Saturday, 20 October 2018

Review: The Speculative Fiction of Mark Twain

The Speculative Fiction of Mark Twain The Speculative Fiction of Mark Twain by Mark Twain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've enjoyed, of course, Twain's great classics - Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn. I haven't ever read his most clearly science-fictional work, the Connecticut Yankee. I've read a few of his short pieces, mostly his nonfiction.

Any writer with such a long career is going to produce some inferior pieces, and frankly, I thought all these were among them. Speculative fiction is, of course, a term invented since Twain's time; some of these are presented as nonfiction with a bit of speculation about the nature of reality (the ones about "mental telepathy," basically the observation of coincidences), while others play in one way or another with what might be called Christian mythology. The piece "The Loves of Alonzo Fitz Clarence and Rosannah Ethelton" does hinge on a social change facilitated by technology - basically, Internet dating via telephone - and "The Great Dark" is a fantastical speculation about shrinking a ship down to explore a drop of water at microscopic scale that wanders around wordily for a while, sometimes contradicting itself, and then stops so abruptly and inconclusively that I spent the first part of the next piece thinking it was an odd diversion in the same story.

The next piece ("Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven") occasionally looks as if it will explain how the captain is telling the story, but never does; often contradicts itself; rambles on for a long time, and eventually stops, again inconclusively, as if the author has finally run out of ideas or patience with his own story (some time after I did).

The final piece, "The Mysterious Stranger," is again rambling, again self-contradictory, and ultimately an almost nihilistic rant full of repetitive rehearsals of human cruelty that I partly skipped through in a fruitless search for some kind of story shape or plot.

The impression I carried away is that most of these weren't pieces the author cared about enough to plan, edit, finish, or even make coherent, and because of his reputation people published them anyway.

View all my reviews

No comments: