FICTION IN THE QUANTUM UNIVERSE by Susan Strehle

quantum fictionIn this interesting but academic  book, Susan Strehle argues that a new fiction has developed from the influence of modern physics. She calls this new fiction actualism, and within that framework she offers a critical analysis of major novels by Thomas Pynchon, Robert Coover, William Gaddis, John Barth, Margaret Atwood, and Donald Barthelme.

According to Strehle, the actualists diverge markedly from realistic practice, and  they do so in order to reflect more accurately what we now understand as real.    She says that in the new physical or quantum universe, reality is discontinuous, energetic, relative, statistical, subjectively seen, and uncertainly known — all terms taken from new physics, and that rather than choosing between art and actuality, contemporary novelists pursue both in fiction.

She says

Contemporary fiction departs from realism without losing interest in reality.  Reality is no longer realistic;  it has more energy and mystery, rendering the observer’s position more uncertain and more involved.

She calls the new fiction actualism based on a distinction Werner Heisenberg makes between the actual and the real.  “At the subatomic level,”  he says, “reality is not real, but it is active, dynamic, ‘actual’.”

I leave you with one last quote:

Changes in physical theories inspire changes in a culture’s general attitudes, and art both responds to and shapes these assumptions.  Actualistic fiction and contemporary physics join, I propose, in seeing the external world and the human relation to it as:  discontinuous, statistical, energetic, relative, subjective and uncertain.

In an opening section of the book, after the explicatory introduction,  she explains beautifully and clearly the basics of quantum physics.   This section paves the way for the rest of the book which is an in-depth examination of the six authors mentioned above from a perspective of her actualism.

It is quite a long book, and if you are interested in the machanics of fiction, and the upper level fiction critiques, you will enjoy this book.  Don’t try to ingest it all at once.  It needs to be approached in small intervals in order to get the most from it.

 

 

 

Actualist fiction is characterized by incompletions, indeterminacy, and “open” endings unsatisfying to the readerly wish for fulfilled promises and completed patterns. Gravity’s Rainbow, for example, ends not with a period but with a dash. Strehle argues that such innovations in narrative reflect on twentieth-century history, politics, science, and discourse.

BELLS ON HER TOES by Diana J. Febry

BellsAnother fine mystery in the police procedural genre from the capable hands of Diana J. Febry, this one revolving around the horse racing activities in an area of England.  It also involves some severely dysfunctional people and a couple of murders.  Phew!  What a place!

It starts with the burning barn of a man who trains and races horses for a living.  But it turns out that the burning barn may have been the work of arson, and goodness me, a body is found inside the wreckage.  We can be fairly certain he didn’t die from the effects of the fire as he had a bullet hole in his head.  Aha! First clue.  And nobody knew who he was.  He was not a local character.

As DCI Peter Hatherall and DI Fiona Williams begin their investigations, it would appear there could be a number of plausible suspects, and we are introduced to a cast of interesting folk who populate the area.

While the ending is not a total surprise,  who done done it didn’t hit me until almost the very end.  OK, OK, so I’m slow.  So sue me.

Ms. Febry is the author of  two other nifty mysteries:  The Skeletons of Birkbury,  and Debts and Druids,  and a thriller, Elephant the Room,  which I am in the process of reading now.   I, of course, will let you know all about it when I have finished it.

Talley ho, my dears.  Oh.  Wait.  That’s for fox hunting.  I don’t know what they say in horse racing, other than “Put me down for 2 bob on Whistling Zombie.”

Ta ta.

 

QUANTUM FICTION

quantum fictionEver heard of quantum fiction? Yeah, me neither. I really love how the genres of literature are constantly expanding to accommodate the widening sphere of our interests and investigations, and to reflect the direction of popular culture.

Wikipedia says: Quantum fiction is a literary genre that reflects modern experience of the material world and reality as influenced by quantum theory and new principles in quantum physics. Quantum fiction is characterized by the use of an element in quantum mechanics as a storytelling device.

In quantum fiction, everyday life hinges on some aspect of the quantum nature of reality. These are stories in which consciousness affects physics and determines reality.  It’s a genre of literature in which otherwise supernatural, paranormal or fantasy elements are made plausible by elements of quantum science in the story.

