A period in history of the West known as the late nineteenth-seventies. One of the milder inter-glacial periods, when textbooks describe the North European climate as "pleasantly cool and damp."
Over the European Economic Community, eight o'clock of a windy and rather chill spring evening. Television screens brighten everywhere, in flats, houses, and apartments stretching from Scarpa Flow to the Gulf of Otranto. hundreds of them, thousands, millions, the characteristic burning to ward off the terrors of the ancient night. So characteristic that future historians will refer to this cultural epoch as the Rounded Rectangular. The global village enjoys its nightly catharsis of violence or Kultur.
-- Brian Aldiss, Life in the West (1980)
Aldiss (1925-2017) was a literary polymath, probably best known for his science fiction and fantasy. His was a literature of ideas, using vastly different approaches to achieve his end, always exploring, always pushing boundaries. Aldiss was also a perceptive critic and poet, as well as an ambitious editor of anthologies. His work -- because of his varied styles and forms -- can at time be difficult to approach. He is one of my favorite authors but I can only read him in short bursts. Too much Aldiss and I am overwhelmed.
Hothouse (also published as The Long Afternoon of Earth) depicted an Earth that had stopped rotating and on which vegetation has gone amuck; mankind has been reduced to small, mutated groups who live in a large tree that encompasses an entire hemisphere and stretches toward space. The Dark Light Years gives us an alien race far superior to us but who live and wallow in excrement. Report on Probability A is a brilliant science fiction anti-novel. Barefoot in the Head embodies the "New Wave" science fiction style of the late sixties, a psychedelic Finnegan's Wake. Frankenstein Unbound, Moreau's Other Island, and Dracula Unbound riff on the classic novels, stretching them to new limits. Brothers of the Head gives us a two-headed rock star with a third head that begins to show sentience. The Malacia Tapestry is a baroque fantasy set in an alternate Venice. The Eighty Minute Hour is a space opera in which the characters actually sing. The Helliconia Trilogy (Helliconia Spring, Helliconia Summer, and Helliconia Winter) is a far-ranging saga covering the rise and fall of a civilization over a millennium on a distant planet whose year is equivalent to some 250 of our years. Jocasta combines Sophocles' Theban tragedies with myth, magic, an expanded human consciousness, and time travel. The mainstream Horatio Stubbs saga (A Hand-Reared Boy, A Soldier Erect, and A Rude Awakening) are basically sex comedies. 'The Saliva Tree" is a Lovecraftian fantasy by way of H. G. Wells; it won a Nebula Award. "Supertoys Last All Summer Long" was the basis of the Stanley Kubrick/Stephen Spielberg film A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. The Billion Year Spree (expanded as The Trillion Year Spree) is a perceptive history of science fiction. His travel book Cities and Stones: A Traveller's Yugoslavia show's his interest in that country -- an interest that he has incorporated into some of his fiction. Researches and Churches in Serbia collects nine articles about that area of the world. SF Horizons collects the short-lived magazine of the same name edited by Aldiss and Harry Harrison; it was the first mainstream science fiction critical journal. With Harrison he edited nine volumes of The Year's Best Science Fiction (1968-1976). Many of his other anthologies were designed to introduce the genre to readers, or to examine the various aspects of the genre; they include a healthy love of old-fashioned space opera. Contrary to what Wikipedia says. Aldiss did not invent the literary form mini-saga; he did, however, popularize it and edited two anthologies of mini-saga. (A mini-saga is a short story based on a longer story and contains just 50 words -- no more, no less; it's title should be no more than fifteen characters.) He also experimented with triptychs in a series of "Three Enigmas," three (in one case, two) thematically linked short stories (in one case, plays) each.
Which brings us to Life in the West, the first novel in the mainstream Squire Quarter, a novel that Anthony Burgess named one of the best 99 novels published since 1939. Alas, the novel, brilliantly written and executed, is showing its age. The protagonist Tom Squire is sometimes likable and more often not. He is a hedonist and a man who cannot see his own faults. Tom is the creator of the television series Frankenstein Among the Arts, a documentary series exploring the importance of popular art, where form and function are part of the beauty. He has founded the Society for Popular Aesthetics and has been asked to be the guest of honor at an international academic conference on the subject in Sicily, with subjects ranging from pinball machines to science fiction to Marxist thought. And there Russian spies and shadows from the past. This is happening at a time of mid-life crisis. His wife, whom he loves, has left him because of his numerous affairs (her reasons, of course, go much deeper than that). He may have to give up his cherished family estate. His Tory views are out of alignment with much of the current thinking. And his past as a secret agent -- especially his murderous time in Yugoslavia thirty years before -- may be catching up with him. Skipping back and forth over the years from Yugoslavia to Singapore to Sicily and to England, we view Squire's life -- the drab, the glorious, and the confused. It's a fantastic book -- hard to get into, worth reading, and showing us a time perhaps best long gone.
Speaking Loudly and Carrying a Wiffle Bat: There's a meme on the internet: January 1, started the new decade on a hopeful note. January 2, OMG! Austalia's burning! January 3, did World War III just start? Boy, did things escalate quickly.
And escalate it did. President Trump, in his folly, directed an air strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Suleimani, the leader of the elite Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Make no mistake about it, Suleimani was a bad man responsible for many American deaths (although he was not involved in the 9-11 attacks as Mike Pence would have it). Trump, egged on by his ultra-right advisers, overreacted, perhaps (probably) in part to deflect attention away from impeachment and in part in an effort to out-do Obama (who took down Osama ben Ladin). In doing so, Trump may have lit a match that will put American lives at risk, that will diminish our standing in the world even further, that will make our efforts in the Middle East meaningless, and that will embolden our enemies. In response to Iran's threats following the killing of Suleimani, Trump basically said we have more bombs than you do and we may well start bombing your cultural treasures. Jesus. This is not a schoolyard. This is not a company boardroom where you can cover your mistakes by going into bankruptcy and start all over again, easy peasy. This is the real world with real consequences. Having an ego-maniacal narcissistic bully as a leader is a dangerous thing. As one expert put it, what Trump did was "appallingly stupid."
