- Don DeLillo rereads his own opus, Underworld, seventeen years after its publication. (“Great fucking line,” he’s written next to “The subway seals you durably in the stone of the moment.”)
- In the thirties, William Mortensen was one of the most celebrated photographers in the nation—his pictures were “unabashedly theatrical, bizarre, and often louche.” What sank his reputation: a critical tiff with Ansel Adams.
- The Chinese State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television has moved to ban wordplay “on the grounds that it breaches the law on standard spoken and written Chinese, makes promoting cultural heritage harder and may mislead the public—especially children.” (An example of the now forbidden fruit: “replacing a single character in ke bu rong huan has turned ‘brook no delay’ into ‘coughing must not linger’ for a medicine ad.”)
- While we’re on censorship: In the quest for G-rated moon landings, NASA used to go to great lengths to scrub astronauts’ profanity from its transcripts. In the case of one particularly salty spaceman, they went further—they had him hypnotized. “A psychiatrist put the idea in his head that he would rather hum when his mind wandered.”
- On the history of fairy tales: “In the coded language of symbol and metaphor they chart the journey from childhood to adulthood. The Russian commentator Eleaser Meletinksji wrote, ‘It is even possible to say that the fairy tale begins with the break-up of one family and ends with the creation of a new one.’”
- Beatrice Kozera, the real-life inspiration for “Terry, the Mexican girl” in On the Road, has died, at ninety-two. Apparently she only learned of her involvement a few years ago.
- Monica Ali is one of the new faces of Marks and Spencer.
- “In a sign of the times, aspiring astronauts were asked to write a Twitter post, a limerick or a haiku as part of their NASA applications.” A good sign?
- Reports of the Nook’s death were greatly exaggerated.
- Is Edward Snowden really Thomas Pynchon?
You will be relieved to learn that Arthur C. Clarke’s DNA is going where no man has gone before. Prior to his 2008 death, the science fiction legend graciously donated several strands of hair to NASA’s “first ever solar sail mission into deep space.” The craft, named Sunjammer, after a 1964 Clarke story, will launch in 2014, with hair aboard.
On a brisk December day in 1972, the SS Statendam left New York Harbor with an extraordinary passenger list. Theoretical physicists, science fiction writers, a handful of paying passengers, a reporter from the New York Times, media personalities, and a couple of distinguished literary figures, including Norman Mailer. All were aboard for the ship’s destination, Cape Canaveral, to observe Apollo 17, the last manned rocket launch to the moon.
As the skyline receded in the distance, two individuals in black leather jackets and boots tried discreetly to mingle with the other passengers on deck. Eschewing the one thousand dollar passage and without the freebies extended to celebrity guests and credited media, they had simply strolled on board at the last minute. Once the ship cast off they became—in the legal parlance of the sea—stowaways. Stowaways with a mission to rescue Norman Mailer from the clutches of a diabolical cabal of elite space imperialists.
Advance media hype surrounding the Voyage Beyond Apollo, as it was billed, promised stellar seminars, expert panel discussions, and learned presentations by marquee names, including former astronaut Capt. Edgar Mitchell, top NASA rocketeer Wernher von Braun, sci-fi hero Arthur C. Clarke, and Mailer, whose 1970 book, Of a Fire on the Moon, qualified him as an expert on space travel. Read More