Chinese Dystopian Sci-Fi, anyone?

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I’ve been working my way through an anthology this week – “Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation”  (edited and translated by Ken Liu -pictured below holding his most renowned translating effort). I don’t recall now where I first heard of this book – maybe via Tor.com? – but I first encountered Liu in his short story, “What I Assume You Shall Assume” from – of all places – an anthology of ‘Weird Western’ tales called “Dead Man’s Hand.”

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Later, we crossed paths again when he made an appearance in 2014’s “Deal Me In” challenge, as the story “The Gods Will Not Be Chained” was read by James of the blog,“James Reads Books.” Then his crowning achievement to me thus far was his “epic” translation of the first book of Cixin Liu’s acclaimed “The Three-Body Problem” – the first book read by my reincarnated book club a.k.a. “Book Club II: Son of Book Club.” (“Re-hydrate!” sorry, inside joke for The Three-Body Problem readers…)

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Soooo… when I heard of this anthology, I promptly purchased it and have been anxious to get started in on it. So far it has not disappointed. I’m now halfway through, having read 7 of its 14 stories. A couple of the stories were really outstanding, Chen Quifan’s “The Fish of Lijiang” and Xia Jia’s “Tongtong’s Summer” and “Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse”. These and other stories in the book have frequently called to mind other favorite stories of mine, of such varying pedigree as Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince,” and Premendra Mitra’s “The Discovery of Telenapota”

But the one I’m going to talk about briefly in this post is..

“The City of Silence” by Ma Boyong

“It’s understandable that the appropriate authorities prefer electronic books. With electronic books, all you need is FIND and REPLACE to eliminate all the unhealthy words in a book and decontaminate it. But to correct and edit physical books would take forever.”

The story paints one of the bleakest dystopias I’ve encountered, and it is clear that the author is well versed in Dystopian Classics of the West as well, with nods to both Orwell’s 1984 and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 appearing in this near-novella length story. In the society described in The City of Silence, most “living” (if you can call it that) is done via “The Web”  – “The Capital’s streets had few pedestrians. Now that the Web was everywhere, most chores could be done there. Unlike in the primitive past, people no longer needed to go outside the home for the necessities of daily life.” Communication is slowly being constricted as well. Citizens are constantly monitored by The State and must adhere to and use only words from a continually updated list of “healthy words.” The insidiousness of gradualism is on display in how the communication and language are inexorably taken away from the citizens. I found the descriptions of the stages by which language was slowly becoming a lost art, and how the citizenry would retreat to a new strategy, only to see it also eradicated, fascinating.

As you can see by the quotation above, physical books have become extinct and most haven’t heard of even the famous Orwell Classic: “Do you know 1984?” asks one, “I only know that ‘1984’ is part of my Web Access Serial “(i.e. his name) The story’s protagonist, “ARVARDAN19842015BNKF,” eventually discovers a secretive group of non-conformists, who clandestinely run a speakeasy-like support group called “The Talking Club”- No forbidden words there! They even have ‘shielding’ which prevents the government’s (or I should say “The Appropriate Authorities” which is the “Big Brother” of this story) surveillance of their activity, but for how long..?

The story’s nod to Fahrenheit 451 lies in the fact that one of the members of “The Talking Club” read 1984 once, when copies were still available, and entertains the group by retelling the story – from memory – in “installments” to her fellow members, one of whom notes that “The author of 1984 predicted the progress of totalitarianism, but could not predict the progress of technology.” She’s like one of the “living books” of Fahrenheit 451!

If you’re a fan of dystopian fiction, you will definitely want to give this story a try. I don’t know if it’s available individually (I didn’t see it during a quick off-the-cuff search) but the anthology is available on Amazon.com  I am looking forward to finishing off the other stories in this book over the upcoming long Thanksgiving Weekend.

Below: Ma Boyong

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Have you read any Chinese Science Fiction? Maybe The Three-Body Problem? Are you familiar with Ken Liu’s work?

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Ghachar Ghochar – a novel by Vivek Shanbhag

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“How did I slip into this way of life? I can only look back and wonder.”

