On my dad's birthday in 1963, Arkady Strugatsky wrote to his brother Boris:
...the entire program which you outlined can be completed in five days. But
On my dad's birthday in 1963, Arkady Strugatsky wrote to his brother Boris:
...the entire program which you outlined can be completed in five days. But first I'd like to tell you, my pale, flabby brother, that I'm for a light kind of thing--I'm talking about Seventh Heaven. So women would cry, walls would laugh, and five hundred villains would shout, "Get him! Get him!" -- and they wouldn't be able to do a thing with one communist.
Not one thing. And isn't Arkady dreamy?
Seventh Heaven, would later be called The Observer and then Hard to Be a God, and it is truly a splendid tale--plenty of adventure to enjoy, some evil totalitarianism to shake a fist at, some intellectual puzzles to ponder, and all in space. Marvelous.
I am fascinated by the process of these two brothers writing together. In this case the wonderful afterword as written by Boris shows at least for this book, Arkady coming up with the main idea, the 'sturdy substantial skeleton'. And then he fights for it. Five days after the letter above, he writes:
About The Observer [already the title has changed, how quickly they move!]. If you're interested in a rush of tumultuous life, then you will have a full opportunity to spill your guts in Days of Kraken and The Magicians. But what I'd like to do is write a novel about abstract nobility, honor, and joy, like Dumas. And don't you dare argue. Just one story without modern problems in naked form. I'm begging on my knees, bastard! My sword, my sword! Cardinals! Port taverns!
Swoon. I try to imagine collaborating like this with any of my three brothers and it leads me to wonder how many fist fights they had, days of not talking to each other...and yet their collaboration seems so fruitful, with multiple projects at play that I now get to read.
Just one story without modern problems in naked form. I'm begging on my knees...
I'm fairly smitten with Arkady. Of course, if he hadn't tossed out all of Boris's letters, I might be smitten with him too.
But god I want to write an adventure story. I can't believe I have to work.
On a final note about the book itself: I have to acknowledge this translation by Olena Bormashenko, it is beautifully written. This edition of course contains the fantastic afterward by Boris -- and this includes some of the politics about getting it published, which are equally fascinating. It has all the gravitas of the film version used as the cover. It doesn't quite capture My sword, my sword! though, does it? It is definitely appealing to the upper ranks of readers of 'books in translation', particularly of the high literature of the Russian variety. But I prefer one of the older ones, which captures nothing of the book but its exuberance. Daw paperbacks, how I miss you!
One of my favourite Lem novels, it possible worries me that it is one of those with the least amount of quirky strangeness and the most predictable plOne of my favourite Lem novels, it possible worries me that it is one of those with the least amount of quirky strangeness and the most predictable plot arc. Two of my favourite quotes:
Man -- he saw in a flash of insight -- had not yet reached the true pinnacle; he had not yet appropriated that galactocentric idea, praised since antiquity, whose real meaning could not consist in searching only for similar beings and learning to understand them, but rather in refraining from interfering with alien, non-human affairs. Conquer the void, of course; why not? but don't attack what already is, that which in the course of millions of years has achieved a balanced existence of its own, independent, not subject to anyone or anything, except the forces of radiation and matter -- an active existence, neither better nor worse than the existence of the amino-acid compounds we call animals or human beings (146).
This reminded me of the television show UFO, and that scene in Tarkovsky's Solaris pointed out by Mark Bould in his book on the same:
Horpach took off his coat. Underneath he was wearing trousers and a net undershirt (151).
And back to this old theme, on this remarkable evolution of non-living yet intuitive and sentient technology:
...now his desire was no longer merely to return and report what he had found out about their companions' deaths, but to request that this planet be left alone in the future.. Not everywhere had everything been intended for us, he thought as he slowly descended (182).
The last line:
There it towered, majestic as ever in its motionless grandeur -- as if it were indeed invincible (187).
I enjoyed this as much as the first one, fantasy that is rebellious of authority and proud in the face of power, women who are strong, a mixture of raI enjoyed this as much as the first one, fantasy that is rebellious of authority and proud in the face of power, women who are strong, a mixture of races without racism. At the same time it has created a remarkable and vibrant world with a vibrant set of characters, and damn, I always forget just how much I love magic. ...more
I love Disch's writing, and his imagination -- and this like everything else I've read is so clever. Almost showing off. Almost in that college boy juI love Disch's writing, and his imagination -- and this like everything else I've read is so clever. Almost showing off. Almost in that college boy juvenile sort of way, but he pulls it off. The crux of the whole book, apart from our government's evil propensity to experiment on prisoners (and the whole thing of course going dreadfully wrong):
But all we common people have the common sense to realize that genius, like the clap, is a social disease, and we take action accordingly. We put all of our geniuses in one kind or another of isolation ward, to escape being infected.
