In France, this less comforting view of a universe filled with alien life was adopted by an enigmatic Belgian who wrote under the pseudonym J. It begins as a prehistoric adventure a popular genre at the time , and is related in the solemn, archaic cadences of a fable.
Capable of shape-shifting from cone to strata to cylinder, they certainly seem otherworldly, but Rosny offers no explanation for their presence. In the distant future, Earth is racked by massive earthquakes and water shortages. In the wastelands beyond the few surviving settlements, a new life-form emerges: the ferromagnetics, sentient metallic beings that glow in the dark. Rosny was big on bioluminescence.
Although the creatures are not manifestly hostile, they will vampirically leach the iron from the blood of any human who spends too much time around them. He would have felt right at home among the Men in Black. That no longer saddens us; we only wish to disappear without violence. But can the two be separated in a Darwinian universe? You will find no nuptial caresses in this account of a Martian invasion of England.
The narrator is kept apart from his wife for most of the action, and these Martians are definitely not the caressing kind. At the time that Wells wrote his story, deep-sea explorers were making major discoveries, adding thousands of bizarre creatures to the Book of Life; the imprint of the aquatic is still felt in many fictional conceptions of aliens.
The initial impulse behind invasion literature was patriotic and militaristic. This useless spokesman of religion can only wail over the betrayal of his faith. What sins have we done? What are these Martians? Whether your preferred variety of exceptionalism is religious, ethnic, or species-based, the Martians are here to tear it down.
Wells was a socialist and, for a while, a member of the Fabian Society—which is to say, a kind of optimist. But in this work, and in scientific romances to come, he offered little hope that humanity could peaceably coexist with extraterrestrials. According to Stableford, early British science-fiction writers were more prone than the French to picture the encounter between humans and aliens as a brutal clash from which only the fittest would emerge alive.
This was, he implies, how Britons saw most social relations. Why should we anticipate anything different? The aggressive aliens that skittered, slithered, and oozed through the twentieth century were, to a remarkable degree, prefigured in the very first ones imagined in print. Exemplary aliens did enjoy a brief heyday in the dreamy nineteen-sixties, when they demonstrated new ways of thinking about religion Robert A.
For every kindly E. These aliens may not all be made in the image of their creators, but each one is a child of our psyche. It can be judged in part by the length and placement of reviews, and the number and tone of interviews and profiles in major publications. If everyone in your M. In fact, litchat has assumed an ever-greater role in criticism because so much of what once happened privately and fleetingly is now public and preserved.
Social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are the main sites where this litchat happens today, and conversations on both spill over into digital and print journalism, which takes remarks made in interviews that generate Twitter responses and then amplifies them, spawning even more Twitter responses.
When authors tweet—and most publishers urge them to do so—the line between work and persona can become almost impossible to draw. The poet Patricia Lockwood, for example, may be justly celebrated for her poems, one of which brought her to widespread attention after it was published online and blew up on social media, but it was her Twitter account and 53, followers that made her the stuff of a Times Magazine profile. The same goes for authors whose personas are vilified on social media.
As journalism, this makes sense. Although his fiction is the occasion of his fame, it is now no longer necessary to have read any of it to have an opinion about Franzen and whether he deserves that fame. Furthermore, nothing strikes such readers as smarter than a well-written confirmation of what they already believe. The novel itself hardly matters. Litchat has become an end in itself.
Perhaps, but I doubt it. Persona-wise, Wallace was the Franzen of his day, reflexively mistrusted because he was the subject of a breathless Times piece that touted him as a young genius and, by implication, the voice of a new generation. There is no surer way to stir up animosity among young literary people than to present another young literary figure as a generational spokesperson.
I fear I rarely succeeded. The litchat take on Wallace was that he was very intelligent, but probably too intelligent for his own good; that he had written a book that was very long, but probably too long; that this book contained a lot of postmodern flourishes most notably a ton of footnotes , and there was definitely too much of that for any sensible reader to countenance. It was all very clever, litchat acknowledged, but it lacked real human emotion.
