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Archive for the "Literature" Category

Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon

 

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Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon is one of the highest acclaimed science-fiction novels.

And I was bored to death with it.

The premise sounds exciting and interesting; a travel throughout the universe, in search for a creator of the universe, called Star Maker. Often pausing in confusion, loneliness, nothingness. We end meeting different peoples, planets, organisms, and beings unexplainable. Amazing, right? Interesting, exciting, fascinating.

I read it voraciously at first with interest and love, until I noticed a certain recurring theme of old-fashioned theories permeating the story. And I just got annoyed because that’s who I am and I am unashamed to admit it. Feelings are what matter to me when reading, not grammar or high-minded theory. (Not that I’d call this book filled with high minded theory, but an interesting reflection of its time? Yes.)

The recurrence was this: most planets seemed to thrive via a similar socio-economic system to that of our Western world. But you only have to look at our own planet that this is not a prevailing system. This Western-centric view is plain lazy, I expect more from a writer who is writing a book of such a large scope, a book that tries to uncover the mysteries of the universe. Later on we meet other beings, different from us, but still a slight line of a Eurocentric mind can be felt. Especially, when all must end in destruction (this is a part I appreciate in light of the time it was written though). More so, the book, though not told chronologically exactly, tells a story that is entirely teleological. I don’t know what to say about this exactly, except that it irked me and I found it to be a lazy approach of the writer. Next up is the idea of the Star Maker itself, the need for finding meaning behind the universe and shaping this more or less into a being, though not universal, is common. I understood, I waited quietly. But the ultimate confrontation of this Star Maker was nothing but a Christian construct. Blinding, all-knowing though with interesting faults. (This sounds a bit universal and acceptable, but I don’t want to give too much away of the book, trust me, it is very Christian-centric.) The book took so long to climax to this point, and what I get is Christian-influenced godliness? Well. That’s just boring and an extreme anti-climax. I had hoped there was no Star Maker, that there was just endless nothingness. Though reading it in the light of the time it was written I do appreciate the positive message, though not the Western-centric view; which gives off the feeling of excluding others.

I was very happy I reached the end of the book and could start something more interesting.

This was written in 1938, I am well aware, but sometimes books just lose their importance, acclaim and relevance. For me, this is what’s happened to Star Maker. It has been clearly influenced by the upcoming World War II and its anxiety. Moreover, it’s too set in the prevailing theories of the time. Western-centred, theological, and simply ignoring anyone outside the Western-European or USA influenced sphere. I find this to be disappointing because it could have been so great; the writer has limited itself by lack of research. Though I am disappointed of the sci-fi in this book (largely, sadly, very much so), it can be read as an interesting document of the time it was written in. And I like that too, but that’s not what I was looking for, I want some good or fun sci-fi, ya know?

If you’re interested in this time of history, read it, the underlining themes are very clear and interesting to read from a 1938 point of view. If you’re interested in sci-fi, only read it if you want knowledge of classics. But, of course, these are my feelings and yours could be different.

More and more I’m leaning towards wanting pulp sci-fi instead of critically acclaimed works. It’s fun, it has imagination, it’s hilarious and it can be surprisingly poignant too. Critically acclaimed works? Too much up in their own ass most of the time.

I’ll keep reading critically acclaimed works though, maybe just to bash it, but hopefully I’ll find something good. I must.

The Rows of Cherry Trees by Makoto Takahashi

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The Rows of Cherry Trees by Makoto Takahashi, a manga written in 1957 is a nice and heartfelt, slowly and beautifully paced poetic story of teenage girls and a budding love between them. It’s soft, girly and has some of the most gorgeous manga, comic, or graphic novel page layouts I’ve ever seen. The lines of the characters flow organically and naturally match the geometric shapes of the panels. The story seems ripped straight out of a sensitive teenage girl’s heart. It feels so sensitive, special and unique. I wish I could find more of Makoto Takahashi works, who has been referred as the originator of shoujo manga!

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White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

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Last night, sleepless and anxious, while the birds started singing and dawn coming in, I finished White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi. I quickly added it to my to-read list when a couple of twitter friends were talking of fairy tales and literature, because I can never quite resist fairytales and mythologies, neither can I pass up anything witch-related. I love my monster women and girls.

During the beginning of the story I fel irritated and bored by the Silver family, though the unknown narrator started intriguing me more and more, it wasn’t enough to hide my discontent of the haughty cultural references of the twin brother and sister, Miri’s “quirky” carefully constructed persona and the overall feeling of an heavily culturally educated middle upper-class house, who most annoyingly, are unafraid to continuously spike their conversations with references I care nothing about. But the magic and mystery slowly seeped in and before I knew it, I wanted to turn around and sleep because it was getting so late, the book’s eerie feeling nearing the end left me feeling shaken in the dark like a small child scared of monsters behind her back and under her bed. So I had to keep reading.

In retrospect, I adored the slow build-up of mystery from the seemingly normal family to a magical, hellish house. This house. This house is, to me, a lot better constructed than the house in House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, because the latter continually said to me; there is something you should be afraid of in these pages, watch out! While Oyeyemi’s story just happened, which is without a doubt the scariest of all experiences. What is more frightening and feels truly surreal than to have a casually constructed normal life slowly fall apart to madness?

But to compare White is for Witching to a man’s work is superfluous; Oyeyemi’s story is all about a generation of women coming together, melting into each other, forming a monster and invading a young woman’s life and sucking out life to all those around her. Though it’s a magical story, it feels very real, or at least it did to me. It’s a feeling I am scared of, or maybe I am told be scared of, as a young woman, especially struggling with mental illness, just as the main protagonist, Miri. Though you can never quite know for sure. Is this witch-tale what really happened or was it part of her illness, was it part of an elaborate lie by her brother, or was it some casual story to be told on a sleepover when all is dark and you feel fragile? Uncertainty and doubt. The scariest feeling because we relate to it so well.