Tag Archives: Science Fiction

What If Our World Is Their Heaven?

Although I’m not a big Science Fiction expert, occasionally I also read books of this genre. My preferences are here mostly with authors from Eastern Europe (Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Stanislaw Lem, and a few others), but now and then I also discover something new – lately often from the borderline between classical SF and “serious” literature or “speculative” fiction, such as the works of China Miéville or the novel The Future of Mars by Georg Klein, or works by authors who are brand new to me such as Arthur C. Clarke or Philip K. Dick.

If I say Clarke or Dick are new to me, then I have to admit that that’s not exactly true, of course. Every moderately informed moviegoer is familiar with their works in their respective cinematographic version. Especially Dick is particularly popular with filmmakers, just think of Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Impostor, Paycheck, or A Scanner Darkly, to name a few examples.

In January 1982, just months before his death, Dick gave a series of tape-recorded interviews that have been transcribed and published in the book What If Our World Is Their Heaven?

Two of the recordings deal with the movie Blade Runner, which is based on Dick’s book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? During filming, Dick was in the final stages of writing a new novel and so did not accept the invitation of director Ridley Scott to attend the shooting. The two interview clips in the book deal with the relationship between the original novel and the film, and with how Dick judged the result (he saw a not yet finalized version in a private performance, the film was not yet in the cinema at the time of his death). In short, Dick was strongly impressed by what he saw and had the highest praise for both the director and the film crew and performers. Although an essential part of the action of the original book was dropped in the film, Dick saw clearly that this was the only way to realize an adequate film adaptation of his material.

I was also interested in Dick’s co-operation with his agent and the sheer volume of inquiries from various merchandise producers he had to deal with – including a comic book version of Blade Runner. Although Dick didn’t live to see the great worldwide success of Blade Runner, he could at least be glad to know that it was a wonderful film adaptation. Until today, Blade Runner is a milestone in film history.

Of interest to me were also Dick’s comments on the creative process of an SF writer. Dick was at times an extremely prolific writer. When he had made up his mind about the concept of a new book, he sat down, and then literally worked day and night, neglecting everything else, including sleep and the intake of food. We can imagine him as an absolute workaholic, who felt completely drained after the completion of a book under such circumstances. The famous writer’s block, if it ever happened to him, was to Dick – contrary to most other authors – a blessing, not a curse. Literary works rarely served as a source of inspiration to him – he read hardly any novels -, but technical, philosophical or religious works – the latter in particular after a “spiritual revival experience” as a result of a serious illness of his son – triggered his literary output.

The transcription of the tape recordings is true to the original and virtually unedited. As a result, there are many redundancies, and every stutter of Dick or the interviewer is printed in the book. A careful editing would have made the text much more readable. In addition, the interviewer unfortunately repeatedly breaks off the conversation when it gets interesting, or interrupts Dick when he is in the process to explain something important. She is also occasionally inattentive and does not listen closely, often asks for things that Dick had said shortly before, and so on. It’s a pity that the interviewer is rather unprofessional and not very focused at times.

In spite of the above-mentioned objections, this is a book that I can recommend to all readers with an interest in one of the major SF authors of the 20th century. Contrary to my expectation, Dick comes over in these conversations as a rather grounded and sometimes self-ironic and warm person without the usual grandstanding attitude of many successful authors.

Gwen Lee and Doris Elaine Sauter (eds.): What If Our World Is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick, The Overlook Press, New York 2000

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An early “Dying Earth” scenario

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This blog post is part of the German Literature Month, hosted by Lizzie (Lizzies Literary Life) and Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat)

The narrator of this story, a man with a rich imagination, and prone to both bouts of migraine and frequent visions is walking up and down his study for hours. It is New Year’s Eve of 1799, the last day of the 18th century. The writer waits for the return of his wife who is out for a visit to a sick friend, promising that she will be back “still in this century.”