From other men I might not accept lines like that, or the origin of a new drug bestowing genius in the disease of syphilis, or the hairbrained paranoid, literary and alchemical directions that men might take their new powers, but as I say, Disch pulls it off. I loved the end, and besides, he writes sentences like 'Busk reined in her lips and galloped off'(82). ...more
I mostly liked these, especially the first one -- they're definitely worth a read. I loved the imagination of it, and the playing around with maps asI mostly liked these, especially the first one -- they're definitely worth a read. I loved the imagination of it, and the playing around with maps as symbols, symbols as maps, the different ways that we see and direct our paths through life that this is really all about. That and overcoming our fears, and a world that myth and magic erupts into. That's what I liked. Interpol as good guys? I didn't like that, nor that the most mythical thing in here is the love interest and his perfectness...I enjoy some romance, can't say I don't, but this was just a little too perfect and of course it ends in marriage and happy ever after. ...more
Found our old books from when I was kid, and I had forgotten just how awesme these were! I remembered choose your own adventure books -- and how I lovFound our old books from when I was kid, and I had forgotten just how awesme these were! I remembered choose your own adventure books -- and how I loved them -- but this was full of puzzles and games as well and I enjoyed it immensely, even this late in life. ...more
I quite loved this and read it all in one sitting -- it's that kind of book, and the weird horror of it sneaks up and overwhelms you best that way. II quite loved this and read it all in one sitting -- it's that kind of book, and the weird horror of it sneaks up and overwhelms you best that way. I loved the world too, but it hit me so strongly that it was the world of Tarkovsky's STALKER. Forgive me pretentious Russian film references, but I just saw it and so now I'm having a hard time separating the two......more
the language was beautiful and inventive and made my heart ache, the future terrified, the revolt was believable (right until the end) and the imaginathe language was beautiful and inventive and made my heart ache, the future terrified, the revolt was believable (right until the end) and the imagination immense and wonderful. An apocalyptic novel where men aren't all trying to kill each other, wonderful. I thought I had read this when I was a kid but knew a page or two in that I hadn't, and I should have. So much of it I loved so much.
And then he assumed that just men wrote books, and then he ascribed the drive to mediocrity as pressures coming from minority groups and I assume his diatribe is against what white folks call 'political correctness'. That broke my heart. I hate it that something this good was missing the soul to realise that the African American struggle against slavery and Jim Crow that saw books like Little Black Sambo as part of the larger problem of white racism are actually what will save this nation not destroy it. I feel like all this liberal talk of intellect and love, this finding joy in nature and community, is all somehow wrapped up around a little piece of Ayn Rand's snarling at the masses. Particularly the non-white ones.
So I couldn't love it. I thought it rotten at the core. ...more
This began as a sort of off-beat police procedural with a not-too bright copper trying desperately to seem smarter than he is and to come up with someThis began as a sort of off-beat police procedural with a not-too bright copper trying desperately to seem smarter than he is and to come up with something other than a supernatural explanation for the dead bodies being moved around and then seemingly climbing out windows into the wider world. That was the book I loved and couldn't put down but it didn't last for long enough...it unwound into soliloquies and long rather absurd conversations that hover on the edge of depth but don't always and entirely manage it....more
One of the more vile and viciously right wing novels I’ve read, though to be fair I haven’t read many of them at all. But this is something like Ayn ROne of the more vile and viciously right wing novels I’ve read, though to be fair I haven’t read many of them at all. But this is something like Ayn Rand – wig askew and on her 13th pink gin fizz – going off on a paranoid scree about the muggers and rapists who are all out to kill her. Because she’s so rich and talented and beautiful and they just can’t handle that so she’s bought 10 attack dogs and built a concrete bunker.
It’s all about taking the gated community to the next level, making it a maze of about a cubic square mile with about a quarter of a million people. It towers like a monstrous black cube in an area essentially burned down by its own residents – I would think Watts or Compton. It’s powered by hydrogen, fed through pipes from ‘a complex of nuclear breeder plants in Mexico’. Ah, the outsourcing of risk and contaminants. It calls itself Todos Santos – All Saints – why do white people in the Southwest always call their high-end real estate developments nice things in Spanish? A patronising nod to the people they stole the land from? Easier to pronounce than indigenous phrases for ‘Pretty View’ and ‘Mountain Hills’? But the authors aren’t being entirely metaphorical in calling the residents saints. Apparently you can pick them out of a crowd of poor old Angelinos, they are the shiny beautiful people who move in a certain way, speak in a certain way. They are a new kind of person.