The term “quantum fiction” was first used by American novelist Vanna Bonta in her novel Flight: A Quantum Fiction Novel  written in 1996.  (Nice.  I am only 18 years behind the times.  I really have to start paying more attention.)   She says that:

science fiction depicts “the real” while quantum fiction describes “the realm of all possibilities.  In the quantum universe, space and time aren’t separate, predictable, and absolute; narratives can’t steer by the fixed poles that guided realistic fiction.

Germán Sierra says that

quantum fiction is stories where the material world (empirical science) and an unquantified animating force (spirit/the observer) meet;  it is any tale highlighting elements such as synchronistic adventures (entanglement theory), multi-dimensional reality, interactive metaverses, nonlinear time or consciousness as a participant in the creation of physical reality.

Here’s a list of books classified as quantum fiction on Goodreads,  and here is another list.  But these two lists are not definitive.  There are perhaps hundreds in existence.  When you … OK, me…. when I started becoming aware of this genre, I began to see them everywhere.

So, let’s see.  We have Steampunk, Dieselpunk,  Atompunk, and now ….. Quantumpunk.  hahahahah I crack myself up.

 

THE LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner

Light in augustLight in August is probably Faulkner’s most critically acclaimed work.  It is set in fictional Jefferson,  a small poor town in rural Mississipi.  This Southern Gothic work  tells the story of a number of characters who are not native to the town, and have arrived at different times for different purposes.

The characters are:

Lena Grove – a basically unlettered young girl, pregnant by an itinerant young man, Lucas Burch, who, upon learning of her condition, immediately takes off, telling Lena when he finds work, he will make a place for her and send for her.  He ends up in Jefferson, and changes his name to Brown.   Lena, about 8 months pregnant or more, sets off one day on foot with no food or money, to find him so they can get married and make their child legitimate.

Byron Bunch, mid thirties, a bachelor, who meets Lena when she is mistakenly told by some townspeople that he is Burch .

Joe Christmas, 30, raised in an orphanage until age 5, of mixed racial blood.

Joanna Burden, a descendant of Yankee abolitionists who lives alone in a dilapidated plantation house two miles outside of town

Gail Hightower, a disgraced former minister , living alone on one of the side streets of the town.  His dissatisfied wife was discovered to have been seeing men in Memphis, and who eventually committed suicide for which the good Reverend was seen by his congregation to deserve the blame.

The novel is set in the American South in the 1930s, during the time of Prohibition and Jim Crow laws that legalized racial segregation in the South.  It examines not only racial issues, but class issues as well.

It has two main threads, that of the peripatetic Lena in search of the father of her child so they can get married, and that of Joe Christmas, silent, a loner, who lives in a cabin on the property of Joanna Burden, and who works at the local saw mill.

We have Lena’s story in chronological order, but Christmas’s story comes to us in chunks of back story.

A secondary thread is that of Reverend Hightower, whose life trajectory places him in the middle of the convergence of Lena, Byron Bunch, and Brown, and ultimately in the life of Joe Christmas.

The grandparents of Joe Christmas show up in town, and through the ravings of the completely mad grandfather, we learn more about the history of Joe Christmas.

It all comes to a head when the house of Joanna Burden is found burning out of control, and the body of Mz. Burden is found dead inside, her throat slashed. Christmas is deemed to be the perpetrator of both incidents, and goes on the run.

It is a complicated story in the reading. It is only when the reader has finished the book and thinks about it does it become clear, hammering home a damning indictment of the times in that region of the country. Faulkner tells us that the title refers to a certain luminosity that comes for a short time in the middle of August, when a hint of fall is in the air.

 

 

 

 

DARK MIRROR by Barry Maitland

Dark Mirror“There’s your culprit:  arsenic trioxide.”

DCI Brock and DI Kathy Kolla have another case, and in this nifty mystery, sebendy-lebendyeth in the series, it is all about poisoning.

Did you know that one of the revolutionary things about the Pre-Raphaelite painters, such as Rossetti, Millais, Holman Hunt and others, was their use of the vivid new pigments that the chemical industry of the time had recently developed, especially a brilliant green called Emerald Green or Paris Green, made from arsenic?   But the paints were quite dangerous.  The painters absorbed the pigment through their skin, they breathed its fumes and held paintbrushes loaded with it in their mouths.  It is said that arsenic poisoning from Emerald Green was the cause of Monet’s blindness and Van Gogh’s madness.  It was Cezanne’s favorite color, and he developed severe diabetes, a sympton of chronic arsenic poisoning.

