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January 23, 2018


Beautiful picture and poem, doc.

Leguin wasn't one of my big favorites; I only ever read a few of her books and they mostly didn't pass the reread test...

...except for Left Hand of Darkness. That one I read several times, in large part because it was probably the first thing I ever ran across that made me feel less alone in my (then inchoate) weird ideas about, and experience of, gender.

Not surprisingly, I also liked her essay "Is Gender Necessary: Redux." I didn't keep up with her much after that, but now I feel like I need to back and catch up a bit.

I haven't thought of this for years, but back years ago when I occasionally wrote op-eds for the Augusta paper, I wrote one that was sort of a take-off on "Is Gender Necessary: Redux" coupled with Marge Piercy's future-society's pronouns (and gender politics) in Woman on the Edge of Time. I sent the column to Leguin and she actually wrote back briefly (I wonder where that letter is!) -- she didn't seem to think much of Piercy or of me......I suppose it was a bit cheeky of me, or naive.

moving a comment from the open thread, should have known you would post something

I asked for suggestion as to which books provide a good entry point to her works. Marty graciously suggested the following:

lj, Its been a long time and anything she reads will be wonderful, but if I were to reread I would start with the short stories. The Winds Twelve Quarters?. They start to explore world's that later become central to her novels, and I think lay the groundwork for a relationship with her.

I've always been a fan, in large part because of her father, who was a linguist at Berkeley and her mother, who studied anthropology and wrote about Ishi, the last Yahi

which informed her writing. As I said, my fiction reading has dried up and when I read fiction, it is not as it 'should' be read, (we can get in an argument about how one should read fiction, but I don't feel I'm approaching like I used to read fiction, more's the pity) but I feel a need to go back.

She was the best, and we are fortunate to have had her for a time.

For those who don't normally read much SF, I think that The Telling is a gentle and quite beautiful introduction to LeGuin's work. I've read it aloud to a couple non-SF-readers. One of them wept.

For those who like SF qua SF, the early Hainish books are delightful, though not yet her best work:

Planet of Exile is very anthropological in flavor

Rocannon's World would make a great action movie: it's full of vivid scenes and drama. You might struggle a bit with the framing device; skip it if so, and go on to the tale itself.

The Word For World Is Forest, a novelette from the earliest seventies, is full of feminist and anti-militarist fury. The antagonist is a cartoon of what we've come to know as toxic masculinity, and it's her angriest and least subtle work.

And then the masterpieces.

The Dispossessed beggars any description I can write. I've read it a dozen times, maybe, and I still choke up at the reunion of Shevek and Takver. And anyone with a post-graduate education will recognize the politics of Shevek's academy.

The Left Hand Of Darkness is, for my money, the peak. An gripping tale of arctic adventure, an investigation into religions, perfect encapsulations of politics in a royal court and in a socialist totalitarian state, a love story you won't at first recognize as one, a great hero -- a tour de force. The first few pages tend to throw the new reader; push on and give it a chance. Besides, you have to have read this to proceed to the full-on erotica of "Coming of age in Karhide"

I love the Earthsea books, which have a hundred times the depth of Rowlings Potter, but they're almost juveniles compared to those last two.

Her actual juveniles, the Catwings books, were in my eyes not a success.

Ave atque vale, Ursula, and thank you so very much.

I think I'd start with The Wizard of Earthsea. It seems more accessible than The Left Hand of Darkness -- which I quite like, but not as a starting point.

No one has mentioned The Lathe of Heaven, very Taoist. I've read the Hainish, the classics a couple times.

I can't say I am a huge fan, she is near the top in my admiration, but less than Silverberg or Lafferty in my affections. I would not say anyone is better.

To me she marks my luck in being born so I could be young 1965-1975, a period for SF-F that probably changed culture, if not the world. It certainly changed me, made me. The names of those people I am grateful to are many, you know them. What did Dick and Delaney and Russ and Wilhelm and Disch and Tiptree, and LeGuin near the top, achieve in those years? What doors were opened?

They justified the field.

LeGuin is notable for having coined a word for an device for instantaneous communication across interstellar distances, the ansible. Other writers picked it up, and you'll see it from time to time in their work.

