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ALmost Lost Book

I'm reviewing Jim Crace's new novel, "The Pesthouse," a book about (or set after) the New End of the World.  LIke Cormac Macarthy's "The Road" and no doubt many more you can think of.  The Former End of the World (the bomb) yielded its great books -- Riddly Walker the greatest, Canticle for Leibowitz etc., etc.  Now the New End of the World generates fictions that seem familiar but with no bomb to blame.  What has happened to the world?  All calculations of global warming suggest dislocation and suffering for the poorest peoples inhabiting seacoasts or places subject to desertification; temperate-climate inland rich countries (us, US) might not suffer so much -- nothing much worse than the Great Depression, some species loss, coastal cities abandoned over the course of a few decades.  Macarthy's and Craces worlds are utterly vastated.  Nothing left.  No explanation.  Crowds of aimless walkers -- no technology, no social structure.  Why does this appeal?

But actually I was given to think of a book I readin 1969 called The Hieros Gamos of Sam and An Smith by (I now learn) Josephine Saxton.  A sort of fable of collapse that turns out to be an illusion or game or metafiction (?)  Anybody remember it or her?  I suppose I could send away $3.99 to Amazon for a copy.  It struck me as wonderfully weird and unlikely as a D'Day SF hardback then.


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 11th, 2007 03:27 pm (UTC)
Is part of the appeal of end-of-civilization story the chance to examine humans as "a poor, bare, forked animal?" Strip away what is "artificial," and what is left?

I thought I had read something by Saxton, but I don't recognize any of the titles in the bibliography I found. It says she wrote a short story called "The Snake Who Had Read Chomsky," too.
Apr. 11th, 2007 03:40 pm (UTC)
Yep -- the Hobbesian life, solitary, nasty, brutish, and short, only (anti-Hobbes) placed at the end of the human enterprise rather than the beginning, which we now see rather as kind of idyllic, probably falsely -- though we know it wasn't solitary.
Apr. 11th, 2007 04:00 pm (UTC)
There was Ballard back then, not only The Drought, but lots of his short stories dealt with 20th century civilization coming to an abrupt, non nuclear Armageddon end. I used to love those buildings slowly sinking into the sand. There was High Rise too, he must have relished in the thought of civilization collapsing during his own lifetime. One of the things I would like to write someday is the "songs of the stolen days", a cycle of pieces dealing with the world at the brink that was taken from us in 1989, and its end that never came although we were so certain it was upon us.
I was so bold as to read your mention of The Hieros Gamos of Sam and An Smith as a recommendations, and took the liberty of ordering the second of two copies they are offering at Amazon. The 3.99 is still there, but hurry, lest some other reader of your journal follow suit.
Apr. 11th, 2007 04:38 pm (UTC)
I 'discovered' Saxton in 1987 or so when I think it was the Women's Press republished The Travails of Jane Saint in the UK as part of their feminist SF line. I guess she's one of those authors who's had to get used to long quiet periods interspersed with brief enthusiasms. Quite an interesting writer though -- I think she was in Again, Dangerous Visions.
Apr. 11th, 2007 09:33 pm (UTC)
Josephine Saxton was published by the Womens' Press. She wrote a novel called Queen of the States about a woman in a mental home, who hallucinates that she's being abducted by aliens and suchlike. That part of it sounds similar to your book. For what it's worth, I hated States; may your mileage vary!
Apr. 12th, 2007 10:45 pm (UTC)
I might hate Hieros Gamos if I read it now. What's that music/drug combo in Dune? A lot of books of that time were read in a particular light -- the time s and the intoxicants -- and don;t look the same without them. I was quite disappointed in Picnic on Paradise when I looked into it lately -- didn't even seem to be the same book.
Apr. 11th, 2007 09:58 pm (UTC)
I've read Saxton's The Travails of Jane Saint Collection from Women's Press. The stories were mostly too abstract/fablelike for my taste, but deceptively mundane "The Message" was really brilliant.
Apr. 12th, 2007 01:30 am (UTC)
Maybe you should be cashing in on the trend...
You could get your publisher to reprint "Engine Summer"; actually, if I recall, it wasn't entirely clear which End of the World was implied in that one.
Apr. 12th, 2007 03:17 am (UTC)
the popular 'bomb' in the popular literature of the past few years seems to be ethically muddy bioresearch, as in Oryx and Crake, that middle chapter of Cloud Atlas, Never Let Me Go... (and of course the movie 'The Island') : )
Apr. 12th, 2007 12:25 pm (UTC)
And the middle chapter of Cloud Atlas was, of course, a deliberate and publicly acknowledged homage to Hoban's Riddley Walker ...
Apr. 12th, 2007 08:36 am (UTC)
Jo Saxton is, to my mind, one of the great undiscovered treasures of British science fiction. But she has had to go through long periods of silence along the way. She first emerged in the 60s, a number of stories in New Worlds and related magazines, and three very strange novels: The Hieros Gamos of Sam and An Smith, Group Feast and Vector for Seven. Then silence. Then in the mid-80s she was rediscovered by the feminist movement, first with a collection of her 60s stories, The Power of Time, then with a sequence of psychological works inspired by her interest in Carl Jung, Queen of the States (to my mind her best book), The Travails of Jane Saint and Jane Saint and the Backlash. There was one more collection of stories, Littlle Tours of Hell about food and travel, and there's been a non-fiction book about gardening, but otherwise nothing since the early 90s. She is overdue for another rediscovery.
Apr. 12th, 2007 10:48 pm (UTC)
We'll set you to armwrestle with orphan anne above, to see about Queen of the States.
Apr. 12th, 2007 12:15 pm (UTC)
da bomb
There is mention more than once of a bomb in The Road, and the landscape McCarthy describes seems to follow a nuclear winter scenario -- though this is really entirely beside the point as far as the story he's interested in telling goes.

