Cosmicomics – Italo Calvino (1965)
I have read so many science fiction books and stories. Many of their authors use specific scientific data or details to build stories around. A few actually try to create stories that help the reader understand the scientific concepts discussed in the works. Even fewer of those manage to create gripping, inventive stories. Italo Calvino managed all of this and more. What an amazing collection of short stories!
I have been fortunate to discover many classic authors as part of my reading on this Book Journey. From OG sci-fi writer Henry Kuttner, to modern author Cory Doctorow, I treasure finding their work and feeding my brain with their stories. The one book I have read which most closely resembles Cosmicomics, however, is Clifton Fadiman’s Fantasia Mathematica, a collection of short stories from the 1950’s dealing with purely mathematical subjects.
Italo Calvino takes the same approach with cosmology, specifically an exploration of the basic concepts used to describe the development of our Universe, from the Big Bang to the farthest reaches of deep time. His main narrator, inscrutably named Qfwfq, regales the reader with stories of his past, describing in beautiful allusions and metaphors, what the universe was like in the very first instances of existence. In one story, he describes how the Moon used to be so close to the Earth that at certain points in the year, people would climb long ladders to reach the Moon, and harvest essential nutrition from it. This is based on the knowledge that our Moon, Luna, is slowly moving away from the Earth. In a million years, the Moon will be far smaller in our sky, and will not completely cover the Sun during eclipses. In the far past, the Moon was much, much bigger than the Sun in our sky.
In another great story, Italo’s narrator describes what it was like for him to exist as a creature who once lived in water, but is now on land, and all the accompanying weirdness! One tale describes what the inner thoughts of fundamental particles must be like, while another shares the story of three entities forever falling through space and time. Each tale is self-contained, but the whole collection truly helps expand the mind. I found much wisdom in these stories. The ancient poets created stories such as these to use as learning tools, handing them down orally to the next generation. Mr. Calvino wanted to do the same with the often-misunderstood knowledge of Deep Time brought forth by Relativity and 20th century cosmology.
Ancient scribes did likewise. These old stories were often misinterpreted or misunderstood by people of later generations. Instead of seeking intellectual and informational wisdom in them, people started to see them as “divine” messages, or as dogmatic truth. The very same thing could happen to Italo Calvino’s stories, should someone read them in two or three centuries, well after the average human forgets or is no longer taught basic scientific truths. We seem to be headed in that direction now, sadly, and this blog, RXTT’s Book Journey, is my small attempt to forestall the stupidization of humanity.
I must commend a Mr. William Weaver, who translated these stories into English around 1968. The world owes so much to good translators. It is almost as important a job as actually writing the books themselves! Translation is how we can share ideas across cultures, continents, and centuries.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in science fiction, mind expansion, originality, and creativity in storytelling. It feels like something of a miracle that stories like this are available for us to read. We are very fortunate indeed!
(This book can be downloaded and read here: https://www.are.na/block/11318370 )