Admiral Naismith (admnaismith) wrote in bookish,
Admiral Naismith
admnaismith
bookish

November Book Post

Finding Serenity, edited by Jane Espensen :
May 3, 2002
Dear Joss,
Your pilot sucked. One word: BORING.
I'm a busy man, and to have to take time out to watch a piece of crap like this pilot pains me. Obviously, I didn't watch the whole thing. I had my secretary edit it down to the most interesting seventeen minutes. Nevertheless, I fell asleep twice.
The only part that caught my eye was the naked girl in the box...and then it turns out she's his sister! Boring! Have you considered making ALL the girls whores? Sort of a Mustang Ranch in space? Now that would bring ratings!
Things continue to go well for me. Our administration contacts are paying off, and it looks like our Guantanamo Bay reality show is going to happen. As it turns out, enemy combatants don't have to sign releases. In fact, according to my administration sources,
they have no rights at all!! Not even the Geneva Convention! This is a reality show producer's wet dream, as you can well imagine. We've promised John A. that we'll keep the death toll down, but otherwise we have free rein. This will be bigger than Littlest Groom and Amputee Bachelorette combined!
So life is good, and I'm feeling generous. I'm giving you another chance. I'm going to make my instructions clear, because I sense you aren't real good with Instructions.
One, dump the pilot. It's not remotely savable.
Two, make a new pilot. It needs to have the following elements: torture (ideally by someone with an old-world European accent), a big shootout, a whore (with a heart of gold), trains (everyone likes trains), and the gratutious but justified murder of a captured prisoner (special request from John A). Can you manage this? Let me rephrase. Manage this!
We need a script in two days. So stop loafing around!
Did I make it clear that your JOB is at stake?
Yours in quality programming,
Early "Nutcracker" Jubal, Vice President, FOX Programming


A mixed bag collection of writings about Firefly, ranging from hilariously funny parodies to deep philosophy to pointless wanking. The topics are a who's who of college writing assignments, from "what Inara has to say about the role of female sexuality" to "what Asians have to say about how Asians are treated on Firefly", to what Jewel Staite really does have to say about her favorite bits of each episode. I was kinda surprised at the number of contributors who were utterly fascinated with Zoe (who was my least favorite of the nine major characters, although my least favorite Firefly character is comparable to my worst orgasm ever: still super-awesome), and wish there had been at least one essay about Mal or more than a couple of brief mentions of Shepard Book. The book came out not long after FOX "stopped the signal", and before the Serenity movie, and it was amusing to see where the speculations about where the show would have gone if continued were completely wrong, and where they were spot on. One male contributor, celebrating all the feminist girl-power he perceives on the show (almost salivating at the idea of the female characters outshooting or outwitting the clueless, dorky male characters), detects hints that River Tam is not as helpless and waiflike as she seems, and that she may well prove to be the most dangerous person on the ship (Ya think?). A female contributor, complaining that Whedon sold out to the patriarchy with the sexist old “western” genre (she dislikes the near-equality of Zoe and Wash’s marriage and wishes Zoe was clearly the dominant partner) sees River as fragile and timid and stereotypically in need of her brother to rescue her.

One writer claims that Joss Whedon was deeply influenced by existentialism, and in particular by Sartre's book Nausea (See my bookpost, June 2009 for my take on that wretched, wretched book). If so, I'm stunned. Most things about Whedon are life-affirming, hope inspiring, and put the bad stuff in perspective. Sartre makes me need to hide the cutlery.


