Posts Tagged ‘writing’

The Einstein of science-fiction, according to some.

2021 marks the centenary of his birth, 1921.
The Polish Parliament declared 2021 Stanisław Lem Year. (Wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanisław_Lem)

He was born in Lwow, then Poland, a much disputed region, now part of the Ukraine, as Lviv, and of a Jewish family. 
Religion, however did not play much of a part in their lives. He said himself, later, for moral reasons … the world appears to me to be put together in such a painful way that I prefer to believe that it was not created … intentionally…
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanisław_Lem

And who could argue with that.

It’s not what religion meant to them, but what others made it mean for them.
He survived the War on forged papers. Wiki tells us : During that time, Lem earned a living as a car mechanic and welder,[11] and occasionally stole munitions from storehouses (to which he had access as an employee of a German company) to pass them on to the Polish resistance.[19] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanisław_Lem)

Under Soviet rule he managed a full medical education, only to find the sight of blood…. 
He was a polyglot, a language devourer, and educationally hungry, devouring fields of knowledge outside of medicine – which, he knew, would land him a life-time service in Army medical corps.

He became an expert in early AI studies, and what Wiki terms ‘the sociology of science’
His own web page writes of 
Such staggering polymathic curiosity over such a vast range of material, all of it explored with lucidity and charm
https://english.lem.pl

1

Stanislaw Lem?
Think of the film, Solaris (the 1972 one, not the later travesty) directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.
His books have a sophistication that a great many sci-fi novels do not. Even the Strugatsky brothers fail, there. 

His opinion of American writers was mostly scathing. He excepted Philip K Dick – although, stylistically Philip K Dicks’ books were/are ‘not good’. I used to sigh with exasperation when opening one yet-to-read: the turgidity of language, as he felt his way through to admittedly, unknowns, the un-thought of.
Now, writers like Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, of the period he was most active in his writing of science fiction, had intelligence, style. I’m sure readers could come up with many writers that I am myself unfamiliar – it is such a huge field of writing.

It is amazing how much Lem got right, or even predicted. This ranges across artificial intelligence, the theory of search engines (he called it “ariadnology”), bionics, virtual reality (“phantomatics”), technological singularity and nanotechnology.

Simon Ings “New Scientist”
https://english.lem.pl

Ok, so let’s distinguish here, between ‘hard’ sci-fi, and ‘soft’.
Stanislaw Lem could well be called the Einstein of ‘hard’ science-fi – his imagination works mostly on material aspects, structures, developments.

So, I have only just launched myself into one of his first published books, Return From the Stars, (1966).
So as not to Spoil too much, let me just give a brief synopsis so far: our narrator has just returned from a ten year space mission, to find that one hundred and twenty seven years have elapsed on Earth.
And things have changed. Drastically.

After a debriefing and up-dating session at the Luna Space Centre we encounter him as he returns to Earth for the first time.
We encounter the term Betrization. It is a process all undergo at birth, and prevents the worst kinds of behaviour. No one can kill another. The same for animals.
How and who does the aggressive work, then? Robots, naturally.
But what are the other implications of this process? A world without aggression of any kind?

It is quite a thick book, and I am only just beginning.
Don’t hold your breath, but read it and the others yourselves.

For the period, mid 1960s, in Eastern Europe, the imagining, detailing – everything has been thought through – are astounding.
Wiki tells us: Translating his works is difficult due to Lem’s elaborate neologisms and idiomatic wordplay. 

As ‘soft’ sci-fi, the sci-fi of people, you could say, he falls behind. In this book are racial and gender stereotypes to make our contemporary toes curl a little.
He tries; he delves into the sociology of cities, mass societies. He constantly tries with psychological changes, developments, but he does not shift perspectives sufficiently to truly tangle with the issues.