The last day of a year, and even more so the last day of a century is reason for contemplation, but our narrator has again a terrible migraine attack – and suddenly it happens:

after closing his eyes for a while and upon reopening them again he realizes that there is a group of five people, among them a little child in his room and he has no idea who they are or how they entered. The group’s appearance is rather odd, not so much frightening and a dialogue between the narrator and the group is developing that covers most of the story. This dialogue deals mainly with the prospectives for the future. The tone, partly serious, partly humorous keeps a kind of balance that makes us readers wonder what the author is up to. One of the narrator’s guests gets more and more excited and develops a truly apocalyptic scenario for the future that is the climax of this story:

“Es gibt einmal einen letzten Menschen – er wird auf einem Berg unter dem Äquator stehen und herabschauen auf die Wasser, welche die weite Erde überziehen – festes Eis glänzet an den Polen herauf der Mond und die Sonne hängen ausgebreitet und tief und nur blutig über der kleinen Erde, wie zwei trübe feindliche Augen oder Kometen – das aufgetürmte Gewölke strömet eilig durch den Himmel und stürzet sich ins Meer und fährt wieder empor, und nur der Blitz schwebt mit glühenden Flügeln zwischen Himmel und Meer und scheidet sie – Schau auf zum Himmel, letzter Mensch! Auf deiner Erde ist schon alles vergangen – deine großen Ströme ruhen aufgelöset im Meere.”

“There will one day be a last man – he will stand on a mountain under the Equator, and look down upon the waters which welter over the wide earth – firmly from the poles gleams upward the unchangeable ice – the moon and the sun hang broad and bloody over the little earth, like two eyes full of hate. For the earth’s spiral orbit has brought it nearer and nearer to the sun, and the moon’s spiral has enlarged the face with which it looks ever steadfastly toward our planet, and their strong attraction caused the oceans to roll together round the Equator – and then the whole atmosphere with its vapors rushes up from the poles after the water, and still as the attraction increases, a frightful flood of electric fluid pours and swells over all. The clouds, piled up in mountain-towers stream quickly across the sky, and plunge into the sea, and then rush upward again, while the lightning  on burning wings flashes from Heaven to the Ocean and cleaves them asunder. Look up to the Heaven, thou last man! All on thy earth has disappeared – all its rivers have been swallowed up in its sea.” (translation by J.F.C., The Western Messenger, November 1838) 

Believing that midnight is approaching, the uninvited guests are leaving – but it turns out that when the authors wife comes home from her visit it is one hour before midnight. Remarking her husband’s mood, the wife sings and plays on the piano one of his favourite tunes and the usual order of things is re-established. The vision was most probably something only imagined by her husband. 

This short story by Jean Paul Friedrich Richter – known in Germany as Jean Paul only – Die wunderbare Gesellschaft in der Neujahrsnacht (The strange company at New Year’s Eve) is rather typical for this remarkable and not well-known author who wrote in the traditions of Swift and Laurence Sterne and who had a tremendous influence on authors like Hoffmann, de Quincey (who wrote an essay about him) or Arno Schmidt and among the contemporary German authors I could mention Walter Kappacher and Ludwig Harig (who was by coincidence my teacher when I was a first grader) as examples of novelists that are writing in Jean Paul’s tradition.

The story from which I quoted is witty, well-written and despite the bleak quote very entertaining. And it is according to some SF experts most probably the first literary Dying Earth scenario ever published – and thus a kind of predecessor of a certain category of the Science Fiction genre.

Jean Paul lived most of his life in pre-Wagner Bayreuth, but he paid also longer visits to Weimar (Goethe and Schiller were rather distanced, partly because of literary reasons, partly because of the fact that Jean Paul, then a bachelor had several relationships with women which were considered a scandal; Wieland and Herder on the contrary liked him very much), and to Berlin – here he made friends with the Schlegel brothers, Schleiermacher, Fichte, and other important intellectuals.

Jean Paul is a great master of the German language; and he is also a master of the digression – his novels are usually very long because he is a true follower of Laurence Sterne here.

Who wants to discover this literary giant who was standing between Classicism and Romanticism can start with this rather short work that inspired also many famous illustrators (I have a beautiful edition with sketches by Alfred Kubin.). Unfortunately it seems that there is no collection of stories on the market that contains this story in English translation. Why, dear publishers?

A book I can heartily recommend for those with an interest in Jean Paul is Günter de Bruyn’s biography Das Leben des Jean Paul Friedrich Richter (The Life of Jean Paul Frederick Richter), a beautiful dedication by the novelist de Bruyn to his literary ancestor Jean Paul.  I fell a bit under the spell of Jean Paul after I had read this well-researched and brilliantly written book.

A translation of this book and a recent good edition of Jean Paul’s shorter works in English is missing – but who knows, maybe a publisher is already working on it. That would be a great pleasure!

Kubin

Jean Paul: Die wunderbare Gesellschaft in der Neujahrsnacht, dtv, München 1979, ill. by Alfred Kubin

de Bruyn

Günter de Bruyn: Das Leben des Jean Paul Friedrich Richter, S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.