The Chicago Gangster Theory of Life, by Andrew Ross :
The Batman films offer a similar mythography of the city's landscape, where crime, runaway development, environmental abuse, and decaying public services are omnipresent features of the Gotham scene. (The original set design, by Anton Furst, was supposed to be a standard SF near-future, except that it was an alternate New York, developed as if there had been no zoning laws or building regulations--skyscrapers are not then cut back, they almost form a high rise vault over the city.) The villains in these films are associated with toxic and genetic mutation, accidents involving chemical waste in the case of the Joker, and acculturation to the sewage system in the case of the Penguin, himself the mutant result of "miscegenation" between a circus freak show and the daughter of an old aristocratic family. Max Schreck, the capitalist slimeball whose sham populist philanthropy is in class conflict with Bruce Wayne's old blue-blood morality, is exposed as a public utilities profiteer, a slumlord owner of half the fire traps in the city, and a major industrial polluter of toxic wastes. Looking for a mayoral candidate to further his interests, he endorses the Penguin, underworld crime boss, whose campaign platform is to "stop global warming and start global cooling now". Catwoman, the alternative, feminist vigilante, courted as an ally by all of the above, is the only one who ends the film with respect. But by that point, she is as homeless as an alleycat.

This one jumped out at me for, oh, some reason. It must have been the gangsters. Yes, that’s it. The gangsters. Anyhow, this is a work of genius and everybody should buy it.

The title is a reference to a Richard Dawkins quote about how, if we were told that a certain person had lived a long and successful life in Chicago gangster culture, we might assume that said person possessed certain cultural traits. This collection of interrelated long musings on various aspects of American culture looks at what those assumed traits might be and how valid the assumption is. Along the way, Ross explores the effects of tourism on indigenous Hawaiian culture and the inner cities, lessons from the failure of earnest environmental activism, the Iron John Men’s movement, and competing visions of the future as influenced by genetic advances.

For someone who regularly reads books written in previous centuries, it’s interesting to see how amazingly dated a book published in 1994 can be. Ross focuses on “outrageous” excesses of Republicans in the pre-Newtist Congressional minority and the Administration of Bush the Elder, excesses that seem downright tame after eight years of Bush the Younger. He also, very unfortunately, dwells at great length on the horrors of the World Trade Center bombing...of 1993.


Delilah, by Marcus Goodrich :
She was very slim and light. She was always tense, often atremble, and never failed to give the impression of being a mass of almost terrible power wrapped in a thin and fragile blue-grey skin. The materials that went into the making of her complete being were more curious and varied than those that went to complete her creator, Man...for Man, himself, formed part of her bowels, heart and nerve centres. She ate great quantities of hunked, black food, and vented streams of grey debris. Through her coiled veins pumped vaporous, superheated blood at terrific pressure. She inhaled noisily and violently through four huge nostrils, sent her hot breath pouring out through four handsome mouths and sweated delicate, evanescent, white mist. Her function in existence was to carry blasting destruction at high speed to floating islands of ment; and her intended destiny, at the opposite pole from that of the male bee, was to die in the act of impregnating her enemy with death. It was, perhaps, for this reason that she carried her distinctly feminine bow, which was high and very sharp, with graceful arrogance and some slight vindictiveness, after the manner of a perfectly controlled martyr selected for spectacular and aristocratic sacrifice. Her name was Delilah.

As with Cozzens’s Guard of Honor (Book post, September 2009), this book blew me away and caused me to be baffled that it is not widely read outside military circles. The basic premise is the one articulated by Joss Whedon much later: Take some characters; put them in peril; find out who they are.

