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Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Big as Life

March 12, 2014 | by

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

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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

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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

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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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“One Murder Is Statistically Utterly Unimportant”: A Conversation with Warren Ellis

August 15, 2013 | by

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Somewhere, on an NSA server in Utah, there sits an email from Warren Ellis threatening to strangle me to death with my own intestines.

Our all-caching surveillance state is something that might have been thought up by Ellis himself. A writer of novels, comics, essays, and movies starring a machine-gun-toting Helen Mirren, Ellis looks more deeply than most into our potential futures. Born in working-class Southend-on-Sea, he is best known as the writer of the canonical graphic novel series Transmetropolitan. A decade before the Internet-enabled explosion of independent journalism, Transmet corrupted a generation of young reporters, giving them the notion that journalism was the bullet that could “blow a kneecap off the world.” In January, he published bestselling Gun Machine, which exploits genre conventions to explore the ghost cities that exist in both high finance and the minds of the insane. Most recently, Ellis released Dead Pig Collector, a novella about love and body disposal, as a Kindle Single with FSG. He is currently at work on his first book of nonfiction.

We’ve been friends and sometime collaborators for a decade. When I told him I’d like to interview him for The Paris Review, he demanded proof that the editor hadn’t confused him with the violinist Warren Ellis of The Bad Seeds. When Sadie emailed to confirm that she realized he was, in fact, the bestselling author, he wrote me back: “I DIDN’T SAY ‘BEST SELLING’ YOU HORRIBLE INFANT!”

Ellis wears a field hat, drinks very old whisky, and chain-smokes Silk Cut cigarettes. He is forty-five years old.

You’re semi-crack-addicted to information. Whenever we talk, you have a podcast, the Economist, some ambient drone music, and a reader full of links open. Dead Pig Collector was inspired by an article you read on Chinese garbage disposal. Tell me about your information consumption.

This is going to be just another way for you to insist I listen to the sounds of insects having sex and calling it music while you pollute your apartment with the strains of some idiot with a ukulele wailing about consumption and sodomy.

We call that culture. As an Englishman, you wouldn’t understand.  

What would you know about culture?  You come from the town that gave the world the cronut.

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