Nobody Leaves New Pittsburg (1976) by George R. R. Martin

This is the first short story in the “Corpse Handler Trilogy”. It’s not really a trilogy in the strict sense, as the three stories have no character or plot connections, and are just united through their common exploration of one of Martin’s science-fiction worldbuilding elements; that of workers who technologically telepathically control corpses to make them perform dangerous labour. The second story in this “trilogy” was Override, which I quite liked, and the third is Meathouse Man, which is definitely the most accomplished of the three. Where does that leave Nobody Leaves New Pittsburg? Well, unfortunately, I found it to be something of a dud. Also unfortunately, I read these stories out of sequence, as I initially thought “Override” was the first story. There’s no continuing plot between the three, so it wasn’t a big loss, but I would have rathered followed the stories in sequence to get a more natural feel for how Martin’s writing developed between them.

It’s not all bad. Martin’s strength in characterisation is in display, as ever – although not to his usual heights. The worldbuilding elements are as strong as one would expect from Martin. But the story lacks focus. I criticised a “Thousand Worlds” story I read today, “This Tower of Ashes”, for regressing purely into conventional science-fiction short story mechanics through a twist ending that didn’t really mesh well with the characterisation and worldbuilding focus. But I would have appreciated something of a more conventional ending in “Nobody Leaves New Pittsburg” just for coherency.

It’s not a bad story, but it’s a very slight one, and very easily overshadowed by its two successors. I give it two corpses, and a meatmind.

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