The place is the Philippines, prior to American entry into World War I. The characters are the crew of a clunky old coal-powered destroyer reminiscent of the clunky boat Humphrey Bogart piloted in The African Queen, only much larger and more heavily armed. And the peril is not from naval combat with the enemy, or even from the raging ocean, but from cultural barriers and violence between American and Filippino, officer and enlisted man, Catholic and atheist, the educated and uneducated, in the form of misunderstandings, games and contests that turn ugly, poorly applied regulations, and confrontations with inner demons. The erudite prose describes primitive impulses and every day happenings in a light which makes their importance take on meaning-of-the-Universe dimensions, and the perspective of the narrative shifts until it has given at least one turn to almost every person on board the shift. Excellently crafted and highly recommended.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen, fucked with by Seth Grahame-Smith :
A few of the guests, who had the misfortune of being too near the windows, were seized and feasted on at once. When Elizabeth stood, she saw Mrs. Long struggle to free herself as two female dreadfuls bit into her head, cracking her skull like a walnut, and sending a shower of dark blood spouting as high as the chandeliers.
As guests fled in every direction, Mr. Bennett’s voice cut through the commotion. “Girls! Pentagram of Death!”
Elizabeth immediately joined her four sisters, Jane, Mary, Catherine and Lydia in the center of the dance floor. Each girl produced a dagger from her ankle and stood at the tip of an imaginary five-pointed star. From the center of the room, they began stepping outward in unison, each thrusting a razor sharp dagger with one hand, the other hand modestly tucked into the small of her back.
From a corner of the room, Mr. Darcy watched Elizabeth and her sisters work their way outward, beheading zombie after zombie as they went. He knew of only one other woman in all of Great Britain who wielded a dagger with such skill, such grace, and deadly accuracy.
By the time the girls reached the walls of the assembly hall, the last of the unmentionables lay still.

A spectacular rewriting of the original Pride and Prejudice, with the distinction that Smith has added a long term zombie uprising to the background of Austen’s England. Mr. Bennett now acts as Watcher over five Slayers, who go to the usual teas and balls and impress suitors with their skill at wit, dancing, music, fashion, parlor games, feats of strength, kung-fu, bladework....you know, girl stuff.

Great fun, but you have to be at least familiar with the original to fully appreciate it. I was hooked and enthralled from the opening line, It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.

The book has been so successful that other monster-mashup writers have come forward with titles like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Little Women and Werewolves (Yes, for real), and pretty soon we’re likely to see the ninja-girl heroines of Little House In Amityville, The Secret Gargoyle, The Color Black, To Kill a Mocking Poltergeist, Heidi Vs. Godzilla, Rebecca of Hellmouth Farm and Mary Poppins Comes Back From the Grave. The problem is, I expect this is a gimmick that only works once, and gets old faster than the last couple of seasons of Buffy.

Paper Towns, by John Green :
"Q, you're going to go to Duke. You're going to be a very successful lawyer-or-something and get married and have babies and live your whole little life, and then you're going to die, and in your last moments, when you're choking on your own bile in the nursing home, you'll say to yourself: 'Well, I wasted my whole goddamned life, but at least I broke into SeaWorld with Margo Roth Spiegelman my senior year in high school. At least I carpe'd that one diem.'"
"Noctem", I corrected.
"Okay, you're the grammar king again. You've regained your crown. Now take me to SeaWorld."


I read this amazing YA book because my 16 year old borrowed it from a friend and had such a good time with it that I noticed and asked to read it too. I'm glad I did. Paper Towns is one of those books that is so perfect at what it does that it doesn't even matter if you're the target market. If I'm not really a YA any more (oh, to be ninety again!), for a few short hours, in my imagination, I once again experienced adolescence...as it should be.

Part of my instant connection with this book stems from a recurring vision I've had, of a hot babe in a tight-fitting ninja suit rappeling down the side of my dreary office building and saying to me through the window, "Life's too short for that shit--wanna come have an adventure?" Paper Towns opens with just such an adventure, and concludes with a teen road trip...as it should be (The character who always has to pee is greeted with a chorus of NO!! Hold it in! Hold it like a man! Hold it like a Victorian woman holds onto her maidenhead! Hold it with peace and dignity, the way the President of the United States holds the fate of the free world!). Another part was the conversation my 16 year old's friends had in the margins (The next time someone says "Pirates or Ninjas?" to me, I will say, 'MARGO!!'). Try as you might, you won't be reading that particular book. You will, however, meet the amazing Margo Roth Spiegelman, who easily displaced Travis Taylor's Anson Clemons, Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen and Terry Pratchett's Granny Weatherwax for the title of most memorable character I've discovered all year. She's the confident, effortlessly super-cool kid that every geek-boy has a crush on...or is she? Between road trip adventures and hilarious snappy dialogue, the story has a lot to say about the cardboard caricatures of modern suburban adulthood, but about the caricatures of those who seem to transcend the mold, and the dangers of projecting the qualities you long to see in others onto the people who really exist as their own person. As someone who has fallen into that trap countless times, and who has lately even been on the receiving end of misplaced admiration, I could relate to that message.

