Universe 10 – Saving Face

When I bought  Universe 10 I just thought it was a genera collection of science fiction short stories. But after  looking it up I found out it was a series of story collections edited by Terry Carr. Though an author earlier in his career, Terry Carr was best known as an accomplished editor in his lifetime. I am planning on exploring various stories in the collection as a way to break back into blogging. (It seems I can never work consistently on my blog over a long period of time. But I keep on trying. Life always seems to get in the way.)

The first story in the collection is by Michael Bishop entitled “Saving Face.” This volume of Universe was published in 1980 and Bishop’s writing had me pondering how to value these types of stories in terms of good writing.  Science fiction is often held apart from literature, and possibly rightfully so. Science fiction seems to be more focused on the exploration of speculation than the execution of the craft of writing. While it has made vast improvements recently, I often find myself discouraged by the lax writing in a genre of literature I really enjoy. I have been told it is just a matter of a taste and that other people don’t have any problems with the writing of science fiction. But I also feel that because it is often so specialized that poorer writing is accepted because it is better than some of the other writing available.

Bishop’s story is based around the fascinating concept of the Physiognomic  Protection Act. Basically a person can register their physical features and own the rights to them. This gives them the right to be the only person who looks like them. A lawyer shows up on the main character’s door step suggesting that this guy looks like some famous actor who has his face registered in Washington D.C. The lawyer cannot understand how a man could be so “unaware” that he doesn’t know who a famous movie star is.

“…the bookdocks just aren’t the bookdocks anymore— the media’s everywhere. Everybody touches everybody else.” It is always interesting to see how a 1980’s view on media could be even more true 30 years later. Especially with the access of information it seems like we have an inability to not be informed, connected, in the know. Ponder all the ways media has become even more pervasive in the past 30 years.

How would you react if someone came and told YOU they owned your face and you needed to either have surgery or move to a very remote foreign land? The main character in “Saving Face” goes through a very unexpected transformation in this story. It is interesting to see the ways that the different characters in the story connect with matters of vanity and identity. Does how you look connect with who you are inside?

Michael Bishop was first published in 1970 and is still being published.  His 40 years of publication is a testament to his ability and dedication within the science fiction field. Overall Bishop’s story had a lot of unique elements. His writing lacks just a bit of finesse that I desire from the books I read. I am curious about reading more stories by him to see my reaction to them.


  1. I would have to agree with what you said about the standards of sci-fi writing. My problem though, is that most of the sci-fi writers are male, and a good deal of them write incredibly chauvinistic characters (this seems to pertain especially to the sci-fi writers of the seventies and eighties). Of course there are some wonderful sci-fi writers out there of both genders, I just get frustrated when I try a new author and it's all about the male main character's sexual prowess with a dash of sci-fi.

  2. I remember this story. It was an excellent work of SF and media commentary, despite having little of the traditional SF elements. Ironically, I later found out about someone I know who had a similar situation happen to him. (He did a commercial for Hardee's and got sued by a celebrity he looked and sounded like.)


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