Read this a couple days ago, and I still have no idea what to think of it. To be specific: I have no idea how much of it is meant as parody, how much...moreRead this a couple days ago, and I still have no idea what to think of it. To be specific: I have no idea how much of it is meant as parody, how much of it is meant in honesty... and is that intentional or not?(less)
Note: My review is for the Danish-language omnibus version of the Cosmicomics, which also contains stories written after the publication of the origin...moreNote: My review is for the Danish-language omnibus version of the Cosmicomics, which also contains stories written after the publication of the original collection but using the same style and characters.
This is a collection of literal "space-age fairy tales", a bunch of (usually humorous) fables that are metaphors for the creation of the universe with the main characters often being personifications of various natural forces, laws of nature etc. Others describe key events in the evolution of life on Earth... the best of these is a truly hilarious tragicomic tale of the last living dinosaur, which ends with one of the finest "what the hell was THAT?" endings I've ever read. How far on the literal/abstract level the metaphors are, well that depends between the stories, and sometimes they swing wildly.
As you can guess, the stories are rather odd but I think out of the three books by Italo Calvino I've read this is the one that's easiest to get into for the average person. Something interesting is that the stories are usually weird in ways that also characterize actual fairy tales and folklore before they're sanitized for modern audiences: Obviously unreliable narrators, ultra-anachronistic mixtures of different eras for the setting, bawdy humour in stories apparently written for children to explain why things are the way they are... I don't think this is unintentional, since the author has also collected authentic Italian folk tales. It should also be mentioned that especially in the later stories, the prose is absolutely beautiful.
Like I say in my other reviews of Italo Calvino books: The common stereotype about experimental literature in general, and post-modernist literature in particular, is that it's too detached and cerebral to be really fun. This is a sentiment that Calvino must have made his mission to prove wrong. "The Complete Cosmicomics" contain probably the best demonstrations of his writing's appeal, even though there are unfortunately also a couple stories that feel a bit too gimmicky and others where I might have missed some of the layers of meaning because I don't know that much about astrophysics.(less)
Behind the cryptic title lies a short novel about Marco Polo's travels to China. Most of it is narrated by a fictionalized Marco Polo in first person,...moreBehind the cryptic title lies a short novel about Marco Polo's travels to China. Most of it is narrated by a fictionalized Marco Polo in first person, but other chapters are written in third person and describe Polo's philosophical conversations with Kublai Khan.
The descriptions of the cities and cultures Polo has allegedly visited are rather fanciful, occasionally downright surrealistic, but always thoroughly beautifully written. Calvino definitely shows a talent for creating strange yet convincing fictional medieval cultures that many "proper" fantasy novelists would ill for. The weird thing is that if you've read even short excerpts from actual medieval travelogues, you'll notice that they are just as utterly bonkers if not more so!
Halfways through, Calvino starts going beyond pastiche of the medieval travelogue genre and starts examining its hows and whys. The cities become stranger and stranger, with more overt anachronisms if sparingly used, and the narrative begins to explore the psychology behind why a man would travel across half the world in an era where that is so difficult that a 20th century reader could not easily grasp it, as well as the role worldviews have in shaping the course of history.
Everything I've just described likely makes "Invisible Cities" sound rather clunky, but it definitely isn't. Italo Calvino knew exactly how to keep the Jorge Luis Borges-style post-modernist thought experiments around to the exact levels of subtlety that they add to the stories told... instead of overpowering them and turning them more into commentaries on literature than, well, actual literature. (even writers as talented as Paul Auster occasionally fall into this trap)(less)
This was... a very different read than I expected, but I liked it. I already knew that Gibson's a writer who really divides readers, and even though I...moreThis was... a very different read than I expected, but I liked it. I already knew that Gibson's a writer who really divides readers, and even though I generally prefer the New Wave/cyberpunk school of science-fiction over the genre's "golden age" (for reasons related to writing style rather than political ideology might I add) there were still several surprises.
One thing that struck me very much was how unlike the cyberpunk stereotypes the stories found in "Burning Chrome" actually are. Less than half even qualify as tangential to that sub-genre, with a few being closer to hallucinatory magical realism and "New Rose Hotel" having so few science-fiction elements that it could just as well pass for an offbeat film noir-style crime story. Another interesting thing is how Gibson's writing contains primordial forms of the most annoying tendencies in today's Western high culture (overtly fragmented surrealistic manner of expression, a rather cynical worldview, fascination with the most dysfunctional parts of Japanese culture) but here they're actually used successfully and not at all annoying.
