It is usually not proper to post half-eaten food, but this was Falafel Sahyoun, and it was very good. See the earlier post on “Falafel Sahyoun” and “Giant Radishes,” which he uses. We just happened to be in the neighborhood. A soldier saw me photographing the very war-torn building across the street and explained something I could not understand. With translation, it was that the building was to be torn down. He thought we were tourists and told us that Martyr’s Square was down the road. We told him we remembered the area from 1992, before post-war renovation, etc. but then we realized he was too young too remember so long ago.
Sometimes, rainstorms pick up dust from the North African or Arabian deserts before arriving in Lebanon. Today, we have hot winds from the east, a khamseen, with occasional light sprinkles with dust from the Arabian desert. When a storm comes from the west, it can pick up such large amounts from the Libyan desert that thick red mud drops appear on leaves and cars. From the car window.
A Science Fiction Reader
Although I can remember the large musty boxes clearly, I cannot place in time when I first discovered the cardboard-shrouded trove of old science fiction periodicals. It must have been sometime in the first or second year after we moved to my mother’s second husband’s house in rural Oregon. I recall a great deal of solitude, a natural consequence of rural living, with contributing factors: an older brother and sister either absent following their own interests, the neglect afforded the youngest child of an age often regarded as safe when left alone (even in the presence of tractors, a complete metal shop, and military weapons), a second marriage of a working and benignly absent mother, and what is now clear was my own inclination. That the closest children my own age lived half a mile away in a little rural slum with pretensions of suburban glamour and were obsessed with horses (the girls) or dirt bikes (the boys) must have had a role. Even school was closer through the pasture and woods than their duplexes and ranches up a road without shoulders. It could even have been that first summer before the new school, always a time of profound dislocation whose magnitude is understood only long after.
The feel and smell of cheap periodical paper stored in a damp basement persists as a strong prompt to this memory. It might be responsible for the heady, nearly over-powering effect library scent has. Those old stories, fantastic, amazing, and astounding stories, seemed to be then from a long-distant era. They could have been anywhere from five to twenty years old, reaching to the golden age. The assumed original step-brother-owners (the sisters well known and highly unlikely suspects) were never met: unaquainted, obliquely referenced, vaguely mythological, with entire lives and childhoods tangentially inferred by the debris, remnants, and vestiges in their former dwelling, most abundantly in the basement. Imagine the decades of the 1960s and 1970s. Rapid technological progress, war, cultural upheaval. Then, it seemed the most modern of times, but now its zeitgeit is imbued with a pervasive Gothic character communicating its difference from the present reality, as if in not quite life-like pallette, perhaps Technicolor.
There was a story of a serially regenerated person: Jorge/George, a soldier? It fascinated me. A vision of a future with its own past, with the protagonist struggling with layers of memories of previous lives. It could be that like Jorge, my memories are so blurred by time and what seems to have been multiple previous lives that only improperly joined shards persist. Perhaps my memory is faithful and I had only a fragment of the story; certainly many volumes had pages lost or obscured by mildew.
I could attempt to find it, but I worry that it would now seem pale and weak and disappoint. It may be better treasured as lost and unrequited than gained and found lacking. I worry it would be the disappointment of Battersea: That story of the children with the white locks at the back of their heads, the wolves, the frozen river, ice skating, a governess, and a train journey. I recall it as one of the most captivating stories of my childhood. It was read during third or fourth-grade story time. I had not thought much about it until my daughter was asking for book suggestions. I could not remember a word of the title, the author, or a searchable phrase. I asked several bookish friends and teachers, even a librarian to no avail. How does one query a database for with vague descriptions of partially misremembered plots? A few years later, while perusing the school library with the younger daughter, I saw a book that tickled my memory. It was it, actually three related stories, not only completely jumbled in my mind, but drastically revised since its first encounter from a clever and sophisticated story to an obvious, even contrived, story suitable only to be read aloud to gullible school children.
That memory of the basement trove implicates work of the sixties and seventies as my first exposure to science fiction. I do not think readers of science fiction tend to explore the genre backwards in time, except perhaps the earlier works of favorite authors. In some genres, it may even be natural. Thinking of Hollywood, the now and almost-now is more marketable than the was and has-beens. Cinema may have had some influence on my interests what with “Silent Running” and “THX,” but I suspect as little as comic books. Rural living, that distant war, farm equipment, and the diverse machinery could also have been important, but why science fiction, as opposed to action-adventure? Visual and musical influence seems orthogonal to textual. If not, it would have to have been Franzetta. Much could be attributed to the influence Franzetta has had on pubescent boys. Perhaps all that foreign travel of my father inculcated a yearning for the exotic. More likely would be that teletype computer interface on which I could play lunar lander. I have not seen a working teletype in 20 years.
I am not going to include works that are near-mainstream or fantasy, even the obvious “The Lord of the Rings,” just to keep things clearer than is reasonable, as there is a continuum, even within the works of individual authors, a continuum that reaches to overlaps other genres: A Connecticut Yankee, Myra Breckinridge, and several of Doris Lessing’s novels, who is usually a realist’s realist. I will also not include Edgar Rice Burroughs, L. Frank Baum, or Andre Norton, though I devoured them insatiably. Most are novels. The list is of those that I continue to ponder or wowed me, with some nod to diversity of style and subject. Chance events of encountering a specific book at a particular time certainly factor strongly. And of course, the real value of such lists is the reflection they bring in being produced or read.
So, what I would pack in my floating tin can or recommend to the curious. A suitcase full. A starting point. Stars on the wows. Good resources for seekers of quality are lists of winners of Nebula Awards, Hugo Awards, Campbell Awards, and annual anthologies of short stories to keep abreast.
Alphabetically by author:
*A Clockwork Orange.
I, Robot. Foundation.
A Handmaid’s Tale.
The Windup Girl.
*Against a Dark Background. The Algebraist. Use of Weapons.
The Martian Chronicles.
Marion Zimmer Bradley
Hunters Of the Red Moon.
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.
Arthur C. Clarke
2001: A Space Odyssey.
Samuel R. Delaney.
*Nova. The Fall of the Towers. Stars in my Pocket like Grains of Sand.
Phillip K. Dick
*Time out of Joint, Lies, Inc. A Scanner Darkly. Confessions of a Crap Artist (not really science fiction).
*I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. A Boy and his Dog.
Phillip Jose Farmer
Venus on the Half-Shell (under pseudonym Kilgore Trout).
The Forever War.
The Temporal Void.
Stranger in a Strange Land. Starship Troopers. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
*Dune. The White Plague.
Brave New World.
When We Were Orphans.
Flowers for Algernon.
Cyril M. Kornbluth
*The Marching Morons.
*The Dispossessed. The Left Hand of Darkness.
The Sentimental Agents.
*The City & the City. Railsea.
Walter M. Miller, Jr.
A Canticle for Leibowitz.
The Speed of Dark.
*A Mote in God’s Eye (with Jerry Pournelle). Ringworld. Inconstant Moon.
Kim Stanley Robinson
The Years of Rice and Salt.
Old Man’s War.
*Anatham. The Diamond Age. Cryptonomicon.
Bruce Sterling and William Gibson
The Difference Engine.
A Fire upon the Deep. A Deepness in the Sky.
To Say Nothing of the Dog.
*The Fifth Head of Cerebrus. The Shadow of the Torturer. Litany of the Long Sun.
Doorways in the Sand.