Ray Bradbury

I recently took part in a discussion on Sarah A. Hoyt’s blog about Ray Bradbury. Wishing to scrapbook my remarks for my own future consideration, I reproduce them here. Those not interested in my unformed maunderings are invited to skip this post, with my apologies.


Goldwin Smith, a British-Canadian journalist of the Victorian period, at once praised and damned the then prime minister of Canada, Alexander Mackenzie, in these words: ‘Mr. Mackenzie was a stonemason; he is a stonemason still.’ The qualities that made a good stonemason, he implied, were just those that made a man doctrinaire, clumsy, and incapable in public office. (But then, Goldwin Smith was no treat. An astute historian has remarked that his idea of independence was to be unfair to each side alternately.)

With thanks and apologies to Mr. Smith, I can say that Ray Bradbury is a horror writer, and when writing science fiction or anything else, he is a horror writer still. He reaches for an emotional effect, and does it very well; but he reaches no further. He writes (for instance) stories about little boys who long to become rocket men, and he is very good at making you feel their longing; but he is content with that, and does not take you any deeper into their world. Horror is all about the emotional effect; its job, by definition, is to horrify the reader. Science fiction, when well done, is about the discovery. A story must appeal to the intellect and the sense of curiosity, not to the emotions only, if it is to be successful by the terms of that art. Bradbury seldom makes any appeal to the intellect, and his appeal to curiosity is essentially negative; for a horror story is generally a cautionary tale against curiosity, in which evil things will happen if you go into the haunted house, or inquire too closely into the neighbour with the unearthly manners. [Read more…]

C. S. L. on entertainment

If entertainment means light and playful pleasure, then I think it is exactly what we ought to get from some literary work – say, from a trifle by Prior or Martial. If it means those things which ‘grip’ the reader of popular romance – suspense, excitement and so forth – then I would say that every book should be entertaining. A good book will be more; it must not be less. Entertainment, in this sense, is like a qualifying examination. If a fiction can’t provide even that, we may be excused from inquiry into its higher qualities.

—C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

I am at the moment laid up with a bad case of viral bronchitis, so close to pneumonia that it took an X-ray for the attending physician to tell the difference. My essai in progress (and almost finished), on the inclusion of Mervyn Peake’s grotesque satires, Titus Groan and Gormenghast, in the fantasy genre, is therefore up on blocks in the yard, covered with a tarpaulin. It will have to wait until I am more lucid to finish it. Many other projects are also behind hand; I am too keenly aware of them for my own comfort. Meanwhile, I am trying to make some constructive use of my illness by re-reading some thought-provoking books, including the one quoted above – which my Beloved Other kindly found for me today, after I had long believed my copy lost.

I beg your kind indulgence for the delay.

G. K. C. opens the cruellest month

Today would have been my father’s ninetieth birthday. He expected to live to see it; many of his close relations had lived that long, or close to it; he was in robust physical health till his mind gave way. But a house untenanted falls sooner into dilapidation, and I had to say my goodbye to him more than two years ago.

Because the first of April was, for our family, the date of a celebration not fitly met with mockery, I have never gone in for April Foolery myself; though I can appreciate a good jape when performed by a genuine artist.

This, for instance:

‘G. K. Chesterton on AI Risk’

The followers of Mr. Samuel Butler speak of thinking-machines that grow grander and grander until – quite against the wishes of their engineers – they become as tyrannical angels, firmly supplanting the poor human race. This theory is neither exciting nor original; there have been tyrannical angels since the days of Noah, and our tools have been rebelling against us since the first peasant stepped on a rake. Nor have I any doubt that what Butler says will come to pass. If every generation needs its tyrant-angels, then ours has been so inoculated against the original that if Lucifer and all his hosts were to descend upon Smithfield Market to demand that the English people bend the knee, we should politely ignore them, being far too modern to have time for such things. Butler’s thinking-machines are the only tyrant-angels we will accept; fate, ever accommodating, will surely give them to us.

(Hat tip to Nancy Lebovitz for mentioning this jewel in the comment box.)

Cataplasm

Sonny, the senior domestic vermin, has at length recovered from his recent surgery. He developed an ulcerated eye with a promptness and celerity that does our Division of Infectious Plagues credit. In the span of a few days he went from a mild case of pink eye to having his cornea rupture, whereupon aqueous humour leaked out all over, and there was nothing for it but to remove the eye – at great expense to my Vile Human, who could ill afford it, but was too much of a sap to simply dispose of the beast.

The vermin is now fully recovered, except for being minus an eye, and has completed his sentence – a fortnight in the Cone of Shame: [Read more…]

Long-burnt incense and very old peppermints

As I write this, I am sitting at the counter in Denny’s, industriously shirking the work I came here to do. To help me in my efforts to avoid effort, a few minutes ago, the PA system played ‘Incense and Peppermints’, the 1967 hit by the psychedelic one-hit wonders, Strawberry Alarm Clock:

I paused to reflect, and it occurred to me that we are just coming up on the 50th anniversary of this song’s release. This made me feel old.

To distract myself from this feeling, I went looking on Wikipedia (that unimpeachable smorgasbord of occasionally accurate pop culture trivia), and discovered that Strawberry Alarm Clock still exists to this day, and continues to perform live, at least sporadically. Of course the entire membership of the band has turned over more than once, and those original members who are with the Clock today have rejoined (two or three times apiece) after quitting in the late Sixties. Like the knife that has had two new blades and three new handles, they are just the same band as they ever were.