I will have to check Saxton out!
Apr. 12th, 2007 12:29 pm (UTC)
Re: da bomb
If I remember rightly, there is mention of bombs in The Road, but not of The Bomb. I don't think there is any specific mention of what caused the disaster - though the landscape is clearly nuclear winter.
Apr. 12th, 2007 01:19 pm (UTC)
A psychohistorical answer
Lloyd deMause would argue that it's a result of traumatic imprinting during the last trimester of our gestation (http://www.geocities.com/kidhistory/found/contents.htm). We spend all that time in a foetid, cramped, suffocating environment, and at the end of it all we're painfully expelled into a painfully bright but roomy and well-oxygenated world. Kind of the opposite of the traditional birth-trauma story. So because of that early imprinting, we tend to seek reboots, restarts.

Compare the new religion of singularitarianism (http://www.singinst.org/aboutus/ourmission), which entails a very similar vision at a schematic level: Humanity is wipred out -- replaced with something better, of course, but wiped out nonetheless. Similar idea, but going one better to the total annihilation and reconstruction of the world. One is more visionary than the other -- which is also to say, less cognizant of human concerns.
Apr. 12th, 2007 04:58 pm (UTC)
Ballard had a whole series of end-of-the world novels: The Crystal World, The Drowned World...

I'd always felt this sort of story expressed a wish for a "simplification of the social" -- you know, things would be so much easier if I didn't have to worry about interacting with all these *people*.

Also: I remember a mantra I started to hear repeated in the media on 9/11 and constantly ever since: "Nothing will be the same... Everything will be different now..." It seemed so clear to me, even the very first time I heard it, that this expressed not a fact but a *wish*.
Apr. 12th, 2007 07:46 pm (UTC)
Don't forget the (late, great) Kurt Vonnegut novel Cat's Cradle (1963). Not only was there "Ice Nine" but the protagonist of the story was in the process of writing a book entitled "The Day the World Ended."

Apr. 13th, 2007 01:42 pm (UTC)
Personnaly, I loved Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake end of the world -- humans are exctincted by new humans created by the old humans.

Apr. 13th, 2007 02:35 pm (UTC)

Yes, a new good twist -- though I bet the readers of this can think of other examples -- one, oddly, is Karel Capek's play R.U.R, the origin of "robot". At the end of the play the robots (who are actually androids in modern SF lingo) revolt, take over the factory, and are set to destroy the human world. The male and female robots Marius and Sulla (their namer thought these were boy-and-girl names) look on each other in wonderment and love. A new Adam and new Eve.
Apr. 13th, 2007 04:01 pm (UTC)
1984 comes to the mind. The socialist ideal of the "new Man", borrowed in turn from Christianity, becomes a dream come true or rather a nightmare incarnate that annihilates those who brought it about. But these are stories more concerned with the consequences of blindly following the call of Reason and its children; Rationalism, Science, Technology and Ideology. R.U.R comes from a time where the voices speaking such criticism where very loud. Have you ever read Joseph Conrad's articles and notes on the sinking of the Titanic?
Maybe the stories inspired by the imminence of the end of the world are more related to millenarianism. But then, if I wished to look for evidence supporting that theory, I would start by asking someone like you. ¿Any thoughts?
Apr. 14th, 2007 01:02 am (UTC)
"By the Waters of Babylon" posits, I think, atomic holocaust, as does a Pat Frank book I can't remember the title of, and of course "On the Beach." But both "Children of Men" and Herbert's "White Plague" are about biological catastrophe. And there's a book by what's-his-butt, "Day of the Triffids" (which is itself a doomsday story, of course), that comes up with a new Ice Age, and this a good thirty years ago, whereby the privileged white North has to flee to warmer climates, and winds up shining shoes in Kenya. This an example of "orthogonal" SF, Crowley's dictum that futuristic writing is at right angles to the time it's written: the book representing an inversion of apartheid.

