(Original Review, 1980)
As for me, conflict of all kinds is a most important part of what I look for in a story. This certainly includes good (or even just "passable") vs evil, so I agree with most people to that extent. But denigrating FOUNTAINS OF PARADISE because it was a classic "engineer vs problem" story seems to show an awfully limited set of preferences. There certainly is conflict in the "engineer vs problem" story; it's just not "person vs person" conflict. The real world (being neither evil nor good) can interfere with the best laid plans, and this conflict, and its resolution, can fascinate me for hours. Similarly, social systems pose conflicts, and stories than have people going up against those systems pose conflicts that are not necessarily "good vs evil," but rather personal values vs values that are alleged to be supra-personal. I can understand the feeling that a society that does not create those conflicts must be, in some sense, artificial. That same feeling must exist for the kid who never lived outside the South Bronx who is shown a book that takes place in Scarsdale. The kinds of problems that exist in Scarsdale are both unbelievable and uninteresting to the kid from the other environment. This, however, does not make that environment and those problems really unreal or universally uninteresting. Somehow, the slum kid has got to be shown that there are other worlds, before that kid can deal with the problems of those worlds. That's the way comments that belittle stories with "societies that work" strike me. SF lets us look beyond the problems of our wretched little societies to see that societies portrayed in books like the PROBABILITY BROACH are potentially real and interesting. And that's a major reason why I read SF.
If an author is going to go into all the trouble of creating a universe, which every author does, some more successfully than others, why put in evil or irritants?
The obvious answer to this is that very few people will find such a universe believable --- and believability is the primary requirement of a constructed universe. I know that \I/ wouldn't believe in such a universe outside of a children's fantasy; that's one of the reasons I disliked THE PROBABILITY BROACH --- the author just assumed that everything would work out for the very best over 200 years of history. Certainly the failings of a universe help drive the plot. Consider Heinlein's description of how he writes a story: "I put interesting characters into serious difficulties, and by the time I can hear them talking the story is done." (quote >20 years old). I'll further point out that if matters hadn't gone downhill from first book to sequel neither WIZARD nor RINGWORLD ENGINEERS could be anything more than \another/ travelogue --- and I'd rather travel myself than read somebody else's rehashing of the same territory, however imaginary. If a character is not in some tight place, his choices can be no more significant than the choice of orange or grapefruit juice for breakfast; it's only when penalties are attached to all possible choices that the situation is interesting. (David Gerrold described this in his book on what was right and wrong with STAR TREK, saying that the best episodes [with the possible exception of the two comedies] could be summarized as "Captain Kirk has to make a choice between
-- Earth's history and the woman he loves
..." (can't remember the other examples offhand).)
[2018 EDIT: This review was written at the time as I was running my own personal BBS server. Much of the language of this and other reviews written in 1980 reflect a very particular kind of language: what I call now in retrospect a “BBS language”.]