I went into this book “blind” – not really knowing what it was about or even where I had heard of it.** Given the type of story this is, however, my reading experience actually might be enhanced by that situation, as it’s only sneakily revealed just how disturbing it truly is. It’s told as a kind of tiered flashback by (yet another!) unnamed narrator who is currently sitting in “Coffee House” – his refuge from his family and wife. The waiter at the coffee shop, Vincent, acts almost as an oracle to the narrator, who goes there seeking wisdom or advice from him. The narrator himself is rather shiftless – an idler who doesn’t seem to have an independent bone in his body – and it was easy for me to immediately not like him very much.

His story is one of a “family group” that once lived together in a very small home until, after its current, aging patriarch has lost his job, the narrator’s uncle has an idea to start up a business selling spices. It takes off and, with it, naturally so do the family’s fortunes. At the time the book begins, they are living (still all together) in a much nicer house. The narrator has even gotten married (“he never even held a woman’s hand until his wedding day”) but his wife has become dissatisfied with his not really “earning his way” in the family. (He does receive a salary and has a ‘lofty-sounding title’ in the new company but he doesn’t really do anything and rarely even shows up to “the office.”) I think he and the family could have tolerated her disdain, though, if she hadn’t also interfered when a “threat” to the family’s status quo presents itself via a woman showing up at their house asking to see the uncle (a pregnant mistress perhaps?)… The family feels that the uncle, having become the major provider, cannot be disturbed by any outside “distractions.” I think the uncle is very well aware of this and takes full advantage of it. The family treats her unkindly and basically runs her off, with Anita, the narrator’s wife, being the sole “dissenting opinion” in the matter. This is apparently intolerable, though how much so is not revealed until the book’s final pages…

One thing I admired about the book is that it’s one of those that surprises you – and does so to such a degree that I was unable to resist the urge to look back in the book searching for “clues” that might have led me to anticipate what was truly going on with this family.

I also think the book could be considered to be a warning about the corrupting nature of money, or especially newly acquired money. One of my favorite quotations from the book was the following:

“It’s true what they say—it’s not we who control money, it’s the money that controls us. When there’s only a little, it behaves meekly; when it grows, it becomes brash and has its way with us.”

I cannot neglect mentioning that I loved the concept expressed in the novel that Ghachar Ghochar (generally meaning “hopelessly entangled” – see book cover above) was a phrase that only existed in the family of Anita, and the fact that her sharing those words with the narrator was a kind of intimacy. As the narrator says:

“Of course, those words could never mean to me all that they meant to her; nor would I ever utter them as naturally as she did. But she had shared with me this secret phrase that didn’t exist in any language, and now I was one of only five people in the world who knew it.”

It also got me thinking – are there any “invented” words or phrases that only my family or friends only used/use among ourselves? I thought of a couple, but one that still shows up from time to time at family gatherings is “defanon” (pronounced like “deaf” and “anon” strung together) which my (very young at the time) brother used once when telling a story, concluding – after escaping a dangerous situation – that “I got out of there like defanon!” I think it was a convolution of real words he heard once, but whatever its genesis, thereafter any hasty exit from a predicament in my family’s subsequent storytelling included the simile “like defanon!”  Gee whiz, now I’m wondering if I should even have shared this story, since this word may now get out “loose” in the world… I guess for once I can be glad that probably only a few people actually read my blog regularly. 🙂  What about YOU?  Does your family have any special words or phrases that no one else would understand? Care to “out” them here and share with me?

Ghachar Ghochar is a surprisingly short book as well, which makes it an easy one for me to recommend to others. 🙂 A definite five-star read for me.

(below: the author with an alternate cover of the book picturing the ants which were some of the “clue providers” I noted on the second pass)

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**One thing I always try to do – but often fail to do – is make a note of where I have heard about a book that I’ve added to my TBR list. This book is a case where I failed to make a note of it, and now I can’t remember. (Though I want to say I heard of it via NPR or maybe the Sunday edition of New York Times, the book section of which I occasionally will peruse online over breakfast on Sunday mornings.)  If it was an individual who recommended this to me, and you’re reading this, please remind me so I can give you credit – and so that I may THANK you. 🙂

A Beer (or Two) and a Story (or Two)

