Archive for the ‘Science fiction’ Category
Interesting to read at this particular time in history, when it looks as though nations are going through the story cycle, nations being one of the stories we tell ourselves. (Cf. memes, which survive if they are replicated by others—that is, only if they are “catchy” in some way, so that more people are drawn into the meme. Darwinian evolution takes care of the rest.
Josh Jones posts at Open Culture:
Kurt Vonnegut’s 1963 novel Cat’s Cradle resembles its title, a web of overlapping and entangled stories, all of which have huge holes in the middle. And the book—as have many of his slim, surrealist pop masterpieces—was read by many critics as lightweight—whimsical and sentimental. One reviewer in The New York Review of Books, for example, called Vonnegut a “compiler of easy to read truisms about society who allows everyone’s heart to be in the right place.”
Not so, argues University of Puerto Rico scholar Mark Wekander Voigt. For all its silliness—such as its Calypso-heavy “parody of a modern invented religion that will make everyone happy”—Cat’s Cradle, writes Voigt, “is essentially about the moral issues involved in a democratic government using the atom bomb.” Vonnegut’s novel suggests that “to be really ethical, to think about right and wrong, means that we must dispense with the authorities who tell us what is right and wrong.”
John, the hero of Cat’s Cradle, begins his absurdist hero’s quest by intending to write a “factual” accounting of what “important Americans had done on the day when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.” The references would not have been lost on Vonnegut’s contemporary readers, who would all have been familiar with John Hersey’s harrowing 1946 Hiroshima, the most popular book ever written about the dropping of the bomb, with six survivor’s stories told in a thrilling, engaging style and “all the entertainment of a well-written novel.”
Vonnegut, however, writes an alienating anti-novel, in part to demonstrate his point that “to discuss the ethical implications of dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, one should not look at the victims, but at those who were involved in developing such a bomb and their government.” Increasingly, however, it becomes harder and harder to look at anything directly. In the novel’s parody religion, Bokononism, all lies are potentially truths, all truths potentially lies. Language in the military-industrial-complex world of the bomb, Vonnegut suggests, had become as changeable and potentially deadly as the substance called “Ice-9,” a polymorph of water that can instantly turn rivers, lakes, and even whole oceans into ice.
Evoking the novel’s high-wire balancing act of goofy songs and rituals and metaphors for the global annihilation of the earth by nuclear weapons, the 2001 album above [in post at the link – LG[, Ice-9 Ballads, pairs Vonnegut with composer Dave Soldier and the Manhattan Chamber orchestra for an adaptation, of sorts, of Cat’s Cradle.. . .
I would not be surprised to see an uptick in Vonnegut’s popularity over the next few years.
More info in this Motherboard article:
When I read H.G. Wells in junior high, I was enthralled. Roger Luckhurst was interviewed by Five Books and has some interesting things to say:
Three of the books that you have selected to talk about today were written early in H G Wells’ career, in the 1890s. Do you think that his biggest contribution to literature has been those early scientific romances?
Yes, that’s probably right. There is a common critical line about Wells which is that he started off young and enthusiastic, writing lively, ambivalent and ambiguous works. He seemed to be delightedly thinking up new ways of destroying humanity over and over again, or perversely pointing out how we were all going to degenerate down the evolutionary scale, back into sea squids. His work of the 1890s is satirical and provocative.
Then, quite early in his career, he became a famous writer and personality very fast, and in a sense started to treat himself too seriously. He did a famous lecture in 1902 at the Royal Institution called The Discovery of the Future, where he essentially said: fiction is boring! We can scientifically predict the future! And that is what I am going to do in this lecture. Some critics of Wells say that that is what he did for the next 44 years of his life. He got increasingly didactic and uninteresting; literary people in the liberal establishment like Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster hated him; he became estranged from early fans like Henry James. After his early work, he only wrote didactic utopias and non-fiction about ‘world government’. He hectored.
I think this picture is way too simple, but it is the case that if you are interested in science fiction and popular culture, then those early works—The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau—are crucial. After that, he did write some interesting works in a bewilderingly diverse array of genres, including social realism and utopias. He even had a religious phase briefly during the First World War, but also wrote histories, textbooks, novels and endless utopias. It was a very diverse career, not easy to encapsulate.
