Adventures in Literature - November 2021

Notes from November 8th 2021 -‘Science Fiction and Fantasy’

This topic is not everybody’s cup of tea but we all managed to find something interesting.

Jim tends to associate science fiction with Dan Dare but anyway chose to focus on the ‘fantasy’ . He read the Booker-prizewinning novel, ’Cloud Atlas’ 2004 by David Mitchell, a multi story experimental piece that Jim found somewhat baffling. It did contain an element of fantasy in the the story of a future dystopia where superior humans were breeding a race of subservient clones. & See below

Jim also read the trilogy, ’His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman and describes it as a lovely read, adventurous, enjoyable and exciting. Quite a few members of the group agreed with his assessment!

One of Pat’s worst reads was ’Never Let Me Go’, another dystopian novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, about the breeding of people for spare parts - totally chilling. Pat found further disturbing reading in ’The Chrysalids’ by John Wyndham. A story of a boy brought up in a frighteningly strict religious community that did not allow any variation from the perfect, whether in people, animals or plants.

John Wyndham was very a popular sci-fi author whose 1950’s novels generally concerned the preoccupation with the Cold War, alien invasion and natural disasters. Sandra read his 1953 novel, ’The Kraken Wakes’, which presciently begins with a warming earth and rising sea levels. Fireballs from outer space bring alien creatures that live on the bottom of the sea bed. The obsession with killing them melts the ice caps and results in civil war!!

Carol read ’The Binding’ by Bridgett Collins, 2019. Set in an imaginary time that evokes 19th century gothic, a young man has a breakdown and is sent to a witch or ‘Binder’. The Binder takes out the memory of the incident that has sparked the trauma and binds it in a book. The young man gets better and works as an apprentice. Carol found the book readable but a bit odd.

Anne read Karen Lord’s, ‘The Best of All Possible Worlds’. Based on the ‘many worlds’ idea in theoretical physics, in different timelines there are different races of humans. One branch of humans that have ESP are searching the timelines to find mates to increase their numbers. This sounds difficult to understand but Anne found it an easy read. She says it is about how different groups of people view life and see things differently.

Margaret read ’The Martian Chronicles’ by Ray Bradbury, another very popular early sci-fi writer. About the colonisation of Mars and how the first colonists interact with the indigenous population of golden-eyed people. Colonists were viewed by the Martians as mentally disturbed and kept in asylums but the colonisers grew in numbers, mainly bible-missionaries. Weird things started happening when strange beings appearing as blue lights turned up!

Sharon told us about Aldous Huxley’s, ‘Brave New World’, written in 1932, a time when people were not only thinking about eugenics and the idea of superior races but also the introduction of mass-production. In this frightening vision of the future, all humans are born in test-tubes that are adjusted to provide different types of humans required for different roles in society. Epsilons being the lowest and bound for menial tasks with alpha plus the highest. A satire on capitalism and the consumerist society, the name of the god-like supreme leader, Ford, was probably no accident!

Chris talked briefly about how much he enjoyed, ’Before The Coffee Gets Cold’ by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, 2015, which has been described and recommended by Jim, I think. A lovely short novel about a café where, if you sit in a certain seat, you can be sent back into the past when the owner pours you a cup of coffee. There is a list of restrictions: you cannot alter the future, you cannot meet anybody who does not come into the café…and you must return before the coffee gets cold or you will become stuck. The different stories really help the protagonists to thinks differently abut themselves and their loved ones, gain an understanding of their actions and words, and come to terms with the way things have turned out.

Chris also reread an old favourite, ’Dance, Dance, Dance, by Haruki Murakami. Murakami is noted for his use of ‘Magic Realism’, as a device for exploring feeling and emotions. This novel is a sequel to ‘A Wild Sheep Chase’ and both novels feature ‘The Dolphin Hotel’. In the sequel this has been transformed into a gleaming glass and concrete structure but parts of the old, seedy hotel are hidden inside it and can only be accessed at certain times by taking the lift to the 15th floor. Romantic and full of lots of engaging detail.