Highest recommendations, regardless of your age. You will read it and like it...or else you may get a visit from Margo.

Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer :
From our quiet corner we had a wonderful view of all that went on. An endless host of people filed by the young God-King to receive his blessing. With their heads bowed in humble obeisance and their tongues hanging out, they presented a strange picture. None dared look up. A light touch with a sort of silken mop replaced the laying on of hands with which we and the monks had been honored. None of the visitors came empty-handed. Some brought only threadbare scarves, but there were pilgrims with a retinue of bearers laden with gifts. Every offering is immediately registered by the treasurer and, if usable, added to the household stores of the Potala. The numerous silk scarves are afterwards sold or given to prize winners in athletic contests. The money offerings remain as the personal property of the Dalai Lama. They flow into the gold and silver rooms of the Potala, in which immense treasures have been accumulated for centuries and inherited by one incarnation after another.

Harrer, an Austrian mountain climber and elite athlete, managed to avoid WWII in the most astonishing way I've yet come across. He was on an expedition to the Himalayas when the war broke out, and was immediately interred in a detention camp in India by the English (who, unlike the Americans, did not limit their internment practices to the Japanese). This is the story of Harrer's daring escape from that camp, of his even more daring trek across the mountains through Tibet to the forbidden city of Lhasa, and of his subsequent adventures there.

Unlike Alexandra David-Neel, whose adventures in My Journey to Lhasa (Book Post, February 2009) end almost as soon as she makes it there, Harrer ends up openly applying for and receiving a rare permit to remain in Lahsa, followed by privileges apparently never given to any other occidental, culminating in attendance at the most intimate rituals of Buddhism and a post as tutor to the prepubescent 14th Dalai Lama...the same one who is alive today, and who, even in the 1940s, was astonishing the holiest elders in comparison with previous Dalai Lamas. Harrer's adventure only ends when Tibet itself does, as he accompanies the Dalai Lama in flight from the Chinese Communists, leaving the reader stunned that the young United Nations, so full of hope and eager to intervene in Israel and the Suez, would do nothing to save a unique, unwarlike and beautiful culture from unprovoked invasion.

One of the most fascinating works of nonfiction I've read in years. Very highly recommended.

All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren :
"No," the Boss corrected. "I'm not a lawyer. I know some law. In fact, I know a lot of law. And I made me some money out of law. But I'm not a lawyer. That's why I can see what the law is like. It's like a single-bed blanket on a double bed and three folks in the bed and a cold night. There ain't ever enough blanket to cover the case, no matter how much pulling and hauling, and somebody is always going to nigh catch pneumonia. Hell, the law is like the pants you bought last year for a growing boy, but it is always this year and the seams are popped and the shank bone's to the breeze. The law is always too short and too tight for growing humankind. The best you can do is do something and then make up some law to fit and by the time the law gets on the books you would have done something different. Do you think half the things I've done were clear, distinct, and simple in the constitution of this state?"
"The Supreme Court has ruled--" Hugh Miller began.
"Yeah, and they ruled because I put 'em there to rule it, and they saw what had to be done. Half the things weren't in the constitution but they are now, by God. And how did they get there? Simply because somebody did 'em.
And do you kn ow what I'm going to do now? Soon as I bust the tar out of that gang? I'm going to build me the God-damnedest, biggest, chromium-platedest, formaldehyde-stinkingest free hospital and health center the All-Father ever let live. Boy, I tell you, I'm going to have a cage of canaries in every room that can sing Italian Grand Opera and there ain't going to be a nurse hasn't won a beauty contest in Atlantic City and every bedpan will be eighteen carat gold and by God, every bedpan will have a Swiss music box attachment to play 'Turkey in the Straw' or 'The Sextet from Lucia', take your choice."