2

How did Stanislaw Lem cope under the Cold War regimes?
He worked in the sciences, and wrote such astoundingly well-researched science-research books. As well as his science fiction – they got under the censor radar by not openly challenging the system (he wrote very early works in line with Socialist Realism that he later castigated), and were considered unimportant by the system.
By the time of the 1980s Solidarity Protests and consequent Martial Law, he and his family were able to move to West Berlin, then Vienna. They returned to Poland in 1988.
He had also toured the West, lecturing in America, England, Europe, enough to get a feel of the rancid redundancy of the much vaunted Capitalist systems.

Philip K Dick stated that Stanislaw Lem was dubious, the name a pseudonym for a collection of people. I suspect he was picking up here on the man’s wide range of interests and activities, his achievements in various fields.

In his later years he concentrated mainly on science-based projects, books, and what was termed ‘futurology’. The New Scientist quotation, above, gives good grounding for that.

His science Fiction books – in no particular order:

Eden
Fiasco
His Master’s Voice
Mortal Engines
Return From the Stars
Solaris
Tales of Pirx the Pilot
The Cyberiad
The Invincible
The Star Diaries

He also wrote a collection of Reviews and Introductions for Non-Existent Books, and crime novels, one without a murderer, as well as copious science books.

He died in his eighties, in 2006, his wife ten years later.
Like many writers who started pre-information era proper he did not use a computer; he bought his son an early Apple, but that’s as far as he went.
He was also dubious about the internet; it swallowed you up in low-grade information, he stated.
Yep.

Every time you turned the street turned with you:
the languages, distractions, sales, and somewhere
a street band. You turned and the current flowed
around you, through you; kept moving. The window display
was there for you. Streets of bodies eddying, surged.

You still felt their tug in a doorway. Turned, and
lifted away; it fell from you. You rose
quickly and above it all; shop lights far below.
Rose past cornices, pigeon spikes, to colder air;
the smells of fast food, music, muting.

A sudden panic; the city lights indistinguishable –
you were rising faster, ‘How will I breathe?’
Higher, higher to break through to sudden
openness, emptiness,
and strung there
were huge chains of lives, channelled
across darkness — people connected, singly,
as far as sight was possible.

A policemen next to you, his difficult face;
the barrista who snubbed you, the shop assistant
who had seemed distant,  all there together,
connecting.  And listening revealed
high tones, metallic, different timbres. The planets,
ringing in the openness.

Linked lines of lives stretched from planet
to planet and the sun’s radiance. All connected,
attuned  to a vast, opening sense
of awareness, completion.

 

Suit

Posted: April 7, 2019 in Chat
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Chatting with the agent about that suit,
the finest linen shot through with silk,
how I just had to, my pocket stuffed
with mortgage money, and the subscript
Downpayment, Downpayment – how only that suit
could save me from mediocrity
and steer us both into the future
we dreamed as rightfully ours, but denied –
your coming-out ball, faux-debutante,
and my place in that new society, reserved,
wanting only that suit, the final tie,
the puzzle of our existence solved.

Obsessive, passionate, fixed,
and conniving –
the more words I splashed in its honour
the less I was me, it was as if
I was sold even before I’d bought myself

 

from Gone South

It happens as soon as you step off the train. Everyone savours it, a look of pleasure lighting up chinks of harried business faces, care-worn mothers trawling lines of squabbling children. Gil couldn’t make it out. That smell. What on earth…? He topped the road outside the train station and was hit by a gleaming brightness; it shifted, twinkled, blinded.
The sea.
He had often heard about it. This was the smell.
The sea.
It drew him on, hungry as he was, drew him down those extra miles, to its gleaming wonder. He stood on the promenade holding the rail in the cooling inshore wind. He breathed deeply.
It was high tide, and crested waves lapped and licked at the sea wall a yard below him. He stood, mesmerised.

He clutched the steel rail tightly, but still the suck and surge below him pulled; it was as though the solid concrete of the promenade was almost liquid.
He looked at the green of the sea; it shone like a lizard’s back. But the smell that came from it, when it belched on the sea wall – something ancient and beyond musty, beyond rotten, something older than any of it.
The City and its concerns were not even a dot in its memory.