Keep all that in mind.  Everything hinges on it.

It starts with a young woman, doing research in a London library, collapsing after having eaten her lunch, being violently ill, and eventually dying.  It was determined that she died of arsenic poisoning.

I had always thought arsenic was slow acting, being administered in small doses until eventually the victim succumbed, but now know that a large enough dose all at once can be lethal as well.  The Victorians lived in an era of easily obtainable arsenic and used it for all kinds of mundane purposes. In those days, arsenic was used to treat syphilis.   And of course, what’s not to be charmed by the little old dears in Arsenic and Old Lace.

Great mystery with no lack of plausible murderers, and natch, the second death just adds to the suspense.  Oh, I didn’t mention the second poisoning?  Momentary lapse.

Did you know that widespread arsenic contamination of groundwater has led to a massive epidemic of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh and neighboring countries? It is estimated that approximately 57 million people in the Bengal basin are drinking groundwater with arsenic concentrations elevated above the World Health Organization’s standard of 10 parts per billion.  This interesting tidbit was part of the plot of the book.  So you see how much you can learn just from reading fiction!

THE TORAH – The Director’s Cut by R. E. Dinlocker

The TorahA mist appears in a writer’s office.  Oy vey!  It’s God!   And he wants the writer to work up a modern, updated version of the Torah, well, it would seem actually of the Old Testament.  Who can say no to God?

This is a funny book, and has that Mel Brooks Thousand Year Old Man feel, and that Carl Reiner one-liner touch.  Such as:

The author says:  “And you want me to help rewrite this?”

And God answers:  “Just the Torah.  The rest is sequel.”

Author:  “But I write fiction.  Is this fiction?”

God:  Everything was fiction in the beginning.”

So you can see how this is going to be a theological comedy routine, so you get out the Doritos and settle in for a good laugh.

“You really wanted the Bible to start that way?  “You want better, ‘it was a dark and stormy night’?  God sighed, ‘The dark I had already.  The stormy and the night, I didn’t create until later.  You ever try creating in the dark?”

“OK, so I had light and dark and the in-between stuff on the Second day.  But the earth was still a mess — like a teenager’s room it looked.”

Who knew God talked like a first generation New York Polish Jew?  He sounds like Yoda.

Oh, here’s something interesting:

“Ancient Hebrew had no vowels.  I wrote Nephilim in ancient Hebrew.  Take the vowels out of Nephilim and you got what?

I frowned, “Nflm?”

“And take off the pluralizing ‘m’ sound?”

“…NFL.  So they were football players?  Giants?

“There’s a preacher in Dallas who thinks NFL players are descendants of giant fallen angels who mated with humans and caused the human race to deteriorate into sin.”

And we even have Jewish jokes:

OKay, the Yesiva Rowing Team always loses.  Their coach tells the Yeshiva captain to spy on the Harvard team, because they always win.  The Captain watches the Harvard train and reports back.  He tells the coach, ‘You know how Harvard wins?  When they race, only one person yells; the other eight row.”

Bada bing, bada boom.

As God and the writer discuss the events as recorded in the bible, the personalities discussed  appear and disappear.  Most of them sound like characters straight from Yiddish theater, although the serpent in the Garden of Eden sounds like Edie Murphy.

There is almost no narration; the entire story is carried out in dialogue, with the various characters chiming in from time to time. I felt like I was reading a stage play.

Frankly, funny as it was, I found it to be too long,–  too rich, as it were.  And although there was a joke in almost every line, it became — for  me — tedious, kind of like eating an extremely rich dessert.  After diving in and enjoying it and thinking you can’t get enough, all of a sudden you realize you have overeaten.

Great idea, great execution, but I would have enjoyed it more as a short story than a novel length work. But I must say,  you will learn a great deal about the history of the people of the bible.

 

 

 

GREVIOUS SIN by Faye Kellerman

Grevious SinRats.  This Decker and Rina mystery, part of a very long series, actually came before Sanctuary,  but I got mixed up and posted Sanctuary already.  Oh, well.  Just think of it as Throwback Thursday.

In this one, Rina is in the hospital having the baby, Decker’s teenage daughter (well, she is 19 and in college) is spending most of her time in the hospital nursery with the baby while Rina is recovering from a hysterectomy necessitated by excessive bleeding after the birth.

