an imaginary review (6)

A clear & useful bridge between science and the public is constructed in this empathic literary novel of a boy & how he comes to terms with his world. Explanations of everything from black holes to epigenesis demonstrate the author’s engagement with the scientific worldview, & act as the pivots of metaphors for a full range of human emotions & concerns. The total effect is one of numbing boredom, & of a mind which has carefully removed everything of excitement from its encounters with physics, cosmology & molecular biology. A Hay Festival version of the Popular Mechanics-style science fiction of the 1920s, this novel has a similar mission to educate its demographic–primarily 40/50-year-old reading-group members with a humanities degree. As a result, the very last thing its author has managed is to be, as his dustjacket claims, “boldly imaginative”. The most interesting thing about the book is its title, the literary referentiality & linguistic quirkiness of which promise more than they can ever deliver.

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7 responses to “an imaginary review (6)

  1. I’m going to flatter myself that my comment on the previous post helped inspire this witty takedown of Hard SF, even if it just ain’t so.

  2. …when I went to the Vatican some years ago, I went through the whole thing looking at all the paintings. There are corridors full of craftily painted drek, and then suddenly in a stairwell is a heart piercing Raffael.
    Have you wandered down one of those corridors and are you lost, sending out messages in cyber bottles? Should we send in the helicopters bristling with ninjas of the fringe?

  3. binkieandmarcel

    I assume you mean that this is a review of an imaginary book, but perhaps this is a game: there’s a real book out there that you are describing but, out of tact, not identifying, and we, your readers, are supposed to guess what it is. I clicked the link to books & reviews in hopes of finding a clue in Imaginary Reviews 1-5, but unhelpfully the link does not confine itself to the M. John Harrison blog. Anyway, after talking to myself these last five minutes, I have decided that it’s not a game, at least not the one that occurred to me, and that I was just projecting my own maliciousness onto you. Whether it’s another sort of game or just a review of an imaginary book, either way I would call it a “pretend” review, but that might be an American usage.

  4. uzwi

    Sarcastic sketches which may contain references to individual books, these imaginary reviews usually try to identify a type of fiction.

    In this case it’s the UK “science & the arts” novel, a cottage industry which has been with us since Ian McEwan’s disastrous A Child in Time in 1987. The English middle classes, having for a hundred years ignored the science that made their world possible, “discovered” it across the 1990s as if it was something brand new, & set about doing what the educated middle classes always do in those circumstances: making sure that their definition of it–though partial, shallow & referential to their own social & fiscal concerns–is the only one. Novels like this–generally grant-supported under the auspices of “advancement of science” programmes–have been at the forefront of the annexation process.

    An equal & opposite movement has seen scientists trying to read contemporary fiction, often with even less successful results.

  5. binkieandmarcel

    Thanks for taking the time to explain this to me.

    “Middle class” has a very different meaning in the US than in the UK. Here it’s a term of rhetoric, not of analysis; to understand it in a given context, you have to know who said it, to whom, and why. The only other “class” words we have are “underclass” and “class war,” which only make sense by evoking classes whose existence we deny: the underclass is below the working class, and class war is stirred up whenever the moneyed class is criticized, but no one here talks about either the upper class or the working class. Politicians and the media take it for granted that all members of the working class aspire to the middle class, and flatter them or scold them accordingly. On the other hand, the situation of science in public consciousness is not nearly as fatuous as what you describe, but I want to think some more about your remarks.

  6. Mike A

    If nothing else, this thread has reminded me of Stanislav Lem’s splendid “A Perfect Vacuum”, which consists of reviews of imaginary books.

  7. Martin M

    Naturally, a best-seller: bespoke fare for those poor north Oxford children whose every spare moment is grouted round with grade 5 violin, Sanskrit grammar, and the possibility of meeting Philip Pullman.

    As for “A Child in Time, ” it’s such a pig of a book that it should have come with free trotters. All the basic mistakes: emotional climax in the first chapter; plot falls over shortly afterwards; clunking symbolism, plus half-chewed quantum mechanics chucked in for good measure; then that awful finale which stirs Mother Goddess symbolism and New Man posturing into one twee and heavy goo, while the poor child’s disappearance is simply shuffled aside, since neither narrative nor author has the emotional resource to resolve it. The more it goes on, the more you can sense the panicked sweat behind the pages as McEwan searches desperately for a way out of the contract while still getting paid.

    In fact, it’s an exemplary text for reach exceeding grasp, and a botched job from almost beginning to end. Reviews to die for, of course. And naturally, a best-seller.