I think, but cannot substantiate, that she coined the acronym NAFAL, for the Nearly As Fast As Light drive that powers the Ekumen's starships.

But my favorite coinage of hers is "nusuth", a word roughly meaning "that's as may be" or "it makes no real difference in the end" or "que sera, sera" or "words are not reality" -- I'll never be able to quite capture its subtlety, but nusuth.

Donald Coffin quotes LeGuin over at CT, you can find it.

"...painted a sign on the end wall of a dead-end alley: THIS WAY TO HEAVEN."

LeGuin struck me, and struck me hard, as the most clearly and coherently spiritual of that late 60s group.

McManus skrev:

The Lathe of Heaven

I am defective.
I cannot like TLoH, nor anything I've started of Philip K. Dick's
I've tried.

I know I'm wrong, so I mostly keep my mouth shut about it, but among friends, I feel safe in revealing this great personal failing.

OTOH Joanna Russ's "When It Changed" hit me like a sledge.

I've learned, far too late, that you really shouldn't bust anyone because they don't like what you like.

As for Philip Dick, I think that one reason I really like him is that I am a very fast, really too fast, reader. Stylistically, if you really want to linger over prose, there is not a lot in Dick's works that can do stuff for you. Dick himself noted that the first adopters of electric typewriters were science fiction writers because they were getting paid by the word. I'm not sure if that can help you, but if you read Dick so that you have to get to the end before the clerk taps you on the shoulder and asks you to leave, you might be able to appreciate it.

I think I agree with Marty, the short story collections are the best intro to Le Guin. They cover more intellectual territory in a single volume, and her lapidary prose is ideal for the shorter form.

Nothing to add other than that I appreciate the impetus to look up the word "lapidary."

I read The Left Hand of Darkness and (I think) The Lathe of Heaven many years ago. I remember nothing of the latter, and not much except gender-related stuff about the former, but I remember enjoying it and thinking it good, without in any way being knocked out. On the other hand, in those days I was pretty young, so much more fixated on "story" as opposed to style, often oblivious to fine writing, and at the same time took it for granted that much of what I read would contain philosophically interesting ideas.

The Earthsea Trilogy, however, I read years later (although still many years ago), and I loved it. You cannot compare it to Harry Potter (which I also very much enjoyed - I have no scruples or shame about reading children's books), because the Potter books are what we call in England "ripping yarns" (albeit dealing sensitively with such things as grief and loss), whereas the Earthsea books are self-evidently works of art. When I first read the trilogy, I was not sufficiently woke (as the kids say) to notice or mind that women's or girls' voices were so secondary, but when I read Tehanu, The Other Wind and Tales from Earthsea quite recently, I found them deeply satisfying and a fitting completion, and that she had, in the doc's perfect words, found a way:

to include the voices of women she hadn't let herself hear the first time.

One thing I discovered reading Words Are My Matter (last year's Hugo winner for Best Related Work, a collection of Le Guin's nonfiction essays, talks, book reviews, and the like) was that she and Philip K. Dick were classmates at Berkeley High together, although they moved in different circles and never met in person. From her intro to The Man In The High Castle (Folio Society edition of 2015):

A year older than I, Philip Kindred Dick spent his adolescence in the city I grew up in, Berkeley. We both graduated from Berkeley High School in 1947. That there were over three thousand students at the school may explain why I never even knew his name, yet it seems a little odd. Absolutely no one I've spoken to from our Berkeley High years remembers him. Was he a total loner, was he out sick a great deal, did he take "shop" courses rather than the more academic ones? His name is in the yearbook but there is no picture of him. In Dick's life as in his fiction, reality seems to slither from the grasp, and ascertainable facts end up as debatable assertions or mere labels.

Much later in our lives, he and I corresponded for a couple of years, always about writing; he knew how much I admired his work. We talked on the phone two or three times, but never met.

Thanks Dave! I knew that they were at the same school, but didn't know she had written that intro. That she says "he knew how much I admired his work" gives me a bizarre sense of satisfaction-like you have two friends who don't know each other, but when they get together, they get on like a house on fire.

