In 2015, It Can't Happen Here may not be as enduring a critique of American social and political power as Elmer Gantry. Still, ICHH is undoubtedly oneIn 2015, It Can't Happen Here may not be as enduring a critique of American social and political power as Elmer Gantry. Still, ICHH is undoubtedly one of Lewis's most memorable works. As literature, it isn't as good as Babbitt or Main Street, but it has much more staying power. The reader easily cross references what s/he knows about Huey Long, the Depression years, the KKK/Know-Nothings, Father Coughlin, and the rise of fascism in Europe against the events of the book. In fact, anyone with an interest in history will enjoy trying to place Lewis's exact moment in time, as contemporary-to-1935 media personalities, politicians, and writers mingle with Lewis's fictional characters and their recollections of of recent events - the Spanish American War, the Coolidge and Hoover administrations, Woodrow Wilson's transformation from academic to wartime president.
It Can't Happen Here presages the later work of writers like Gore Vidal and Doctorow. And while the other Sinclair (Upton) was doing much the same thing as Lewis at approximately the same time with his Lanny Budd series of political novels, ICHH is far more entertaining than Upton Sinclair's Pulitzer Prize winning Dragon's Teeth.
I do wish I had an annotated version, or a companion essay bringing me up to speed on what was happening in the particular months when Lewis was writing. It's easy enough to contextualize the events of the pre-war years that brought America to the do-or-die stakes of 1935-6. But it is a little hard to cut out what one knows about the years after 1936-7, things that thankfully played out differently than Lewis's fears.
The reader will also note how Lewis's apprehension of living in the developing terror of the 1930s contrasts with the post-epochal dystopias of Orwell and Koestler. It challenges our overly simplistic version of events conveyed by the History Channel and our public school educations when at least some Americans were so fully aware of the horrors of fascism that Lewis was able to give his protagonist a nightmare eerily similar to Elie Weisel's or Solzhenitzin's real ones. If there were contemporary watchdogs like Lewis (and Einstein and others from other disciplines) waving the red flag, how did we descend into perpetual war in the manner we did. Hindsight can create unfair reflections, but still... Our great grandfathers could have listened and maybe we'd be in a better world today.
This is ultimately what makes Lewis one of my favorite American authors. His conscience is one to be admired and his example should be followed. It Can't Happen Here is not Lewis at his literary best, but it is Lewis at his cautionary apogee. A great book, recommended for students and observers in all times and all walks of life....more
Prelude to Mars is an omnibus of early Arthur C Clarke material - two novels, a novella, and a dozen or so short stories. Despite considering myself aPrelude to Mars is an omnibus of early Arthur C Clarke material - two novels, a novella, and a dozen or so short stories. Despite considering myself a lifelong fan, I was astonished to find not only unexpected variety, but one of Clarke's better novels (Sands of Mars). I can't say whether I'm embarrassed I haven't known about these works until now or if I should celebrate the fact that twenty years of fandom isn't enough to exhaust the treasure trove of this author's oeuvre. Obscure gems are still out there in thrift stores and used book shops and the local library.
Among the more noteworthy stories are "The Parasite" and "Exile of the Eons." The former shows Clarke's often overlooked versatility. Clarke suggests several times in this period his interest in Poe. But it is a later American, H P Lovecraft, who seems to emerge. American literature may have really been on the author's mind at this time, as the motif of suspended animation as practical, one-way time travel evokes "Rip Van Winkle" (in "Exile" and others). The idea (expressed in the latter as well as Sands of Mars) that one's colonial offspring may one day exceed the greatness of the parent society may well be a reflection on the fin de siècle of empire, open to interpretation as America ascending. Or I may be in a sentimental mood... Neverthess, both stories are chilling - unexpected fare from an author capable of swashbuckling adventures as well as hard science fiction, but seldom fantasy and never horror.
Of course, science fiction's greatest liability is the inevitability of later being invalidated by actual, subsequent scientific reality. That's why the best science fiction writers are philosophers at heart, experts in the formation of durable koans. How else would a 60+ year old collection of premises utterly devastated by errors in their predictions* make for edge-of-your-seat reading in the 21st century?
Prelude to Mars holds two specific pleasures in store for Clarke fans: One, readers will enjoy watching the author's greatest ideas mature. Central features of 2001, 2010 and the Rama series appear in prototype form. Two, readers will find some of Clarke's more literary output in Sands of Mars. Clarke succeeds in making compelling, likable characters (one of the author's notable weaknesses; most Arthur C Clarke books are populated by flaccid, 2-D stereotypes going through stock motions in much more vibrant worlds (it's those worlds we're interested in, not the generically handsome playboy scientists somnambulating within them)). The principal characters in Sands of Mars rank alongside those of Rama and Childhood's End for the designation of Clarke's best creations.
This is a great anthology - easily worth the $2.00 it's bound to cost at the used book store when you eventually come across it.
*Atomic propulsion and... (ahem) flora and fauna on Mars. Oh well......more
I would say Loon Lake is the best E.L. Doctorow novel I have read thus far (I even hazard to say Loon Lake is the superior of Ragtime). Others have caI would say Loon Lake is the best E.L. Doctorow novel I have read thus far (I even hazard to say Loon Lake is the superior of Ragtime). Others have called it confusing, difficult, compromised by bad poetry, etc., but I found the out-of-chronological order and first-person-narrative jumping exciting. The use of verse to reprise the prose was a way of angling the story slightly differently so the reader can admire the way the light strikes it on different facets. Doctorow's occasional decision to present the verse version ahead of the narrative version has the cinematic/musical effect of rushing the reader down a wormhole into the scene or leaping into a new verse on a backward cymbal hit. This, along with the riveting stream-of-consciousness vignettes, give Loon Lake a rhythmic quality unlikely to appear in a straightforward, linear story.
The stream-of-consciousness segments are what truly make Loon Lake the success it is. In the past, I've had trouble with stream-of-consciousness prose, chiefly because the authors themselves were too eccentric in their own consciousness and decided to imbue their subjects with the same inscrutability (Joyce, Wolfe, Dos Passos). Doctorow writes such accessible, plausible characters that their streams of consciousness are logical and feel like natural motions, like being masterfully led in a dance.
And - I realize this sounds cheap and corny - the fact that Loon Lake has a relatively ( but plausibly) happy ending gives the book a clean finish. The novel's horrific scenes make the reader apprehensive that Loon Lake will play out like a Coen Brothers movie (of the Fargo, No Country for Old Men variety) by the end. Don't think of this as a spoiler; consider it reassurance: Loon Lake is not a crushing despair. It's a great novel, one any Doctorow fan should seek out....more