Even big-name writers try sci-fi — Douglas Coupland, anyone?
Great science fiction is hooked into the present, there’s always a solid anchor tethering brash flights into the ether. Darwin’s Bastards, edited by Zsuzsi Gartner (2010) is a short story collection that begins with the wall built along the 49th parallel to save Canada from pop-culture-obsessed Americans. The border was bricked up to keep us safe from each individual Yankee’s desperate need for their 15 minutes of fame.
Americans live off that fame, through the feed of a television channel. Now check the web vlog!
Canadians, of course, are different, and so take a different cultural path. At least, as portrayed by Adam Lewis Schroeder’s This Is Not the End My Friend.
But Canadians have their own spunky death wish. The tale begins this book’s analysis of modern psychoses.
“You can get all egg-heady about it too, if you like,” writes Gartner in her introduction. “I could tell you that because most of these writers didn’t grow up in the shadow of the Cold War, the overall spectre is not that of nuclear annihilation or forced egalitarianism, not a paralyzing (dis)order, but the chaos of capitalism run amuck, modern terrorism, collapsing ecosystems, and death by anomie and ennui.”
Each doomsayer extends mad tendrils: “With the economy in the toilet,” writes Mark Anthony Jarman from his perch on the moon colony, “the Minister of Finance is studying the feasibility of holding Christmas four times a year instead of two.” In Twilight of the Gods, David Whitton off-handedly mentions the Great Wall of Price-Waterhouse China.
But these stories are also about people. Sheila Heti brings in Research in Motion and the brainiacs at the Perimeter Institute, as they attempt to interact with the regular folk (in There is No Time in Waterloo).
And over on the green in Sunshine City, Timothy Taylor introduces a weed-head pegleg who number-crunches his way to solving a golf course murder. It’s all about playing the odds.
Buffy Cram writes of the homeless Humanities professors secretly stealing from the rich, eating their brie and pesto and reciting found Rilke.
Darwin’s Bastards is in New Arrivals.
And if you’ve been intending to catch up on big names, the 23 authors here include the likes of Yann Martel, Douglas Coupland and William Gibson (mixed in with lesser known literary folk).
In fact, for those whose new year’s resolution back in January was to pick up classics they’ve missed, or follow up on a favorite author, now’s the time to make good. You’ve a few weeks left!
Consider the silver-tongued Aesop, a slave who won his freedom thanks to the (sci-fi?) stories he told about talking, reasoning animals. They were short, sharp, shocked, and Aesop’s Fables are filled with home truths (a 1963 edition is in the library, filed in the Young Adults section).
Aesop went on to become a king’s ambassador.
But he was killed (in 564 BCE) while on a diplomatic mission, accused of stealing a golden cup. His fables did not save him at trial, but those stories were told and retold until some smart character finally wrote down what had survived or mutated. Fables, like songs and other so-called simple entertainments, allow for veiled political commentary when free speech is banned; teach empathy by reminding us of how others think and feel; offer a smile when it’s most needed, and a warning, too.
Take the ass wearing a lion’s skin that brays at a fox: “Clothes may disguise a fool, but his words will give him away.”
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is another classic, published in 1852. Harriet Beecher Stowe pleaded with whites in the United States to practice their Christianity by ending the slave trade, calling on the “dominant race” to “protect the feeble” rather than “oppress them.” (At the time, religion – and science – were both used to justify slavery.)
There’s no swearing in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (“His conversation… was garnished at convenient intervals with various profane expressions, which not even the desire to be graphic in our account shall induce us to transcribe”). No, the obscenities within lie elsewhere.
Beecher Stowe’s argument worked. It’s been said that upon meeting the author, President Abraham Lincoln said, “So this is the little lady who wrote the book that made this great war.”
The book is filed in fiction, but Beecher Stowe always said many of the stories told within were based on fact.
Good Reads reviewed Blue Gold earlier this month, a book by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke on how they see the future of the world’s H2O. This week it was reported that a French court rejected a defamation lawsuit filed by water industry corporations against the water documentary film Flow, in which Barlow appears.
To check out what the ruckus is about, you’ll find Blue Gold in New Arrivals.
– Eleanor Brown, November 26, 2010