Friday, February 7, 2020

Luna Anthology: The Hyland Resolution by Justin Tarquin

I mus admit to quite enjoying The Hyland resolution.

Here, the description.

It works better if you read it in the voice of Rod Serling. But then, so do most things.

Charles Hyland is a harmless mathematics professor on an academic junket. When his fellow faculty are caught in the crossfire of an interplanetary war, their only hope is that Charles can extricate himself from the labyrinth of his own mind.

I got the germ of the idea that became the story “The Hyland Resolution” about four years ago next month. I remember because I know what sparked it: it was the episode “For The Girl Who Has Everything” of SUPERGIRL, in which our heroine was attacked by a Kryptonian critter called a Black Mercy (because the Kryptonians used it as a humane method of execution). The Black Mercy’s venom or whatever induces a coma filled with dreams that fulfill the victim’s deepest desires, before ultimately killing him—unless he somehow rejects the happy fantasy.

I only watched the first five or ten minutes, because by the end of its first season I had had my fill of this series and was only tuning in occasionally for long enough to see if the basic idea seemed interesting. Sometime if I only see the beginning of a story, I can abstract out the basic problem that drives the plot and think of a completely different way to present and handle it that might make a good original story. (Perry Mason seems to inspire me that way sometimes.)

I’m probably not the only one who does this: this particular episode’s idea has been around the block many times. I see in Wikipedia that the Supergirl writers cribbed it from a Superman comic (“For The Man Who Has Everything”: even thriftily reusing 83% of the title), and my brother tells me there was an episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER on the same idea. 

Declan Finn, our worthy LUNA editor, pointed me to an episode of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (a very good series I’d never watched till then) where Bruce Wayne is trapped in a dream in which he had never become Batman, because his parents had never been killed. How far back does this plot concept go, I wonder? Does it trace back to the scene where Odysseus loses some crewmen to the Lotus Eaters?

I don’t know how the SUPERGIRL writers handled it, though my guess would be that it involved a lot of emoting and sharing of feelings. But as I thought about it myself, I realized two things: first, that I did have an original idea how a person could be snapped out of such a fantasy; and second, that my protagonist would be a mathematician. To say more would be to give spoilers. I drafted a very short piece, set on Earth, about a math professor named Charles Hyland. But my first draft seemed to be lacking vitality; I shelved it without even giving it a title and went on with other things for awhile.

With Luna, I remembered my draft and returned to it.

It needed fleshing out, and the themes of the anthology provided direction for how I could proceed. Dreams, check. Madness, well, check. Loneliness and despair? What if my mathematician, Charles N. Hyland (the N is for Norbert, but that never comes up in the story), is a man of many troubles, who uses mathematics as an escape for thinking of things that upset him? The Moon … I moved my setting to a university on the Moon in the early days of its colonization, a university in a Lunar city, established by Christians from Central and South America, fleeing the religious persecution of the increasingly secularized governments on Earth, named El Redentor: Spanish for “The Redeemer”. (None of this comes up in the story, either.) The ubiquitous AI that Hyland consults sometimes, like an advanced web search application, I named Thoth, after the Egyptian god of wisdom, records, and the Moon; and I put in a couple other faint allusions (or Easter eggs) of moony lore.

As for the theme of despair, I pulled in an idea I have about the coming century of colonization of the Solar System, that I think SF writers have short-changed … namely, war. For some reason, as far as I know, everyone seems to imagine that the opening up of vast stretches of new real estate on the Moon and elsewhere will all be handled in as peaceful and orderly a fashion as a session of Congress devoted to voting themselves a raise. On the contrary, to me it seems natural that some spots on the Moon and elsewhere are going to be particularly desirable, and the colonizers will inevitably come into conflict over them and turn to their various governments on Earth to defend their interests. The Moon may be a pretty violent place for its first few decades … plenty of conflict for stories, and excuse for despair.

So how would my absent-minded Professor Hyland deal with wartime emergencies? He’d go through the motions while striving to keep his mind on his mathematics. That could give me a nice opening scene, developing his character in the midst of some intense action. At least for me, the opening scene is good for a chuckle.

By the way, for those who enjoy number puzzles (I can never understand why there aren’t more of us), the story contains one or two, understated and in no way essential to enjoying the story, but solvable. Nothing fancy—rather like figuring out why Spock said there were 1,771,561 tribbles in the grain bin that emptied out over Captain Kirk.

Declan and Jagi liked “The Hyland Resolution”, and then we had a long wait as the production of Superversive Press’s Planetary Anthology series slowed down to a halt, and ultimately the publishing enterprise that had produced a lot of good reading closed its doors. 

But Tuscany Bay Books picked up the project and has issued Pluto and Luna with a new look. “The Hyland Resolution” is one of 22 stories in this 600+ page volume. I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve read so far.


Justin M. Tarquin has lived about fifteen forty-thirds of his life (so far) in the Chicago area, and remembers going to John Paul II’s Mass in Grant Park just a few weeks after he moved there. From this you can work out his age to within a month if you feel so inclined. By day he tries to pay the mortgage by making spreadsheets and databases yield up their secrets, and in the evening he cooks dinner for his family. His enchiladas, though perhaps not worth dying for, would surely be worth a light maiming: say, two or three hit points. If he has a few minutes free when no one is looking, he is probably having entirely too much fun with some number puzzle; but if he gets a few hours, he will be found reading or writing science fiction and fantasy in the basement. His goal as a writer is to make readers feel the way he does when he watches How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), at the part where the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes bigger.

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