Saturday, August 5, 2017
Enter Octavia E. Butler, the mother of science fiction.
Butler was the first female African-American science fiction writer to gain notoriety. A Hugo Award winner and a MacArthur Genius, Butler is maybe the first SF writer, for my money at least, who is actually a good writer. I've read Arthur C. Clarke, I've read a bit of Isaac Asimov, etc. These white men can't write like Butler can.
So be it.
Mind of My Mind is about a young woman named Mary living in the ghetto of Los Angeles. She is also a latent telepath, quickly approaching transition on her 19th birthday. Being a latent means she's sensitive to the mental activity around her, but has no control.
Doro, her caretaker, her father, and her lover (it's a little complex), is a 4000 year old being, originally a Nubian slave from ancient Egypt. Doro has devoted his life to breeding a race of telepaths on earth, no matter the cost. For some reason, he feels that Mary is the final piece to the puzzle that's been eluding him for all these centuries.
Yet, when Mary finally goes through transition, something unexpected occurs. A pattern materializes, a mental web that connects Mary to every active and latent telepath in the world. And Mary finds that she has control of the web. All she has to do is give it a little tug...
If you are interested in exploring telepathy, psychokinesis, immortality, reincarnation, and/or race & gender politics, I highly recommend this novel.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
The night before my bar-mitzvah I opened my binder that contained all of the service's prayers and passages, highlighted everything in it that was mine to read, and removed the rest. I didn't feel the need for all the clutter. What I felt was its burden.
When, on the morning of the service, my rabbi figured out what I had done, he was not pleased. Something about how isolating the bar-mitzvah to only my sections really misses the point of what the day is about. I didn't really understand why he was so upset - I still knew when in the service to go on, when to come off. What would be the point of carrying back-and-forth from the seats to the bimah all that extra weight?
This book fills its pages with a lot of burden and a lot of extra weight. But instead of the burden of clutter it's the burden of context, of guilt, of repression, of history, of the things that should have been said but were not, of the things that were said but shouldn't have been, of relationships, of children, of dogs, of being Jewish. There is no story without everything else.
The rabbi, I think, was on to something. Perhaps prayers and passages in isolation are less meaningful in the absence of context. But while I agree with the premise, I'm still not sure I agree with the point. The act of a bar-mitzvah asks a thirteen-year-old boy to stand up in front of his congregation, read some prayers, interpret the Torah, and declare himself a man. The burden, as always, might have been too much to bear.
Monday, December 1, 2014
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, is a beautiful painting of a book, about a pharmaceutical researcher named Dr. Singh whose lab partner of the last 7 years has just died in the Amazon Jungle. They receive news on a light strip of blue envelope. Anders Eckman was a father of three, a husband, a typical Midwesterner, blond haired, an inside person who loved birds. Apparently he had died of a fever, said Dr. Annick Swenson in the letter. She was funded by Vogel, Dr. Singh's pharmaceutical company, to develop a fertility drug using the tree bark of the Lakashi tribe. Anders had gone down to the Brazil on assignment from Vogel, to find out about Dr. Swenson's progress. Their company was running out of money and patience on the project (it had been several decades). They needed a direct line of communication, and they needed to know when they could expect their drug to hit the market. Anders, thinking it would be a nice opportunity to see some rare birds, volunteered to go.
But now Anders is dead.
Aleph, by Paulo Coelho, is a story about past-life regret and present-life restlessness. It's about the author himself, a Brazilian man named Paulo, 63 years old, abundant, wealthy, happily married, an internationally loved author of novels that have moved people all across the world, living secluded in a beautiful manor beneath a 500 year old oak tree in the French countryside... and yet he's empty. Of feeling, of compassion. He wants to know the purpose of his life. He wants to know what he's doing here.
On a whim one night at a book signing party, Paulo has his publisher design a 2 month International Tour, from Africa to Brazil to Germany, finally ending with a train ride across the length of Russia, from Moscow to the Pacific Ocean. He'll read from his work, host book signing parties, explore each new city with a guide. He'll learn to see with new eyes. He'll re-connect with a world he once knew very intimately.
