Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Favorite SF novels read in 2015

The following is a list of those SF/F works that I read in 2015 and that stood out among the many other works that I had read.  These will be read again, sometime in the future. 


First time readings

Robert Silverberg           Downward to the Earth

Liu Cixin                        The Three-Body Problem

Emily St. John Mandel   Station Eleven

Andy Weir                       The Martian

China Mieville                 Railsea
Ben Winters                     The Last Policeman


Hal Clement                Mission of Gravity

Alfred Bester               The Stars My Destination

Arthur C. Clarke          Rendezvous with Rama

Gene Wolfe                 Nightside the Long Sun 

David Brin                  The Uplift War


First Readings

Sofia Samatar                 A Stranger in Olondria

Russell Hoban                Linger Awhile, Angelica Lost and Found, Soonchild

It's been a good year for SF/F as there are five new authors on the list.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Robert Frost: "Dust of Snow"

This is a short poem by Robert Frost, but it speaks of something important--the way small or seemingly inconsequential events can affect us even though the event itself has really nothing in common with its effect.  Why does this affect the narrator the way it does?

Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.  

I think Frost's genius is in his ability to see the little things that are of real consequence though few of us see them at the time.  His poetry isolates those moments, those events, and shows us what we have missed.   

Perhaps next time we may be more observant.  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Emily Dickinson: a winter poem

Like Brooms of Steel
The Snow and Wind
Had swept the Winter Street--
The House was hooked
The Sun sent out
Faint Deputies of Heat--
Where rode the Bird
The Silence tied
His ample-plodding Steed
The Apple in the Cellar sang
Was all the one that played.
 -- Emily Dickinson --
Poem No. 1252
from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Edited by Thomas H. Johnson

Lean and spare, as are all of Emily Dickinson's poems.  Having lived in Chicago, I know what those "Brooms of Steel" are like.  The winds cut through anything one can wear, and only four walls can keep them out, mostly.  And, even on a sunny, windless day, the sun's heat is barely noticeable.  And the silence .  .  .

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: 2nd Edition, Quatrain LIV

This is another of the quatrains that FitzGerald introduced in the Second Edition of his version of the Rubaiyat.


But if in vain, down on the stubborn floor
Of Earth, and up to Heav'n's  unopening door,
  You gaze To-Day, while You are You--how then 
To-morrow, You when shall be You no more?


But if in vain, down on the stubborn floor
Of Earth, and up to Heav'n's  unopening door
  You gaze To-Day, while You are You--how then 
To-morrow, You when shall be You no more? 

The only difference I can see between the two editions is the missing comma at the end of the second line in the Fifth Edition.  Aside from that, the two versions are identical. 

This quatrain seems to link the previous quatrains to several following quatrains. The previous series were of the Master who created the puppet show we are trapped in and hides from us, giving us at best only an occasional glimpse.   We are asked here about the consequences of this situation--our ignorance

It's our ignorance regarding our fate and the refusal? inability? of both heaven and earth to answer our question.  We search now, but tomorrow?  What then, when we are no more.  We get no answers while we are here and certainly no answers when we are no more.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Passage and a Poem: David Abram and Wallace Stevens

I've mentioned this before, but I'll bring it up again because this is the basis for this particular post.  I would be reading something, and a passage would immediately bring another book or passage or poem to mind.  Sometimes the link would be obvious, while in others it would be remote or even invisible.  This is the passage I was reading when the poem popped up, distracting me to the point I had to stop reading and muse on it for awhile.  

Each thing organizes the space around it, rebuffing or sidling up against other things;  each thing calls, gestures, beckons to other beings or battles them for our attentions; things expose themselves  to the sun or retreat among the shadows, shouting with their loud colors or whispering with their seeds; rocks snag lichen spores from the air and shelter spiders under their flanks; clouds converse with the fathomless blue and metamorphose into one another; they spill rain upon the land, which gathers in rivulets and  carves out canyons; skyscrapers slice the winds and argue with one another over the tops of townhouses; backhoes and songbirds are coaxed into duets by the percussive rhythm of the subway beneath the street.  Things "catch our eye" and sometimes refuse to let go; they"grab our focus" and "capture our attention," and finally release us from their grasp only to dissolve back into the overabundant world.  Whether ecstatic or morose, exuberant or exhausted, everything swerves and trembles; anguish, equanimity, and pleasure are not first internal moods but passions granted to us by the capricious terrain.
-- David Abram --
from Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology


This is the poem that immediately came to mind when I began the passage above.
 Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

-- Wallace Stevens --

Well, anybody see the link here?  Did you think of something else when you read the passage?  If so, let me know.  I would be interested in learning what memory that passage brought to mind.

One other question:  what does the following sentence fragment suggest to you?
--anguish, equanimity, and pleasure are not first internal moods but passions granted to us by the capricious terrain.

 Who is David Abram?
"David Abram is an American philosopher, cultural ecologist, and performance artist, best known for his work bridging the philosophical tradition of phenomenology with environmental and ecological issues. Wikipedia  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Abram

What is his book, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, about?
"'This is a book about becoming a two-legged animal, entirely a part of the animate world whose life swells within and unfolds all around us. It seeks a new way of speaking, one that enacts our interbeing with the earth rather than blinding us to it. A language that stirs a new humility in relation to other earthborn beings, whether spiders or obsidian outcrops or spruce limbs bent low by the clumped snow. A style of speech that opens our senses to the sensuous in all its multiform strangeness,' writes David Abram, a cultural ecologist and environmental philosopher."

For a little more about the book, go here:   http://tinyurl.com/z3vyymp