The concept is simple: take an abstract scientific concept and bring it to life through the art of the short story. Yet what Calvino achieves in Cosmi...moreThe concept is simple: take an abstract scientific concept and bring it to life through the art of the short story. Yet what Calvino achieves in Cosmicomics is unparalleled.
The collection contains twelve short stories, each beginning with a short statement describing a scientific theory, a dry, explanatory piece of writing that feels like it could've been pulled out of an introductory astronomy (or biology) textbook. For example, the first story, "The Distance of the Moon," begins with the following passage:
At one time, according to Sir George H. Darwin, the Moon was very close to the Earth. The the tides gradually pushed her far away: the tides that the Moon herself causes in the Earth's waters, where the Earth slowly loses energy.
Then comes the bulk of each of 10-15 page story, all but two of which are narrated by Qfwfq, a wizened old storyteller who has seen everything from the beginning of the universe and who tells it all in a down-home style that feels as if the audience has gathered around a campfire to hear tales of long-ago. For example, "The Distance of the Moon" continues thus:
How well I know! - old Qfwfq cried, - the rest of you can't remember, but I can. We had her on top of us at that time, that enormous Moon: when she was full - nights as bright as day, but with a butter-colored light - it looked as if she were going to crush us; when she was new, she rolled about the sky like a black umbrella blown by the wind...
Qfwfq then goes on to tell a story of a group of people that would take a ladder up to the moon to harvest its cheese, and of his mute cousin who felt at home only on the moon, and of the captain's wife who was in love with the cousin, and of the narrator's love for the captain's wife, and all the tragic results of the love triangle, with the moon at it center.
Each story is given a striking humanity, achieving that goal of every fiction writer: illuminating what it means to be human; yet Calvino's methods often don't involve humans, as main characters are particles of dust, evolving animals, or even mathematical formulas. The stories, I believe, can best be described as "scientific myths," i.e. not the myths of great scientific figures, but mythology based upon modern science, reinvented the past's legends with today's understanding of the universe.
Cosmicomics, like his best-known work If on a winter's night a traveler, proves that Calvino is one of the most creative, innovative writers of the 20th century, able to use complex theory effortlessly to bring forth a deceptively simple tale of the basic human emotions.(less)
The Pevear/Volokhonsky translation is better, but this collection has a few other really good short stories, especially "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man...moreThe Pevear/Volokhonsky translation is better, but this collection has a few other really good short stories, especially "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man."(less)
Borges writes in a world apart from the rest of humanity. Each story is like a cyanide capsule: tiny, seemingly innocuous, but packed with an irrevers...moreBorges writes in a world apart from the rest of humanity. Each story is like a cyanide capsule: tiny, seemingly innocuous, but packed with an irreversible potency that will annihilate what you once considered your own mind.
This collection gives a healthy selection from most of the Borges's work, with short stories, essays, parables, and even a poem. The only downside I would say is that book opens with Borges's most stunning stories. While this choice literally blew me out of the water (seriously, I was in a bath tub at the time and I jumped from excitement), it left one with the feeling that Borges was capable of more. The rest of the works are superb, too, but the first several stories are by far the best written by Borges, or anyone.(less)