" In this universe the night was falling; the shadows were lengthening towards an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered; and along the path he once had followed, Man would one day go again"

Arthur C. Clarke Against the Fall of Night

Sunday, October 22, 2017

London Trip 2, SKOOB BOOKS, New Arrivals



More goodies from Skoob books.

I loved Niven's Gil Hamilton of ARM short stories, so I was 
excited to find he had done a novel. But I found it overly 
complicated for the length, with a poorly developed ending. 
But this Orbit edition has a great cover by Peter Jones.


A version of the full wrap-around cover photographed by 
the Unsubscriber can be found here.



The City of the Sun. 1980 cover by Tim White


I have read Shaw excellent short story "Light of Other Days"
so I grabbed this book on "slow Glass", cover uncredited.


How could I resist, Dick and a tentacled horror, 
cover by Gino d'Achille.


This copy of the Star Surgeon which Helen found for me, 
has a great but uncredited cover illustration. 


I loved everything about these two Pan editions, especially
the covers which are sadly uncredited.




No matter where I go Frank is there. 
The Dragon in the Sea, NEL 1969, cover Bruce Pennington.



Wrap-around version; 

I was hoping I might find copies of Ian Miller's covers for 
Lovecraft's books but I am very happy with this Herbert.
The Unsubscriber has published a number of posts
on his love for the cover art of Ian Miller. This link
contains a photo of the full wrap-around version of this title.





Monday, October 16, 2017

London Trip 1, SKOOB BOOKS, New Arrivals


We are back from a lovely trip to London. I stated before I left that I hoped to find some SF Penguins, however while I found a lot of older Penguin books for sale, I did not find many of the specific titles or cover artists I hoped to find. I also did not find any SF titles from the British SF publishers Digit or Badger books. While we did visit a number of interesting used book stores, only one, the wonderful SKOOB Books had an extensive SF section. You go in the main floor entrance and down the stairs and yeah!! books. After 3 or 4 visits, it was not far from our hotel, I had amassed a large number of British editions to bedevil my efforts at packing, along with the heavy guides and art books from the museums and galleries we visited. Thank you Helen for the photos of the shop.



http://www.skoob.com/

While this will probably stretch to several post, lets start with some highlights. If you had asked me to list some paperbacks I hoped to find, the first two (below,) could well have been one and two on the list.


I have long lusted after this Bruce Pennington cover for Space, Time and Nathaniel from The New English library edition, and the stories I have read so far have been very good,


Many years ago, when I was more of a SF reader and less of a collector, a very good friend, (now sadly deceased) gave me a copy of Solar Wind a book on the SF stylings of Peter Jones and I have loved Jones' gaunt skull-faced aliens ever since. This is the Jones cover I particularly wanted and I know I will think of Rod whenever I pick it up.


This Boyd title with a cover by Peter Cross, was a book I hoped to find and The Kraken Wakes is my favourite Wyndham. Cover by Denis Piper


Another book I wanted the minute I saw the cover, in this case on the blog of the Unsubscriber.
https://unsubscribedblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/14/from-the-library-of-the-unsubscriber-no-19-cover-oddities/
The cover artist is uncredited, any ideas?


I had never seen this edition of The Sirens of Titan (fifth impression, 1975) with a cover by Jim Burns but I knew I was bringing it home the minute I picked it up. 



To see the cover in it's full wrap around glory try

Friday, September 29, 2017

New Arrival; The Death of Grass by John Christopher


I always am looking for several SF books with covers I consider particularly striking, the Richard Powers cover for Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human for example. So while researching Penguin SF for my earlier posts I took one more search for a reasonably priced copy of The Death of Grass by John Christopher with this impressive cover by John Griffiths. This time however I found one in Winnipeg and this particular search is over.

Another article on the joys of Penguin SF from The Guardian.