I like reading. I like beer. Sometimes I like both at once, usually when I go out ‘solo’ after work for a quick dinner and drink (or two) rather than go home and rustle up my own food. I thought it might be fun to start blogging every now and then about some of the more entertaining stories I’ve read in this situation, so here goes episode 1 of ??…

The Venue: MacNivens Restaurant & Bar, visited on 7/25/17; picture below from Yelp.com. I once toyed with the idea of founding a “Sir Walter Scott Book Club” that would meet here (since, after all, it’s a Scottish Restaurant) but I found it hard to recruit members…

macnivens

The Beer: Natural Liberty – an American Pale Lager by Black Acre Brewing Company

Did I Eat Anything? Yes, the Poached Salmon Salad, which was, as I like to say, “MacNivenscent!” 🙂

The Story: Ray Bradbury’s “The Dragon”

(photos from Indianapolis Monthly and Google images)

Disclaimer: I actually read two stories and had two different beers on this outing, the other story being Bradbury’s “The Exiles” and the other beer being Confessional IPA from St. Joseph Brewing Co. I’d read the story before (even blogged about it here) so I won’t include it in this post, and though Confessional IPA is a decent brew, it is imho inferior to “Nat Lib,” which is one of my favorite local beers.

The Story

I’m in the process of cleaning up the unread “orphan stories” that I didn’t finish as part of my #24in48 Readathon plans, and the next card I drew was the four of Clubs, to which I had assigned the story “The Dragon” from my copy of Bradbury Stories: 100 of his Most Celebrated Tales. It was originally published in 1955 in Esquire Magazine.

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***Spoilers follow*** It’s a very short story, which I didn’t realize when I started it, having just “jumped” to its location on my Kindle reader. Two intrepid men (I’m assuming they’re knights since they have armor and lances) are somewhere on the moor, seeking a dragon which has apparently been causing havoc in the countryside, eating “men traveling alone between our town and the next.” We learn something of what the men are up against:

“This dragon, they say his eyes are fire. His breath a white gas; you can see him burn across the dark lands. He runs with sulfur and thunder and kindles the grass. Sheep panic and die insane. Women deliver forth monsters. The dragon’s fury is such that tower walls shake back to dust. His victims, at sunrise, are strewn hither thither on the hills. How many knights, I ask, have gone for this monster and failed, even as we shall fail?”

Though the men in this story know the time period (or think they do) in which it is set – “900 years after the Nativity” – there is something special about Time on the moors…

“On this moor is no Time, is only Forever. I feel if I ran back on the road the town would be gone, the people yet unborn, things changed, the castles unquarried from the rocks, the timbers still uncut from the forests; don’t ask how I know; the moor knows and tells me.”

This story wouldn’t deliver the goods if these two brave souls didn’t indeed encounter the dragon they seek, but is it one of their time, or another? Will they vanquish it, or will their bodies be left strewn in its wake, as countless others have been?

I really enjoyed this story and was once again amazed at how some authors can tell such a great story in so few pages.

What about YOU? Do you sometimes find yourself “sitting at the bar” and reading? e-Readers and their associated apps have made this commonplace for me anymore…

A Quick #24in48 Readathon Update

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Morning all! I have to get to work here in a minute, but now that the #24in48 Readathon is officially over, I thought I’d provide a quick update:

I read for a total of 10 hours and 13 minutes and completed 28 stories (my lofty goal was 52 stories so I waaaaay overestimated my chances there). As most of my readers know, all of the stories were by Ray Bradbury. This is the first time I’ve read so many stories by one author “in a row” and I found that it was a very interesting experience – be the end of the readathon, Bradbury’s voice was becoming very familiar to me. (I’ll publish a more detailed post later on my impressions of what I read)

I tried to stop and tweet about my reading in the breaks between stories and I believe I sent out between 40-50 Tweets, and received 169 “likes” on them. I gained six Twitter followers during the readathon.  The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies gained eight “likes” on Facebook during the readathon, though I couldn’t prove if all (or any, frankly) were due to my tweeting and blogging about it.

