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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Wolfe’

A Brief History of Spacefarers

May 19, 2015 | by

How America imagines its astronauts.

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The Mercury Seven, 1960.

One of the things that makes the job title astronaut different from other jobs is that it existed in the collective imagination for centuries before it was ever actually anyone’s occupation. In the second century CE, Lucian of Samosata imagined travelers going to the moon and fighting a war with its inhabitants. In Jules Verne’s immensely influential 1865 novel, From the Earth to the Moon, the word astronaut is never used, but three men seal themselves into a metal capsule in order to fly to the moon. Many of the details Verne came up with were so outlandish as to invite ridicule if they had not become reality a hundred years later in the Apollo program, including a launch from Florida and a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Verne’s three space travelers behave in some ways we now associate with astronauts—they solve problems that arise on their mission, analyze new information they observe outside their windows, and do calculations to figure out their location and speed. On the other hand, they indulge in nonastronaut-like behaviors such as getting drunk, becoming histrionic about unexpected problems, and expressing doubt about the meaning of their journey, about whether they should be doing this at all.

One of the first uses of the word astronaut to refer to a human traveling in space was in Neil R. Jones’s short story “The Death’s Head Meteor,” in 1930.

The young astronaut entered the space flyer, closed the door, and was alone in the air-tight compartment just large enough to accommodate him. On the instrument board before him were dials, levers, gauges, buttons and queer apparatus which controlled and operated the various features of the craft. He turned on his oxygen supply and his air rejuvenator so that the air could be used more than once, after which he shoved his starting lever forward. The craft raced suddenly off the roof and into the cloudless sky above the vast city of the twenty-sixth century.

Jones was probably as surprised as anyone to learn how soon his new word became an actual job title, only twenty-nine years later. In between, during World War II, the first actual rockets emerged. This was the beginning of a new era in which the astronaut became a consistent character to tell stories about, if still speculative. Though the rockets weren’t ready to safely contain humans, their streamlined hulls brought with them a clearer image of the astronaut fantasy. Part fighter pilot, part frontiersman, the helmeted spaceman climbed into sleek machines and left Earth in the black-and-white television shows of the fifties. In 1954, Walt Disney created Man in Space, a series intended to promote his new Disneyland, which was set to open the following year. In the opening shot of the series, Walt himself speaks into the camera. “One of man’s oldest dreams has been the desire for space travel,” he tells us with an avuncular twinkle. “Until recently this seemed to be an impossibility.” Read More »

Authors in Uniform, and Other News

October 25, 2013 | by

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  • From Twain to Wolfe to Tartt: authors in uniform.
  • Fittingly enough, fisticuffs at the Norman Mailer: A Double Life party.
  • The Asterix reboot, set in ancient Scotland, is being hailed by (a few, possibly as few as none) Scottish nationalists as an endorsement in the referendum debates.
  • The Iranian culture minister promises a relaxation of book censorship under the new regime.
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    Anonymous Library Sculptures, and Other News

    June 21, 2013 | by

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  • Anonymous, bookish sculptures have been popping up at Scottish libraries.
  • “It’s nice to go out with a bang”: Alice Munro may (or may not) retire.
  • This will, predicts The New Republic, result in the sort of tedious furor that accompanies any such statement.
  • Some pediatricians are prescribing books to small children: great! (Lollipops are, presumably, a thing of the past.)
  • Tom Wolfe’s next bookThe Kingdom of Speech, is a “nonfiction account of the animal/human speech divide.”
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    We Have a … Winner? (NSFW-ish)

    December 5, 2012 | by

    The votes are in, the people have spoken, and the winner of the 2012 Bad Sex in Fiction Award is Canadian novelist Nancy Huston, for her novel Infrared. Here is the publisher’s description:

    Award-winning author Nancy Huston follows her bestselling novel, Fault Lines, winner of the Prix Femina, with an intensely provocative story about a passionate yet emotionally-wounded woman’s sexual explorations.

    After a troubled childhood and two failed marriages, Rena Greenblatt has achieved success as a photographer. She specializes in infrared techniques that expose her pictures’ otherwise hidden landscapes and capture the raw essence of deeply private moments in the lives of her subjects.

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    The Bad Sex in Fiction Award 2012: Shortlist

    November 20, 2012 | by

    The Literary Review has released the shortlist for the twentieth annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award. The nominees for achievement in terrible sex writing include:

  • The Yips, by Nicola Barker
  • The Adventuress, by Nicholas Coleridge
  • Infrared, by Nancy Huston
  • Rare Earth, by Paul Mason
  • Noughties, by Ben Masters
  • The Quiddity of Will Self, by Sam Mills
  • The Divine Comedy, by Craig Raine
  • Back to Blood, by Tom Wolfe
  • Mr. Wolfe, you will recall, is a previous winner, having taken top honors in 2004 for I Am Charlotte Simmons. He was deemed eligible for this year’s awards by dint of passages like the following:

    But then the tips of her breasts became erect on their own, and the flood in her loins washed morals, despair, and all other abstract assessments away in a cloud of some sort of divine cologne of his. Now his big generative jockey was inside her pelvic saddle, riding, riding, riding, and she was eagerly swallowing it swallowing it swallowing it with the saddle’s own lips and maw—all without a word.

    Bad, assuredly. But is it bad enough to take the prize? Find out on December 4. Until then, follow the process via @lit_review. (The tweets are tagged as #LRBadSex2012.)

    And for a glimpse into the judging process, check this out:

     

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    George Eliot’s Desk Stolen, and Other News

    November 20, 2012 | by

  • George Eliot’s writing desk has been stolen from the Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery in Warwickshire. (It’s a lap desk, so that was easier than it sounds.) A local councillor calls the theft “a low blow.”
  • “This event, mixing an author and an apartment, is just one of many such gatherings that have taken place at buildings across Manhattan in recent months.” Come for the reading, stay for the pricey real estate! Take heart from the fact that books are … bait?
  • Look on his works, and tremble: all Tom Wolfe’s books, arrayed.
  • In case you were wondering, Helen Vendler is reading John Ashbery and D. A. Powell. Among others. No novels, though! “If you like the precision and concision of poetry a page of prose is unsatisfying in a certain way.”
  • “We liked the the double meaning of weather and communication,” says Jay Schwartz of Dictionary.com, which has named bluster its word of 2012.
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