Penguin shows off its SF covers
"One of my particular pleasures is poking around secondhand bookshops to find vintage science fiction books (I recently picked up a 1980s Harry Harrison novel purely because of its jacket, which features a monster-sized dolphin with a mouth of very sharp teeth). So, stumbling across this labour of love and beauty – a website exploring the history and cover art of science fiction published by Penguin between 1935 and 1977 – thanks to the Penguin blog means that I've just spent much of my morning plumbing its depths."

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2009/may/07/penguin-science-fiction-covers

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Penguin Books 3 (Pelican Books, the history) The Exploration of Space, Arthur C Clarke, 1958.

 In 1936, Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin, overheard a woman at a bookstall in King’s Cross station asking for ‘one of those Pelican books’. Presumably she meant a Penguin, but Lane, concerned that his competitors might snatch up bird names, decided to launch a new flock of non-fiction books. The Pelican imprint was born."


And thus an imprint for non-fiction books was born."


"In 2014, after nearly three decades in retirement, Pelican was reborn. In its new incarnation Pelican continues the same mission: to publish truly accessible books from authoritative and award-winning writers on a wide range of essential subjects. Pelicans are for those topics you are interested in, but feel you don’t know enough about, whether it’s architecture or the brain, evolution or Islam. You can expect many more Pelicans to take flight in 2015 and beyond."

https://www.pelicanbooks.com/about

To acknowledge the  Pelican re-launch The Guardian published a great overview of the Pelican imprint.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/apr/25/pelican-books-take-flight-relaunch


"The volumes came thick and fast, and were classy. In the 10 months between August 1958 and May 1959, for instance, Pelican titles included Kenneth Clark's study of Leonardo, Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy, The Exploration of Space by Arthur C. Clarke."









Monday, September 25, 2017

Penguin 2, Dystopian novels, 1984 by George Orwell at the Barbican, Interesting links






Jill Lepore, writing in the New Yorker (link below) discusses the current crop of dystopian fiction as well as providing a brief survey of the field overall. She offers a distinction between dystopian novels versus apocalyptic novels that I found quite interesting. 

"Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man,” is a dystopia (on the island, the pursuit of equality has reduced everyone to living in caves), but Mary Shelley’s 1826 novel, “The Last Man,” in which the last human being dies in the year 2100 of a dreadful plague, is not dystopian; it’s merely apocalyptic."

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction in describing John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar states "The Dystopian vision of this complex novel, much of which is set in an exemplary New York, rests on the assumption that Earth's population will continue to expand uncontrollably (see Overpopulation)."

They go to describe Brunner's further novels, The Jagged Orbit, The Sheep Look Up, and The Shockwave Rider as

"Three further novels, all with some of the same pace and intensity, make together a kind of thematic series of Dystopias."
http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/brunner_john

Lepore's article has left me pondering whether Brunner's novels are indeed dystopian or apocalyptic or both. I have not decided yet. Your thoughts? In this article she offers a good overview, as well as examining dystopian fiction in terms of our current reality. An interesting read for SF buffs.

New Yorker,
A Golden Age for Dystopian Fiction

What to make of our new literature of radical pessimism.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/06/05/a-golden-age-for-dystopian-fiction

In an earlier post (link follows) I noted that we were a bit sad that we would just miss a show of SF related items called Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction being held at the Barbican in London in Sept. In researching my series in Penguin Books I found out that Penguin has released four books, to be sold only through the Barbican shop, with Barbican related covers, to commemorate the show, they are 1984 by George Orwell, The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess and Frankenstein by Mary Shelly. (see the covers at the shop link below). While we missed the show, we do hope to be able to visit the shop, time and our energy level permitting.


http://ajaggedorbit.blogspot.ca/2017/06/into-unknown-journey-through-science.html

https://shop.barbican.org.uk/collections/books



Sunday, September 24, 2017

Penguin SF



My wife and I are planning a trip to London shortly and I have been hoping that I will be able to pick up some SF titles while I am there. One thing I wanted to do was look at which Penguin SF titles I already have and which titles I would like to look for in the London bookstores. 