The visceral appeal? Look at "Road Warrior." All bets are off, everybody for themselves, the Naked Ape, daily life reduced to essentials. This is in itself I think a myth, a reinvention of the Noble Savage: humans are pack animals, and some kind of hierarchy will reassert itself. I can't do justice to this theme: my thoughts are fragmented, but I invite comment. We might well end up eating each other, given the scenario, but somehow the fictions get it wrong. "Road Warrior" is "Shane," transmuted. The brute fact would be far more brutal, or far less so. (And didn't Miller---"Liebowitz"---write another PA story, about a plague, also involving a monastery, but basically about redemption?)

Not really answering the question. Does it have to with not having to answer to our myriad responsibilities, family, nation, duty, faith? The hell with female empowerment, say? A Man's Gotta Do What A Man's Gotta Do? (I typed this as A Man's Goota Do, the first time, some kind of Rastafarian slip of the fingers.) I think it's bullshit, but orthogonal bullshit. It's a response to the odd requirements of our time.

IMHO, of course.

DE Gates
Jun. 2nd, 2011 09:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Post-Apocalyptic
Roaming through my old blog, how sad, and keep coming on entries of yours unresponded to. I'm sure you intended readers to note that Road Warrior has become the name for "constant business traveler" in the mode of "gunslinger" being a term for brutal business factotum. This is nostalgia for what never was. It IS about responsibilities and a general summons to participate, and both utopian dreams and Mad Max ones are equally about escaping them. What loyalty can I owe to a civilization about to collapse? Or one about to be replaced by the REAL society I deserve to be living in? Wouldn't the dystopians and utopians of the past, both of them, be surpirised to learn we're all still here, muddling along.
Apr. 14th, 2007 05:09 am (UTC)
the other end-of-the-world
Something that has puzzled me about these post-atomic post-existentialist fantasies of the End is how little they seem interested in what you could call the history of the End. (As any Crowley fan worth his salt would suppose, there's more than one history of the end of the world, too.) We aren't the first society in history to imagine an immanent End Time, or to have our narrative artists use the common vocabulary of the fantasy as a set of tools to working out various aesthetic and ethical concepts and intuitions. The images and prophecies of John the Revelator et al still hold a lot of people in awe and fear--witness "The Rapture" book series in the US, for starters (which admittedly I haven't been able to read.) Christianity itself is more or less predicated on the End of the World being right around the corner. The only work I can think of that really tries to show a continuity between both versions is Bergman's film The Seventh Seal. (Which I think made that Vatican list, way back when.) I can't think of a single American novel or film that really tries to put these fantasies side by side. Can y'all? (And doesn't that disjunction seem a little scary, for political reasons?)
Apr. 15th, 2007 09:07 pm (UTC)
In the mellow melancholy mode, Engine Summer remains one of my favorite post-apocalyptic pastorals, but among immediately post-WWII examples, I'm particularly fond of Frank Tashlin's picture book. The appeal is older than Hiroshima, though. There are The Purple Cloud and other "Last Man" novels. There's the Industrial Reactionism of agrarian Christian communists. And I've recently read the interesting and unnerving case made that the classic English pastoral itself depends, at its Tudor origins, on an all-too-actualizable fantasy of depopulation.
Apr. 16th, 2007 11:29 am (UTC)
Oh, yes, the form predates the atom bomb. Another interesting early one is Richard Jefferies' "After London" from 1885. It's set in a pseudo-Medieval post-apocalyptic England where London itself has become a poisonous swamp that people try to recover "treasures" from. It's implied that industrial society killed itself off through pollution -- probably the earliest example of that idea in fiction. While I knew there was the whole romanticization of Medieval life (and rejection of the industrial) by people like Ruskin, I hadn't realized that anyone considered pollution a problem then.

It's available on the Web for free as part of "Project Gutenberg" http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/13944
May. 13th, 2007 08:32 pm (UTC)
Some Say in Ice
No one has yet mentioned Anna Kavan's classic 1967 novel, Ice, in which the world seems to be freezing to death. Very Ballardian, but more hallucinatory. And like Crace's latest, it features boats of vague promise. The book's singing lemurs seem to be Kavan's alone, however--I believe they show up elsewhere in her work, too.

( 26 comments — Leave a comment )