He looked into it, and it looked back, into him, found a kinship there somewhere.
Then it released him.
He was doused in a cold sweat, mouth and throat dry as sand, muscles taut. It released him, and he sagged, still holding the rail.
He could turn away at last; he turned and never came back again.

This was Eridu, city by the sea.

Opening of first chapter of my new unpublished novel, Gil

FLYING LESSON

FIRST THINGS 

‘First thing they did. I mean I was already pretty freaked by then,’ he was saying. It was a warm, calm night in The City, and they were sat on the old river wall, a part not closed off, a part not structurally unsafe. ‘They took me up the Tower. You know…’ he nodded towards it in the distance, black on black in the night, its two upper floors dimly lit; watchful.

‘I’d been running wild, getting into bother, just the usual sort of things. You’d know. Only, I kept getting told, I always took it too far. Then the Men in Suits called round. It was at my ma’s. I was trying to squeeze home nosh out of her, ok, but I was in. Knock at the door. Shapes outside the back door too. I was ready for shinning up the loft ladder, skylight onto the roof, and over. I had this all planned out. Just in case. Then a lamp post and down. And I had on my Angry Antonys; I was good. It was quite a jump; not sure I’d make it.’ He looked down at the river, watching slick after foamy slick coasting past.

‘The daft… opens the door. And they were in. One grabbed my ankle on the loft ladder. He was a strong monkey, that one; built like an office block too. Yanked me clean off to his manly bosom.’ He paused, grinned, his teeth a sudden flash in the dim light from the street lamp below. ‘What was the point in struggling? Let him hold me.’

‘Boss wanted me.’ He looked across at his friend, his cheek, the line of his jaw, the slightly crooked nose,

‘They gave my ma a funny look – and she stared them out.’

‘Let him see the lad.’ she said. ‘Then he’ll believe.’

‘What the…? What was all that about? I was thinking.’ He laughed.

 

Untitled

Posted: January 20, 2019 in Chat
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1
We live our lives like baited traps,
hope to catch ourselves, or someone else there,
partner, politician, stance, or cause,
to validate us, perhaps.

As though our living on longing
reconfigures us
and the thousand compromises life is
are steps back – refusals – away
from our own responsibility.

The longing for authenticity
turning lives stale;
the precincts, parks, streets
we scabbed knees on, worked on,
the cities our lives made,
are provisional,
plaster-board mock-ups.

And to remember is an act of betrayal,
almost:
an action, yes, but not itself
the living moment.

2
Waiting with the patience of trappers in the outback,
on the edge of wildness, for whatever-it-is.

You will not know it until you name it, its features
figured in red in the sounding stomach, cave wall.

Your rites and enticements are enactments,
feints to habituate wonder, excitement.

Anything to keep out the emptiness that chills.
But waiting and arrival are parts of the whole;

it carries these shadows around with it always:
promise, possibility, renewal.

As long as they are near, you say,
if only to yourself, in private, at night.

 

Earlier this year we went to a funeral for which the deceased’s family could not afford to pay. Payment for the funeral, interment, service, devolved to the local Council. It was, in fact, a pauper’s funeral.
The service was led by the undertakers, no priest was present. It was a good, dignified service, but there was no religious aspect, the focus was on the sense of loss, and our common bond. A plain coffin, a plain service.

How many funerals, though, have no mourners at all? No attendees, other than officials?

*

In 2001, the Dutch writer, Bart FM Droog, the city poet for Groningen, conceived of a scheme where writers could give readings at such ‘lonely funerals’.
The scheme took off; Amsterdam took it up, the rest of The Netherlands, then Belgium.

