While conducting a solo study of the fauna on Specula C3, Dr. Annette Thatcher witnesses the crash-landing of an alien spacecraft. She rescues Gregarin, the lone survivor of a ship from Etzi, a previously unknown planet. During the weeks Thatcher and Gregarin wait for an Earth rescue shuttle, they learn about each other’s language and culture — and surprising truths about themselves.
The idea for this story came to me while re-reading Dr. Lewis Thomas’ marvelous book, The Lives of a Cell, a beautifully written treasure chest of insights into the interconnectedness of all life. Thomas’ thoughts on collective societies that behave like single organisms got me to imagining how human society would appear to an alien species.
Hexagon Speculative Fiction is a new Canadian publication featuring poetry, fiction, and mixed media from all over the world. Its goal is to blend the fantastic, the absurd, the horrifying, and the humorous.
Writing in Giant Freakin Robot, Drew Dietsch recounts that the now-classic movie Starship Troopers was originally a dud at the box office, as well as a critical failure. Crowds looking for big-name stars didn’t find any in the film adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s novel, and critics thumped it as poorly acted, empty entertainment. Roger Ebert, for example, judged it to be “the most violent kiddie movie ever made.”
What changed our view of this now-beloved classic? The cult movie’s secret, says Dietsch, is that both audiences and critics slowly realized the movie committed that most grievous of sins in cinema: overachieving. Over the years, fans recognized Starship Troopers as an over-the-top satire of militarism.
For example, when Earth declares war on Klendathu, a planet populated by giant bug-like creatures, humans prove their patriotism by stomping on real bugs. I laughed out loud at that scene. (A number of English kicked dachshunds in the streets of London at the outbreak of World War I, and the US Congressional cafeteria changed the name of French Fries to Freedom Fries after France declined to join the US in attacking Iraq.)
Dietsch insightfully points out how the film’s characterizations are actually right on target:
When it comes to the widely criticized acting, that viewpoint seems to miss the forest for the trees. These characters are written to be iterations of the kinds of heroes you’d see in classic propaganda stories. Their supposed vapidity is essential to the larger satire at work, but the characters and actors themselves can’t play the roles that way or the picture would come off as disingenuous. By committing to these cardboard vessels for ridiculous propaganda, the cast is totally succeeding at being the exact characters this movie needs.
The result is a powerful statement against mindless jingoism. One of the most gripping scenes comes toward the end. Colonel Carl Jenkins, a psychic from the Terran Federation’s Ministry of Paranormal Warfare, approaches a dying enemy bug and reads the creature’s thoughts:
Look… they got it.
What’s it thinking, Colonel?
The troops cheer at the news the enemy is not just physically broken, but psychically as well. That cheer sent a cold ripple down my back. What a vivid display of the ugliness of triumphalism.
I’ve been busy during our global time-out. I’ve been reading new fiction, as well as re-reading old favorites, including Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, a series of vignettes of Hemingway’s early days as an author while starting a family in 1920s Paris.
This little book cannot be drained; every time I read it, I discover more treasures. And if the honorable Mr. Leonard were alive, I could tell him Hemingway displays a wicked sense of humor in A Moveable Feast.
Let’s look at a few examples.
The metaphor that links the book’s poignant scenes together is the sumptuous food and drink of Paris. Here’s how Hemingway launches our little tour:
As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.
That should whet any appetite. It certainly works for me.
Hemingway depicts Paris as a sprawling, lusty muse for all artists. In those days, he knew no greater joy than parking himself at a little café and setting a freshly sharpened pencil to his notebook. Pure writerly bliss. But every paradise has its snake, and for Hemingway, it’s the aggressive follower:
“Hi Hem. What are you trying to do? Write in a café?”
Your luck had run out and you shut the notebook.
Other artists, and especially writers, cannot evade Hemingway’s sharp, scrutinizing eye:
Wyndham Lewis wore a wide black hat, like a character in the quarter, and was dressed like someone out of La Boheme. He had a face that reminded me of a frog, not a bullfrog but just any frog, and Paris was too big a puddle for him.
F. Scott Fitzgerald and his melancholic wife Zelda get much scrutiny. Scott and Zelda had what you could call a rough and tumble, bittersweet relationship. When Zelda informs Scott she considers his, um, manhood inadequate, Scott looks to Hemingway for reassurance, which he kindly offers:
“You’re perfectly fine,” I said. “You are O.K. There’s nothing wrong with you. You look at yourself from above and you look foreshortened. Go over to the Louvre and look at the people in the statues and then go home and look at yourself in the mirror in profile.”
“Those statues may not be accurate.”
“They are pretty good. Most people would settle for them.”
“The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveler who would report them.”