It was also a great excuse to present some of the titles I already own. A quick look at the titles displayed at the link below, will demonstrate that the art directors for Penguin Books have embraced a number of different strategies, since they started publishing SF in 1935 with Erewhon by Samuel Butler.

My earliest Penguin in actually a television script for The Quatermass Experiment published in 1959. As Penguin frequently reprinted with the same covers it is good to look at the copyright page if you want first editions (thus). I am hoping to find some earlier novels, maybe even Erewhon?

A great resource for my search has been

http://www.penguinsciencefiction.org/ .

For a look at some of the travails and triumphs of a collector of Penguins SF titles I recommend searching the Penguin posts on theunsbcribedblog

https://unsubscribedblog.wordpress.com/2014/12/03/a-plethora-of-penguins-part-one/

For some general remarks on collecting Penguins including the SF titles, this article in the Guardian is good.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jul/30/penguin-books-turns-75-anniversary

The Quartermass Experiment, (above) has the horizontal orange and white triband covers I associate with Penguin Books.

Here the triband is now vertical. Limbo 1961.


It gets a bit more stylish below, After The Rain, 1958, cover illustration by Quentin Blake.


Then we also have a movie tie-in complete with scary kids.


The World in Winter, 1965, with a cover illustration by Bruce Robertson.


I have read a number of Hoyle's novels with The Black Cloud being my favourite so far. This cover, where the designer played with the iconic orange in creating a unique image, is one of my favourite Penguins.


A number of illustrators have done the covers for a series of novels by the same author. Here is one of the covers Peter Cross did for a novel  by John Boyd, I would love to find a copy of Boyd's  The Pollinators of Eden. I am hoping to find Penguins with covers by artists Alan Aldridge, David Pelham, Peter Tybus and Peter Goodfellow, and authors like Philp K. Dick, Frank Herbert and some of the Penguin anthologies.


Some of my favourite Penguin covers  are illustrated by Peter Lord, where the central image intrudes into the white border, in this series of novels by one of my favourite author John Wyndham. I will be looking for more of these.


And Penguin had done a number of paperbacks there the illustration covers the entire field.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

New Arrivals, Asimov, Martin Thomas, John C. Tibbetts

 Some new arrivals. I have mentioned previously that my serious SF collecting began when I received some books on SF illustration as a gift so when I saw this title Visions of the Futures with this rather striking the cover, I found a copy to order. The illustrations in this book are collected from the pages of Science Fiction Monthly, a British magazine put out by the New English Library, that focused on SF illustrators. I have never seen a copy of the magazine so I was not sure what to expect. I did not expect the postal worker to fold it to stuff it in the box rather than ringing the bell, but I found it in time and a quick pressing under art books resurrected it. I enjoyed the introduction by Van Vogt but wished it was more than one page. Also the quality of the reproductions could have been better. As for the illustrations, I soon realized that I recognized quite a few, many of them were used as paperback cover illustrations for books published by the New English Library. This is acknowledged in the captions but it did make me wonder whether Science Fiction Monthly was a true survey of the field of SF illustration or a house organ for the publisher. However it was not expensive and I always enjoy a snapshot of SF illustration and publishing for different periods. A list of the illustrators follows.



 Having reread the original Foundation Trilogy recently, I have been collecting information on Asimov's process in creating the series; so I wanted this collection of essays he wrote on the field. Sadly he does not seem to say much about the Foundation Series in the essays I have read. 



The same bookseller had Beyond the Spectrum and how could I pass up this cover and blurb.