It is estimated that around 60% of Dutch households have a Funeral Plan.
Sounds good, doesn’t it – but that’s only just over half: a good 40% do not.
Poverty is always with us, and in our economic climate it is a close cousin of many. We do not hear of those who die alone. Those whose remaining family cannot be traced. Those with no assets at death.

This scheme, to me, seemed such a touching and wonderful achievement, and for it to get official backing and financing would suggest many felt so as well.

But then other things happen, once a thing becomes financed – a competition was started for the ‘best’ commemorative poem.
With winners.
So, those who didn’t win… are their commemorations… not valued?
Does the competition cause ‘better’ pieces to be written?

Or is another way of drawing people’s attention to the scheme? Better coverage=greater support?

It is still a moving and an excellent scheme, despite all that.

https://www.rnw.org/archive/lonely-funeral

http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/the-dutch-city-poets-who-memorialize-the-lonely-dead/

http://blog.sevenponds.com/lending-insight/%E2%80%A8%E2%80%A8lonely-funerals-remembering-those-who-everyone-forgot

https://www.dbnl.org/tekst/_low001200001_01/_low001200001_01_0006.php

I still cannot understand why the Christian minister did not take the funeral service at the funeral I attended. Where was the vaunted Christian charity?
It could be that the family of the deceased  did not ask for a specifically Christian funeral. I hope that was it – if they had so much as a choice.

We knew the deceased person, and were able to give our own short commemorative speech. She was young still, bright, intelligent, caring, a mother of two children
Without our words there would have been none.

Support the Lonely Funerals scheme.

Important:
Please note the corrections by Scheme originator Bart FM Droog, below in Comments.

INSOMNIA

Posted: October 23, 2018 in Chat
Tags: , , ,

All night long it seems planes have been leaving,
squalling their metal and exhaust through cloud banks.
Summer trees’ packed bags are in the loading lanes.
Loud in the lull between take-offs cats squeal.

All night long watchful, hollowing out sleep
until light sifted slow down through air corridors.
To have extended yesterday through the night, my watch
quarrying one long moment; whatever’s to follow
calls for configurations of several unknowns.

To not detect the impact of those ideas
we played with ‘til afterwards, when laughter
brought out their underlying assumptions: inflections
as foreign to us now, as umpteen other moments
when time has moved through us.

And just for those moments it seemed what was felt had
meaning and significance; if we could just step
into undefined selves it could save us: to go
further out between belief and conceit, that edge
between one heartbeat and another.

Upside Down Song

Posted: September 30, 2018 in Chat
Tags: , , ,

I put my fist to the sky
and I left it there
I took a fist to the day
wished I wasn’t there
I took a fist to the face
of everything that would break
and everything that would break broke
so I took a fist to me.

I took a course in hatred
and passed top grade
I took a course in mechanics
to unmake the world
I took a course in religion, bigotry
anything that’d further me
and everything that furthered me stranded me
so I took a spanner to me.

I changed the colour of my skin
to learn hating and hatred
I changed gender, attraction
to learn centuries of oppression
I changed everything about me
to learn how to be someone
who has constantly to change to fit in
with someone like me.

I was born hungry like this
I cursed my fate, cursed it
I was born disappointed, unsatisfied
I thought this the worst, this
I was born restless, would never give in
it kept me going when everything failed
I was born with a dynamo
a bad one.

 

 

 

 

“I have never understood this about parenthood,” he was saying.
She knew the signs, the worn, ragged expression on his young face, the pitch of the voice, thin and insistent, forcing itself beyond its strength. “This need to identify with them, like… like trying to open up some psychic doorway. Become them….” And them mumbling unformed thoughts he cannot quite reach:
“Sink into a general identity.”

She had learned patience; as though that was her doorway to him, them, the world.

“It’s always been my…” struggling for words they both know will not come, “ I’ve spent so much of my life trying to demystify them. Mum. Dad. See them as people. And it’s such a disappointment. Their petty squabbling all my life. Their insistence on hurt. And, you know, sometimes, Sometimes… Maybe I should have left alone. Which is the most disappointing, them, or finding them as that?”