He has the vocabulary. He has the energy. He has the big ideas. He has the attitude. Yet too often he sounds like a hyperarticulate Tin Man Too often, I found myself in conversations in which I argued against this reductive view of Wallace with people who expressed irritated exasperation at the very mention of his books, none of which they would turn out to have read.
Even sympathetic critics like Wyatt Mason and A. No one forced him to deliver his famously inspirational commencement speech to the graduating class of Kenyon College, which would become perhaps the most accessible and widely read thing that he ever wrote.
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But whatever the motivations, free speech advocates fear that the restrictions will shackle a communications technology that if left unfettered, would bring unprecedented free expression to every corner of the globe. Steinhardt, associate director of the essay about disadvantages , American Civil Liberties Union. He slips through it and into the sanctuary of another universe, where he meets and befriends Lyra Belacqua. In , Pullman became the first student from his Welsh school to go to Oxford.
The first time he visited the town, he was bewitched by the sensation it offered of stepping out of time. The afternoon sun drew the warmest tones out of it all, and the air felt rich with it, almost the color itself of heavy golden wine. As a student, Pullman used to sneak onto the roof of his college, Exeter. Pullman and his wife moved outside town a few years ago, when the admirers who kept turning up at their door, asking for autographs and taking photos, became a nuisance.
Pullman and I stopped there during a walk around the city. We wandered over to the courtyard of the Bodleian Library and stared up at its imposing inner walls. Pullman, whose performance at Oxford was, by his own reckoning, undistinguished, said that he rarely visited the library as a student. You could hear them howling and scrabbling if you pressed your ear to the cellar wall under staircase 9.
I did, and you can. His books have been likened to those of J. Tolkien, another alumnus, but he scoffs at the notion of any resemblance. There is no shortage of such nauseating drivel in Narnia, if you can face it. If somebody who knew nothing about Christian doctrine, and who had been told that Lewis was a great Christian teacher, read all the way through those books, would he get that message?
As a child, Lyra is able to read a complicated divination device, called an alethiometer, with an instinctual ease. We are bound to grow up. At one point, Pullman and I stopped by the Eagle and Child, an Oxford pub where Lewis and Tolkien used to meet regularly with a group of literary friends.
They called themselves the Inklings. When challenged, he listens carefully and considerately, and occasionally tempers his ire. Lewis could be redeemed. Other things are felt to be more important: technique, style, literary knowingness. The present-day would-be George Eliots take up their stories as if with a pair of tongs. If they could write novels without stories in them, they would. Sometimes they do. A clear statement about stories and their importance to children and their importance to human beings was made.
In writing for children, he discovered, he felt liberated to pursue the elemental pleasures of story. We all need stories, but children are more frank about it. Pullman refined his own storytelling gifts orally, by recounting versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey to his middle-school students. Indeed, he once caused a scene in a restaurant when he was retelling the Odyssey to his son Tom, then about five years old. They all try, but none of them can do it.
Tom was so taken with the tension of the moment that he bit a piece out of his water glass. The waitress, who was coming toward us with our food, saw him do it, and she was so startled that she dropped her tray. There was food everywhere! It was chaos. Pullman polished his sense of plot by writing plays for school productions. The need to leave the audience hungry for what happens next instilled in him, he said, a ruthless discipline.
Rule No. Great storytelling is an alchemy of voice, tone, and point of view. That was what had to happen. The day we sat down at the Eagle and Child, Pullman told me about a speech he had delivered in May, , at a colloquium on science, literature, and human nature.
Where do these shapes come from, and how can he recognize them with such certainty? His certainty might be a sophisticated form of cultural conditioning, he supposes, or simply the gift of experience. One afternoon, at the converted seventeenth-century farmhouse where Pullman and his wife live, he put a frying pan on the big cast-iron Aga stove and fried some organic bacon, which we had purchased at the old covered market in Oxford.
In the trilogy, Pullman reminded me, Lyra spends a lot of time in the market with her gang, running around underfoot, stealing apples. Here he has a book-lined study with plenty of room for an impressive wooden rocking horse that Pullman, who likes to do carpentry, was hand-carving for his two grandchildren.