Is this the "People Who Died" thread?

Interview with Nick Cave, Shane McGowan, and Mark E Smith together at last

"In one of her most famous novels, 1974's The Dispossessed, a solar system contains two habitable bodies. On the larger planet, Urras, is a state capitalist society. On its smaller moon, Anarres, is a communalist anarchist society made up of the great-grandchildren of revolutionaries from the home planet. Le Guin examines both societies through the eyes of an anarchist physicist named Shevek."
R.I.P. Ursula K. Le Guin, Author of One of the Greatest Novels About Freedom Ever Written: How libertarians learned to stop worrying and love The Dispossessed

I think your dismissal of the Four Horsemen is uncalled for. There is a time for being compassionate towards the religious, and also a time for pointing out that they are wrong and dangerous and shouldn't have a stranglehold on the levers of power (90% of the present US Congress is Christian)

90 % of the present US Congress self-identifies as Christian.

Less than half of those show any real understanding of or commitment to the values that Jesus so clearly taught.

It sometimes seems, that for an amazing number of people, "Christian" has ceased to have a religious meaning. Rather, it has become a team logo. They go to the team rallies (church services), but don't seem to pay any attention to the message being sent.**

** And I am, obviously, not thinking here of the "prosperity gospel" churches. Where the preachers make no pretense of heeding Jesus' words about the rich (or the money lenders) vs the Good Samaritan.

"Christian"...has become a team logo.

It would be fascinating to track when it became common for people to say "I'm a Christian" rather than "I'm a Baptist" or "I'm a Methodist" or etc., as was the custom when I was a kid.

People *never* said "I'm a Christian" back in the day.

A friend of mine thinks it has something to do with Roe v. Wade, and maybe it does.

Either way, I agree that it seems to have very little to do with the teachings of Jesus. (Whoever he was.)

Well, if you are trying for political clout (rather than worrying about details like theology), rebranding to maximize your numbers makes sense.

Well, why should Klassy Konservative Kristians from Hartlandt Amerika pay any attention to the pinko ravings of a dusky radical Palestianian, amirite?

nearly half of 18-29 yr olds in the US are something other than Christian. 38% are totally unaffiliated. but about 16% non-Christian for 65+.

i'm sure it has nothing to do with the wholesale hypocrisy of people who demand that everyone obey their religion except themselves. watching evangelicals debase themselves for Trump sealed the deal, i have no doubt.

this could be a very different country in 25 years. hope i make it.

It would be fascinating to track when it became common for people to say "I'm a Christian" rather than "I'm a Baptist" or "I'm a Methodist" or etc., as was the custom when I was a kid.

probably about the same time "Christian" became a synonym for Republican.

so, yeah, around the time of Roe sounds right.

As religion in general, and Christianity in particular, came under increased attack in this country the finer Protestant distinctions seemed less important.

Where I grew up I'm a Christian was assumed, what kind might matter like what part of town you lived in.

Where I grew up I'm a Christian was assumed

where i grew up, it was catholic, protestant, or jewish, with about an equal likelihood for each. and probably 10-20% of people didn't really practice much of anything at all.

Christianity has never been under attack in this country.

people who don't want to be forced to act like Christians and who then push back are not attacking Christianity. they're trying to be left alone.

cleek, if you define "under attack" as "no longer the unthinking default for everybody when making laws, rules, etc.", then yeah, it's under attack.

what cleek said

What cleek said, and also what wj said.

Berkeley High School?

In California?

On the Coast?,_California)_people

Look at all the snooty self made elitists who made good from that high school.

That can't be.

It would be fascinating to track when it became common for people to say "I'm a Christian" rather than "I'm a Baptist" or "I'm a Methodist" or etc., as was the custom when I was a kid.

It was fairly common in groups like Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ in the early to mid-seventies.

It was fairly common in groups like Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ in the early to mid-seventies.

Right on time.

Griswold v Connecticut -> 1965

Eisenstadt v Baird -> 1972 (from Bill Baird's arrest in 1967 for handing out condoms)

Roe v Wade -> 1973

Although it does seem to me that I read something recently that called this correlation of dates ("I'm a Christian" with reproductive rights rulings) into question. I just can't remember what it was.