The hospital is terribly shorthanded, and the nursery woefully understaffed.  In the night, the charge nurse, a dependable woman who has worked there for ten years, disappears, along with one of the babies from the nursery.  We readers are all relieved to learn that it is not the Decker’s baby.  Decker and Marge Dunn, his partner, take the case, and Decker is concerned to get his wife and baby out of that hospital!

The next day, the car belonging to the missing nurse is found in a canyon, a burning heap.  There is a body inside which seems to be the size of the missing nurse.  It becomes clear that it was not an accident, but that the car was dowsed with gasoline and pushed over the cliff.  So the hunt is on not only to learn just who was the body in the car, and to find the killer, and to track down the missing baby.

An intricately plotted exercise in motive, means and opportunity, another great book from Faye Kellerman.

 

SANCTUARY By Faye Kellerman

SanctuaryThis is the eighth Decker and Rina mystery.  I really like this series, and luckily for me, there are about nine more.  In this book, the baby Hannah is about 9 months old.  By the end of the series (as it stands now), the kid will be a teenager.

This book’s theme is the international diamond trade, diamond sellers, diamond cutters, diamond mines, Ultra Orthodox Jews, and Israel.  Really a great read.

Marge Dunn, Decker’s partner, has now been promoted to Inspector, and she and Decker are working in a new homicide department with a chief who is basically a decent guy but is an equal opportunity insulter — women, people of color, Jews, whatever.  He sticks newly bumped up Marge with a missing persons case because it seems like not much of anything.  Just go out and calm down the caller.  She is insulted, thinking the assignment is a put down.

Well, the caller is an Israeli woman now living in L.A., who says her brother is missing.  Not only her brother, but his wife and two kids, as well.  The house is clean as a whistle, no sign, as they say, of foul play, but the four have truly disappeared off the face of the earth.

Turns out the dad is a diamond trader, and also an expert diamond cutter.  As Decker and Marge delve deeper, they find connections with the huge international diamond company that has a stranglehold on the world diamond trade and most of the world’s diamond mines.  Eventually their investigation takes them to Israel, where Rina had lived for some years and therefore speaks Israeli, in search of the two teenage sons of the missing man and wife, who may have fled to Jerusalem and their grandparents for sanctuary.

Meanwhile, an old school friend of Rina, from whom she hasn’t heard in quite some time, calls out of the blue and asks if she and her 4 kids can come visit for a few days, a little vacation.  The husband, also a diamond trader,  has gone to Israel on business.  This friend married an extremely orthodox Jewish man, and they live in a rural New York (I think) community that is composed entirely of adherents of this sect.  There is only one phone in the village, no tv, no nada.  Kinda like the Amish, I guess.  There is a bus which takes the working husbands to the city, but most have no cars and walk everywhere.

While visiting Rina and Peter, she and the four children disappear.  And then Decker and Rina learn that the husband was not in Israel, and was found dead in his office, shot.  But the cause of death was actually drowning.

Yeah.  See what I mean about it being a great mystery!

 

THE FROZEN RABBI by Steve Stern

the-frozen-rabbiWhen a book starts out with:

Shoving aside rump roasts, Butterballs, and pork tenderloins in his quest, [15-year-old] Bernie [Karp] delved deeper among the frozen foods than he’d ever had occasion to search.  That was when having emptied and removed the wire trays, the boy encountered toward the bottom of the bin a greenish block of ice that stretched the entire length of the freezer.  Scattering individually wrapped filets, tossing packages of French fries, niblets and peas,  Bernie was able to discern beneath the rippled surface of the ice the unmistakable shape of a man.

When Bernie brings up the subject at the dinner table,

Mr. Karp cleared his throat.  “That’s our white elephant.  Like a heirloom.  Some people got taxidermied pets in the attic, we got a frozen rabbi in the basement.  It’s a family tradition.”

Bernie’s mother, still playing with her food, offered acerbically, “He’s from your father’s side of the family;  they were always superstitions.”

“He’s a keepsake” — Mr. Karp’s tone was defensive — “that they handed down from generation to generation.”

With a gonzo opening like this, is it even necessary to read any more?  There is enough in just this to ponder for quite a while.  Quite a while.

We are taken back to 1889 in the Ukraine, when the Rabbi seats himself upon the banks of a horse pond and goes into a trance, as he is often wont to do, wherein he leaves his body and travels to, heaven?  maybe?    While he is entranced, the a sudden storm moves in, the pond water rises, covering the rabbi, and then freezes, and the rabbi is found by a local ice cutter, who cuts out a block containing the rabbi, and stores it in his icehouse.

