"I was thirty. Before me stretched the portentous, menacing road of a new decade.
"It was seven o'clock when we got into the coupé with him and started for Long Island. Tom talked incessantly, exulting and laughing, but his voice was as remote from Jordan and me as the foreign clamor on the sidewalk or the tumult of the elevated overhead. Human sympathy has its limits, and we were content to let all their tragic arguments fade with the city lights behind. Thirty - the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning brief-case of enthusiasm, thinning hair. But there was Jordan beside me, who, unlike Daisy, was too wise to ever carry well-forgotten dreams from age-to-age. As we passed over the dark bridge her wan face fell lazily against my coat's shoulder and the formidable stroke of thirty died away with the reassuring pressure of her hand."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
"Oh something'll happen. If not tonight, then some other night. Because if it don't happen, he'll lose interest, and quit coming around, and you wouldn't like that. And when it happens, it's Sin. It's Sin, because you're a grass widow, and fast. And he's all paid up, because he bought your dinner, and that makes it square. ...
"But — if you cook his dinner, and cooked it for him the way only you can cook, and you just happened to look cute in that little apron, and something just happened to happen, then it's Nature. Old Mother Nature, baby, and we all know she's no bum."
- James M. Cain, Mildred Pierce (1941)
"If I've bet my life's work on a suspicion that we live at least as much in our wishes and dreams, our constructions and projections, as we do in any real waking life the existence of which we can demonstrate by rapping it with our knuckles, perhaps my non-utilization of the live nude models helped me place the bet. How could I ever be astonished to see how we human animals slid into the vicarious at the faintest invitation, leaving vast flaming puddings of the Real uneaten? I did."
- Jonathan Lethem, "Live Nude Models," in The Ecstasy of Influence, 2011
"Until this moment, she would have had to slip a skin over her perceptions to point to the Andromeda galaxy in the sky. But now it seemed like the most important thing in the world that, two and a half million years away, somebody had shouted across the void before they died.
"'We're here,' Ferron said to the ancient light that spilled across the sky and did not pierce the shadow into which she descended. As her colleagues turned and stared, she repeated the words like a mantra. 'We're here too! And we heard you.'"
- Elizabeth Bear, "In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns," from Asimov's Science Fiction, January 2012
"Time has not softened my opinions on this matter. It is my belief that, as a rule, creatures of Happy's ilk — I am thinking here of canines and men both — more often run free than live caged, and it is in fact a world of mud and feces they desire, a world with no Art in it, or anyone like him, a place where there is no talk of books or God or the worlds beyond this world, a place where the only communication is the hysterical barking of starving and hate-filled dogs."
- Joe Hill, "Pop Art," collected in American Fantastic Tales, volume 2
"'It's a knowledge guild,' he said soberly. 'The bosses, the big'uns, they can take all manner of things away from us. With their bloody laws and factories and courts and banks. ... They can make the world to their pleasure, they can take away your home and kin and even the work you do. ..." Mick shrugged angrily, his lean shoulders denting the heavy of fabric of the greatcoat. 'And even a rob a hero's daughter of her virtue, if I'm not too bold in speaking of it.' He pressed her hand against his sleeve, a hard, trapping grip. 'But they can't ever take what you know, now can they Sybil? They can't ever take that."
- William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine
"'Oh I don't know about,' he replied, implying that he had had several successful affairs to enhance her opinion of him. Similarly Rosanette did not confess to all her lovers, so that he would think more highly of her. For in the midst of the most intimate confidences, false shame, delicacy, or pity always impose a certain reticence. We come across precipices or morasses, in ourselves or in the other person, which bring us to a halt; in any case, we feel that we would not be understood; it is difficult to express anything exactly; perfect unions, for that reason are rare.
"The poor Marshall had never known anything better than this."
- Gustave Flaubert, Sentimental Education, translated by Robert Baldick and Geoffrey Wall
"A lot of people now—even people much younger than James Wolcott—dream of a lost moment when the opportunities were truly 'hidden like Easter eggs,' when the paths were not yet mapped and overrun. How can we be expected to create properly, the thinking goes, without the tools of past success? How can we write without the old serious publications, make movies without risk-taking Hollywood producers, live without cheap urban housing, discover art without the underground, make a career without the circulation-desk jobs?
"Kael's great achievement was to fight this way of thinking, to persuade her readers that work is always done with the machinery at hand."
- from "What She Said: The Doings and Undoings of Pauline Kael
" by Nathan Heller, The New Yorker, Oct 24, 2011
Over the past couple of weeks, I filled one of the big gaps in my science fictional CV — I finally read William Gibson's Pattern Recognition
It was a strange experience. During the book's first half, I was completely in love with every sentence, to the point where I would try describing it to friends, starting in pretension and eventually sliding into incoherence. (I think I managed to avoid using phrases like "the human condition," but only barely.) It was thrilling to watch Gibson deploy the same skills he used to convince readers of Neuromancer
's future, but this time to tour London and the Internet, circa 2002, through the eyes of a character who sees the patterns of popular culture more intensely and vividly than we do.
But as the story approached its end, it seemed to deflate, to move (to borrow John Clute's criticism
of the sequel Spook Country
) into a "time out" from "the felt chaos of the world." When I closed the book, I thought, "Well, that was ... fine." I would absolutely recommend it, because it's an ambitious, partially successful work from a formidably talented writer, but, unlike Neuromancer
, I don't think it will stick with me.
There are a couple of problems here. For one, Gibson spends too much time running through the plot, which is perfectly fine as plots go, but one that's considerably less interesting than his exploration of setting and character. And as is almost always the case, the answering of questions (Who created the mysterious footage that haunts the first half of the book, and why?) feels like a let down compared to the mystery itself, no matter how clever those answers are.
I wonder if my real complaint is with the model that Gibson has chosen. Neuromancer
, famously, was based on film noir and hard-boiled detective fiction, specifically The Big Sleep
. Judging from Gibson's recent comments on Neuromancer
, he may have started chafing against some of the clichés and limitations of the noir mode, but that doesn't mean Pattern Recognition
breaks free from all generic models. In its globetrotting, its blank-check expense-account that finances said globetrotting, and in its final determination to tie up all plot threads, the book behaves like a techno-thriller, albeit one that's more realistic than anything by Tom Clancy or Michael Crichton.
Cliched though they may be, I can't help but prefer the rain-soaked, neon-bathed endings of Neuromancer
and stories like "Burning Chrome" to the clear-as-day, let-me-explain resolution of Pattern Recognition
. In their melancholy way, they give a sense of a world that remains open, rather than a book that has shut.
"People still use words like 'middlebrow' and 'kitsch' as terms of disapprobation, even if they don't remember the Marxist tree from which those apples long ago fell. This is because aesthetic preferences are always tied up with anxieties about social status. I can't help judging you by the novel you're reading on the plane or the wallpaper in your house. (You have wallpaper?) If we had no social invidiousness, we would probably have no art — or, at least, we would have a very different economy of art. People like to debate the merits of what they read and see and hear, and to pretend to think ill of those who differ. It's part of the game. The college freshman who declares herself a relativist in philosophy class by day will argue all night about whether Band X is better than Band Y."
— from "Browbeaten: Dwight Macdonald's war on Midcult" by Louis Menand, from the Sept. 5, 2011 New Yorker