It was fairly common in groups like Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ in the early to mid-seventies.


and that predates the early to mid 70's.

it has been common usage for people who are, for lack of a better description, "born again" Christians, to refer to themselves as Christians rather than either as members of a particular demonination, or simply as "Christian", used as an adjective. I.e., they would say "I am a Christian" rather than "I am Baptist etc" or "I am Christian".

and yeah, what cleek and wj said.

this is less and less a country where a default religious affiliation of Christian can be assumed. Jewish people have been here for basically ever, Muslims have been here in large numbers for over 100 years. Asian immigrants now constitute sizeable Hindu and Buddhist communities.

The counter girl at my local pizza joint wears a hijab.

that is either a cause for celebration or concern, depending on how you see things. either way it's not likely to change.

it has been common usage for people who are, for lack of a better description, "born again" Christians, to refer to themselves as Christians rather than either as members of a particular demonination, or simply as "Christian", ...

As I remember in the military and some workplaces being called "Jesus Freaks."

many referred to themselves that way

The trouble with American "Christians" is that they don't have enough faith in their God to let Him take care of punishing the sinners; they keep trying to take His job on, themselves.

They act as if their God would wither into obscurity, like some aging celebrity, unless He gets enough publicity such as a mention in the Pledge of Allegiance or on the Almighty Dollar.

Their God is somebody that I can't sue in court, vote out of office, or overthrow by force of arms, but they pronounce Him to be the source of MY rights.

I don't read much science fiction, so I ask in all sincerity: how much does God feature in the future worlds (utopian or dystopian) that the genre has created? Is Christianity still a thing there?


Christianity is still a thing in some. But rarely as the only religion.

For example, in David Weber's Honor Harrington stories, the heroine is at least nominally Christian. But other characters include Buddhists, Muslims, "a Shinto priest", etc. Not to mention a major planetary population which follows what can only be described as a typical cult from 20th or 21st century America -- which is definitively not Christian. (Albeit tempered by nearly a thousand years' sanding off the rough edges -- for most.)

But a lot of SF authors seem to figure that either religion will disappear (which seems improbable to me), or that it will revert to something like one of the old nature-worshiping religions. New monotheisms are in distinctly short supply.

Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos kinda sorta deals with religion in a SF context ... for most of the four books it is a cynical treatment in terms of "religious institution as overbearing societal glue/administrator" and then later ... well it's hard to describe without spoiling but the books deal with two very basic religious concepts (afterlife/rebirth and empathy) in a SF way.

My problem* is that SF by its very nature tends to explain everything, even if the explanation is to reverse the shield polarity and route main power through the sensor array to generate a tachyon field technobabble, it's still an explanation. But kind of like Schrödinger's cat, once you explain religion, it gets changed into something that does not require faith and is not religion anymore.

That's not to say SF should never deal with religion, but it's really hard to have "spirituality" and SF in the same space without one or both coming across as hokey.

* Full disclosure: I bounce between full on agnostic and unitarian (practically an atheist in terms of miracles (deist) and afterlife; agnostic in terms of a higher being; unitarian in terms of how to treat each other).

Tony P ...

Based on your last comment your either definitely should or definitely should not read American Gods.

It's a pretty good book, so I say go ahead and read it (if you haven't).

You won't gain any great insights, but it takes what you observe to a logical conclusion in its framing device.

I don't read much science fiction, so I ask in all sincerity: how much does God feature in the future worlds

Pullman's "Dark Materials" books can in many ways be read as an extended meditation on religion.

There's quite a bit of SF which treats religion seriously.

-Jerry Pournelle's CoDominium series features an established church (or so I assume, from reading _The Mote in God's Eye_).

-Gordon Dickson's "Dorsai" series gives sympathetic treatment to the deeply religious Friendlies.

-L. M. Bujold's Vorkosiverse includes two thoughtful religious characters (Cordelia Vorkosigan and Ethan Urquhart).