With his wife's blessing (we never learn her name), Paulo sets off on a journey. In Russia, a young woman finds him at a book signing, and says that she's had a dream about him, and that she must come along on the train journey. She believes they are meant to fix each other. After some persistence and a haunting violin melody from Hilal (she's a first chair violinist for the Turkish Symphony), he agrees that she can ride with them.
Over the course of their journey, they explore Russia by train, 9600 meters of track winding through cities and countryside. It's Paulo, his editor, his publisher, a seventy-year-old Japanese Russian translator named Yao, and Hilal, riding together in a sleeper car at the back of the train. Hilal and Paulo quickly realize that they know each other from a past life. They find an "Aleph" one afternoon in the space that connects train cars, and they see everything that has ever happened. They saw their life together, their collective memory merged in a spray of images. Paulo knows that they were lovers, and that he did something terrible to her.
Their pupils dilated, staring into the Aleph of each other's eyes.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
What's outside the window?
To this day, free access to the preserve is granted only to birds and to residents of the Canterbridge Estates, through a gate whose lock combination is known to them, beneath a small ceramic sign with a picture of the pretty young dark-skinned girl after whom the preserve is named.
Sometimes a wind comes before the rain and sends birds sailing past the window, spirit birds that ride the night, stranger than dreams.
And this is it.
The dark-windowed locomotive is sinister, the train seemingly about to explode off the wall, leap through the air, and shatter into a shower of red-hot shrapnel.
He bowed low, right down to the ground, in front of the man sitting there motionless, whose smile reminded him of everything that he had ever loved in his life, of everything that had ever been of value and holy in his life.
He says that he will never die.
The cults of the famous and the dead.
"Don't ask me why, old sport," said Stony, "but somebody up there likes you."
justice is everywhere and it's working
and the machine guns and the frogs
and the hedges will tell you
"We'll take in a quick bite at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe."
To write: to try meticulously to retain something, to cause something to survive; to wrest a few precise scraps from the void as it grows, to leave somewhere a furrow, a trace, a mark or a few signs.
Gosh, it sure is pretty... isn't it?
Go on, go on into the Light, into the peace, into the living peace of the Clear Light.
And when all the people were dispersed she still stood alone upon the sea-wall, remembering in her heart his saying, "A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me."
May the year that is at hand uphold and strengthen you in that.
I had never known, never ever imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.
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So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old brokendown river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the evening-star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks in the west and folds the last and final shore in, and nobody, just nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Neal Cassady, I even think of Old Neal Cassady the father we never found, I think of Neal Cassady, I think of Neal Cassady.
But it was another girl, young and new to the city, fiddling with her keys.
"Yeah," I said. "He ought to be good at that."
before they get to us
when they do
get it all
Friday, September 16, 2011
I was having good times with the Denver kids and lounging around and getting ready to go to Mexico when suddenly Brierly called me one night and said "Well Jack, guess who's coming to Denver?" I had no idea. "He's on his way already, I got this news from the grapevine. Neal bought a car and is coming out to join you." Suddenly I had a vision of Neal, a burning shuddering frightful Angel palpitating towards me across the road, approaching like a cloud, with enormous speed, pursuing me like the Shrouded Stranger on the plain, bearing down on me. I saw his huge face over the plains with the mad bony purpose and the gleaming eyes; I saw his wings; I saw his old jaloppy chariot with thousands of sparking flames shooting out from it; I saw the path it burned over the road; it even made its own road and went over the corn, through cities, destroying bridges, drying rivers. It came like wrath to the West. I knew Neal had gone mad again. There was no chance of sending money to either wife if he took all his savings out of the bank and bought a car. Everything was up, the jig and all. Behind him charred ruins smoked. He rushed westward over the groaning and awful continent again and soon he would arrive.