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Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

A Rookery of Pterodactyls

May 22, 2014 | by

In celebration of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s birthday, have a look at these illustrations from the original serialization of his novel The Lost World, which appeared in The Strand Magazine from April through November of 1912. Conan Doyle’s novel tells of an expedition to South America, where—wouldn’t you know it?—dinosaurs still roam the earth. Everyone associates Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes, but The Lost World also left its mark on popular culture: though Conan Doyle borrowed a large part of its conceit from Jules Verne, it remains the paradigm for a sort of swashbuckling supernatural adventure, full of bumbling professorial types and out-of-their-depth journalists and strapping, granite-abdomened men in pith helmets. It’s served as the source material for everything from The Land That Time Forgot to Land of the Lost and plain old Lost, and, of course, for Michael Crichton’s The Lost World, the sequel to Jurassic Park.

This is no country for Jeff Goldblum, but these illustrations, full of terror and adventure, do seem like the sort of thing Steven Spielberg and George Lucas might have hanging in their offices—and there’s definitely something of that Industrial Light & Magic awe in Conan Doyle’s vivid description of a pterodactyl nest:

Creeping to his side, we looked over the rocks. The place into which we gazed was a pit, and may, in the early days have been one of the smaller volcanic blow-holes of the plateau. It was bowl-shaped, and at the bottom, some hundreds of yards from where we lay, were pools of green-scummed, stagnant water, fringed with bulrushes. It was a weird place in itself, but its occupants made it seem like a scene from the Seven Circles of Dante. The place was a rookery of pterodactyls. There were hundreds of them congregated within view. All the bottom area round the water-edge was alive with their young ones, and with hideous mothers brooding upon their leathery, yellowish eggs. From this crawling flapping mass of obscene reptilian life came the shocking clamor which filled the air and the mephitic, horrible, musty odor which turned us sick. But above, perched each upon its own stone, tall, grey, and withered, more like dead and dried specimens than actual living creatures, sat the horrible males, absolutely motionless save for the rolling of their red eyes or an occasional snap of their rat-trap beaks as a dragon-fly went past them. Their huge membranous wings were closed by folding their forearms, so that they sat like gigantic old women, wrapped in hideous web-colored shawls, and with their ferocious heads protruding above them. Large and small, not less than a thousand of these filthy creatures lay in the hollow before us.

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Big as Life

March 12, 2014 | by

E. L. Doctorow’s prescient, forgotten sci-fi novel.

New_York_Skyline_-_June_1913_(LOC)

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

No living novelist has written about New York City with as much historical insight as E. L. Doctorow, this generation’s bard of the five boroughs. It seemed only a matter of time, then, before Doctorow grappled in his fiction with 9/11. But the recently released Andrew’s Brain is an unlikely 9/11 novel, at least from Doctorow. For one, it’s deliberately narrow in scope, structured as a claustrophobic dialogue between the titular character, a hapless titular scientist, and his faceless interlocutor, presumably a psychiatrist. Like his contemporaries—Don DeLillo with Falling Man, John Updike with Terrorist—Doctorow approaches the event not on a grand scale but in miniature.

In rambling, unreliable anecdotes, Andrew cycles through the devastating events of his adult life. As a sleep-deprived graduate student, he accidentally poisons his newborn daughter with faultily prescribed medicine. After his wife divorces him, Andrew, wracked with guilt, decamps for a small college in the Wasatch Mountains. There he meets Briony, a buoyant undergraduate gymnast—a manic pixie dream girl if ever there was one. Her improbable love lifts Andrew from his self-pitying grief cycle and allows him to experience happiness, at least fleetingly. She and Andrew marry and move to New York City, where Briony gives birth to a baby girl. Shortly thereafter, on a routine morning jog through downtown Manhattan, Briony dies in the September 11 attacks. In helpless despair, Andrew drives to his ex-wife’s suburban home and hands her his infant daughter, seemingly as a replacement for the one he had neglectfully killed years earlier. Read More »

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Papa’s Risqué Mash Note, and Other News

March 12, 2014 | by

Marlene_Dietrich_in_No_Highway_(1951)