What is the enduring appeal of his early scientific romances? Why do people still read them?
He is not the ‘father of science fiction’, as people sometimes say, but he was part of a generation that was beginning to think about science as a resource for literature. I think he was very lucky to be born when he was, in 1866. He got the benefit of the Education Act of 1870, which meant he could go to college and be among the first generation to be taught scientific subjects. Consequently when he became a journalist in the 1890s his frame of reference was no longer Greek and Roman and Classical literature, as it would have been if he had been to public school and university.
So he was a young upstart from the petit bourgeoisie, of a generation that was relying on new kinds of knowledge. His cleverness was in being able to put them into a new kind of the old romance form and produce the ‘scientific romance’. They are a deliberate mix of new and old: romances rather than novels. They can be utopian or dystopian, but not in the style of literary utopia, established by Thomas More, which is often quite static, descriptive and boring. Instead, Wells’ fictions are dynamic and melodramatic, full of wild, disordered emotions, sensations of sublime awe, and total horror. You’re never quite sure where the sympathies lie, and that ambiguity is why I think they endure.
Writing about The Time Machine, you have identified the ‘Further Vision’—which occurs towards the end of the book—as one of Wells’ most impressive literary passages. Could you talk us through this scene? . . .
On page 126 of Daniel Suarez’s Kill Decision (excellent sf techno-thriller set in near future):
There were Westerners who looked with concern at the suffering of burgeoning Third World populations, but Odin knew that Mother Nature wasn’t the nurturing type. In fact, she might view the stable populations of the West as a failure—a rebellion against primordial order. Nature wanted only one thing: for creatures to produce viable offspring. After that, you were genetically dead. Nature had no more use for you. Your extended lifespan, your biography, your Hummel figurine collection, were all just taking up space. By some cosmic joke, nearly the entire scope of human experience was at odds with the biological world.
The problem here is that Odin (and Suarez) have too limited a perspective on Mother Nature, which not only provides the laws and settings for the emergence of lifeforms and their subsequent evolution, but has also produced another emergence from that: memes, the units on which human culture is based and whose interactions drive memetic/cultural evolution. Memes evolve at a rate millions of times faster than do lifeforms, and nowadays the dominant force in human life is not biological evolution but memetic evolution. Indeed, the novel itself is about the evolution of memes and how humans created an environment that supports and nourishes memes and facilitates their evolution.
He should read The Meme Machine, by Susan Blackmore. And he’s not the only one.
I just made a big pot of chili, cooling now for dinner. I more or less followed the recipe in this earlier post, the way I more or less follow all recipes. (Differences: I skipped the Ro-Tel tomatoes, but used a 28-oz can of San Marzano tomatoes, along with 8-10 mild green Hatch chilis chopped.; 2 green bell peppers, 2 onions; red-wine vinegar; chocolate instead of cocoa powder.) But I did include (for example) the liquid smoke, blackstrap molasses, Illy coffee (2 Tbsp of the grounds), and a square of 100% cacao baking chocolate, along with a good glug of authentic Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce (none of that US crap—important differences: malt vinegar and no high-fructose corn syrup). I buy the meat from Safeway’s “Manager’s bin”, where items land on the very last day they can be sold: great bargains (50% off the Safeway Club price).
I’m continuing to read The Martian, and I may reread Robinson Crusoe when I’m done. RC is such a satisfactory novel, and is based upon an actual person: Alexander Selkirk. And who knows? That may get back once more to start again on the seafaring friendship of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin with Master and Commander, a charming novel.
I am bemused at Hollywood’s weird decisions, the current example being the choice of Tom Cruise (5’8″) to play Jack Reacher (6’5″). Why not choose Vince Vaughn (6’5″), given that Tim Robbins (6’5″) is now somewhat long in the tooth? The illusion can be stretched only so far, after all. (Granted: they did not choose Peter Dinklage (4’5″)—a shame: he seems to me to be a better actor than Tom Cruise and has the added benefit of not being a Scientologist. (I can remember when L. Ron Hubbard started that dodge, telling someone—Damon Knight?—that the Big Bucks were in religion, not science fiction.))