As a Science Fiction Geek…

The most important environmental novel.

As a science fiction geek, I ought to be able to predict the future. The lord knows, I have spent enough time in the company of Ray Bradbury, Ann Leckie, Clifford D. Simak, Frank Herbert, and Kim Stanley Robinson. Of course the writers never get it quite right, but metaphors can be close; the TV pundits and newspaper columnists are less reliable as they spout ever-changing opinions on a daily deadline. Nonetheless, despite my eclectic reading, I have a bad feeling about the future.

With so much of the world ill or in lockdown, we are often depressed. And at the present moment, I am dismayed by our ineffectual government’s wasting weeks trying to nail Trump for the assault on the U.S. Capitol. We were all terrified by the attack, though I’m not at all sure it was an attempted coup. Of course the plotters and the violent attackers should be brought to justice. But it is ironic that the House and Senate allowed Trump to threaten national security for four years by constantly firing people in important positions–that scared me as much as the assault on the Capitol! No, they dare go after him now that he is out of office, and because they personally felt threatened when the Capitol was attacked. They did not show the same degree of concern for mass shootings in churches and schools, or for police violence, or the many other terrors set loose on the population by maniacs. Was this really a coup d’tweet?

A great political and environmental novel.

I try to avoid reading about politics. I voted for the Dems because I want to see green energy implemented, the vaccines distributed quickly, strategies for dealing with pandemics and climate change, and the completion of the thousand and one other important things the government owes.

For the last year, we have looked to infectious disease specialists and other scientists who have tried to hold this country together. Some states and the federal government actively interfered (and still interfere) with mask mandates recommended by the CDC. What is to be done? Where is all the government brain power?

The Cumaean Sibyl, also probably has a Zh.D.

But with my Zh.D. in Vampire and Zombie Lit , I am relieved that it is at least not the zombie apocalypse. The movies 28 Days Later and 28 Months Later can be viewed as a terrifying metaphor for a pandemic. Of course in the zips of this century, good vampires were as fashionable as the bad zombies. In the Twilight books, which I binge-read on the recommendation of a fortysomething friend, the witty, klutzy heroine, Bella Swan, moves to the small town of Fork, Washington, to live with her policeman father, and is not impressed with the fog or the small-town culture. But Edward, the gorgeous perfect gentleman vampire, saves Bella’s life when a car almost rolls on top of her. The two fall in love: Edward is something of a human rights activist; he drinks animal blood instead of human blood. Bella’s best friends are vampires and werewolves, and it is only a matter of time before she will have to make a change. But there is a place for infectious disease specialists in their Twilight world: medical experts are called in!

Somehow we never expected the pandemic, or any of it. It’s all horrifying, but it could be very much worse . Some people are suffering horribly, some people are terrified, some view this era as an inconvenience–and I might try the latter for a while, if I can just wing it.

Spring is coming–then we’ll be more positive! At least we hope so.

So Near and Yet So Far: What Would You Do to Acquire a Favorite Writer’s Papers?

One of the highlights of a trip to London was staring at the manuscript of Jane Eyre at the British Museum. I could hardly see it in the dimly-lit glass case, but it was there. So near and yet so far. That was my first inkling of what scholars must feel when they get their (gloved) hands on a manuscript.

I was thinking of this the other day when I read Henry James’s The Aspern Papers, a strange comical novella about a besotted scholar who will do anything to acquire the papers of Jeffrey Aspern, his favorite dead Romantic poet. The papers are reputed to be in the hands of the dead Aspern’s ancient mistress, Juliana, who has already refused the request of another scholar. So how can he get his hands on the papers?

The artful narrator daringly pretends an interest in Juliana’s garden so he can persuade her to rent him an apartment in her dilapidated Venetian villa. And Juliana’s niece, Tina, inadvertently becomes his collaborator: she innocently reveals that Juliana still has the papers in her bedroom. Let me just say that the narrator can’t resist searching for the papers even when Juliana is on her deathbed. Is such bad behavior rewarded? Read the book.

Barbara Pym is well-known for her charming novels about witty spinsters, indexers, librarians, and much-sought-after vicars. In her posthumously-published novel, An Academic Question, the narrator, Carol, is a bored faculty wife. Her husband thinks she should get a job, but she does not want to join the band of frowsy faculty wives who file things in the library to get out of the house. Instead, Caro volunteers at a nursing home, where she finds herself reading aloud to an elderly anthropologist who has not written up all his research. Her anthropologist husband and the chairman of his department want to get their hands on these papers. How far will they go?

In Doris Langley Moore’s hilarious novel, My Caravaggio Style, a bookseller and impecunious biographer decides to forge a manuscript of Byron’s alleged “lost” memoirs. He plans to “find” themanuscript in his aunt’s attic so he can sell it to an irritating American collector. Let us just say that things get out of hand.

Doris Lessing is one of my favorite writers, but let me be clear: I have no desire to go through her papers. Let the biographers go through her papers! When she announced she would not publish a third volume of her autobiography because she did not want to hurt people who were still alive, I respected that decision. But, ironically, Lessing was barely in the ground before Jenny Diski, an excellent writer who sometimes went too far, published her memoirs of Lessing, who took her in when she was a homeless teenager. I was appalled by Diski’s hatred of Lessing.

Anyway, I eagerly await a biography of Lessing. Shouldn’t one be coming out soon?