- Miller's _A Canticle for Leibowitz_, Boucher's "The Quest for St. Aquin", some of R. A. Lafferty's work (often in corkscrew fashion,though)...

It's out there.

Ian M Bank's Culture novels belong on that list, too.

Banks was an atheist, but in Consider Phlebas; Excession; Look to Windward; Matter; Surface Detail; Hydrogen Sonata... he confronted religion rather more convincingly than (for instance) Phillip Pullman.

Only in Consider Phlebas is there religion per se - and the Culture goes to war against the expansionist theocracy - but elsewhere gods, Hells, immortality, afterlife and the unknowable are engaged with, albeit as the fruits of technology.

I was not sufficiently woke (as the kids say)..

That saying is a lot older than the kids...

I had never heard of Kelley, but plan to read him.

I really enjoyed the Culture novels, but IIRC Surface Detail treats "hell" as a tool to control populations and did not discuss "religion" in a holistic way.

Except for the Idirans, I think Banks uses religion as some sort of opiate for the masses when it comes up in the books ... controlling populations and creating structures to allow powerful factions to control others.

As for the Idirans in Consider Phlebas, it seemed their religion was just a plot device to explain why such an advanced society would be so aggressive.

Lafferty was a committed practicing Catholic, and a political conservative. On the famous lists of the late sixties, he supported the Vietnam War. LeGuin opposed. Lafferty's faith shows up in every page he wrote, which is entirely, though most often subtly and indiscernably, allegorical. He could in this be compared to Cervantes, Tolkien, and Graham Greene. Or some Waugh. Rabelais?

Lafferty, a genius, mostly showed his Catholicism and philosophy in an metaphorical anti-Pelagianism (humans cannot perfect themselves, need Grace) and a strong skepticism toward improving social engineering projects or goals. Star Trek to Culture to Sublime is not only a stupid idea but a wicked and destructive one. The upside to pessimism about human nature is that it can often force on into an undifferentiated and non-judgemental compassion.

LeGuin was obviously a feminist and liberal, but there are many who looked deeply at her Daoism, anarchism, and anthropological background, and her resistance to social engineering and revolution, her focus on the small and personal, and believe she had more in common with Lafferty than with the Star Trek hopefuls.

Left can meet Right, and West meet East, not only at the extremes but at the profound recognition of the inescapable of the quotidian and eternal present.

"To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven"

But I think that's Banks' point - any of our eschatologies might be recreated by a sufficiently advanced technology.
And what is meant by the Sublimed ?

In Phlebas, rather more than a plot device surely ?
The debate over intervening to prevent the expansion of a religious competitor split the Culture.

It's been years, but my take away re: sublimed is it's just the "next step" and some societies "go there" out of a sense of ennui ... doesn't Banks spend a good portion of the Hydrogen Sonata making fun of that decision-making process for one civ?

RE: the Idirans in Consider Phlebas, didn't they evolve on a really harsh planet (high radiation levels and lots of predators) and they incorporated a sense of superiority in their religion that came from wining the survival of the fittest game leading to an inevitable battle for control of known space with the Culture? Was there more analysis of their religion than that?

I thought the Idirans (and by extension the Idiran religion) and the main character changling guy in Consider Phlebas were framing devices to draw comparisons/criticisms to the post-scarcity Culture utopia.

Of course, I may have missed something deeper ... my recollection of the Culture series is that it was really funny at times and had some memorable characters (Zakalwe/Elethiomel/Vatueil, Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints) and was well written, but I don't recall any huge ideas.

LOL ... perhaps I should re-read them

I was going to mention Phillip Pullmans's Dark Materials, but didn't know whether they qualified as SF....

Thanks Nigel, for the "woke" piece: very interesting.

Apart from that, I'm with Pollo on the place of religion in the Culture novels.

All this talk of religion in SF and no one has yet mentioned Butler's Earthseed books?

Mary Doria Russell. Madeline L'Engle. Walter M. Miller Jr.. Gene Wolfe.

C.S. Lewis (didactic though he be).

Walker Percy.

Heinlein's Church of All Worlds.

L. Ron Hubbards SF really deteriorated in his later years, just saying.

Yeah, but his bank account...

