Essays coming soon

There are four aspects of SF I’d like to focus on in a series of upcoming essays, concerning the genre’s relationship with:

1. Animals (May’s Lion, Black Charlie, The Ballad of Lost C’mell, Author of Acacia Seeds, The Grinnell Method, Bears Discover Fire)

2. Feminist Posthumanism (Winter Market, Grinnell Method, No Woman Born, The Rose)

3. Theology (The Book of Strange New Things, The Sparrow, Case of Conscience, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch)

4. First Contact in the Third World (Recording Angel, District 9, Lagoon)

5. Semiotics (Useful Phrases. Embassytown, Babel-17, The Embedding)

6. Time (Voices of Time, Chronopolis, The Great Work of Time, Time Machine)

7. Naturalized SF (Angouleme, The Asian Shore, Problems of Creativeness)


The Animal: A working canon

Never Let Me Go

Moby Dick

Elizabeth Costello

Call of the Wild


Blood Meridian

The Inheritors

Survival at Auschwitz

We Are Completely Besides Ourselves

The Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The Bear

The Log from the Sea of Cortez

The Sun Also Rises



Animals and Why They Matter

The Open

The Animal That I Therefore Am

Simulation City

Chapter 1­

The last train arrived at about a quarter past one. By then, the stragglers had cleared the station, and the few who remained didn’t have anywhere else to go. It was winter, and they were all wrapped up to their ears in rags patched together haphazardly. One of them peeked out periodically from within his little cloth-cove, and the eyes widened as the train groaned in.

A single passenger stepped out. Dressed primly in a brown trench-coat, and carrying a briefcase, he looked rather out of place in this sleepy old station. He was well built, and had a smile on his face that betrayed wonder at the world around him: he stared at everything as if he had imagined all of it into being.

The man peeking out of his makeshift blanket jumped up from the floor and cried out, in a flurry of joy. The passenger kept his briefcase down gently and threw his arms wide in a gesture of impending embrace. The man scurried up to him then. Yes, scurried, rather than walk, for outside, he revealed himself to be a rat. A rather dirty, disheveled but one very happy rat.

Bartholomew!”, cried the rat, tears in his eyes. “You’re here!”

Isaac! Dear Isaac!”, chimed Bartholomew in a metallic, hollow tone. “So this is where you live! Fascinating!”

The rat jumped away, with a sneer on his face. “Are you kidding me, you lunatic? This is the station! Who uses trains anymore, anyway?”

But Bartholomew had paced ahead, now peering deep into the eyes of a beggar, who’d been rudely interrupted in his sleep. Presently, Bartholomew was stuffing his hands with five pound notes, and patting them, which were trembling with an alcoholic’s shake. “Go buy some more drink, mister. You look like you—”

But Isaac the rat had promptly snatched away the notes and were stashing them inside his red corduroy trousers. “That’s enough of that. Here”, he flung the beggar a single note, who caught it and fled. “What, are you out of your mind?! Throwing out money like you’re a character in a Dickens novel?”

Who, or what, is a Dickens?”

A guy who wrote about poor buggers. Listen”, said Isaac, and clutched the robot’s shoulders and gazed at him in the light of the giant electronic clock standing at one lone corner. “I’m very happy to see you, you old pile of bolts!”

And I, you, dear, dear Bartholomew. Shall we embrace again?”

No! We discuss why you’re here, before you set one foot inside my city?”

Why, to meet Ursula, your daughter, and convince her that it’s okay to come back to Simulation City, now that the robots have taken over.”

And how will you do that, my boy?”

Make her fall in love with me!”

(To be Continued)

© Arnab Chakraborty, 2015

Signs of Life, by M John Harrison

I read ‘Signs of Life’ almost right after ‘The Course of the Heart’, and in some ways, it does with science fiction what the latter does with fantasy, or the fantastic impulse: use both genres/modes to dissect the nature of desire, and understand how desire ultimately fails when it is essentially escapist. M. John Harrison is the ultimate genre contrarian writing in English in this regard, in that he takes an unflinching view of the literature and politics of escapism, and deconstructs it systematically, but also beautifully. This is no bloodless exercise in revealing the faultlines of genre fiction; Harrison clearly loves what he does, and his fiction shines because of this dedication. But he is not a blind loyalist either. His is veiled meta-fiction, and will be appreciated the most, I suspect, by those who understand what the fantastic truly is about: something that can never be distinct in itself without intersecting with our world. If it doesn’t seem to, thanks to some clever literary contrivance, it will ultimately ring hollow, or at least, that’s what I strongly suspect Harrison hints at. However, to say only that of his fiction is to damn it. This novel is a magnificent exercise in a close study of modern life and the loss of affect it engenders.’Signs of Life’ is, one one level, a story about two lovers, and how one of them yearns for the impossible and the other yearns for someone who she isn’t. In that, it is timeless, but it is also very timely, for the horrors of bio-science that it slowly reveals as being an essential part of the story is as apt as such things are for our age.

Science and Literature

I’ll make a few observations as I begin reading a book (The Routledge Companion to Literature and Science) on the intersections between Literature and Science, and note them here point-wise. They’ll probably be extremely naive (if not completely random) so my apologies in advance. Hopefully, later I will be able to collate my observations into a proper argument.

  • The dissemination of knowledge in the modern world operates primarily through specialized discourses, or languages, which are often too technical to afford cross-pollination of thought. This is termed in the book as ‘an operational difference’. Quite succinct. Operational difference has a nice ring to it.
  • Literary texts, as seen through the lens of both literature and science, are ‘technologies of communication and meaning, embedded in the medium of discourse and narration’. Take that, self proclaimed poets marauding as academics. When all’s said and done, you were merely communicating with your couplets. (I wish I could get people on Facebook irritated with this; but I have no wish of returning to that godforsaken land of narcissists).
  • Wikipedia informs me that: “Wissenschaft is the German language term for any study or science that involves systematic research. Wissenschaft incorporates science, learning, knowledge, scholarship and implies that knowledge is a dynamic process discoverable for oneself, rather than something that is handed down. It did not necessarily imply empirical research.” Bah, knew it all along, and I don’t even speak German.
  • Okay, this is seriously enervating: for the longest time, intelligence was held to require a body. No more, in the digital age. Intelligence that does not require life. So where does that leave ‘life’? What is life without a body? How entwined is the notion of ‘living’ with bodily functions? And if, in order to counter with the humanist claim that intelligence is synonymous with life, we consider that ‘to live’ is to revel in the body as well as the mind, and if the body (as opposed to the mind, in the western sense) is ‘animal’, then doesn’t that undermine all the pretensions of human ethics, in the light of turning a blind eye to animal abuse? (As they say, ‘that escalated quickly’)