The story takes us into the ghettos of Russia, follows the rabbi in his ice coffin to the Bowery district of NYC, the teeming home of the thousands of immigrants pouring into the country, back to modern day Memphis and the Jewish community there,  then introduces us to the turn of the 20th century underworld of New York,  back to Memphis where Bernie, always a lackadaisical student, has become obsessed with the ancient writings of the Jews, especially the mystical writings, and he learns he has the ability to disappear himself into trances.  We dabble in the underworld life of turn of the century New York. Then we move on the penal system of  the US, the Israeli settlement life in pre-WWII Israel, back to Memphis, where we finish up with what happened to the Rabbi.

And what happened to the Rabbi and to Bernie I am not even going to hint at.  When you read it, you will plotz.

 

WESTMINSTER ABBEY: The History of England’s Most Famous Church by Dr. Jesse Harasta

westminster abbeyThis delightful slim volume (I assume it is slim – I read it on my Kindle and it was quite short),  is a most readable history of the world famous church.

Obviously, I am not going to give you the history  that is what the book is for,  but maybe you might like a few highlights.

This building dates back to William the Conqueror, which would be ummmm….. let me see….  1028 to 1087.  Wow.  That makes it like a thousand years old!

Traditional legend holds that it was founded by Sebert, the King of the East Saxons in 616 AD.  It is said he also founded the original St. Paul’s in London.  Saxons were worshippers of the old Norse/Germanic gods, and Sebert was the first Christian king.

‘Minster’ is an old English term for monastary, and also according to legend, St  Peter miraculously appeared to consecrate the newly completed church.

Yeah, but there isn’t any evidence to support this legend.  There is evidence of charters for monastaries in the 700s and in the 900s.  But the most compelling account is from a medieval historian, William of Malmesbury who wrote that in the 900s St. Dunstan brought 12 Benedictine monks to the monastery from Glastonbury to expand the existing monastery.  But even then,  we can’t rely on St. Dunstan.  We are today not even sure exactly where the original site was.  A lot of history of the times were written to satisfy purposes other than to record true events.  Ha.  Sounds like today, doesn’t it.

But moving right along, shoving aside all the things we don’t know about the church, we come to King Edward “the Confessor”, he of the house of Wessex, who ruled as king of a united England from 1033 to 1065.  He had tough times as a young king, and was in exile in Normandy.  He vowed a pilgrimage to Rome if he were reinstated to his throne.  But then when the time came for the pilgrimage, he wanted to weasel out of the deal.  The Pope was just as happy, because what would he get out of it, but instead forgave Edward his vow if Edward would build a magnificent church dedicated to St. Peter.  Edward saw this as a smooth move because he wanted to create a grand royal compound as part of a new capital for himself.

Kings in the Dark Ages were somewhat itinerant figures without fixed capitals due to the need to move from stronghold to stronghold as the needs of politics, war, or the king’s whims dictated.

So he chose the nearby monastery of Westminster.  The Palace of Westminster became the seat of government housing the royal court, as well as the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

From that point on, Westminster Abbey has been fundamentally tied to the Crown and the English (and then British) government.

Construction began in 1065 and finished up a decade later, and Edward was able to attend its consecration a few days before his death, probably from a series of strokes.

A little side note:  Edward was the son of Æthelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy, and I gotta say we don’t have cool names like Æthelred the Unready anymore.  Pity, that. He is called Confessor, the name for someone believed to have lived a saintly life but who was not a martyr, (in Latin S. Eduardus Confessor rex Anglorum, as opposed to S. Eduardus Martyr rex Anglorum.)  He was canonized in 1161 by Pope Alexander III, and is commemorated on 13 October by both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. Saint Edward was one of the national saints of England until King Edward III adopted Saint George as patron saint in about 1350.  Isn’t that a shame that he lost his position to an upstart like Saint George.

There is so much more to the story of Westminster Abbey, like how it become THE place to hold a coronation, and and to be buried, and how the place is absolutely filled to the brim with the tombs of the royal and the famous.  What a place!

I urge you to read it.  Just a great book.  Long enough to have some meat, short enough not to be too overly self-indulgent in a plethora of tiny factoids. And it has a lot of beautiful pictures.