WWW Wednesday. This meme is from shouldbereading.
The usual questions being:
What have you read, what are you reading, what will you read?
Well, since I’m working again, I’ve been reading short fiction. I have been reading the September, 2013 Analog, where to the hilarity of my Facebook friends and students, I stumbled across “Full Fathom Five” by Joe Pitkin. I often read while I’m working out, so I was actually in the gym when coming across this story, which is … hold your britches … about a young female scientist stranded on Europa who discovers alien life.
The sort of alien life depicted in this classic sci fi cover which I like to call “Mr. Stiffy”!
Yes, “Full Fathom Five” features a young female scientist who discovers a two-meter long giant alien penis. She takes “him”/it into the hold of her ship and believes that she “killed him.” Well, this is not the case. Mr. Stiffy the alien “comes alive” every night and has …
nocturnal emissions …
of the very sort of thing Maria the scientist needs to repair her ship and communicate with the outside world.
I’ve had discussion with people about this tale and I think it may have been meant as a sort of “Philip Roth in space” story. If you’ve read Philip Roth, you’ll recall that most of his work, regardless of plot or circumstances, is pretty much about the magical healing properties of his penis.
I now realize that the merger between quality literary fiction such as that emitted by Philip Roth and the pulpy world of sci fi have become one and the same. The main qualities of 20th century “mimetic” literary fiction were self-obsession, internal dialog, archetypal characters presented as “realistic,” and, thanks to Philip Roth and others of like mind, in-depth explorations of man’s relationship with his penis and the way he wishes things would be. With, like, women. Females. Explorers who take these big ‘ol things into their dark “hold.” Big embarrassing moment at the gym: “It resembled the human male reproductive structure so intimately that she could not repress a fleeting arousal reflex whenever she saw it for the first time that day.” Once I started laughing, it was almost impossible to stop.
This story made me somewhat reluctant to continue to read further in the issue. As we say in the trade, “I’m sure it’s right for someone; it’s just not working for me.” The issue’s lead story is a retelling of Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” set during the Vietnam war, “The Whale God” by Alec Nevala-Lee. This is a thoughtful story, with an interesting and plausible scientific twist. Its only fault is that it cleaves a little too closely to Orwell, making simple reversals in the role of the “white man” and “natives” present in the original story. Since whales and the working elephant in Orwell’s story aren’t a one-to-one correspondence (nor is Burma/Vietnam or US/UK) this seemed a little heavy-handed to me. But an interesting and thoughtful story. There is also another long, interesting story by Lavie Tidhar in this issue.
I am also reading the 2011 Best American Science and Nature Writing, edited by one of my favorites, Mary Roach. The first essay is a real-life exploration of something Larry Niven predicted back in the 70’s – real-life Mumbai organleggers. These are the “You wake up in a tub filled with ice minus a kidney” people. Strangely, Orkut seems to have become a center for kidney donors/recipients in these black market schemes. All very interesting.
I have yet to read two other nonfiction books, The Violinist’s Thumb by Sam Kean and Spook by Mary Roach. Mary’s writing is always a pleasure, but I’m a little nonplussed by Kean’s approach: like we are kind of too dumb to “get” what he’s writing about. Maybe this is so; or maybe we aren’t yet living in Idiocracy. So this is why also I am reading Sonnets to Orpheus by Rilke in English/German.
According to Analog’s Tom Easton, she writes like Ray Bradbury on real sci-fi. According to herself, she writes like Ray Carver on space hippie crack.