I will be tabulating the “entries” to my give away during the next couple days and will announce the winner(s) soon. Likes, comments, and retweets all counted as an entry, and likes and comments on my blog did as well, so I may have close to 200 entries in the hat to draw from. Now I have to find a hat. 🙂

Here are my answers to the wrap-up questions posted by readathon hosts Rachel, Kristen, and Kerry:

  1. How many books did you read? Pages? (If you didn’t keep track, tell me that too!) I read short stories instead of books and finished 28 of them. A record for me during a #24in48 readathon – the last few #24in48 readathons, I’ve read my goal of 24 short stories rather than 24 hours. I didn’t keep track of pages read – I’m such a slow reader that it’s too depressing to do that. I’d estimate 400-450 pages, though.
  2. How many hours did you read? If my records are correct, 10 hours 13 minutes. (In my defense, I had several other obligations during the weekend that each took big chunks of time away from my reading opportunities, but it seems that’s always the case for me.)
  3. What do you think worked well in this readathon? Reading short stories gave me natural breaks, as only a few took me longer than 30 minutes to read. During the breaks I would tweet a couple times and try to like and comment on other ‘thon’ers tweets. This part of the readathon was a lot of fun.
  4. What do you think could be done to improve the readathon for next time? Seems pretty good as it is, to me! 🙂 I wish I weren’t such a slow reader, but that happens with me every readathon.
  5. Will you participate in a future 24in48 readathon? Yes, I am looking forward to it already!

#24in48 Readathon Updates

I haven’t taken time out from reading today to write any full blog posts, but you can check out my stream of (almost 100%) #24in48 tweets on Twitter at https://mobile.twitter.com/bibliophilopoly

#24in48 Readathon – Hour 16 Update:



Progress
: okay, I got off to a much slower start than I hoped, having decided I should at least put in an appearance at my brother’s birthday party. I got home about 9:45 (I decided to used GMT for my time zone for this readathon, so that means I official started at 8pm here) and hoped to read for at least awhile, but didn’t last too long before ISP started drifting off. I decided to let sleep happen (like I have a choice!) and just hit the ground running this morning, which I did. Immediately getting started by reading a couple stories in bed before I got up. Then it was off to Panera for coffee and breakfast where, for once, no one was in “my spot” and I read pretty solidly untila bout 10:30. At that point I’d read nine of my intended fifty-two stories and drew my card for the tenth one.

Activities: I’ve been pretty active in tweeting updates and trying to read and like a few tweets between each break in stories. This is quite fun for me, seeing what everyone else is reading and even what challenges they may be encountering during the readathon. Seeing some of their progress reports, though, makes me wish I were a much faster reader (this happens every time I participate in a readathon, though.)
Time: I’m averaging around a twenty minutes a story I guess, which means it’s theoretically possible I complete all fifty two during the readathon, but we’ll see.



Locations
:

Story 1: Rathskeller Biergarten & couch at home; 2. Couch at home 3 & 4 Bed; 5-9 Panera Bread on Southport Road (where much of this blog has been written over the years)

It seems appropriate to use a space travel-related deck of cards, so I opted for this “Space Center” deck.

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Stories Read (& my rating) so Far:

7 of Hearts – Way in the Middle of the Air (4.0 Stars)

Ace of Clubs – The Watchful Poker Chip of H.Matisse (2.5 stars)

9 of Hearts – The Martian (3.5 stars)

3 of Hearts – The Third Expedition (4.5 stars)

8 of Spades – The Witch Door (4 stars)

4 of Diamonds – The Man (4 stars)

Jack of Clubs – The Toynbee Convector (3.5 stars)

5 of Hearts – The Fire Balloons (3.5 stars)

10 of Hearts – There Will Come Soft Rains (4.5 stars)



Favorites
: It’s odd that random chance thus far has front loaded my stories from The Martian Chronicles. Maybe Fate knows how much I liked that book and wanted to start men out with more favorites. There’s something about “There Will Come Soft Rains” that really gets to me. Something about an “automated” house outliving its creators yet eventually falling victim itself to “The Forces of Nature” that activates my “sympathy subroutine” – and the inclusion of the poem by Teasdale is perfect in this story. A couple stories examined religious themes too,especially “The Man” which I don’t think I’ve ever read before. It offers a somewhat damn good view of humanity – or at least some of its members.

