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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Rose

Charles L. Harness

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To purchase The Rose

Title: The Rose
Author: Charles L. Harness
Genre: Stories
Written: (1966)
Length: 142 pages
Availability: The Rose - US
in: An Ornament to His Profession - US
The Rose - UK
The Rose - Canada
La rose - France
Die Rose - Deutschland
L'odissea del superuomo - Italia
  • Includes:
    • 'The Rose' (first published 1953)
    • 'The Chessplayers' (1953)
    • 'The New Reality' (1950)
  • With an Introduction by Michael Moorcock

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Our Assessment:

B : three very different pieces, and quite a bit that's of interest

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Rose collects three stories by Charles L. Harness, including the novella-length title piece.
       'The Rose' pits the two cultures against each other -- both on a very personal level as well as a much bigger one, and both with the highest stakes:

So the battle lines converge in Renaissance II. Art versus Science. Who dies ? Who lives ?
       Martha Jacques is a scientist, working on Sciomnia -- "the final summation of all physical and biological knowledge", as it reconciles: "biological theory with the unified field theory of Einstein". Her husband, Ruy, is an almost complete counter-part to her, not least in believing she's on the wrong track with her embrace of (only) science. Concerned about some of the changes he seems to be undergoing -- and presumably looking to control him --, Martha engages the services of psychiatrist Anna van Tuyl to treat him.
       The very free spirited and artistically inclined Ruy and Anna have quite a bit in common -- not least two horn-like protuberances on their foreheads, as well as a condition that is affecting their ability to read and write. Anna is also a composer, struggling to complete a ballet, Nightingale and the Rose, the story: "straight out of Oscar Wilde". Ruy is also rose-obsessed -- "My search for that Rose alone matters !". Meanwhile, a threatened, manic Martha -- "I am Science ! I AM ALL !" -- works to thwart their challenges, and Art's threat, to the advancement of her world-view.
       Martha's science also has a sinister military side (in this story written in Cold War-times); a Colonel also figures in the story -- and, for example, at one point Anna is ominously told: "The Security Bureau would like to ask you a few questions". Ruy and Anna, on the other hand, are literally transcendent -- not only in their artistic visions but, even more obviously, physically.
       Among Ruy's arguments against Martha's obsession is that: "Science is functionally sterile; it creates nothing; it says nothing new". Art -- manifesting itself in the ideal of the rose -- is, to him, something of a different order. The conclusion brings Art and Science together, in a sort of perfection; the scene is, essentially, supernatural -- certainly impressive, a triumph not of one over the other but a kind of union (interestingly with a quasi-religious iconography to it).
       It's a curious piece of work, but interesting at both a philosophical and a human level. Martha is arguably almost too simply presented as a purely scientific mind, but the jealous edge adds a nice human element to it. Harness' florid style works well here, and even the rose-obsession, though constant and often extreme -- "'Rose -- rose -- rose !' he cried in near exasperation" -- surprisingly doesn't become too tiresome, with enough variety and potential to it to justify how Harness uses it.

       'The Chessplayers' is just a story, and a slight piece at that. The narrator recounts an episode from his time as treasurer of a Washington D.C. chess club, when a Dr.Schmidt was invited to show off the abilities of a chess-playing rat, Zeno (who learned to play in a concentration camp). Dr.Schmidt hopes to earn some money with his rat's talents, as he is being threatened with deportation.
       The rat -- "a super-rat, an Einstein among rodents" -- puts on a show in playing a 25-board simultaneous exhibition but, falling slightly short (for understandable reasons), can't count on going on tour. But the day is saved when the professor reveals that there's a 2000-page manuscript the rat has been working on -- a definitive guide, as: "Zenchen is probably world's greatest living authority on bishop-knight".
       The threat of deportation and the rat's background give an interesting shading to the story, first published not long after the end of World War II, but it's a fairly simple little piece -- a satisfying enough morsel, but not much more.

       'The New Reality' is a meatier story, amusing in its philosophical speculation. The gist of the story is the theory, espoused by one Adam Prentiss Rogers, that, over millennia, man has shaped reality according to his imagination, where it has always been: "theory first, then we alter 'reality' to fit". After all:
Has it never struck you as odd in how many instances very obvious facts were 'overlooked' until a theory was propounded that required their existence ?
       So, for example, the earth once really was flat -- until mankind theorized it was a sphere. Indeed, Prentiss goes so far as to maintain that: "the earth -- as such -- didn't even exist before the advent of man". Simply put: "over the centuries man expanded his little world into its present vastness and incomprehensible intricacy solely by dint of imagination". As he sums up: "I postulate only the omnipotent mind".
       Prentiss is something of a mystery man -- bursting brightly on the scene years earlier before then disappearing:
Adam Prentiss Rogers -- the owner of a brain whose like is seen not once in a century. He exposed the gods -- then vanished.
       He explains his recusal as having been an attempt: "To keep reality as is", but is drawn out again by the new crisis point that has been reached:
     For the first time we are faced with the probability that the promulgation of a theory is going to force an ungaspable [sic ?] reality upon our minds. It will not be optional.
       It's a neat idea, and Harness sees his thought-experiment through to its remarkable end -- complete with the 'new reality' of the title, which Prentiss then finds himself in.

       'The New Reality' is the most traditionally science-fiction-like of this trio, and also the most satisfying, though 'The Rose' is certainly the more ambitious and even visionary; 'The Chessplayers' is little more than filler -- an entr'acte between the more substantial pieces. The mix works well enough, the variety of the three stories making for a decent little collection -- though 'The Rose' might fare even better as a stand-alone, allowed its full impact all on its own.
       The pieces are uneven, with each of the three arguably having weaknesses, but The Rose remains of interest. The stories hold up surprisingly well, and certainly the ideas presented in both 'The Rose' and 'The New Reality' -- and their presentation -- remain intriguing.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 August 2022

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The Rose: Reviews: Charles L. Harness: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Charles L. Harness lived 1915 to 2005.

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© 2022 the complete review

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