This one, by America’s first poet laureate, may not be on my top ten books of all time, but it’s definitely among the top twenty, and the top ten American books. It’s based on the career of Louisiana populist Governor Huey Long, and is steeped in political and spiritual corruption, but Warren manages to create beauty and meaning on every page. It was hard to decide on just one quote to represent the book; literally there were dozens of passages—some on almost every page—that made me stop and pause to contemplate the beauty of language as used even by not-too-bright people and plain-spoken political professionals.

Although, primary a book of American politics—the best novel ever written on the subject, in my opinion—the themes stretch to just about every aspect of public and private life, values and ethics. The central theme, to the extent there is one, is of historical interconnectedness and consequences of actions that ripple to the farthest corners of one’s life. The narrator, Jack Burden, is a conundrum wrapped in enigmas, and his mentor, the political kingpin Willie Stark, is a mess of contradictions, idealism and savagery, who somehow manages to be a coherent whole even as he strongarms and blackmails his way into staffing his dream hospital while burning with indignation at the very thought of selling the construction job as a political favor.

Just read it. You’ll be glad you did.

The Sleeping Car Murders, by Sebastian Japrisot :
The woman was stretched diagonally across the lowest of the three berths on the right, with her legs hanging awkwardly over the edge, so that her feet were invisible. Her eyes were open, stonily reflecting the light from the open door. Her clothing--a dark suit and a white blouse--was disordered, but no more so, he thought, than that of any traveler who had slept on a second class berth fully dressed. Her left hand was clasped tightly around the edge of the berth. Her right hand was spread out flat on the thin mattress, so that her entire body seemed to have been petrified in the act of trying to get up. The skirt of the suit had been pulled up around the knees. A black pump with a very high heel was lying on the gray SNCF blanket which was rolled in a ball at the foot of the berth.
The man who checked the corridors swore softly and stared at the corpse for twelve seconds. The thirteenth second, he looked at the lowered blind on the window of the compartment. The fourteenth, he glanced at his watch. It was 8:20. He swore again, wondered vaguely which one of his superiors he should notify, and began searching in his pockets for a key to lock the compartment.
Fifty minutes later, the blind had been lifted and the sun had moved around so that its rays lay across the woman's knees. Inside the compartment, the police photographer was aiming his camera at the recumbent figure, and flash bulbs were popping systematically.


This is a French police procedural in which the jaded inspectors go through the motions of investigating a murder on a train. Their attention perks up a bit when others on their list of passenger-suspects begin to turn up dead, including those who have already given interviews indicating that they had seen nothing and did not know the victim.

As usual with mysteries, it’s hard to comment without risking spoilers, and so all I’ll say is, it’s a moderately clever one. If you like mysteries that remind you of chess puzzles, you’ll have some fun with it. Stop and try to figure out who and why just before starting the chapter entitled “Berth 000”.


Man’s Fate, by Andre Malraux :
The peace of the night once more. Not a siren, nothing but the lapping of the water. Along the banks, near the street lamps crackling with insects, coolies lay sleeping in postures of people afflicted by the plague. Here and there, little round red posters; on them was figured a single character: HUNGER. He felt, as he had a while ago with Ch'en, that on this very night, in all China, and throughout the West, including half of Europe, men were hesitating as he was, torn by the same torment between their discipline and the massacre of their own kind. Those stevedores who were protesting did not understand. But, even when one understood, how choose the sacrifice, here, in this city to which the West looked for the destiny of four hundred million men and perhaps its own, and which was sleeping on the edge of the river in the uneasy sleep of the famished--in impotence, in wretchedness, in hatred?

