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A Dismal Choice

The two remaining candidates to be the leader of the Conservative Party and hence the next Prime Minister of the UK show just how the calibre of the country’s politicians – along with the standards of its politics – has fallen.

The choice lies between a blustering buffoon and a piece of rhyming slang.

My comment on the present incumbent when she triggered Article 50 has come true in spades. These are dangerous men.

The buffoon showed himself to be totally unfit for high office in his time as Foreign Secretary when his failure to master any detail of her case led to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe being all but confirmed in the eyes of Iran as being in effect a spy, or, at least, working against its government.

The rhyming slang, when Secretary of State for Health, was so inept in the post he managed to unite the almost the entire medical profession against him. And have you seen his eyes?

If either of these two is the answer, what on Earth is the question?

On a related point I’ve seen it suggested that if the buffoon does become PM then it is possible he may appoint T Ronald Dump’s pal (well he likes to think T Ronald is his pal) Nigel Farage as UK ambassador to the US.

Great. Just do it Boris. At least it will get Farage and his poisonous rantings out of this country for a while.

Apparently Jorge Luis Borges characterised the War of Thatcher’s Face as a fight between two bald men over a comb.

The contest between Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and Jeremy Richard Streynsham Hunt (don’t their full names just tell you all you need to know about them?) is more like two blind men scrabbling over a hearing aid. Neither can or will do much good with it once they’ve got it.

Science Fiction: a Literary History Edited by Roger Luckhurst

British Library, 2016, 254 p (including 2 p Preface by Adam Roberts, 3 p Introduction by Roger Luckhurst, 2 p Notes on Contributors, 1 p Picture Credits and 18 p Index.

Science Fiction: a Literary History cover

Adam Roberts’s Preface notes SF’s relative ubiquity in today’s world and praises this book as as compact and exhaustive an introduction to the subject as you will find. Roger Luckhurst’s Introduction, by way of reference to Jorge Luis Borges’s short story The Garden of Forking Paths (which presaged many-worlds theory by a considerable time,) acknowledges the impossibility of summing up SF in such a short space as a single book but hopes it will provide pointers to newcomers to the genre and to old hands alike.

The overall approach is more or less chronological. Chapter 11 sees Arthur B Evans tackle early forms of SF in The Beginnings. Roger Luckhurst himself covers the transition From Scientific Romance to Science Fiction in Chapter 2. The Utopian Prospects of 1900-49 are considered by Caroline Edwards in Chapter 32. There is some overlap in time here with Mark Bould’s Chapter 43, Pulp SF and its Others, 1918-39. Malisa Kurtz examines immediate post-war SF in Chapter 54, After the War. Chapter 65 has Rob Latham look at The New Wave ‘Revolution’. Chapter 7’s voyage From the New Wave into the Twenty-First Century6 is undertaken by Sherryl Vint. Gerry Canavan brings us up to date with Chapter 8, New Paradigms, After 2001. Each Chapter is repletely referenced and has a list of “What to Read Next” at its end. Imagine my satisfaction when finding I had read most – if not all – of the relevant recommendations. Plus I am in the process of ticking off another right now.

Perhaps the most interesting part (because the most remote) was Chapter 1 wherein Evans identifies many instances of SF or proto-SF from before 1900 and exemplifies two of its fundamental attributes at that time; diversion (imagination) and didacticism (cognition) – or, as Jules Verne’s editor/publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel put it, instruction that entertains and entertainment that instructs. Well before the twentieth century subterranean or interplanetary adventure became well established – along with time travel – and u- and dystopias have always abounded. It is noted that early interplanetary spaces were modelled on colonial spaces – Space Opera and Star Wars your origins lie here. Indeed the colonial adventure (King Solomon’s Mines etc) can be considered as SF. Examples of the genre emanating from outwith the anglo- or francophone spheres are given due note, including SF works from pre-revolutionary Russia, Africa, Asia, Latin America – and also by black US writers – of which I was not previously aware.

The New Wave chapter laments that “unique talents” such as R A Lafferty, D G Compton, David R Bunch and Edgar Pangborn are little read these days. In one of those omissions Luckhurst acknowledged would occur discussion of one of my favourites from the time, Richard Cowper, is absent.

For anyone wishing to acquaint themselves with the genre this is an admirable place to start. It also provides potential new avenues for aficionados to pursue.

Pedant’s corner:- 1“by adding this own critical observations” (his own,) “the series of six novels … are set” (the series is set.) “But all is not perfect.” (But not all is perfect,) Cerillas’ (Cerillas’s.) 2“Has strengthened African-American will and prepared them for an international liberation movement” (“them” is the wrong pronoun here but to avoid it the whole sentence needs recasting.) “An imperial cabal of … plot to undermine the ..” (a cabal plots.) “As the new intake are given” (the new intake is given,.) “Slovakia’s defence strategy, and the novel’s SF element, employs the technique of…” (notwithstanding the parenthetical commas that “and” requires a plural noun; so, employ the technique.) 3“a series of coups weaken the fascist grip” (a series weakens the grip.) “The expedition… encounter” (the expedition encounters.) 4”from embracing the ‘the divine right of machines’” (omit the “the” before the quote,) “as the scientific elite have developed…” (the scientific elite has developed,) “the dark side of the Moon” (every side of the Moon is dark, for 14 days out of 28; I believe the “far side” was intended.) 5fit (fitted,) New Worlds’ (New Worlds’s.) 6ascendency (ascendancy,) a missing full stop, “between this world and the our present” (either “our” or “the”, not both,) “thus rejected earlier version of speculative genres” (versions of,) “it was posed to become” (poised to become.)

The House With The Green Shutters by George Douglas

The Mercat Press, 1986, 288p

The House With The Green Shutters cover

The House With The Green Shutters has an important place in Scottish literature as when it was originally published in 1901 it represented a break from the sentimentality of the Kailyard School and prefigured the work of Hugh MacDiarmid and Lewis Grassic Gibbon, among others. A warning, though. The book does contain a wheen of Scots words and phrases which may be a barrier to the more general reader.

The eponymous house, an imposing edifice in the town of Barbie, has been built by John Gourlay to reflect his position in the life of the town where he has a monopoly as a carrier. Gourlay has a “€œguid conceit of himself,”€ as we Scots say, and throws his weight about both metaphorically and – as he has a shortish temper – at times literally. His son, also called John, expects to inherit the carriage business and has neither the motivation nor aptitude to shine at school.

All begins to change with the return to Barbie from a sojourn in Aberdeen of James Wilson, whom Gourlay, in true Scottish fashion, at first dismisses due to his origins, (the, “Ah kent his faither,” reflex – see under ‘ken.’) Wilson soon sets himself up as a rival carrier. The opportunity the coming of the railway presents to Wilson gives him the lever to outwit Gourlay and precipitate a slow spiral of descent. Gourlay’€™s determination to outdo Wilson in everything leads him to send his son to University in Edinburgh where his character faults become magnified.

Throughout the book the author illuminates many aspects of the Scottish character as well as more general traits. The “€œbodies” – perhaps “sweetie wives” would be a more modern description – who gossip and scheme on street corners are especially well depicted. However, as perhaps reflects the times in which the book is set, the women characters are little more than cyphers.

The novel is apparently the first book in the English (sic) language read by Jorge Luis Borges (see under ‘criticism’) who thereafter, “€œwanted to be Scotch.”€ Bizarre.

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