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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 257

Eat, Drink, and Be Martian

  1. When old literary works talk about the future, latter-day readers have the advantage of measuring the authors’ foresight.

    In The Other World, completed by the author’s untimely demise in 1655, Cyrano de Bergerac imagines one scientific advance and technological innovation after another: page after page of what had to be sheer fantasy in an age when science was beginning to take the form we know today.

    By the end of the 20th century, 350 years later, almost every single one of Cyrano’s inventions had been realized in one form or another. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything in The Other World — from multi-stage space vehicles to fast food — that has not been created or even become commonplace in our time.

    Was Cyrano magically prescient, a “time traveler” from his own future? No, he had an eminently practical mind, one that could hardly be better suited to the Age of Reason in which he lived and to the Enlightenment, which followed it.

    Claës Lundin undertakes a project somewhat similar to Cyrano’s. How might it compare? Oxygen and Aromasia appeared 134 years ago. While Cyrano depicts the battle between reason and superstition in the first half of The Other World, science had triumphed in Lundin’s time. And yet Lundin returns to a topic that Cyrano also exploits: the olfactory sense.

    The difference between Cyrano’s and Lundin’s approach to the sense of smell is as instructive as it is entertaining. For Cyrano, it’s a part of fine dining (cf. episode 18); for Lundin, it’s the equivalent of music.

    The Challenge, then, is to see how much of a time traveler Claës Lundin might be. To do that, let’s keep an eye on the innovations that emerge in Oxygen and Aromasia as the novel progresses. What cultural preoccupations do they reflect? Are they true innovations or are they adaptations of inventions or practices already known in the 19th century?

    For starters: How practical are airborne bicycles? How does the status of art in Lundin’s fictional world compare to that in Cyrano’s?

    Bonus question: What role does humor play in both novels?

  2. The existence of natural evil creates a conundrum: a supernatural entity can be either all good, all-knowing, or all-powerful, but not all three at once. In Evan Appelman’s “The Masters of Triage,” how are the supernatural entities’ limitations explained?

  3. Does O. J. Anderson’s “Megakill” end with a reminiscence of “Not Dead Enough”? If you were staging the “battle in the brain,” what ending would you choose?

  4. The action in Ralph Filicchia’s “Two for the Road” exploits but does not explain a kind of magical geographical anomaly, to paraphrase a term from Star Trek. Even by interpreting the anomaly figuratively rather than literally, isn’t “Two for the Road” really a moral anecdote? If so, how could it be made a story?

  5. Matt Shaner’s “The Final Act” depicts a father in search of a runaway daughter. Does the confrontation between the father and daughter explain sufficiently the “larger story” behind the girl’s fugue and expressions of resentment? What is the ambiguity in the title? Is “The Final Act” a story in the classical sense or does it resemble a dramatized memoir?

  6. Walt Trizna’s “Martian Rebirth” is reminiscent of Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain and the various versions of The Thing From Another World in its use of the theme of organic invaders from outer space bent on taking over the world. Is it plausible that a few smuggled flasks spiked with Martian prions could do the job? And what is the implied moral — if there is one — in the Martians’ taking over Earth? How does Ray Bradbury deal with the theme of Earthlings becoming Martians in The Martian Chronicles?

  7. Chris Stires lists his “Top Ten Movies in Outer Space” starting from the Moon landing in 1969. What would your rankings be? Would you include films not on the list? How many of the films in Chris Stires’ list fit the categories outlined in “Space Aliens as Metaphor”?

Responses welcome!

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