Lastly something new, again I loved the cover. But it was after using Amazon's look inside feature I learned that John G. Tibbetts, was named John Carter by his father, a SF collector and member of first fandom, who also exposed him to bookshelves full of titles from Arkham House, Gnome Press and Donald Grant among others. His father took him to SF conventions where he meet a number of important SF authors including James Gunn, SF author, historian and educator, who later was his colleague at the University of Kansas. All this seemed quite promising but it was the chapters, "The Lovecraft Circle" and "The Bradbury Chronicles" that sealed the deal. I have only skimmed it so far but I have also found interviews with Poul Anderson, Jack Williamson, Maurice Seddak, Peter Straub, Suzy McKee Charnas, and Bian Aldiss among others. It looks like it will be great fun


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Jerry Pournelle (August 7, 1933 - September 8, 2017)



  Jerry Pournelle has passed away at age 84. I suspect there was a lot we would not have agreed on, but one thing I think we could have, is that, The Mote in God's Eye , was a great read. 

from The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website
http://www.sfwa.org/2017/09/memoriam-jerry-pournelle/


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sentinels of Space by Eric Frank Russell



  Eric Frank Russell is possibly, the science fiction author most indebted to the theories of Charles Fort for his plots. Indeed Ford’s statement, “ I think we are property", is used in Sinister Barrier, the Russell work that claimed the cover for the initial issue of John W. Campbell's pulp magazine Unknown. Certainly elements of Fort’s theories are also evident in Russell’s 1951 novel Sentinels of Space  (originally published as The Star Watchers in the Nov. 1951 issue of Startling Stories).  Space pilot Captain David Raven has been summoned before The World Council. It is obvious immediately that the Council is uncomfortable in Raven's presence and they avoid eye contact. They talk to him only long enough to tell him they have just discovered that Earth’s colonies on Mars and Venus have been responsible for a number of sabotage attacks on Earth industries and research institutions. The colonies are hoping to gain their independence. Earth does not wish to acknowledge the attacks, they feel a united solar system is needed in case they encounter aliens as they launch space expeditions further afield. Carson, the director of Earth’s Terran Security Bureau, has sifted all Earth's birth records to locate Raven, an exceptionally powerful telepath. Carson wants Raven to act as a secret agent tasked with thwarting the colonies. He meets with Raven and explains the problem in more detail. As citizens of Earth the colonists can move about Earth freely, using mutant agents to conduct the attacks. It seems that as the colonists traveled to Mars and Venus they were exposed to radiation in space. The radiation produced mutations with special powers. At present the mutants seem to be limited, each has only one power, for example telepathy, levitation, etc., there are 12 varieties in total. Raven will be sent out alone acting on his own initiative with no official status and reporting only to Carson to stop the undeclared war.

The attacks on Raven start the minute he leaves Carson’s office. Despite this, he returns home to his female companion Leina. It is obvious right away that this is not a conventional male female relationship, but then it is obvious that Raven is not simply a powerful telepath. Once he explains his role to Leina she reminds him that, “It is the unwritten law that we must never be tempted to interfere except with the prime motive of thwarting the Denebs. We might give ourselves away just sufficiently to frighten humankind…,” (19) Yes it seems that Raven and Leina are very powerful extraterrestrial observers stationed on Earth to alert their unnamed organization should an alien race called the Denebs detect the civilizations in our solar system. There are a pair of observers one male, one female on each inhabited planet. Despite the non interference directive, Raven, and Charles, the male observer, on Venus do interfere. They do this despite the objections of Leina and Charles' partner Mavis. 

And so you have a fairly pedestrian SF secret agent war with the colonies drama. It is interesting that Russell uses the theme of a lone agent taking on an entire planet several times. tor.com posted several discussions of Russell’s novel Wasp the most recent can be found here.


An earlier one appears here.

https://www.tor.com/2011/03/03/one-man-against-a-whole-planet-eric-frank-russells-wasp/

I think Wasp was a better novel although overall I probably enjoyed Sentinels of Space more because of several elements I will discuss below. However there were also elements I hated. Some of the dialogue is nonsensical rubbish, in describing a colleague mentally attacked by Raven, “It was mussed something awful. His think-stuff was like freshly stirred porridge.” (33)

It is incredibly sexist, Leina and Mavis, one can assume, are equally powerful beings but apparently according to Russell’s male characters fraught with female tendencies, Charles explains to Raven that “ Mavis got a call from Leina. As usual they gabbed an hour about personal matters before Leina remembered she’d come through to tell us you were on the Fantome. It seems she’d sooner you had kept to your proper job”
“Females remain females throughout the whole of eternity,” Raven offered. (67)

