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In the six months or so that I’ve had this little column, I’ve been surprised and pleased by all the mail. Very little of it is anything less than spirited, whichever way, and always full of stern advice about books I should be reading (and offering, in one instance, an unsolicited recipe for Borscht). Last week took the soup, though, after I posted on the little-did-I-know it was a sacred cow of science fiction, A Canticle for Leibowitz. Readers voted early and often. I got handed my hat. A representative sampling of the G-rated portion of the mail:
Kevin C. Gold: I was a little saddened to read the short piece “Girded Loins,” about Mr. Mason’s chance encounter with A Canticle for Leibowitz. Does he really marvel at the “purity of its awfulness”? Really?
Kate Lowe: Just read your squib on your discovery of this classic of science fiction—also praised (although not by all) by some in the MSM, and well-regarded in literary circles. It’s an acquired taste, admittedly, but I am having trouble believing you really had never heard of it before. I suggest you do a little research.
Ruth Worman: That luridly beckoning first sentence was written, I believe, with tongue firmly in cheek. The Canticle is a sci-fi classic, and it knowingly and winkingly references certain conventions of religious narratives. Thus we have loincloths, Lenten fasts, and the rest.
Jeff Keller: I’m not quite writing to defend “A Canticle for Leibowitz” (although I was rather taken with it when I read it years ago), but I have questions about your post. Specifically, I’m interested in your opinion of the book, but I can’t actually tell whether or not you’re condemning it based on that opening sentence or even whether (in the course of the day) you read the book.
Lest I stand accused of mumpery or worse, I should make a few things clear. I’m all for sci-fi, or, at least, have never turned up my nose thereto. As such, I make and made no claims about the wholesale awfulness of A Canticle, which does seem to have quite a following. Rather, I was indeed talking about that first sentence, which I do find, taken not so much out of context as shorn of purpose, delightfully terrible. I like and trust Ruth Worman’s “luridly beckoning,” though, and am happy to believe that Miller was in on all the fun. As such, rest assured, David Magaro and others, of course I’ll read Miller’s book, in my gas station copy, at left–rather different in trim from the first edition, above–and offer a more comprehensive report of what I find when I’m done.
More from Wyatt Mason:
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”