The best part of this book is its portrayal of the 1920s Shanghai depicted in the first scenes of the second Indiana Jones movie, only after Lao Che and his fellow war lords have been displaced by an alliance between Chiang Kai-Shek and the communists, which is promptly broken as soon as Chiang has control of the city.

Most of the main characters are not Chinese; they are adventurers and revolutionaries from France, Germany, Russia, Japan. The main theme of the book has to do with how each of them faces destinies and events beyond their control, and to that extent, I found it very bleak and dull. In fact, it's hard to imagine a book with a plot so filled with action, violence, political intrigue, daring escapes and tragic failures that somehow manages to simultaneously bore the reader. The life-and death situations and ideals don't much matter if you don't care about the characters.

It comes complete with a pompous foreword by a dedicated leftist who promises that, with this important new book, readers at last have a literature that speaks to them. Seems to me, such revolutionary new speaking literature would have something to say that doesn't imply the essential meaninglessness of all things.

The Masters, by C.P. Snow :
"The Master of the college must be a distinguished scholar," said Francis.
"I don't mind that as much as you," I said. "I'm not a perfectionist."
"What has he done?" said Francis. "We can't have a man who's done nothing."
"It's not so much what he's done as what he is," I said. "As a human being there's a great deal in him."
"I don't see it."
He had lost his temper. I was trying to keep mine. But I heard an edge coming into my voice.
"I can't begin to explain the colour red," I said, "to a man who's colour blind. You'd better take my word for it--"
"You get more fun out of human beings than I do," he said. But I don't want to choose someone who gives you the maximum amount of fun. I just want a decent Master of this college."
"If you're trying to secure that by cutting out all human judgment," I said, "you'll make the most unforgivable mistake."
Francis walked three strides, three of his long, plunging strides, to the fire and back. His steps fell heavy in the quiet room.
"Look," he said, "how much are you committed?"
"Completely."
"It's sheer utter irresponsibility. It's the first time I've seen you lose your balance. You must have gone quite mad."
"When I say completely," I said, "I could get out of it if there were a reason. But there won't be one. He satisfies what I want better than anyone we shall find."


Somewhere along the line, I came across a quote to the effect that the most contemptibly small struggles for power are found in University politics, reminiscent of dung beetles fighting over an anthill. This story, about thirteen respectable British academics who split into factions over the election of a new Master of the college while the old one is still on his deathbed, reminded me of that quote. The amazing things are that all but one of the academics is ultimately more likable than not, and that the arguments and conflict really do inspire more suspense and interest than contempt.

I first discovered Snow via one of the very best whodunnits I’ve found to date, Death Under Sail. The Masters is a completely different genre handled very well. From the jacket, I learn that it’s part of a wider semi-autobiographical series featuring the narrator Lewis Elliot. This book, however, stands quite self-contained.

God’s Little Acre, by Erskine Caldwell :
”You see that piece of ground over yonder, Pluto? Well, that’s God’s little acre. I set aside an acre of my farm for God twenty seven years ago when I bought this place, and every year I give the church all that comes off that acre of ground. If it’s cotton, I give the church all the money the cotton brings at market. The same with hogs, when I raised them, and about corn too, when I plant it. That’s God’s little acre, Pluto. I’m proud to divide what little I have with God.”
“What’s growing on it this year?”
“Growing on it? Nothing, Pluto. Nothing but maybe beggarlice and cockleburs now. I just couldn’t find the time to plant cotton on it this year. Me and the boys and the darkies have been so busy with other things I just had to let God’s little acre lie fallow for the time being.”
Pluto sat up and looked across the field towards the pine woods. There were such great piles of excavated sand and clay heaped over the ground that it was difficult to see much further than a hundred yards without climbing a tree.
“Where’d you say that acre of land was, Ty-Ty?”
“Over there near the woods. You won’t be able to see much of it from over here.”
“Why did you put it way over there? Ain’t that a sort of out-of-the-way place for it to be, Ty-Ty?”
“Well, I’ll tell you, Pluto. It ain’t always been where it is now. I’ve been compelled to shift it around a heap during the past twenty seven years. When the boys get to discussing where we’ll start digging anew, it seems like it always falls on God’s little acre. I don’t know why that is, either. I’m set against digging on His ground, so I’ve been compelled to shift it around over the farm to keep from digging it up.