(It may be worth noting that the lead singer on ‘Incense and Peppermints’ was not a band member at all. The regular singers for Strawberry Alarm Clock all hated the lyrics and refused to sing them, so they brought in a 16-year-old kid, a friend of the band’s, as a pinch singer. Lo and behold, the song with the terrible lyrics turned out to be their only #1 single. Shows you what they know – a lesson to all writers, I suppose.)

This information distracted me from feeling old, and instead made me feel a kind of general dislocated weirdness. It would seem that general dislocated weirdness is what you are supposed to feel when listening to Strawberry Alarm Clock, so all’s right with the world after all.

Testing, testing (Comments please?)

Since the last so-called upgrade to WordPress, I can no longer view my site statistics. I have no way of knowing whether anybody is actually looking at this blog anymore or not. GoDaddy gave instructions on how to fix the problem; they didn’t work.

If anyone reads this, would you be so kind as to leave a comment? I need to know if my 3.6 Loyal Readers are still there, and I have no other way of telling.

Thank you.

 

UPDATE, 23 February: Now I’m in touch with the support people for the Jetpack plugin, which is causing all the trouble. I finally managed to upgrade and reinstall it… and it started putting code barf all over the pages containing individual posts. So I disabled it again, and I’m back to square one (but on the New and Improved™ upgraded board). No stats again.

My sincerest thanks to all who posted comments. It’s good to know that you’re all still out there and haven’t forgotten me. All alone in the silence, I was feeling pretty low.

Cataclysm!

You will note, immediately below, the pathetic plaint of my Vile Human at the illness of his domestic vermin. What he does not mention is that after acquiring this pestiferous pile of protoplasm, he and his mate brought home another. They were supposed to arrive together, but the second beast was having his reproductive proclivities surgically curtailed and was not ready to travel until the following week. Then Vile Human, the silly sap, repeated the four-hour drive (round trip) to Hanna and dutifully collected the fresh vermin.

The new infestation was named Kaos (so spelt) by the folk at the shelter. Here are both vermin together:

At first Kaos spent most of his time hiding in back closets or under furniture, for he had a blind fear of his new environment which I found most gratifying. Alas, this was soon corrected, and once he was coaxed out of hiding, he and the first vermin, Sonny, quickly attained the sickening condition that the humans call friendship. They are now inseparable boon companions, and it is revolting to see.

If it were not for the first vermin’s sickness and its owner’s distress, I would find the cloying domestic harmony of the place insufferable. As it is, once the beast recovers from surgery, I may have to decamp and take temporary lodgings in a war zone. True, in a war zone I may see courage and heroism, but I shall also see death, dismemberment, and the suffering of innocents: a refreshment that I much desire. This place is beginning to get positively un-Hellish.

(Signed)
H. Smiggy McStudge

 

P.S. The Vile Human’s mate has bestowed affectionate nicknames on the two vermin. She calls the first one Heffalump and the second one Woozle. It is enough to make one spew.

Sad news

My recently adopted cat, Sonny, had a mild viral infection in his eye when we brought him home from the SPCA. Eye a bit watery, a bit of clear discharge accumulating at the corner, a bit of redness: nothing to worry about, we thought.

Only it didn’t clear up. On (telephoned) veterinary advice, we administered antibiotic eye drops, in case there was a secondary bacterial infection. These did not help at all; and over the course of about three days, Sonny’s condition grew dramatically worse. By the time we could get him to the vet in person, his eyeball was ulcerated and the aqueous humour was beginning to leak out. (It seems a secondary bacterial infection had set in and proceeded with unholy speed.) An operation that might save his eye was possible, but would cost about $3,000, and the odds were against its working.

The only treatment within our means – and that just barely – was to pay $1,000 to have the infected eye removed. (If the $3,000 operation was tried and failed, we would have to pay for this anyway.) Sonny goes in for surgery tomorrow. I am desolate with grief, though I know I shouldn’t be; in all probability he will have a long and happy life with one eye. But there will always be that empty part of his face to remind me. I don’t know what else I could have done, but I feel that I have failed him.

Hoyt on bureaucracy

The government functionaries are humans too. (Probably.  Most of them.  The story my friend Rebecca Lickiss wrote where the IRS was staffed by vampires is fiction.  PROBABLY.) They don’t know the inside of anyone’s head.

—Sarah A. Hoyt, ‘Balancing the Scales’

Catastrophe!

It is with infinite disgust that I report that my Vile and Wretched Human, known to you by the ridiculous appellation Tom Simon, has just acquired a new specimen of household vermin, species Felis catus.

A photograph of the monstrosity is attached. It was labelled ‘Sonny’ by the SPCA of Hanna, Alberta, whence it was deliberately transported in a heinous plot to disturb the natural depression and infelicity of the house.

Other activities have, of course, been curtailed whilst this vile colony of self-organizing organic refuse is duly installed in the Simon domicile. I told him so, but did he listen? Does any human listen to his demonic alter blogger? Not often enough, that’s the unvarnished truth of it.

(Signed, under protest)
H. Smiggy McStudge