I don't read SFF widely enough to have a lot to contribute here, but nous dragged me out of my reticence by mentioning Mary Doria Russell.

I've read The Sparrow and Children of God a bunch of times; I love those books. But I never even thought of them in this connection because -- now that nous has made me think about it -- the SF aspect seems like little more than an incidental plot necessity, not the essence of the books. MDR wanted to explore what might happen when people of good will met "God's other children," so she needed just enough SF to get them on their way.

Instead of being SF books with religion as an important thread, they're more like religious books with some accidental SF. It's really our own world...with a little futuristic tech thrown in.

I liked A Thread of Grace a lot too -- not SFF, but historical fiction set in Italy during WWII. MDR is an Italian-American convert to Judaism, and I think her own engagement with religion informs all of these books. A Thread of Grace is about Italians trying to hide Jews (including local people and refugees from elsewhere in Europe) from Nazis. That doesn't really do it's a heartbreaking book.

I saw MDR do a presentation once in Erie PA. She was great. Personable, smart, funny, thoughtful.

And by the way --

nous, it's great to see your handle -- you should come by more often!

Probably I'm being too black and white. The portrayal of the societies on Rakhat certainly qualifies as ... speculative fiction...?


But I'm no more familiar with any possible arguments about genre boundaries than I am with a wide range of SFF literature. I just reacted because the religious aspect of the books seems to me to be so much more important than the sci-fi or speculative aspect. How do we live? How do we make our choices? How can things go so very wrong even when we've all tried our best.......

Judith Merril - "Speculative fiction: stories whose objective is to explore, to discover, to learn, by means of projection, extrapolation, analogue, hypothesis-and-paper-experimentation, something about the nature of the universe, of man, or 'reality'... I use the term 'speculative fiction' here specifically to describe the mode which makes use of the traditional 'scientific method' (observation, hypothesis, experiment) to examine some postulated approximation of reality, by introducing a given set of changes—imaginary or inventive—into the common background of 'known facts', creating an environment in which the responses and perceptions of the characters will reveal something about the inventions, the characters, or both." ("What Do You Mean: Science? Fiction?" Extrapolation, May 1966)

Darko Suvin also gets at something about SF that I think argues for The Sparrow as SF: ""I will argue for an understanding of SF as the literature of cognitive estrangement. This definition seems to possess the unique advantage of rendering justice to a literary tradition which is coherent through the ages and within itself, yet distinct from nonfictional utopianism, from naturalistic literature, and from other non-naturalistic fiction."

It's Sandoz' cognitive estrangement that drives the novel.

Same arguments apply to James' The Children of Men and Percy's Love in the Ruins.

Zelazny's Isle of the Dead deserves mention. The POV character is, according to the religion of the alien Pei'ans, the living avatar of one of their gods. He's convinced it's just a matter of tapping into human potential.

He may be wrong.

Nous, the traditional definition of SF is "SF is what I'm pointing at when I say 'SF'".

Like pr0n, you know it when you see it, but endless arguments are still on the agenda.

Strange question. What fiction would folks say addresses religious concerns that (and here is the kicker) not based in some sort of historical context? Nous (yay!) mentions Walker Percy (yay!), and he was a writer who wouldn't normally be considered an science fiction writer, but turned to a post apocalyptic world in Love in the Ruins (and the Thanatos Syndrome, I guess) to sharpen his observations about what was happening in society. It seems that science fiction has, because of its nature, two hurdles to clear. It first has to create a shared understanding of the religious side of events and then it has to place characters in that context that react in ways that can enlighten us. It reminds me of the actor on his deathbed who is asked what dying is like and he says 'dying is easy. Comedy is hard...'