I was surprised to find that Erskine Caldwell was in fact a native Southerner from Coweta County. I would have expected God's Little Acre to be the product of a snooty city slicker from the north, eager to laugh at the expense of ThoseDumbRednecks. The blurb on the book refers to “the moving and intimate story of simple, earthy country people”. Instead, Caldwell throws early and often every offensive stereotype of the rural South; the violent racism, cradle-robbing incest, absence of hygiene, ostentatious displays of religion masking cores of amoral stupidity, laziness and greed.

When Ty-Ty is told that an albino has dowsing powers, he heads out to catch one, marching him from his home at the point of a shotgun to force him to work Ty-Ty's land. This is supposed to be funny because the albino is all-white, and Ty-Ty doesn't understand that that’s the wrong color of person to treat that way. Later on, having neglected his crops to dig for gold, and having built a pit that threatens to literally swallow his house, he tries to pimp his son's wife in exchange for a loan. You can almost hear the laugh track going wild: Oh that wacky white trash; there just ain't no changing their ways!

A long time ago, I read a mind-bogglingly offensive book called Stay Away, Joe, about a family of Native Americans that "hilariously" manages to gradually lose the entire cattle herd granted to them by the government, along with most other things of value that they own, through a succession of bad trades, stupid decisions, and successful attempts to cheat each other. In that book, as in God's Little Acre, the reader is invited to laugh at the resulting misery, because such results are inevitable with "those people", and the biggest folly was to entrust such subhumans with anything of value in the first place. This may be a laugh riot to some people, but not to me.

Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino :
Pitch dark, it was, old Qfwfq confirmed, I was only a child, I can barely remember it. We were there, as usual, with Father and Mother, Granny Bb'b, some uncles and aunts who were visiting, Mr. Hnw, the one who later became a horse, and us little ones. I think I've told you before the way we lived on the nebulae; it was like lying down, we were very flat and still, turning as they turned. Not that we were lying outside, you understand, on the nebula's surface; no, it was too cold out there. We were underneath, as if we had been tucked in under a layer of fluid, grainy matter. There was no way of telling time; whenever we started counting the nebula's turns there were disagreements, because we didn't have any reference points in the darkness, and we ended up arguing. So we preferred to let the centuries flow by as if they were minutes; there was nothing to do but wait, keep covered as best we could, doze, speak out now and then to make sure we were all still there; and naturally, scratch ourselves; because...they can say what they like...all those particles spinning around had only one effect, a troublesome itching.

You know those presentations by the science department, in which they reduce the age of the Universe to the scale of a single year, and it turns out the human race only showed up in time for a couple of minutes at the very end of December 31? Cosmicomics is the story of the ones who were there for all of the earlier parts of that year.

The characters are conscious entities that evolve into people eventually, but who first must endure the rigors of getting along before the development of life, of matter, of color, of energy, of direction, of time and space (in fact, in Calvino’s whimsy, they were around in the previous Cosmic Year as well, as indicated in the chapter in which everyone is constantly underfoot before the Big Bang: How many of us were there? I was never able to figure that out, not even approximately. To make a count, we would have had to move apart, at least a little, and instead we all occupied the same point.) At times funny, heartbreaking, bitterly satirical and always uniquely imaginative, reminiscent of Swift at his most fanciful. Very high recommendations.
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