Giveaway Update:
I’ve recorded just over 30 entries or “chances in the hat” so far. If I eclipse 100, I will consider adding a second giveaway item. You can enterthegive away by commenting on this – or any – blog post during the readathon, or by liking or replying to my tweets, or – for double credit – liking or following The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies’ Facebook Page. https://m.facebook.com/bradburycenter/posts/1767308936627668

Up Next: I’ve adjourned to the Indiana State Library in downtown Indy – a favorite weekend reading/working spot and am going to try to read for the next three hours straight. Follow my progress on Twitter (@Bibliophilopoly) and let me know how you’re doing as well.

An All-Bradbury #24in48 Readathon!

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The time is nigh for the start of the Bi-annual #24in48 Readathon!

What is the #24in48 Readathon?

From the readathon’s home page, here are some details: “If you’re new to 24in48, this is the basic gist: beginning at 12:01am on Saturday morning and running through 11:59pm on Sunday night, participants read for 24 hours out of that 48-hour period. You can split that up however you’d like: 20 hours on Saturday, four hours on Sunday; 12 hours each day; six four-hour sessions with four hour breaks in between, whatever you’d like.”

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(above: Ray Bradbury sitting in the “prop” Time Machine from the eponymous 1960 movie)

What am I Reading?

Now “the rest of the story” is that most participants don’t actually read 24 entire hours, but rather have that as a goal.  In the past, I’ve participated by reading 24 short stories, which is harder than you think.  This year, though, to up the ante, I’m going to try to read 52 stories, all by the master storyteller, Ray Bradbury.  Why? Many reasons, not the least of which being I really enjoy reading his stories. He also doesn’t write many “long-ish” stories, so they might average a short enough length for me to complete 52 in a weekend. The most important reason, though, is that I am hoping to “raise awareness” about a local (for me) literary treasure, The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies. Pay them a visit at the link, and also check out their Facebook page. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Center on a couple occasions and it is chock-full of Bradbury artifacts and documents, and a re-creation of his office space. Including his seat of choice, a director’s chair (see photo below).

My Plans – and a Giveaway!

I will try to post here at Bibliophilopolis several times during the weekend, and certainly plan to tweet often about what story I’m on or have just finished, and what I think of it. I plan to do a giveaway at the end of the #24in48 challenge, and anyone who comments or likes a blog post – including this one! – or who replies or likes or retweets one of my tweets, will be entered into a drawing (and yes, if you like/comment/reply/retweet multiple posts or tweets, you will be entered multiple times – limit of one per post/tweet, though), the winner receiving their choice among several books by Bradbury – some in hardcover. (I’ll share what the prize options in an upcoming blog post)  ALSO – If you share in your comment or reply that you have liked or followed their Facebook page, you will be entered into the drawing twice.  Lets see if we can make a modest impact to their total likes tally! The winner will be notified via the same media “channel” (WordPress or Twitter) which they used to earn their entry.

(below: a closer view of some of the memorabilia at the Bradbury Center)


Lastly, this wouldn’t be Bibliophilopolis if I didn’t employ the Deal Me In approach to determine the order of the fifty-two stories I’ll read. I’ve assigned each one to a card in a standard deck of playing cards, and broken the suits into categories as follows:

♦♦♦Diamonds♦♦♦ = “The Director’s Cut” – Stories recommended by the Director of The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at IUPUI, Jon Eller.

♠♠♠Spades♠♠♠ = Stories from “The Illustrated Man” or “Quicker Than the Eye” collections.

♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥ = A red suit for a red planet! Stories from “The Martian Chronicles.”

♣♣♣Clubs♣♣♣ = Stories from “Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales”

Any of these stories marked by an asterisk were also recommended by my fellow book bloggers.

(image below found at http://ru.vector.me/search/playing-card-suit)

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Here are the stories I will be attempting to read during the #24in48 Readathon:

♦♦♦Diamonds♦♦♦

♦A♦ –  The Whole Town’s Sleeping*

♦2♦ –  And the Rock Cried Out*

♦3♦ – The Dwarf

♦4♦ –  The Man

♦5♦ – The Exiles

♦6♦ – At Midnight, in the Month of June

♦7♦– The Lonely Ones

♦8♦ – Changeling

♦9♦ – The Pedestrian

♦10♦ – The Lifework of Juan Diaz

♦J♦ – Death and the Maiden

♦Q♦ – Zero Hour

♦K♦ – The City

♠♠♠Spades♠♠♠

♠A♠ – The Concrete Mixer

♠2♠ – The Finnegan

♠3♠ – Marionettes, Inc.