Also both Raven and Charles come across as incredibly egotistical. Normally we associate the villains with monologuing but they go on forever baiting a rebel named Thorstein, because as Russell explains later, they have to really be threatened before they can defend themselves. They are also fairly callous about individual human life, although it is not an overly violent book. Fletcher Pratt, in the Saturday Review of 6 June 1953[2] wrote: Exciting semi-classic, but is this the way super-minds work?” One hopes not, and Pratt really captures my misgivings here.


So what did I like. In one scene we see Raven and Leina reclined in chairs under a glass dome in their home. They are not looking at the night sky as much as listening to the fragments of the mental traffic of their colleagues' efforts against the Deneb race spreading across the universe, “scouting warily around Bluefire, a condensing giant. Twenty black ships of destroyer types.” "repeatedly, but complete lack of common ground makes it impossible to communicate with these Flutterers.” (150) the messages point to, a vast relatively peaceful campaign against Deneb expansion and conquest.

For most of my life I have had trouble falling sleep, so in my early teens I would lie in the dark with my transistor radio listening to the world or what bits of the world I could receive, so this passage struck a real chord. I have encountered this before in my SF reading, the signals from the lost starships in Starmasters' Gambit by Gerard Klein, or when reading about the seashell (thimble) radios used by the fireman Montag’s wife Mildred in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. These passages in Sentinels of Space
really resonate with me. Also the ending came as a pleasant surprise, I admit one of the things I liked least about Wasp was the ending. 


As a writer Russell can be a bit uneven but his story "Allamagoosa" won the short story Hugo for 1955 and his novella  "And Then There Were None" was selected by members of The Science Fiction Writers of America for inclusion in Volume IIA of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame. In his entry on Russell in Seekers of Tomorrow, Sam Moskowitz notes; “For good or bad, the astonishing bulk of Fortean phenomena and verging logically off into strange talents, stems from him. In fact, Russell virtually parodies the genre in his novel The Star Watchers …., which includes twelve mutations each enjoying a variation in special powers.” (150) My favourite mutant power here is 11, Insectivocals, and with that I am done.

(Sorry I did encounter some format issues I could not resolve in this post)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Fun Read from the Guardian The Philip K Dick book I love most…

A fun read from the Guardian, 

Nicola Barker, Michael Moorcock, and Adam Roberts discuss their favourite P. K. Dick novel.

I have too much of Phil's oeuvre left to read to pick a favourite at this time; of the three listed here, I would pick Time out of Joint, I have not read Puttering About in a Small Land. I do wish they had included more authors.


 https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/27/philip-k-dick-best-novels-blade-runner-minority-report

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Recommended Link: ON THE DARK, WONDROUS OPTIMISM OF RAY BRADBURY by GABRIELLE BELLOT

 

My wife, knowing my love of all things Ray Bradbury sent me a link to "ON THE DARK, WONDROUS OPTIMISM OF RAY BRADBURY: GABRIELLE BELLOT DISCOVERS WORLDS WITHIN AND WITHOUT" by Gabrielle Bellot


Ray Bradbury through his short stories, "The Fog Horn", "The Pedestrian", and his novel Fahrenheit 451, even the Joseph Mugnaini covers of Bradbury's books, The Golden Apples of the Sun, The October Country and Fahrenheit 451 often defined science fiction for me as a youth, and often still does today, so I was interested in reading Bellot's essay. I was impressed, Bellot combines what seems like a fairly extensive knowledge of Bradbury's work with her own meditations on gender, identity, family and memory. Ballot highlights a number of Bradbury's works including, The Fire Balloons, "The Other Foot" and the very dark "All Summer is a Day" in discussing her own experiences in her relationship with her family, especially those concerning the death of her grandmother. This I think is a wonderful example of the power of story, of fiction, in our lives, in that it allows the reader to feel a kinship with others over shared experiences or allows one to see the world however briefly and tenuously through someone else's identity and experiences. For me, for example the very powerful Bradbury story "Long After Midnight" immediately came to mind as I read Bellot's essay. 





