Posted by: Mish | July 16, 2010

Frankenstein to 2001

I caved and went into my favourite used bookstore because I had a few books to trade in and missed the place. They’ve managed to sell and/or cleanup enough that books weren’t tumbling down while I browsed and aisles were relatively clear.

I found what I was looking for, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I started reading it last night on my Palm Pilot, but it seemed so wrong and I had the feeling I’d want a physical hard copy. Besides the purchased edition has an introduction by the author and knowing something about her life makes it and Frankenstein more interesting.

“I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words which found no true echo in my heart.”

I also picked up Billy Budd and Other Tales by Herman Melville. At the beginning of my Moby Dick journey I asked for suggestions of other nautical works of fiction and Sarah responded with the novella Billy Budd, Foretopman. It made the reading list because she roped me into what was an enjoyable whale of a tale. Among the short stories is Bartleby, which I recently learned was Melville’s reaction to how poorly Moby Dick was received, therefore of interest. I can’t help but think that in some way it’s also reflective of his feelings about being a clerk out of necessity prior to turning to whaling. Joyce Carol Oates says in the introduction:

“Though imbued with a tragic vision as elevated as that of Sophocles and Shakespeare, Herman Melville was paradoxically a writer of romance, and not ‘realism,’ as the nineteenth-century sensibility would have comprehended it…The romantic-gothic sensibility, coupled with the habit of a somewhat didactic and discursive allegorizing, has made Melville difficult of access to many contemporary readers…The air of the strange, the uncanny, the dreamlike ‘not-real’ in Melville, even as the author goes to great pains to set down historical facts and dates is purposeful; for Melville’s imagination is always fixed to universals and not particulars.”

Last but not least, I came across Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ve been meaning to read something by Clarke, but particularly this classic SF. Interestingly, it was written after Clarke collaborated with Stanley Kubrick on the 1964 movie. Besides it’s more than high time I read about Hal and Discovery‘s voyage to the solar system’s edge. In the introduction written in 1991, Clarke writes about outguessing the future so the movie wouldn’t be “obsolete” and “ridiculous” and the reason for setting it in 2001:

“The lunar landing still seemed psychologically a dream of the far future. Intellectually, we knew it was inevitable, emotionally, we could not really believe it…The first two-man Gemini flight (Grissom and Young) would not take place for another year, and argument was still raging about the nature of the lunar surface…Though NASA was spending the entire budget of our movie (over $10,000,000) every day, space exploration seemed to be marking time.”

I was good and didn’t come away with a stack, among which would have been: Isaac Asimov’s Foundation’s Edge and George R.R. Martin’s A Feast For Crows (I haven’t read the first books so don’t need the fourths in the series yet), Hit or Myth from Robert Asprin’s Myth Adventure series (can get the fun/ny book another time), three SF/F anthologies (I still have a few unread on my shelves), a photographic book about the New Amsterdam Theatre in NYC (fun to skim for a few minutes, not needed), and most likely several others if I didn’t purposefully make it a short visit.

Following my nautical fiction post yesterday, io9 shared their suggested sci-fi and fantasy reads for summer escapism. Mira Grant’s Feed, Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker, and Ursula Le Guin’s the Word for World is Forest have been on my reading list. I may eventually add China Mieville, Cherie Priest, and Kazuo Ishiguro to the pile, but not yet. I enjoy Charles de Lint’s stories from time to time, but have read enough of them that reading a best of anthology would be unnecessarily redundant.

I couldn’t help but laugh and nod in agreement with the synopsis of the Word for World is Forest:

Tor is releasing a sharp-looking new edition of this Hainish novel, just in time to show us all where James Cameron really got the thematic source material for Avatar. Humans show up to colonize a lovely green planet and enslave the peaceful Athshean people. They fight back, but that’s the thing about paradise—once it’s gone, it’s never coming back.

Which books didn’t you recently purchase? What’s your suggested reading for summer?



  1. Great post, Mish! I love the image of a book shop where books either fall on you or trip you up. Suffering for one’s art. Or something like that. I am almost disappointed (vicariously) that the place has had a sort out.

    Really pleased that you have Billy Budd, and fascinated by the insight into Bartleby, which I found wonderful but perplexing. I am motivated now to re-read and reconsider. Thanks!

  2. Part of why I love that store is I never know what’s going to happen or what I’ll find while digging around. The one falling book missed me.

    Anytime. At least Bartleby will be really quick. Why perplexing?

  3. Oh, I don’t want to spoil it 🙂 But if you have already read it and NOT found it perplexing I hope you will explain to me what Melville is getting at!

  4. Hahaha. So it’s like that, okay.

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