime. Is it a crime if the act of trapping De Soliel in a time warp is something for which there is no law? We have this scenario cropping up everyday, most recently internet stalking and bullying--"crimes" for which there are no laws. Youtube and Blogger have recently updated their terms of agreement to reflect certain attitudes and self censoring (Like against hate crimes and racist rants) that will probably become laws some day. Just because we may feel for Vechery and because De Soliel is the kind of person that needs to reap what he sows, does he deserve what happens to him?

This seems like a traditional Ray Bradbury story, and he does tend to get a twinkle in his eye when he talks about stories that involve the comeuppance of a character like this... I'm sure he would approve.

Oh, and the irony of writing a review about a story featuring criticism is not lost on me.