Monday, August 21, 2017

Who will replace this man? Brian Aldiss (1925-2017)



Brian Aldiss, SF author, anthologist and historian passed away Monday August 21st at 92.


Upon hearing of his passing I began to look for media discussions of not just, his death but his career. I did not find a lot in NA sources, Tor did have a nice post, and I did find some material from UK sources, here are some links I found informative.


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/brian-aldiss-interview-much-snobbery-science-fiction/

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/21/science-fiction-author-brian-aldiss-dies-aged-92

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/nov/19/comment.comment

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/dec/13/brian-aldiss-science-fiction-author-review

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/jun/16/sciencefictionfantasyandhorror.artsandhumanities

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/22/brian-aldiss-science-fiction-writer-neil-gaiman

https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/08/21/sci_fi_great_brian_aldiss_died/


For a full discussion of this career, please see his entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/aldiss_brian_w

I had just completed my post when I found this remembrance on Battered, Tattered, Yellowed & Creased

https://yellowedandcreased.wordpress.com/2017/08/21/in-memoriam-brian-aldiss/

Aldiss last book Finches of Mars came out in 2012 and he began publishing with the short story "Criminal Record "in 1954. He published some very significant science fiction novels including, Non-Stop (1958), Hothouse (1962), Greybeard  (1962), and Barefoot in the Head (1969). He was also an anthologist of note, producing among other titles, a Best SF Series with Harry Harrison that ran from 1968-1976. Aldiss and Harrison's comments on SF in these volumes are worth the purchase price by themselves. He produced one of the great histories of SF, the Billion, Later Trillion Year Spree (1986), which pointed me towards a number of writers. And while I am not in total agreement with some of his conclusions and omissions, it is a great read for anyone interested in SF. His career was a long and fascinating one, starting in the 1950's, when the field was dominated by the likes of Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Sturgeon etc., on into the 1960's when he became a part of the New Wave, (see quotes below) and then continued up to the present day. And through it all Brian was not just writing SF but also promoting it and acknowledging it's importance both as a genre and in his career, I am a bit surprised his profile was not higher within discussions of the field.

"Aldiss was instrumental in obtaining a 1967 Arts Council grant for the magazine, which saved it for a few years. Though never fully at ease with New World's submission to an aesthetic dominated by J.G. Ballard, Aldiss published some increasingly unconventional fiction here, notably his novel Report on Probability A (short version March 1967 New Worlds; 1968; written 1962 but unpublishable until the times changed)"


Aldiss in these interviews does not shy away from discussing unpleasant aspects of the field.

"As for Ballard, “he fell in with a dreadful fellow, an artist who designed one of the Underground stations [Eduardo Paolozzi] and just ceased to be a friend. Perhaps because he didn’t like being associated with the label of science fiction. I don’t like the label, but I put up with it.”


As someone who loves the early Ballard but wants the time spent borrowing his later books from library, much less reading them, back I found these remarks interesting.

I have to admit I have gathered together a number of his works but read only a few. My wife has long enthused over his Helliconia trilogy so I will have to get busyWhen I get home I hope to take a closer look at his work, I may wait until we visit London, to see what I encounter there.

So today rather than raise a glass I picked up his 1965 collection Who Can Replace a Man and read the title story. It will not be the last. Goodbye Brian. 

