Monday, July 21, 2014

Returns (slight return): Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

SF Signal are posting (an expanded version, if I remember rightly) of my review of Jeff Vandermeer's Annihilation today, first appearing in Interzone.


Since the review mentions Annihilation's theme of return, of what counts as coming home, here's Ursula K. Le Guin from The Dispossessed (1974) on returning:
He [Shevek] would always be one for whom the return was as important as the voyage out. To go was not enough for him, only half enough; he must come back. In such a tendency was already foreshadowed, perhaps, the nature of the immense exploration he was to undertake into the extremes of the comprehensible. He would most likely not have embarked on that years-long enterprise had he not had profound assurance that return was possible, even though he himself might not return; that indeed the very nature of the voyage, like a circumnavigation of the globe, implied return. You shall not go down twice to the same river, nor can you go home again. That he knew; indeed it was the basis of his view of the world. Yet from that acceptance of transience he evolved his vast theory, wherein what is most changeable is shown to be fullest of eternity, and your relationship to the river, and the river's relationship to you and to itself, turns out to be at once more complex and more reassuring than a mere lack of identity. You can go home again, the General Temporal Theory asserts, so long as you understand that home is a place where you have never been.
Shevek's view of the world (as has surely already been pointed out: oh, there is a lot of writing about The Dispossessed, a lot of talk, but as far I know I'm the only person who's actually founded an anarchist utopia on the moon) is a dialectical one. You could sort of say that Shevek critiques Urras from the standpoint of the utopian anarchy Annares, and critiques Annares from the standpoint of Urras, but maybe that's over-stylized; Shevek is Annarean through-and-through, and his critique of Annares is auto-critique, though borrowing some of its elements from Urras. The Dispossessed does set up a dialectic between Annares and Urras, but Annarean society itself is portrayed as strongly dialectical. Egoist may be a dirty word for Annarean anarchists, but then again, so is altruist.


Let's practice being a bit more collectivist. Some books I read recently:

Jeff VanderMeer, Authority
Gareth Powell, Ack-Ack Macaque
Iain M. Banks, Look to Windward
China Miéville, The City & The City
Kameron Hurley, The Body Project
Mary Robinette Kowal, The Lady Astronaut of Mars
Pat Cadigan, The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi

... twenty-eight stars!


& to return to returns, here are two from Ezra Pound, the second one, a translation of Li Bai, only an anticipated return. You may if you like consider any poetic returnees below to be on their way back from Area X. (The indent on the final line is Total Poetry).

See, they return; ah, see the tentative 
Movements, and the slow feet, 
The trouble in the pace and the uncertain 
See, they return, one, and by one,         
With fear, as half-awakened; 
As if the snow should hesitate 
And murmur in the wind, 
            and half turn back; 
These were the “Wing’d-with-Awe,"         
Gods of the wingèd shoe! 
With them the silver hounds, 
            sniffing the trace of air! 
Haie! Haie!         
    These were the swift to harry; 
These the keen-scented; 
These were the souls of blood. 
Slow on the leash, 
            pallid the leash-men!
While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me.  I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
     As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

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