Ha! I started this comment earlier than Nous and ended up looking at some things in my copies of Walker Percy's books. Had I read it, I could have not commented, though the opportunity to reread Percy is always welcome...

typical Fredric Jameson on LeGuin at Verso Books

"What looks like conventional liberalism in Le Guin (and is of course still ideologically dubious to the very degree that it continues to “look like” liberalism) is in reality itself a use of the Jeffersonian and Thoreauvian tradition against important political features of that imperializing liberalism which is the dominant ideology of the United States today — as her one contemporary novel, The Lathe of Heaven (1971), makes plain. This is surely the meaning of the temperamental opposition between the Tao-like passivity of Orr and the obsession of Haber with apparently reforming and ameliorative projects of all kinds:

in Karhide we have to do not with one more specimen of feudal SF, but rather precisely with an alternate world to our own, one in which — by what strange quirk of fate? — capitalism never happened.

It becomes difficult to escape the conclusion that this attempt to rethink Western history without capitalism is of a piece, structurally and in its general spirit, with the attempt to imagine human biology without desire which I have described above; for it is essentially the inner dynamic of the market system which introduces into the chronicle-like and seasonal, cyclical, tempo of pre-capitalist societies the fever and ferment of what we used to call progress. The underlying identification between sex as an intolerable, well-nigh gratuitous complication of existence, and capitalism as a disease of change and meaningless evolutionary momentum, is thus powerfully underscored by the very technique — that of world reduction — whose mission is the utopian exclusion of both phenomena."

How interesting. I am apparently being deleted without notification or explanation, and AFAICT, without violation of posting rules

Damn. That was a tough comment to we=rite twice, and to be a waste of time.

Walker Percy wrote an essay about Walter Miller's "A Canticle For Liebowitz". It's reprinted in his collection "Sign Posts In a Strange Land".

Remember too, his last non-fiction offering "Lost In the Cosmos, The Last Self-Help Book", in which he tried to get our heads (since we may not take the trouble to convert to Catholicism, and one gathers, an amiable alcoholism, as he did, to reconcile our entirely bizarre occurrence in the cosmos), around the utter strangeness of the human self, especially TO its unknowing, oblivious self, thru a combination of the self-help genre and seriously hilarious space science fiction pastiches.

He quotes Nietzsche in the book's epigraph:

"We are unknown, we knowers, to ourselves .... Of necessity we remain strangers to ourselves, we understand ourselves not, in ourselves we are bound to be mistaken, for each of us holds good to all eternity the motto, "Each is the farthest away from himself" - as far as ourselves are concerned we are not knowers."

His human space travelers, we aliens, are equally estranged from themselves, meaning they (we) attempt and mostly fail at "re-entry" into whatever is the essence of being, whether making landing to within a few feet of the calculated target on the other side of a distant planet, or sitting in a lawn chair in his yard on a normal Wednesday afternoon working on his second gin-fizz.

Back in the Hilzoy days, during an earlier go-round about Percy, I wrote this completely unoriginal bit:

"Percy will be read as he hoped: his work palpated and diagnosed the human condition in the 20th Century, when one state of being gave way to the not yet defined new one (in Percy's words: the old coin, the currency, rubbed smooth and unrecognizable and the new currency not yet minted).

The patient never had a physician like Percy. It may have been a post-mortem.

Binx Bolling: I, Binx-like, sometimes stare at my pathetic wallet, and my change, and my keys on my dresser and drive around during the day considering the utter quotidian, ordinary everydayness of it, but how it (the little sum of me and the world) is so effing strange at the same time."

That last part about the wallet, keys, and change
in the "The Moviegoer" (never made it to the big screen; the last I heard the actress Karen Black ... Five Easy Pieces, Portnoy's Complaint ... owns the rights) was what really got to me 46 years ago when I read the book originally.

That scene was again brought to mind after my mother died in 2016 and we cleaned out the house. In a storage case underneath her bed she had kept my Dad's (he passed away in 1966 when I was 14) quotidian little objects, exactly as I remember them resting on his dresser when I was a kid .. his wallet, fingernail clippers, a pair of metal clip-on sunglasses he wore when golfing, a pocketknife , also his dog tags from World War II .. obviously he didn't carry those around .. and since no one else wanted them I took them and when I returned home to Denver I placed them on my dresser in a little pile for a few weeks, next to my little pile of pocket stuff, and looked at them and thought how odd it is that besides my memories of him, and my existence, those objects are the material sum of him that are left, this man whose mannequin body in his casket I stared at thru tears at the funeral home and watched lowered into his grave and what was all of that, his life.