Publicity still of Marlene Dietrich in No Highway. Image via Wikimedia Commons

  • “Drunk and naked I would advance from the rear, or your rear, wearing evening clothes.” A ribald note from Hemingway to Marlene Dietrich is soon to be auctioned—their relationship was, alas, never consummated, but if the price is right, you could own a record of their long flirtation, replete with such swooning phrases as “whore blood,” “foaming at the mouth,” and “Dearest Kraut.”
  • Talking doors, gossip machines, super-duper turntables: here’s what Philip K. Dick, writing from the vantage point of 1966, thought 1992 might have been like. Would that it were.
  • While we’re on sci-fi: the New Museum’s new exhibition, “Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module,” plunges you into the old socialist vision of space travel. “Filko has a wall-mounted tablet nearby where, donning a wall-tethered headset that brings your forehead unnaturally close to the screen, you can ponder his ruminations on the fourth dimension.”
  • “Tomorrow starts here.” “One course at a time.” “Be the difference.” The surprisingly vacuous phrases copyrighted by universities.
  • A newly reprinted 1856 essay gives German comedy quite the drubbing: “German humor generally shows no sense of measure, no instinctive tact; it is either floundering and clumsy as the antics of a leviathan, or laborious and interminable as a Lapland day, in which one loses all hope that the stars and quiet will ever come.”

 

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A Day in the Sun for Beleaguered Librarians, and Other News

February 3, 2014 | by

Librarian_accessing_pdq

Photo: Bill Branson

 

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Happy Birthday, Ursula Le Guin

October 21, 2013 | by

Earthsea+Maplarge

“I don’t think ‘science fiction’ is a very good name for it, but it’s the name that we’ve got. It is different from other kinds of writing, I suppose, so it deserves a name of its own. But where I can get prickly and combative is, if I’m just called a sci-fi writer. I’m not. I’m a novelist and poet. Don’t shove me into your damn pigeonhole, where I don’t fit, because I’m all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions.” —Ursula K. Le Guin, the Art of Fiction No. 221

 

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Turkey in a Suitcase

October 8, 2013 | by

Malzberg-Paris-Review

“To define terms at the outset, this will not be a novel so much as a series of notes toward one. Nevertheless pay attention.” —Barry N. Malzberg, Galaxies, 1975

I began vomiting somewhere over Turkmenistan. But it was not until the second day on the ground in Benares that I became desperately ill, losing a quarter of a pound an hour every hour for forty hours. “I figured you would be all right in the end,” Jamie told me after the ordeal was over. “Then again, I have seen patients die, and that is more or less what it looks like.”

From my India notebook:

A pair of mouse turds on the table. Amazing to think that I ever planned to write about this place. Why not spend ten years becoming better acquainted with my own country. And spend more time with S, you fool, what is it you think life is about. The river priest, dressed in brilliant orange, gives me his blessing, custom-tailoring my reincarnation: “Not come back as parrot, not come back as mosquito, not come back as dog.” Malzberg for TPR: The Falling Astronauts, In the Enclosure, his Kennedy books, Galaxies. Just because I like it doesn’t mean it isn’t crap.

That’s how much I wanted to write my Malzberg thing. And I would have done it, too, if I had lived.

* * *

I first encountered Barry N. Malzberg in my twenties during a confused summer spent with David Pringle’s Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels. Malzberg’s Galaxies was number seventy-seven.

Malzberg—author of Horizontal Woman and The Masochist and Oracle of the Thousand Handsand Screen and In My Parents’ Bedroom and many other books; aka K. M. O’Donnell, author of Final War, Universe Day, Gather in the Hall of the Planets, and so on; aka Howard Lee, who wrote novelizations of the 1970s television series Kung Fu, starring David Carradine; aka Mike Barry, author of Night Raider, Bay Prowler, Desert Stalker, Boston Avenger, etc.; aka Eliot B. Reston, author of The Womanizer; aka Claudine Dumas, author of Diary of a Parisian Chambermaid; aka Mel Johnson, writer of I, Lesbian and Instant Sex and Nympho Nurse and The Sadist and Do It to Me—was unquestionably a hack, God knows. He knew it, too. But what a workhorse! Read More »

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