She looked at him again, guarding her expression. “I have to go. You know that.”

“God yes.” He jumped, “The traffick’ll be murder. Do be careful… out there.” Lame smile, the Hill Street Blues thing. Shared things; nothings, things they have somehow given such a value to.

“Look, you get off. And I’ll get the shopping so you can come straight home, and no…”

“Bye, love.”

*

She sat, hands between her knees, all tight, staring at her empty cappuccino. Sammy waited. Something was coming. She caught a yawn peeping out behind her waiting.

“I… ah. Do you think Dave is ok?”

“Ok?”

“I… ah… Twice now… I’ve…  heard him in the shower. Crying.”

“What? Really crying?”

“Kind of quietly. You know… well, it reminded me of a child. In bed, alone at night.”

“God, Lil., that sounds so sad.”

“I know, I know, I…”

“Has he said anything? Have you…?”

“I tried to. That last time. I met him, you know accidently on purpose, coming out of the shower…”

“And?”

“It was the look on his face. I couldn’t read it. I thought a bit of resentment, blame, but it was washed away by something…. I couldn’t, after that. Maybe it’s a man thing!”

“They’re not that different from us.”

“You’d never have said that one time!”

“Ah, well.”

“Look. I know this is going to sound weird. Bad. But…”

“Lil! I don’t know what I can say!”

“Look, I’ve worked it out: we go for a drink, after. Then I make an excuse…”

“Lil!”

“It’s me taking the risks here. With your histories.”

“How do you know Tony won’t want to come too?”

“Because. Because if he did the state he’s in at the mo., one drink’d knock him sideways. He knows that, and I know that.”

*

“Well, Dave, I’ll have to be getting back too.”

“Oh, Sammy, Sammy. I’m getting old, Sammy. Can you imagine! Only, what, five years between us. Feels like a life-time.”

“You’re only…”

“I’m losing my hair, Sammy. Big time. The plug-hole…”

“It could be anything, change of season. Even alopaecia.”

“Not only that, though, is it. Everything droops. I’ve shrunk horribly where it matters, and everything else just hangs.”

“You’re just out of tone.”

“You and me, we had good times. Those evenings in Durham. Romantic evenings. Lovely romantic evenings”

“You certainly have a long memory, Dave.”

“Come on, you must remember that hotel, those nights.”

“It was draughty, the furniture was dusty; fingermarks…”

“Don’t spoil it, Sammy!”

“Well, who had to clean up, afterwards?”

“But they were perfect. Admit it, weren’t they!”

“You have really no idea, do you Dave! What’s so romantic about ending up douching in a grimy bathroom. While you slept the sleep of the dead!”

“Sammy, don’t be… that’s…”

“That’s how it was, Dave. That’s really how it was.”

“I don’t know why you have to be so viscous. Don’t you understand what I’m saying? I can’t even do it anymore! She never comes near me, anyway. What have I got to raise a flag for.”

“And so you’re going to dribble into your drink for the rest of your life. Give it a rest, Dave.”

“So, and what’s your Tony got that I haven’t? From what I hear…”

“Ok, Dave. You’re on your own. Bye. Oh, and, don’t forget to give Lil my best wishes.”

*

Sometimes I catch myself hoping the car won’t start. I’d sit back, at my desk. A good hour before the cleaners come in. Fresh coffee; feet up. Cars chugging and honking five stories below. The quiet it makes.

Just so very sad to see him ill. Five years now. Improving. But now he knows that’s five years lost. Better, maybe, if he knew nothing about them; so hard to realise… We all live in out heads most of the time. So when something comes and… zonks you like that: nothing to remember when memory is our big resource.

 

My niece is doing Criminology; second year, now. God, I’d love to have done something like that. Options on our ACAS forms were post-war rationing.

Kids get all the best deals.