Tag Archives: satire

Memoirs Found in a Bathtub

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Memoirs Found in a Bathtub [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Stanisław Lem, trans Michael Kandel and Christine Rose, book 2 in the From the Memoirs of Ijon Tichy series.

Lem Memoirs Found in a Bathtub

The twelve-page introduction is more overtly sfnal than the body text of this novel, which is a romp of epistemological ambiguity set in the dystopian Building. From the far-future documentary context of the intro we are led to understand that the Building contains a sort of continuity-of-government American microsociety in an underground site in the Rocky Mountains. And yet the exit from the windowless Building in the memoirs themselves is at the bottom rather than the top (185)–unless that “Gate” is merely a sham or a trap, as it may well be.

The narrator of the memoirs gives neither his name nor his origin. He begins in media res with an effort to “find the right room” (13) which quickly eventuates into his recruitment as an intelligence agent. Once he has achieved this status, the first parts of the book are concerned with his striving to acquire his “instructions,” which he accomplishes in a sort of tentative and temporary fashion. Later passages are more focused on determining the actual authority and allegiances involved with his activities, which tend toward the scripted and ritualistic, implying all manner of codes and betrayals.

I was already reminded of the Kafkaesque British TV series The Prisoner (1967-8) when Major Erms said, “Be seeing you” (58). I guess any intentionality there must be ascribed to the 1973 English translators, since the Polish original was written in 1961. Another comparandum for me was Jeff VanderMeer’s novel Authority.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I picked up this book, but I was surprised to find satirical theodicy skirting the edge of nihilism in an anti-fantasy of espionage and authoritarianism. It’s a short book and I would read it again.

“I only know that you told me what they told you to tell me.”

“And you wouldn’t believe me if I denied that, and you shouldn’t, because even if I did, it probably wouldn’t be the truth. Who knows?” (169)

Pygmy

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Pygmy [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Chuck Palahniuk.

Palahniuk Pygmy

Not nearly in the running to be one of my favorite Chuck Palahniuk books, Pygmy still had the author’s twisted sense of humor in evidence. The first-person narrative voice — attributed to the protagonist, terrorist exchange-student infiltrator “Pygmy” — shuns standard English, which, if not a deal-breaker for me, makes it unlikely that I will enjoy a novel much. So I guess it succeeded in that uphill struggle. A representative sentence: “Horde scavenger feast at overflowing anus of world history” (146).

The whole story is over-the-top and not at all believable, but it scores a few obvious criticisms of American culture, while instating (on a more fundamental and tacit level) a defense of that same culture. It amplifies the cartoonish elements evident in earlier Palahniuk work like Survivor. I don’t regret having read it, but I can see how many readers would.

The Past is Red

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Past is Red [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Catherynne M Valente.

Valente The Past is Red

This book reprints the story “The Future Is Blue” from the Drowned Worlds anthology, and follows it with a further novella “The Past Is Red.” The latter was written about four years later for the author Catherynne M. Valente (in late 2020) and ten years later for her protagonist Tetley Abednego (sometime after 2133).

Tetley is an irrepressible survivor and an unreliable narrator who hails from Garbagetown on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, evidently one of the largest of remaining human communities in the 22nd century. The first story accounts for her becoming a hated outcast by age 19, and the second gives the saga by which she matures into a “trash Plato” (138) in her third decade.

The Garbagetowners have an ambivalently hostile envy for their antediluvian ancestors (i.e. us), to whom they consistently refer as “Fuckwits.” In light of the current situation in US society, it’s not hard to read this sentiment as the Millennial/GenX view of Boomers writ large.

Valente herself compares Tetley to Voltaire’s Candide (148), and there’s a little of de Sade’s Justine there as well. But the tone here is not so satirical, and the concerns of the parable are remote from those of the philosophes. The afterword and the acknowledgements claim an independence for Tetley, whom her author has gradually come to know, and the character does have an engaging voice to draw the reader into and through her world, which is enchanting to her, and ultimately, only differently horrible than ours.

The whole book is wonderfully weird but sadly feasible cli-fi that I read in about three sittings: a speedy read and a satisfying one.

Only Begotten Daughter

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Only Begotten Daughter [Bookshop, Amazon] by James Morrow.

Morrow Only Begotten Daughter

Only Begotten Daughter is an enormously clever religious satire, much more incisive than Morrow’s routinely lauded Towing Jehovah. But I’ll probably never re-read it, because the story is just too goddamned sad.

Survivor

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Survivor: A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk:

Chuck Palahniuk's Survivor from W W Norton & Company

 

Palahniuk is the author of Fight Club, and Survivor is his second novel. The wit, sagacity, and implacable unlikelihoods of Fight Club are all still in full force in Survivor, which counts down from page 289 to 1 with blinding speed. And like Fight Club, the later book seems quite dedicated, in its nihilistic po-mo way, to the premise that “Unto thee shall be granted joy and health and wealth and wisdom when thou art no longer thou.”

I have read critics refer to Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land as a “satire.” It’s not; it’s a romance. Survivor is in fact the satire that Stranger isn’t. Stranger’s Michael Valentine Smith was the survivor of a shipwreck on Mars, “rescued” to face his ultimate martyrdom as the prophet of the Church of All Worlds. Survivor’s Tender Branson was “rescued” from a suicide cult based in Nebraska. And it is his voice that tells the entire story, through the medium of a crashing airplane’s flight recorder.

This book is an unimpeded flight—a terminal descent—to the punchline of the Universal Joke. [via]

 

 

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