2001: A Space Odyssey

Today’s topic is 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke.

The first words that come to my mind are brilliant, visionary, a Jules Verne of the 20th century. Arthur C. Clarke has a marvelous imagination, and by logic and from his physics degree he just accurately predicts a very likely to be future. The book is an exercise of imagination, starting from artificial intelligence, human evolution, extraterrestrial forces, or evolution in physics.

I can tell you that 2001 is the most realistic science fiction novel I ever read. The author imagines a world where space travel is possible, but with realistic devices and speeds. The shuttle Discovery takes few years to reach Jupiter and Saturn, while their crew follows a very tight schedule and most of them are suspended in cryostate. The two main characters , Dave Bowman and Frank Poole have a very strict life aboard the ship, while the most powerful artificial intelligence ever created, HAL 9000, stirs up the plot and eventually tries to take control over the vessel. HAL 9000 is depicted with clear observations, and is the dark figure of the novel. HAL 9000 is a genius, it can play chess better than any human being, it can logic and reason, however his main fault is not being human, and it takes decisions over life and death as easy as moving a pawn on the chess table. HAL is strong, merciless, and deceiving. HAL is a combination of power in wrong hands and a child. As the child of humanity, HAL returns to its roots by singing the Daisy Girl song, which in the end proves that HAL itself is a child out of control, and that humankind needs to nurture it’s children more before letting them go. The last act of HAL also changes the public opinion about him, HAL becomes weak, innocent and cannot be blamed for his evil actions.

The relationship between an artificial being and a human being is depicted very clear: Dave doesn’t know how to talk to HAL in certain points. He was used with a docile machine, but is astonished when the perfect HAL proves faults. HAL builds an atmosphere that is about to explode, with a very predictable end. However nobody on the ship realizes that. Clarke uses cinematographic scenes, to make the people hold their breath waiting for the resolution. Dave proves himself very cold blooded and manages to disable HAL even though he witnesses the death of all his flight mates, including his long time friend Frank’s jettisoning. Dave proves a bravery out of common, by moving ahead with his mission despite the central command hiding the true nature of his expedition, the deaths of his comrades, and the need for him to pilot the ship alone.

The action is then built across the black monoliths which have changed the human history, and are the main enigma of all the space odyssey series. The discovery of alien structures is more impressive than third degree meetings in contemporary literature or movies. The Black Monoliths do not say anything, do not have a heart, do not want to do us harm, but still they are there and this is very frightening. The idea that a civilization was present in our solar system in a very far away past is astonishing. This civilization even contributes to the evolution of human kind. Even if the monoliths look dead, they have the power to turn Dave into the star child.

Clarke explores various themes that have been previously untouched by any other writer, which make him a door opener for modern science fiction. Starting from artificial intelligence, which he depicts as an eventual threat to human kind, and ending with alien presence in the solar system, Clarke presents a very believable world, sometimes even more believable than reality. His book doesn’t focus on characters, but on human attitude as a species and as a whole, and on engineering traits that make the novel a pleasure for an engineer or a physician. Space travel has never been as real as in Clarke’s novel.

About me

I just like to read books. Thought it might be interesting to remind myself of what I have been reading in the past. My articles are not teasers for books. My articles are not resumes of books. What my articles are, they are personal opinions. Usually I expect people to have read the book before looking on my opinion. That doesn’t mean you won’t get an idea about the book though. I don’t say I am right, I may be very wrong in what I say. It’s just my opinion and that’s it. Feel free to comment to my posts saying if you agree or not with what I say.

I read 20th and 21st century books. Not very old, not many very new either. I get books from wherever I can. If you can’t find a title you would like to read, and you are near my location, I can borrow you, in exchange.

Leave me a comment below if you want to contact me.

This is a blog about how I feel the experience of others, expressed in their books. Feel free to read, I won’t be upset if you don’t though.

My ether wallet , if someone wants to donate:

0xEED1D1028c442de1F62969ce52D86Ba47108f561

Saint Glinglin

Today’s topic is Saint Glinglin by Raymond Queneau.

A representative of a weird genre, Saint Glinglin exploits human faults, bad habits, tradition versus modernity, all in a humorous way. The action takes place around the Home Town, which is a fictional city, full of strange people and amusing habits. Different from the rest of the country, Home Town is a place where it never rains, people only drink bad quality wine, and take full joy in breaking thousands of plates, cups and other dishes in yearly based celebration. They are highly unwilling to accept any change from other people, and look towards strangers with amusement. They treat strangers very good but they do not want to break any of their strange habits, nor explain or give any reason for their behavior.

Main characters are from the Nabonide family. Pierre is sent to another town to learn their language, in order to bring new information and eventually become a translator for the people in Home Town. Not surprisingly, he finds himself intrigued by totally different things and comes home with a thrilling discovery of deep water fish. This subject fascinates him, but the people in Home Town only mock him because deep fish can’t be eaten. Pierre is an idealist, he finds sufficiency in spiritual things, like the life of the fish, not in simple things like money or food. Gossip is a very important theme, as all things spread epidemically from every town folk to another. People cannot understand Pierre, not even his father who wants to disinherit him. Pierre’s brother, Jean , has a different attitude and prefers solitude. He spends years on the lonely mountains near Home Town, living in nature and away from any problems in Home Town. The third brother Paul becomes infatuated with a cinema star, as the Home Town starts to adopt new things from the outside world. Their sister Helene is the model of the inadapted, a creature that is not considered entirely sane by the other people in town. She spends a lot of time locked in a basement studying insects.

