(CLASSIC: from Collected Stories, Penguin Modern Classics)
Nabokov is the 20th-century writer I revere above, pretty much, all others.
This is very moving stuff; the situation of the old couple, uprooted by Nazi persecution and in a strange land (a situation which Nabokov himself had personally experienced), a poignancy that not even the hypertrophic craziness of their son diminishes. But it’s the handling of the details that is so marvellous here: the jewel-like precision of Nabokov’s style, the specificity, the way those details work like poetic images to generate precisely the surplus of meaning, of referentiality, that is the core of the boy’s schizophrenia. It’s a commentary upon the working of art, particularly shorter or lyric art, as well as a superbly effective emotional portrait of real people. Two things I especially love: the section in which ‘she’ goes through the photos in her album, and each snapshot opens to a whole person, and a whole world (‘Aunt Rosa, a fussy, angular, wild-eyed old lady, who had lived in a tremulous world of bad news, bankruptcies, train accidents, cancerous growths—until the Germans put her to death, together with all the people she had worried about.’) And the beautiful inflections of the final paragraph; the hakiu-like vividness; the terrible, dangling possibility of the last sentence.
(MODERN: from the anthology Hackers, Ace Books)
Paul J. McAuley is Britain’s best contemporary writer of SF. His own training and academic background is in the biological and biochemical sciences, so when he writes his brief but resonant story of genetic engineering, as he does here – he knows what he’s talking about. But though the science is compelling, it’s the way the keyholes of the story’s 10 brief sections grant us evocative glimpses into a cumulatively estranging future version of our own world that works so memorably here. Some SF trades in monsters that threaten the protagonists, and give us the pleasurable thrills and fears. In McAuley’s effortless piece, it is genes that are the creature; which is to say, life itself, in its purest state. Brilliant.
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