Roast Koala, Anyone?: Speaking of lighting a match, climate change did just that to Australia. things have eased up temporarily but there are still more than 150 wildfires still burning, many uncontrolled. Businesses are devastated. Some 500 million birds, reptiles, and mammals have been killed in New South Wales alone. Some 2000 homes have been destroyed. Two dozen people have been killed. 12.35 million acres have been burned.The smoke over the capitol of Canberra yesterday noon measured over ten times the hazardous limit. Residents of Aukland, New Zealand, could see the glow of the fire. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has in the past made remarks belittling climate change. No more. Morrison has also been criticized for his slow response to the wildfires. (He was also criticized for vacationing with his family in Hawaii when the fires began in September.) On Saturday Morrison announced that 3000 Austraian service members will be deployed to help fight the fires and that $14 million (Australian) will be committed to lease fire-fighting aircraft from overseas. The family of the late Steve Irwin has announced that it has helped rescue over 90,000 animals from the wildfire; an orphaned platypus named Ollie was ;patient number 90,000 at their Australia Zoo's Wildlife Hospital. A third of the koalas in New South Wales are believed to have been killed by the fires, which have now destroyed an area twice the size of Vermont.
I have nothing but disdain for the politicians and special interests that put so much effort into denying climate change. Scientific research, common sense, and concerted efforts may well still save us, but time is running out.
This Week: The Golden Globes were held. Ho-hum. Meaningless awards from a meaningless organization. I did catch Ricky Gervais' take no prisoners opening monologue on YouTube, though.
The late Republican strategist Thomas Hofeller helped formulate gerrymandering strategy for the party in a number of states, including North Carolina. His daughter has released e-mails detailing his strategies -- something the Republican party as well as Hofeller's former firm tried to prevent.
The United Methodist Church is proposing a split into two churches, allowing a separate "traditional" church to exist that opposes gay marriage and LGBT rights. Once this is done, the UMC can then vote to overturn any gay policies in the main church. It is felt that this will allow Methodists differing on policy (basically liberal U.S. churches and conservative churches in Africa and Asia) to be able to coexist and worship accordingly. The official vote will take place in May.
In a major get-around of the controversial proposal to place a citizenship question on the U.S. census, the Department of Homeland Security has agreed to provide the data to the Census Department, making white nationalists very happy.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts may drop a legal requirement that minors get permission from their parents' (or a judge's) permission to get an abortion. A majority of Massachusetts voters are in favor of the "Roe Act," a proposed bill that (among other things) does away with parental consent. The "Roe Act" appears to be intended as a bulwark against the possible time when Roe v. Wade is overturned by a conservative Supreme Court.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, deleted a that said the suspect in the New York stabbing of five people at a Hannukkah celebration was the son of "an illegal immigrant" whose family lacked "American values." One critic said Cuccinelli was "exploiting a tragedy to drive an anti-immigrant message." Heck, we knew that.
Congressman John Lewis is starting treatment for pancreatic cancer. Lewis is a man who embodies what America is about. I wish him well.
Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige announced that the Marvel cinematic universe will soon be getting its first trans character. No details on who, but the character will appear in the upcoming The Eternals, which will also feature the company's first deaf superhero.
The word of the year for 2019: disinformation.
The New England Patriots lost a Wild Card game against the Tennessee Titans, 20-13. As a die-hard New Englander bred and born, I'm saddened. But as someone who really doesn't follow sports, not so much.
And the Good News:
- Modest Seattle woman donates her entire $10 million fortune earned from trading stocks to 17 state schools https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/seattle-woman-donates-10-million-fortune-to-17-colleges/
- Couple protects endangered lemurs in Madagascar by launching a mobile library to teach indigenous people to read https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/couple-launches-mobile-library-to-teach-indigenous-people-and-save-lemurs/
- Man gives up Christmas with his family so he could rally town to feed 75 stranded travelers https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/guy-gives-up-christmas-with-family-to-rally-town-to-feed-75-stranded-travelers/
- Uber passenger goes out of his way to pay driver's college debt so she can finally get her degree https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/atlanta-uber-passenger-pays-off-drivers-college-debt/
- Island nation of Palau becomes the first country in the world to ban sunscreens with reef-harming chemicals https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/worlds-first-country-to-ban-sunscreen-with-harmful-chemicals/
- FDA approves a pancreatic cancer drup asfter it was shown to double patients' life expectancy https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/fda-approves-pancreatic-drug-treatment-after-it-doubled-patient-lifespans/
- MacDonalds's employees save woman from domestic abuser after she secretly asks for their help https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/mcdonalds-workers-save-woman-from-domestic-abuser/
- Firefighters rush out of supermarket for an emergency call only to return and find that stangers paid for their groceries https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/firefighters-rush-out-of-supermarket-on-emergency-call-only-to-return-and-find-strangers-paid-for-their-groceries/
- All-girl heavy metal band dominates the stage wearing hijabs and leather jackets https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/all-girl-heavy-metal-band-plays-in-hijabs-and-leather-jackets/
- And here are some of the top scientific breakthroughs of 2019 https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/top-10-scientific-breakthroughs-unveiled-in-2019/
"No one has ever become poor by giving." -- Anne Frank
Again I reply to the triple winds
running chromatic fifths of derision
outside my window:
You will not succeed. I am
bound more to my sentences
the more you batter at me
to follow you.
And the wind,
as before, fingers perfectly
its derisive music.
-- William Carlos Williams