The role of mayor is another important part in the story, as it’s taken by all Nabonide males, starting with their father and taking turns by both Pierre and Paul. The mayor is a respected role, but not all people accept the decisions the mayor takes. Pierre wants to bring the change and when he becomes mayor, brings a never stopping rain across Home Town, and abolishes the dish breaking frenzy festival on Saint Glinglin.

Ridiculous is exploited by the author at every point in the book. He ridiculizes Pierre for being a non stopping dreamer, Nabonide the father who turns into a statue and is exhibited in the town central plaza, he ridiculizes the town folk’s addiction to poor wine, also the easiness of the town women, who take turns in lifting their skirts on a play swing, or letting themselves touched by any interesting new male in town. Food doesn’t get forgotten, their strange dish becomes a very amusing part as it’s made of all possible dishes but still very highly praised by the town folk.

Overall, Queneau laughs at a closed city , full of bad or funny habits, reluctant to change, using a very interesting language and playing with words in an unique style. We could make a parallel of his own time, where changes started inflicting on people in the first half of 20th century, and were not easily accepted by anyone.

She came to stay

Today’s topic is “She came to stay” by Simone de Beauvoir.

The original French title is “L’invitee” which actually means the invited one, in feminine gender. Obviously this refers to Xaviere, the main mistery and a very carefully created character in the novel.

Xaviere comes into the picture in a rather silent and peaceful environment, to stir up the action and make everything revolve around her. The world in the novel was stable and very well designed, with Francoise and Pierre having a nearly perfect relationship. Xaviere changes all that with her flegmatic attitude and incisive underskin intentions. From a young country girl, basing on very strong feelings, Xaviere manages to change everyone’s life and evolves into a more powerful being, capable of disrupting happiness, influencing others’ feelings, indulging remorse, pity, affection, hate, a full rainbow of sentiment.

Francoise and Pierre are both affected, in a way that would change their life forever. Francoise is torn between the affection for Pierre, and the word she gave Xaviere that will take care of her. When Xaviere’s actions split them apart, by commiting adulter against the trio, which is a mutual agreement superseding an usual man woman couple, Francoise is affectionately destroyed, having a share of non understandable feelings that put her in a very difficult position. She has to choose between disengaging her commitment to Xaviere or greatly disappointing Pierre by asking him to step over his pride and forgive something that he clearly was not up to. Xaviere on the other hand has a very egocentric position, putting herself above everyone else. She lacks understanding of many human habits that find her amusing on some part, and disgusting on the other part. She is willing to put personal vendetta as a primary goal, only because her position in the trio is not first. Actually all the three characters take turns in feeling like the third wheel to the bike. First is Xaviere, after that Francoise, and sometimes Pierre, when his sole occupation is his work, the theater, and the two women spend most of their time together.

Love is a strong emotion that is depicted throughout the novel, but without high implications. Francoise thinks herself in love with Pierre, but has nothing against accepting Xaviere into their life, to a certain point. She also has no remorse in having an affair with Gerbert. Pierre is not very affectionate, but in key moments he does prove the willing to protect Francoise. Both of them have an open relationship, which is a very interesting point to debate. They are willing to accept each other’s affair, as long as there is an intellectual and sincere communion between them. Francoise suggests herself that Pierre could have an affair with Xaviere, but inside her soul there is a moment of refrain. However she knows she can’t hold Pierre only to herself. Giving him a free will would make him eventually turn back to her. The question is, is it the same thing? Knowing that the other person in the couple has been through an affair, with all the emotion involved, does it make it in the long run ? Can she live with herself accepting that ? Only thing that matters is that Pierre is beside her, but it does not matter at all what kind of Pierre she has?

Her love to Xaviere is one purely of protection and of curiosity, she is very intrigued about her, never fully understanding her, but not willing to let her go when Xaviere proves herself that for her Pierre is more important.

Pierre on the other hand seems to be more easy hearted and does not seem to have problems with accepting Francoise as is. On the other hand, the couple from his point of view is secondary to other matters in life, and Pierre is seeking personal achievement by having success in professional life.

We could extrapolate and fill the blanks regarding the characters, as I perceive them. Francoise is the sentimentalist, willing to do anything for a balanced life and making everyone happy, thus it’s the empathic. Xaviere is the frivolous, wanting to live every moment no matter the consequences. Pierre is the intellectual who seeks mostly pleasure in social relationship, but has a completely different life that nobody can reach, in his professional work.

These characters are extremely powerful and we can clearly match Francoise with Simone de Beauvoir herself, and Pierre with Sartre, the exceptional intellectual. Xaviere remains a more dark figure in history, but this book is a tribute to a good friend and student of Simone de Beauvoir, who nearly disrupted her relationship with Sartre. Their relationship is clearly pictured here, always a couple, but always free. And still, their relationship was stronger than many other of today’s.

I didn’t like the end. Unlike other Simone the Beauvoir’s novels, which are like a symphony of orchestrated character build, She came to stay ends completely unexpected. Francoise’s act is a desperate scream against all oppression, maybe a sign of freedom, maybe a hidden will that the author herself never had the courage to do. This act brings Xaviere and Francoise on the same plane. Francoise proves to have human flaws too, while Xaviere proves she can feel pain as well. The last mirror image scene leaves the reader in total confusion, as both women are split by the same feelings, after all.