Saturday, March 27, 2010

#145: Dying Inside, #31: A Wrinkle in Time

Dying Inside:

“It was like that all the time, in those years: an endless trip, a gaudy voyage. But powers decay. Time leaches the colors from the best of visions. The world becomes grayer. Entropy beats us down. Everything fades. Everything goes. Everything dies.”
"The mind may think in Spanish or Basque or Hungarian or Finnish, but the soul thinks in a languageless language accessible to any prying sneaking freak who comes along to peer at its mysteries. "
"Winter is here. Sky and pavement form a seamless, inexorable band of gray. There will be snow soon. For some reason this neighborhood has gone without refuse pickups for three or four days, and bulging sacks of trash are heaped in front of every building, yet there is no odor of garbage in the air. Not even smells can flourish in these temperatures: the cold drains away every stink, every sign of organic reality. Only concrete triumphs here. Silence reigns. Scrawny black and grey cats, motionless, statues of themselves, peer out of alleys."
This novel is mainly concerned with the protagonist, David Selig, and his ordinary-yet-extraordinary life. Selig is a mind-reader, who, upon entering middle age, has found out that he is starting to lose his ability to read minds.
The novel jumps around his life, and  how his power has made him outcast, and an object of fear, even though less than five people in the world know about his ability. Selig, at middle-age, is a pathetic guy living in the slums of New York, in an apartment building filled with semi-literate Hispanics and blacks. He finds their minds pretty poor for plundering. His makes an extremely meager living, just enough for food and his rent, and sometimes less than that, by writing papers for Columbia students in exchange for money. Obviously for a man who reads minds, this is easier, as he can search through the minds of other students and professors to steal their work.
Throughout the novel, Robert Silverberg, the author, brutally takes Selig apart. He is friendless, and alone, somewhat sadistic and cruel, but you can't help feeling sorry for the bastard. His romantic relationships tend to turn horrid, and his life has never been even mediocre; he is a Columbia graduate, but lives in shitty slums, occasionally relying on his sister to get by. This power leaving him is a blessing and a curse, it is the only thing that has defined his life; it IS his life. Without it he is just a worthless degenerate.
I found Dying Inside to be an excellent book, and bleakly tragic- Selig is such a real character, and his guilt at his prying comes through occasionally, as well as his inability to use it to get more from life. My favorite scenes were the acid trip he takes through the mind of another person, and the entire ending, which is as tragic and depressing as hell- Selig is beaten down physically, psychologically, then mentally, and finally his powers rush out from him in one bang, contrasting with the decline detailed throughout the book, never to be reclaimed. The thing that has defined his life is gone, and now he is nothing.
This is an awesome novel, with Selig standing out as one of the top three best characterized people I've ever read in Science Ficiton. You should read this book, but be ready, it's probably one of the most bleak, hopeless, and depressing books I've ever read, which is the only reason why I wouldn't call it a must-read. If you're in for that, it is a must read and one of the best SF books I've ever read. 

A Wrinkle in Time:

They are very young. And on their earth, as they call it, they never communicate with other planets. They revolve about all alone in space."
"Oh," the thin beast said. "Aren't they lonely?”

“Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.”
“Don't try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition.” 
“If you aren't unhappy sometimes you don't know how to be happy.” 
I don't get why this book is classified as children's literature. I found it to be eerie and very disturbing at times. Perhaps it is classified as such because its protagonists, Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace are all children. This simply is not children's literature in my view. The ending is happier than most endings in SF, but with the earth getting blown up, and the human race failing and dying, and robots taking over the world in lots of SF, that's not saying much.
A short overview of the novel is as follows: the children meet three strange, witch-like women named Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, who are all actually beings that are billions of years old and apparently from another galaxy or universe. There isn't much hard science in this novel but several vaguely scientific explanations are given throughout the novel, thus distinguishing it from fantasy. Once such scientific explanation comes as the children somehow "wrinkle time", or "tesser" across space-time to a place were Meg and Charles' father is held prisoner, as he has been missing for quite a while when the novel opens.
This planet is a dystopian, clockwork-like place, in which all the people are like robots --all the kids walk out their identical front doors simultaneously every single day and bounce their balls once, and then simultaneously go back into their houses. All of daily life is conducted on this planet in the same mindless, controlled way, without any thought or feeling. And so, Meg, Calvin, and Charles go to rescue Meg and Charles' father with the help of the three old women, from a malevolent intelligence called It which controls this planet, and is keeping Meg and Charles' father under its control.
See what I mean? Not exactly kids fare... And when you get it the part in which you find out what It actually is, that is not exactly sunshine and rainbows either. There is a happy ending, though, and a potential for sequels by the novel's conclusion.
A Wrinkle in Time is a great Sci-fi read, despite the fact that it can be extremely weird and eerie. Even some of the good guys (i.e. Whatsit, Who, and especially Which) will leave the average reader a little disturbed. You should take a look if it sounds interesting, I'd recommend it --because at its core, it is actually a very good, well-executed science fiction story with many unique, clever elements. I just don't think it's your typical science fiction/fantasy book for kids.

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