Any thoughts on Aldiss?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Godzilla giant passes, Haruo Nakajima


Sad news, Haruo Nakaijima the actor that played the original Godzilla has passed. I love Godzilla movies, with the exception of a few very obviously aimed at children like All Monsters Attack, and the abomination starring Mathew Broderick, okay I am not so cool on the whole Minilla (baby/son of Godzilla idea) but I have some 20+ Godzilla CD's, books my favourite being Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters by William M. Tsutsui. I have limited myself to one figurine however. I did not bother to see the latest movie from Toho after reading reviews but I am enjoying the latest American reboot.  A link to my comments on Kong Skull Island appear below. So i was saddened to hear of the death of  Haruo Nakajima. It is fun to watch the original Japanese version and then the American version with Raymond Burr to see how he is inserted into the film. I just love the nuclear theme, the models (even the wires), the huge number of alien threats and the general look of the early films. 

They also led me to other, rather cheesy Japanese films like AragonThe Mysterians, Warning from Space etc. I still re-watch my favourites when I need a break from reality.  Since the number of films I brought to the cabin is limited I think tonight I will re-watch The  Mysterians an alien invasion story (they want our women) featuring Haruo Nakaijima as Moguera one of the oddest looking giant robots ever seen in SF films. Now that's entertainment 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

I live my life surrounded by books. Books I have read, books I mean to read, books I bought largely for the covers, or illustrations, books I bought because I remember them from other people’s libraries. Like the hard cover book club edition of Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization, with it’s brightly coloured covers, which my brother owned and which I got as my free gift when I joined the book club. I suspect I thought owning them meant you were quite smart, it doesn't, I suspect most copies go unread. I occasionally dip into them but really, they exist somewhere in the intersection of nostalgia, my search for “lost time” and what I think constitutes a library. And yes, for me books have to be physical books.


A Wrinkle in Time, Scholastic Book Services 1962, cover by Ellen Raskin

So when I packed up books for my woefully neglected deep dive back into the genre I love, I brought A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I am not 100 percent sure how old I was when I read it, I was probably a bit older than the target audience but still a teenager. What is more important to me is that the book conjures up memories that are intrinsically bound up with the subject matter of the book itself. At the point I read the book I still had some interest in, if no aptitude for mathematics,  (it faded, I simply did not study hard enough) but the interest was there then and stories like “And He Built A Crooked House” by Robert Heinlein or “A Subway Called Moebius” by A.J. Deutsch and A Wrinkle in Time fuelled it, ( Flatland remains sitting in my TBR pile) . I have to say I remembered little about the novel, mainly bits from the planet Camazotz, the newspaper boy, the child with the ball and the brain, but the description of the highly regimented town has remained with me through the years.

A Wrinkle in Time is very much a young adult novel, but as a retiree with an Andre Norton blog, who feels Robert Heinlein's best novels were his young adult works that does not dissuade me. 

The novel focuses on 13 year old Margaret Murray (Meg) and her family. As the novel opens Meg is upset about school, a pretty typical scenario for a YA novel. Meg is, in her words unattractive, a poor student and a disruption in class. Her only interest is in mathematics but while she can solve the problems, she does it through the use of intuitive leaps (something she learned from her scientist father), instead of the correct classroom procedure. Her latest misdeed was beating up an older boy who called her younger brother Charles Wallace a name. Charle Wallace is a five year old, who did not start to talk until four but immediately began to talk at an adult level. He also has a  strong empathic sense that allows him to monitor the moods of Meg and their scientist mother. Meg also has annoyingly well adjusted twin brothers but they do not play a significant role in this novel. The family is struggling at present, Mr Murray a physicist at the Institute for Higher Learning in Princeton University has gone missing while engaged on a secret government project. The family can get no information on the project or his whereabouts due to national security. The community is convinced he has run off with another woman and the family is subjected to snide remarks and unwanted advice. It is on a dark and stormy night that Meg, who cannot sleep, joins Charles Wallace and her mother in the kitchen. Charles Wallace has just admitted he recently made the acquaintance of a Mrs Whatsit and her two friends, who are living in a nearby abandoned, i.e. haunted house. At this point Mrs. Whatsit appears out of the storm, a rather strange and comedic character, who Meg does not trust. As she is leaving she tells Mrs Murray that there is such a thing as a tesseract, a revelation that distresses Mrs Murray. The next day Charles Wallace convinces Meg to pay a visit to Mrs Whatsit and her friends, Mrs Which, and Mrs Who. On the way they encounter Calvin O’Keefe, a boy who attends the same school as Meg, Calvin is a bit older and Meg does not really know him. Calvin is a gifted athlete and student but considers himself a biological sport, he has come to the woods due to a compulsion, a feeling he has learned not to disregard. After a quick trip home for supper and a vetting by Mrs Murray the three are off to visit Mrs Whatsit and her friends, who are obviously powerful beings masquerading as witches. The six of them then start off on a trip to rescue Mr Murray, whose disappearance is related to a universe wide conflict between good and evil. They travel by tessering, using folds or winkles in space and time to cover immense distances. Wikipedia has a lengthly summary of the novel, as well as it’s publishing history, information on the novel's reception, it won several awards etc. so I will not go into a great deal of detail here. 

