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Comparing Zoline’s Heat Death of the Universe and Calvino’s Cosmicomics

Comparing Zoline’s Heat Death of the Universe and Calvino’s Cosmicomics

There is a fundamental dilemma that, presumably, each person faces as they begin to develop an understanding of their existence and identity which is something like, “What am I? Who am I? Where am I?” These questions are almost identical because they each address the same essential metaphysical issue of identity, “How and why Am I; why do I exist; what am I? What is the origin of I? Where am I going?” The answers to these difficult questions, whether intellectually satisfying or not, come in the form of cosmologies. Cosmologies create systems with which we understand the existence of the phenomenal world, and our own existence within it. They offer us a map, a concept, of our existence, tell us why we are here, where we are, and most often, where we are going. Of course, the most pervasive cosmologies are directly linked with particular religions, for religions are based upon the same issues: identity, origin, purpose, structure. However, this is not the domain of inquiry that I wish to pursue here, rather, I am interested in how the genre of Science Fiction creates, or recreates, cosmologies with which we might understand the universe and our individual meaning within it. How does SF create linguistic models of the cosmos, and what are the underpinnings of those cosmologies? If cosmological representations are created so that we can understand reality, in some sense, how is it done, and what questions do these cosmologies pose for the disciples thereof? I will look at two works in particular for this inquiry, Italo Calvino’s short story cycle, Cosmicomics, and Pamela Zoline’s short story, “The Heat Death of the Universe.” I have chosen to focus my in…

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…osmos may be infinitely vast and awesome, it is also as familiar as you are to yourself.

Sources Cited

Aldridge, Alexandra. The Scientific World View in Dystopia. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1984.

Calvino, Italo. Cosmicomics. Trans. William Weaver. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1968.

Hume, Kathryn. “Science and Imagination in Calvino’s Cosmicomics” Mosaic: a journal for the interdisciplinary study of literature. Winnipeg: Univ. of Manitoba, (34:1) 2001.

Lefanu, Sarah. In the Chinks of the World Machine. Feminism and Science Fiction. London: The Women’s Press, 1988.

Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre . New Haven : Yale University Press, 1979.

Zoline, Pamela. “The Heat Death of the Universe.” 1967. The Heat Death of the Universe and Other Stories. Kingston, NY: McPherson

American Society Portrayed in Tolkin’s The Player and Among the Dead

A Fractured American Society Portrayed in Tolkin’s The Player and Among the Dead

The novels ‘The Player’ and ‘Among the Dead’ are not simply tales about any given character, as it would appear, but in fact they represent Tolkin’s own personal vision of what he thinks American society is becoming. Namely, that it is a fractured society built on false values, where people have difficulty dealing with the truth of feelings or situations and where people will do anything to make money. The individual plots are realistic though, and they seem to work as both true-to-life dramas and broader social commentaries. This gritty realism becomes apparent after a brief look at the events of each novel.

Part of a major Hollywood executive’s job is to reject writers in the polite ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’ fashion. But when ‘The Players’ Griffin Mill starts to receive death threats from an anonymous writer, he panics. In an attempt to clear his conscience of not replying, he contacts a writer at random from his old diary, who he can’t even remember, and chases him down to apologise and offer him a job writing a new film. But when the writer laughs in Griffins face, Griffin goes mad with frustration and murders him. The rest of the story involves Griffin’s slow breakdown involving: knowing he’ll get caught; his romantic attachment with the writer’s widowed girlfriend; his realisation of knowing he’s getting older and a new young hot-shot producer threatening his job, and the real death-threatening writer still trying to kill him. This also acts as a broader social commentary on the way American society, particularly Hollywood, is made up of lies, false values and dishonesty to the point of absurdity.

‘Among The Dead’ begins with another executive, Frank Gale, writing a letter. This letter is a carefully crafted ‘forgive-me’ note in which he confesses to an affair he’s been having. The plan is to take his wife on holiday and give her the letter and then spend the rest of the time trying to sort out their marriage. But Frank takes too long saying goodbye to his mistress and he ends up missing the plane, which then crashes killing everybody on board, including his family. The book then follows Frank dealing with his wife and daughter’s death and the way in which the Airline company find Frank’s letter in the wreckage, and sell it to create a sensational news story and also in defence against a law suit from the victims of the crash’s families, as blackmail against Frank.

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