Ahem! Ahum! Ahhhrrrllllccchhhh! Hm-hmm Hcccchhhhm!


If you can't get enough science fiction-related excogitation today, and you're not yet ready to join the Cult of Admiral Piett (the ruthless but strangely likeable Imperial Fleet officer played in a record-setting two Star Wars films by Ken Russell regular Kenneth Colley), you will certainly be encouraged by this snippet from a review of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go by highly regarded (or is that mildly retarded?) book critic James Wood:

Works of fantasy or science fiction that also succeed in literary terms are hard to find, and are rightly to be treasured — Hawthorne's story "The Birthmark" comes to mind, and H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, and some of Karel Capek's stories. And just as one is triumphantly sizing up this thin elite, one thinks correctively of that great fantasist Kafka, or even of Beckett, two writers whose impress can be felt, perhaps surprisingly, on Kazuo Ishiguro's new novel. And how about Borges, who so admired Wells? Or Gogol's "The Nose"? Or The Double? Or Lord of the Flies? A genre that must make room for Kafka and Beckett and Dostoevsky is perhaps no longer a genre but merely a definition of writing successfully; in particular, a way of combining the fantastic and the realistic so that we can no longer separate them, and of making allegory earn its keep by becoming indistinguishable from narration itself…

Given that Ishiguro's new novel is explicitly about cloning, that it is, in effect, a science fiction set in the present day, and that the odds against success in this mode are bullyingly stacked, his success in writing a novel that is at once speculative, experimental, and humanly moving is almost miraculous.

Indeed, one wonders what's really on the embarrassingly fawned-upon critic's mind with that line about "bullyingly stacked."

Why is this encouraging? Because in an era of universal hipness and widely distributed self-awareness, it's heartening to see somebody who still thinks he's impressing people when he does this kind of pompous throat-clearing. You could, of course, take him to task for a view of literature in which the works of Philip K. Dick, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and maybe a few other books by H.G. Wells (I hear he has a few good ones) all fail to measure up as literature. You might also savor that precious "some of" that modifies "Karel Capek's stories." (Even in praise, Wood is never less than judiciously measured.)

But why bother? The real question is, on what fucking planet does this kind of dismissal of a literary genre still impress anybody? And why are there so few people who recognize James Wood for the utter and obvious fake he is? At any rate, it's good to know this kind of flimflammery is still possible.