Several things struck me upon rereading A Wrinkle in Time, the strongest was the use of Christian symbols and thought. I had a tendency as a youth, not entirely lost now, to disregard or skip an author’s philosophical or moral digressions or bias to get to the resumption of action. I am trying to do a better job of close reading but it is a struggle. So a lot for things I would notice now, tended to go over my head then. On page 108 a list of fighters for good starts with Jesus Christ and then includes a fairly obviously western based list of artists and scientists although it is nice to see Madame Curie, Buddha and Gandhi are included. The Christian religious focus, similar to that in the SF and Fantasy novels of C.S. Lewis I was reading at the same time, was of course everywhere then, at least, in my life, my public school and the church (United) that I attended. It was also fairly common in the Western media of the day. On rereading as an adult, the scene that takes place on the planet Uriel, where winged centaur-like beings, it turns out that Mrs Whatsit is once of these beings, stars who lost their lives in the struggle against the evil darkeness, sing the praises of God 

“Sing unto the Lord a new song,
and his praises from the end of the earth, 
ye that go down to the sea,
and all that is therein:

etc. 

This scene really reminded me of the scene in Dante’s Purgatory where Dante and Virgil visit the Valley of Rulers, where the rulers sing hymns to God.



Dante, Purgatory Canto 8.13-19, Cover artist?

"Creator of all things, before the end of light, we beg you to guard and protect us with your usual compassion. Let the dreams and fantasies of night retreat; " etc.

http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/purgatory/02valleyofrulers.html

Given this quote " She said "I cannot believe that God wants punishment to go on interminably any more than does a loving parent. The entire purpose of loving punishment is to teach, and it lasts only as long as is needed for the lesson. And the lesson is always love."[I suspect that  L'Engle was not a fan of Dante, maybe she just skipped the Inferno.


Reading the wikipedia article on her life it was interesting to note that some secular readers found her books too religious and some Christian readers found her version of Christianity too inclusive. Sometimes you cannot win.

Even before rereading A Wrinkle in Time the religious focus of the series was underscored when I picked up a sequel in the Value Village in PA. Entitled Many Waters it narrates the adventure of the twin Murray brothers Sandy and Dennys who go back in time and meet Noah. I know I read at least two other sequels years ago but I don’t think they ever made the same impression on me as the first book. The wikipedia entry also notes that 


Dell Laurel-Leaf 1987 edition, cover by Rowena Morrill.


“Nearly every novel by Madeleine L'Engle connects to the Murry-O'Keefe series either directly or indirectly with appearances by recurring characters" 


I enjoyed rereading the novel for many of the reasons I enjoyed it the first time, the nod to mathematics, the idea of jaunting around the universe meeting aliens, and the horrific regimentation of the planet Camazotz. In my mind I have always envisioned Camazotz as a beautifully laid out suburb of the model communities that appeared in the 1950’s and 1960’s media when I was  a child. The novel brought back memories of my life and feelings at the time I read it and the people and places that were part of this period. I still take the religious focus with a grain of salt and skip onto the adventure, as I did at the time, but it did not impact my enjoyment of the novel then or now.