This brings me to my main point: I think many people, even some of his fans, misunderstand William Gibson. While he on the surface appears as self-consciously futuristic and technophiliac as the vintage futurists mocked in "The Gernsback Continuum", in ethos he's more a Bill Burroughs/Tom Pynchon-style psychedelic post-modernist mind-bender than a "proper" science-fiction writer. Since that's the angle I read Gibson's work from, I find the so-called flaws many readers find to be my favourite things about his writing style. Likewise, the "nerd-macho" fascination with the power of technology is actually for the most part secondary to other and much more interesting themes.
Basically, what I like about the stories collected in "Burning Chrome" is that down to fine details in the prose styles they seem to written by and for people living in the fictional worlds they describe, rather than a real-life audience contemporary to the author. It's like the readers have to "re-program" their own ways of thinking in order to get what's going on. That's a really cool way to approach fantastic/speculative literature when done right, and I think Gibson for the most part succeeds here.(less)
"If on a Winter's Night a Traveler" is best known as one of the very few novels ever written in second-person narration. It is not surprising that the...more"If on a Winter's Night a Traveler" is best known as one of the very few novels ever written in second-person narration. It is not surprising that the author cheats a little: Large parts of it are narrated in first person by several of the characters (which includes the author himself), or consist of stories-within-the-story.
Actually, it is off to a rather rocky start with Calvino sounding a bit too impressed with himself for toying around so much with the basic structures of literature, when Jorge Luis Borges was doing the same basic thing decades before. Fortunately, it quickly picks up and creates a really entertaining plot involving literary forgeries and conspiracies to brainwash people through hidden coded messages in books. This is where Calvino goes beyond mere hero-worship in his inspiration from Borges and takes the literary mind-games to new heights, inventing entire fictional countries with their own cultural/literary histories. He has a lot of fun with in the process pastiching and satirizing various literary movements and genres in world history this way. Best of all, it never veers into the tryhard smugness that even the better Anglo-American post-modernist writers do on their off days.
Many people think of avant-garde/experimental literature in general, and post-modernism in particular, as something that has to be dry and formal, if not also academic and hard to read. Italo Calvino happily avoided all of these pitfalls, once you get over the shock of the weird format. "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler" is in all likelyhood the best "book about how awesome books are" that I have read.(less)
This anthology contains several short stories set in the aftermath of the earthquake that hit the Japanese city of Kobe in 1995, though none of the st...moreThis anthology contains several short stories set in the aftermath of the earthquake that hit the Japanese city of Kobe in 1995, though none of the stories involve the earthquake itself. The stories are a curious mixture of down-to-earth stories about the lives of people who are usually in some way profoundly dysfunctional (even if it doesn't always show), with the occasional supernatural or paranormal element thrown into the story. The supernatural stuff is not really handled in a fantastic or science-fictional manner, though, and when it appears to be there are strong hints it's hallucinatory or dreamed.
Murakami's writing style is in all likelyhood the most minimalistic I have ever encountered in fiction. It makes Ernest Hemingway look like H. P. Lovecraft in comparison. The weird thing is that Murakami knows exactly when to throw in some ornamentation in the prose, which results in some rather beautiful writing. His sense of humour is rather dry and occasionally dark, but unlike much literature with that kind of humour it never gets cynical in a Louis-Ferdinand Céline way. This lends a rather unique feel to the humour, and there is no doubt that Murakami can be quite a funny man.
Despite the unity in style and theme, the stories vary much in quality. None of them are really bad as such, but they vary between just being okay and somewhat clever to absolutely brilliant and poignantly funny. Even the lesser stories will suddenly erupt from competence to genius.
I'm curious to read a full-length novel of Murakami now, since that is a different format in many ways and might better suit his strengths as a writer.(less)
A rather strange, really self-consciously meta-fictional pisstake on the detective novel genre. Heavily indebted to Jorge Luis Borges and to some exte...moreA rather strange, really self-consciously meta-fictional pisstake on the detective novel genre. Heavily indebted to Jorge Luis Borges and to some extent Thomas Pynchon, but I don't think it's that deep. However, it IS pretty funny if your sense of humor is well aligned with the author's.(less)
Jorge Luis Borges was the grand-daddy of magical realism, metafiction and the "secret history" genres. This one is a collection of short stories often...moreJorge Luis Borges was the grand-daddy of magical realism, metafiction and the "secret history" genres. This one is a collection of short stories often concerning elaborate literary hoaxes, strange forgotten cultural/religious practices, entire countries that might or might not actually have existed - often written as factual documents or based on metaphysical thought experiments. The stories are a lot more subtle in their handling of those ideas compared to many of Borges' imitators (Umberto Eco, Paul Auster etc.), and some of the historical inside jokes even I didn't completely get. Amusingly enough, several of the more down-to-earth of the stories end with the main character getting killed in a bar fight for no real reason!(less)