Where is it now? What did it mean?

I wear those sunglasses. My son will find them on my dresser along with the other little bits of me at some point and look at them trying to guess what I was all about it.

Percy is just a good writer.

bob mcmanus, while several people have the keys to the blog, no one is going in deleting comments. This typepad installation has been prone to marking comments as spam and at a certain point, I had the spam folder open on my desktop all the time to try and catch it. We have the cheapest version, which means that complaint tickets are probably sent to the bottom of the queue and at any rate, it's more trouble than it is worth to send in a ticket and get a message saying 'we are so sorry, but we have no idea what is wrong.'. Your patience would be appreciated...

SF, Fantasy, and fiction in general, allows the author to rename political/social/religious issues to something anodyne, file off the serial numbers, and deal with those issues without the knee-jerk responses that make dialog difficult or impossible.

Not to say that there aren't those that react with "The last Star Wars movie is liebral propaganda!1!!", but it takes a *special* person to do so.

Maybe we should try that for blog posts. (first paragraph, not second).

OK, I've gotten on my laptop rather than writing from my phone and released the first comment bob mcmanus made. It would be appreciated if you first assumed that there was a technical problem before making the accusation of censorship. I realize that is usually not how you roll, but an effort on your part would be appreciated. A simple note saying 'I think my comment got caught in the spam trap' is all it would take.

Religion in SF:

Rev. Wayne's Pearly Gates in Stephenson's Snowcrash

Much of Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land. Thou art God, and all that groks is God. Never thirst.

Nehemiah Scudder in much other Heinlein

The Bene Gesserit and the Orange Catholic Bible in Dune

About half of LeGuin's The Telling

The Martian religion in Zelazny's novelette A Rose For Ecclesiastes, one of his best works.

Derivatives of early Hinduism and Buddhism in Zelazny's Lord Of Light, IMHO his very best

The eight or a dozen competing religions on Pratchett's Discworld.

Clarke's short stories "The Star" and "The Nine Billion Names Of God"

The entire movie "Time Bandits".

joel hanes, I read Lord of Light decades ago, and loved it, but from what I remember his "deities" were actually incredibly technologically advanced beings who used their technology to mimic the mythic powers of the gods. Of course, as an old boyfriend of mine used to say, sufficiently advanced scientific knowledge and technology is indistinguishable from magic to those who are very far from that level of development, and I suppose you could easily substitute the word "miracles" or "the doings of gods" very easily for "magic" in that sentence.

Before Gaiman's small gods, before the Discworld, there were the small gods of Newhon and of Lankhmar by the great salt marsh; Ningauble and Sheelba among the smallest.

Gaiman, with many others, is pretty explicit about acknowledging her influence:

Star Trek TNG has been showing again on an obscure UK TV channel, and I've been watching it as a distraction from rather depressing reality. I was remembering my favourite episode, "Darmok" (which we haven't got to yet), and I did a desultory Google search on it, only to discover to my delight that it was Ursula le Guin's favourite episode too! Such validation!

Not sure if it will provide any more validation, but that's my favorite episode too.

Check out David Ferry's translation of Gilgamesh. Great stuff.

Definitely increases the validation, given that I know you have such excellent taste lj! I know this because it has so often coincided with my taste....

Will certainly check out the Gilgamesh translation too. I didn't read Gilgamesh until I was in my 40s, and was delighted to finally find the source of the quotation which was written in two fine lines of silver above the fireplace in the Hotel des Spheres, in Checkmate, the last book of the Lymond series:

And in marble over the fireplace ran a throng of light laughing figures, following the spoked wheels of a frail Roman carriage being drawn by young men between tree stems. Below, were written two fine lines in silver: I shall harness thee a chariot of lapislazuli and gold Come into our dwelling, in the perfume of the cedars ...

I was remembering my favourite episode, "Darmok"

Ha! It was seeing "Darmok, on the Internet" on your site that made me think of it cleek!

it's one of my favorite episodes, too.

the Borg two-parter is probably my absolute favorite, tho.

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