THINK OF IT AS EVOLUTION IN ACTION. I thought at first this rather chilling slightly fascist slogan must be ironic or a nod to the dangers this kind of project could raise. But no. These really are a better kind of people, helped by those who commit suicide or get themselves killed. They like this slogan, paint it on walls, put it on stickers and huge banners like a big F-you to L.A.
The Utopia? ‘We’re running a civilization, something new in this world, and don’t bother to tell me how small it is. It’s a civilization. The first one in a long time where people can feel safe’ (18). Constantly watched, constantly surveilled and monitored. But the many guards are their friends. They don’t arrest people for being too drunk the way the terrible LAPD does, they walk you home. What is better than being safe after all? We know that the real danger is from criminal poor people who are all on the outside, hopped up to their eyeballs on drugs and trying to shoot down helicopters.
Todos Santos is of course trying to be completely separate from Los Angeles – the crime, the pollution, the drugs, the poor people. There’s a lot of anger in this book about how the government forces all of us to become accountants to pay our taxes, and the pain of collecting receipts and things. A whole lot of anger. Familiar tea party sort of anger. Taxes in Todos Santos don’t go to welfare and they are part of your mortgage payment to the company – kindly saving you from wasting any thought on them at all. It's a bit feudal, yeah, but they had some good ideas back then. Oath of Fealty rendered, everything else taken care of. Awesome. Of course, I can't quite understand how this fits with America, Land of the Free in their heads, or their hatred of big government...I mean, my opinion is that these fit together because the residents of Todos Santos don't see poor people, particularly poor Black and Brown people, as real Americans or as any kind of people they can cooperate in a democracy or a community with, sad facts that have forced them to sucede and build something new. Something they may one day conquer and colonise outer space with. But I don't think they think that.
Instead the book trys to show it’s not racist by trying to admit that some discrimination exists but it’s less than you think, and making one of the high executives Black. Well. Teak colored in the book’s own words. He’s a bit estranged from other African-Americans and admits there are only maybe a hundred among a quarter million, but his homies break him out of the L.A. prison he gets sent to after he kills a couple of kids pretending to be terrorists and becomes a hero to the population. That’s a long story I won’t go into, who’d want to give away such a sparkling plot?
The kids are sent in by activists to test the defences, because that’s what environmental activists do, right? Use kids without remorse. Make unreasonable demands. The civil rights movement made some unreasonable demands too, which is how they lost the support of the white community
We did care once. A lot of us did. But something happened. Maybe it was the sheer size of the problem. Or watching while everybody who could afford it ran to the suburbs and left the cities to drift, and complained about taxes going to the cities, and—Or maybe it was having to listen to my police explain why they’ll only go into Watts in pairs with cocked shotguns and if the Mayor doesn’t like it he can damn well police that precinct himself. People think they’ve done enough. (126)
Note the use of the words ‘us’ and ‘people’ to mean white by default. Thinking you’ve done enough when you’ve done worse than nothing is an interesting contradiction noted by many. But let’s get back to the activists. They call people pigs even when they’re not cops – which is silly, cops have really earned that name. Activists are also almost always rapists apparently. Unless they’re women, in which case they are just sadistic and probably Lesbians. ‘She’s probably a Lesbian’ is a direct quote actually, as the 'heroine' imagines shutting her in a room full of rats to mentally survive the indignities of being kidnapped. The men probably couldn’t help raping her of course, they’re brutes and she is a stunning model-turned-business-woman who is powerful and talented and successful and rich and they obviously can’t handle all of that.
Anyway, I haven’t even cracked the surface, just released some of my bile. This is a story where you are supposed to cheer on the beleaguered community of alcoholic rich people who can only drink coffee if it’s Irish, creating their Utopia safely insulated from the nuclear power plants and the poor people who pick their lettuces and sweatshop workers who make their clothes and carrying out their own vigilante justice – which is ok, because they don’t kill people unless it’s absolutely necessary, they just paint them and tattoo them. There’s nothing about how the place stays clean or who makes the food etc, and it’s not the kind of fantasy story where house elves are a possibility though it is one in which things science fiction writers dream up are considered really cool and often become true.
The happy ending is the Black dude gets sent to Zimbabwe. ...more
Immensely enjoyable, and with an enviable complexity of character and politics that makes this a really interesting view of the Middle East from a strImmensely enjoyable, and with an enviable complexity of character and politics that makes this a really interesting view of the Middle East from a stranger and convert to Islam......more