♠4♠ – Dorian in Excelsis

♠5♠ – The Rocket Man

♠6♠ – Zaharoff/Richter Mark V

♠7♠ – The Fox and the Forest

♠8♠ – The Witch Door

♠9♠ – The Electrocution

♠10♠ – The Veldt*

♠J♠ – Unterderseaboat Doktor

♠Q♠ – The Very Gentle Murders

♠K♠ – The Ghost in the Machine

♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥

♥A♥– Ylla

♥2♥ – The Earth Men

♥3♥ – The Third Expedition

♥4♥ – And the Moon be Still as Bright

♥5♥ – The Fire Balloons

♥6♥ – The Musicians

♥7♥ – Way in the Middle of the Air

♥8♥ – Usher II

♥9♥ -The Martian

♥10♥ – There Will Come Soft Rains

♥J♥ – The Million Year Picnic

♥Q♥ – The Silent Towns

♥K♥ – The Settlers

♣♣♣Clubs♣♣♣

♣A♣ – The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse

♣2♣ – All Summer in a Day*

♣3♣ – Let’s Play Poison

♣4♣ – The Dragon

♣5♣ –  Darling Adolf

♣6♣ – And the Sailor, Home from the Sea

♣7♣ – The Drummer Boy of Shiloh

♣8♣ – The April Witch*

♣9♣ – The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone

♣10♣ – The Machineries of Joy

♣J♣ – The Toynebee Convector

♣Q♣ – The F. Scott/Tolstoy/Ahab Accumulator*

♣K♣ – The Fog Horn*

What Are Master-Pieces and Why Are There So Few of Them – an Essay by Gertrude Stein that I DNF’d…

The Card: ♠4♠ Four of Spades

The Suit: For my version of Deal Me IN, this year, Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “the things that are.”

The Selection: “What Are Master-Pieces and Why Are There So Few of Them” –  from my book “The Best American Essays of the Century.”

The Author: Gertrude Stein –  Born in Pittsburgh, but spending most of her life in Paris and was famous for her being a part of a circle of Lost Generation-y luminaries including Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Picasso to name just a few.

This essay was my 27th Selection of Deal Me In 2017.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

What Are Master-Pieces and Why Are There So Few of Them

I’ve been doing Deal Me In for six and a half years now, and this is the first time I’ve abandoned a story/essay.  It was virtually unreadable, and I can’t understand how it found its way into a volume titled “The Best American Essays of the Century.”  The following “sentence” may help you understand why I feel this way:

“I talk a lot I like to talk and I talk even more than that I may say I talk most of the time and I listen a fair amount too and as I have said the essence of being a genius is to be able to talk and listen to listen while talking and talk while listening but and this is very important very important indeed talking has nothing to do with creation.”

Yes, she has something against punctuation! Thank God at least the . has survived her wrath! I notice the title of this essay is a question, but you have to identify it as such by reading rather than seeing a question mark at the end.  I’ve always found writers who intentionally make it harder for readers to read to be annoying and pretentious. I don’t know much about Stein’s other works, but I am unlikely to explore them after giving up on this one before I’d finished three pages. I was naively looking forward to reading this essay too, as I found the title so promising, but alas…

♫♫ Personal Notes: I think I read a little of Stein before, as I was forced to read (or was at least supposed to read) her “Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” in college. I likely abandoned that attempt too if it was anything like this one. And how’s that for pretentious, by the way, writing someone else’s autobiography!?


What about you?  Can you help me “get” Gertrude Stein?  What am I missing?

My First Introduction to Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Re-blogging this today, as it is the anniversary of Professor Campbell’s death and no doubt many of this blog’s followers have signed on since its first appearance.

Bibliophilopolis

We always hear stories from people – usually those who have achieved some great success and are being interviewed or otherwise lauded for their success – and they often seem to include a specific teacher or two who had a great influence on the person doing the “achieving.”

