Riffs on the classics: The Odyssey (Part 2)

Last time, I looked at the Odyssey and some close-hewn translations and versions of the original epic poem.  Come along as we continue our wanderings through the text and beyond to see where it will take us.

From these rather straightforward threads of the original, things get a little weird, as the stories become more outlandish, more removed from the original. Continue reading “Riffs on the classics: The Odyssey (Part 2)”

Riffs on the classics: The Odyssey (Part 1)

What makes a classic a classic? A lot of definitions have been offered, but one that resonates with me is the influence a work exerts on other works that follow. How have other authors responded to it with their own versions, counter-versions, sequels, prequels, and completely alternate takes on the original? The more responses there are, the more influential the original, the more we can say definitively it is a classic.

One of my favorite stories ever is the Odyssey, an ancient Greek epic poem composed by a figure or figures known as Homer, traveling bards who would relate the long tale to paying audiences as they roamed the Mediterranean. There are of course two parts to the full tale of Odysseus: The Iliad and The Odyssey. While the Iliad is a fairly straightforward story of an awful war, the Odyssey is a unique homecoming, depicting the wandering path of Odysseus and his encounters with various nymphs, witches, Cyclops, Sirens, and more. Continue reading “Riffs on the classics: The Odyssey (Part 1)”

Science Fiction Friday: SF Film Fest

Local science fiction fans may be well aware of the Cinerama’s upcoming Science Fiction Film Fest, but how many of you read the book first? Interestingly, most of the films started out as books of one kind or another, and they are worth a look. Here’s a rundown.

Metropolis: no source book for this one, but this is a great opportunity to point you to Karel Capek’s R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robots, a Czech science fiction play from 1920 that introduced the world to the word “robot.”


2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
Possibly a case of the film being better than the book, but the novel is good, and the differences between film and text are interesting. If you can believe it, Stanley Kubrick had to simplify the science of Clarke’s novel to make this film more accessible to a general audience.

War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
The book shows a great example of invasion literature (which was quite common in 19th century England), but marked the first time Earth was invaded (rather than England, Wells’s homeland). Continue reading “Science Fiction Friday: SF Film Fest”

Experiments with Fiction, Part 3

No exploration of experimental fiction would be complete without reference to the Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (Workshop of Potential Literature), or Oulipo.

This literary circle, founded by the Surrealist Marcel Duchamp and some friends in France in 1960, literally plays with words. The group is famous for making an almost mathematical use of “constraints” to stimulate creativity and form new works.

Italo Calvino, perhaps one of the more famous members, wrote a number of beautiful works of fiction, some of which experiment with their own creation. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler takes you, the reader, through a succession of novelistic passages, each one unique, and yet driving a plot forward as you search for your companion, another reader. Another elegant experiment of his is The Castle of Crossed Destinies (Italian version only), which builds a number of tales out of the archetypal figures of a deck of Tarot cards as they interact.

Georges Perec, another Oulipo member, and one of the more productive authors, wrote a metaphysical mystery novel called A Void, in which Parisian Anton Vowl goes missing, and as his friends search for him by reading his diary, they disappear as well. The original French novel was notable for never using the letter E, and the English translation completely captures the fun.  The Art and Craft of Approaching your Head of Department to Submit A Request for A Raise was crafted in the late 1960s with flow charts and the modern computer in mind, eliminating all punctuation and capitalization. In the age of texting, it deserves a second look, especially for its depiction of office anxiety and humor.

Raymond Queneau, another of the post-Surrealist founders of Oulipo, wrote a number of famous experimental texts, but his most influential was perhaps Exercises in Style, which tells the same story – a man sees a certain stranger twice in one day – 99 different ways. Another influential title of his is Zazie in the Métro, which is told completely in street slang, jargon, and cant (a much bigger difference in French).

Experiments with Fiction, Part 2

In my first post on experimental fiction, I mentioned the Library of Congress and its creation of the term, but I didn’t communicate how idiosyncratically the term is used. The good people at the Library of Congress created the term, but applied it in ways that might puzzle the attentive reader. Why, for instance, does Gertrude Stein never have the term applied to her strangely repetitive works? Why do two of Thomas Pynchon’s novels have it, but the rest, which are surely more qualified, do not? And what on earth is Garth Stein doing in here? Continue reading “Experiments with Fiction, Part 2”