Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

I'm trying to find just the right word to describe these stories. Science fables isn't quite right - there isn't a moral at the end of each one. I'm torn between science myths and science legends. I think I'm leaning towards myths, in the sense of "stories that tell how something came to be." Let's go with that.

The Complete Cosmicomics is a collection, then, of science myths. Most stories are prefaced with a little paragraph of science, talking about some aspect of the world and its creation, and then a story of how it happened, mostly to a narrator named Qfwfq, who has been around since the beginning, although the stories keep changing.

They aren't grand stories, which I guess is why I was reticent to call these myths. They are down-to-earth (sometimes even inside it) and wide-reaching (galaxy-spanning, even.) The characters in them have the brief outlines of people as we know them, even when they're camels. Or particles. Or amoeba. And as any part of creation, they follow familiar human patterns. They fall in love. They're jealous. They're petty. They want to leave their mark on a world only in the beginning stages of creation.

Many of the stories revolve either wanting to state I WAS HERE to the universe, or to attract a desirable woman. But in between, they tell the stories of life evolving on earth, on a moon that was once part of Earth's body but was torn away, of a cell deciding to split for the first time. The science is woven through in quite a wonderful way, with the feel of a fairytale.

In the middle though, they drift away from the way they've been fashioned so far, and I never found those stories as interesting as the Qfwfq ones. But then we end up back there, and I enjoyed them again.

These stories are inventive and enchanting. I've never read anything quite like this. And I'm all for the magic of science taking centre stage.

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