I of course had a few teachers/professors like this too (it’s just that I haven’t achieved anything yet!). Among them was an English Literature professor at Wabash College, one Thomas Campbell. At the time I was in college, he was one of the younger, “cooler” profs, and I took a class of his – damned if I can remember the exact title of it – on Medieval (& beyond) English Literature, dealing a lot with the Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, and Shakespeare, among others. Campbell was one of those professors who students could tell was genuinely excited about his subject. Professors like this…

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Jeffty is Five by Harlan Ellison – Selection #26 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: ♥5♥ Five of Hearts (image from playingcardcollector.net) Honestly, it was not intentional that I assigned this story to a “5” card, just a happy coincidence.

The Suit: For my version of Deal Me IN, this year, Hearts is the domain of Atropos, one of the “Fates” from Classical Greek Mythology who “sang of things that are yet to be” i.e., things in the future – the setting for this story. Atropos is also frequently represented as holding a pair of scissors with which she snips the thread of life which is spun by her two sisters, Clotho and Lachesis.

The Selection: “Jeffry is Five” – First published in 1977 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction thus not surprisingly included my copy of The Very Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction volume 2.

The Author: Harlan Ellison – Born in Ohio in 1927 (on my birthday, I just discovered!) I was a little surprised to find that I had never blogged about one of his stories before. If you’re a Star Trek fan, you are familiar with some of his work. He wrote the screenplay for one of the most acclaimed (& rightly so in this blogger’s opinion) episodes of the original series: “City on the Edge of Forever” which featured a young Joan Collins as a guest star. His 1957 short story, “Soldier of Tomorrow” was adapted for the television series Outer Limits’ episode, “Soldier.”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Jeffty is Five

“It’s a good world, all things considered. It’s much better than it used to be, in a lot of ways. People don’t die from the old diseases any more. They die from new ones, but that’s Progress, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Tell me. Somebody please tell me.”

I’ve always had a fondness for stories that play around with time. (I’m actually reading one right now – Jack Finney’s Time and Again). Vonnegut’s most famous protagonist – Billy Pilgrim if I have to tell you! – is just that because he becomes “Unstuck in Time.” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Benjamin Button puts a different spin on time, aging “backwards” after having been born an old man. There are other stories of those whose time is accelerated somehow, but what of Jeffty in this story? What’s his temporal oddity? What can we learn from a five year old about time? Pretty much, it turns out, because not only is Jeffty five. He’s always five.

We learn this from our narrator, Donny, who, though he has now grown up, was once five together with Jeffty, enjoying all that the magic of the world and the friendship of that age has to offer. Of all the characters in the story – even Jeffty’s parents – Donny is the one person who remains close to Jeffty, somehow appreciating him in spite of his oddity.

How does Jeffty remain always five? It seems this is partly achieved by his somehow being able to tune in to “live” radio shows that are no longer in production. At one point in the story Donny finds, for example, that Jeffty has a brand new decoder badge from the Captain Midnight radio program. That program has been off the air for twenty years, so how did Jeffty get this new “merch?” He simply “sent away for it,” apparently.

Alas, Donny is also a busy and successful businessman, and a stop by his television and appliance store with Jeffty on the way to the movies might spell doom…

“Nowhere… is there recognition of the ferocity the Present always brings to bear on the Past. Nowhere is there a detailed statement of how the Present lies in wait for What-Was, waiting for it to become Now-This-Moment so it can shred it with its merciless jaws.”

Have you read anything by Harlan Ellison? What other stories or works by him would you recommend? (below: from Ellison’s famous episode of ST:TOS)

“He knows, Doctor. He knows.”

♫♫ Personal notes: I became aware of this story a little more than two years ago when a “short story book club” I formed at my office was collecting story suggestions from our readers. This was one that never got picked and, perhaps not coincidentally, the member that proposed it only came to our first meeting. It has remained on my radar though, largely because on the intriguing title. In the intro to the story in my anthology, it is revealed that Ellison once “mis-heard” someone at a dinner party talking about their little boy, Jeff, saying “Oh, Jeff is fine. He’s always fine.” (I love hearing these origin stories about literary works!)

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