Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Trips to the Moon

Lucian of Samosata Trips to the Moon (160AD)
Just to get the moaning over and done with, I think this is the fourth book I've bought from Ron Miller's Black Cat Press and the high quota of typos is beginning to annoy. Whilst it's fucking great to be able to get one's mitts on the kind of obscure and peculiar historical material in which Black Cat specialise, you would think someone might have bothered proof reading the things before loading the files up to Lulu. Hugo Gernsback's Ralph 124C41+ had presumably been prod-uced by sub-mitting an old copy of the book through some sort of op-tical character recognition soft-ware resulting in weirdly hyphenated words occurring mid-sentence all the way through, former page numbers popping up mid-paragraph, and so on. In addition to this, I gather that whatever files were submitted to Lulu were almost certainly some Microsoft abomination - as opposed to a proper PDF - which can always be relied upon to change its mind about formatting at last minute when submitted to print on demand publishers, meaning

shitloads of

wonky paragraph breaks. It's not a massive problem, and doesn't really have to detract from the text or the pleasure of reading it, but it's kind of irritating, as is the fact of the footnotes to True History beginning at number seventeen and then even missing out a few of the associated explanations.

Lucian's True History, as reproduced herein, is reputedly the oldest surviving text which can be termed science-fiction by some definition, that definition being that it describes, amongst other things, a voyage to the moon made by a sailing boat full of philosophical types swept up in that general direction by the wind. Brian Aldiss discounts this as science-fiction due to the absence of anything pretending to be scientific even by second century terms, but Jesus - I'm not convinced it's really worth having the argument given the entirely unscientific science-fiction which has been written over the years, some of it by Brian Aldiss. I realise Frankenstein qualifies by virtue of medical details, but technology was never really the point of that story any more than it is of True History.

The point of True History is revealed in Lucian's Instructions for Writing History which is also handily reproduced herein.

In history, nothing fabulous can be agreeable; and flattery is disgusting to all readers, except the very dregs of the people; good judges look with the eyes of Argus on every part, reject everything that is false and adulterated, and will admit nothing but what is true, clear, and well expressed.

I get the impression that by this juncture Lucian had sat through one too many accounts of mighty warriors kebabing a hundred enemies with the single toss of a spear, and thinking something akin to fuck it, but in Greek or possibly Syrian, wrote True History thus inventing sarcasm. Absurdity is piled high, one ludicrous development after another, and so our lunar voyage is followed by excursions to an island made of cheese and inside a whale in which the ship finds itself trapped. It's comical, presumably intended to shame historians of the day into behaving themselves, and is a lot of fun even with my scant understanding of the philosophical giants out of whom Lucian seems to be taking the piss in the closing pages.

Also included is Lucian's Icaro-Menippus - a Dialogue in which Menippus takes to the air by the same means as Icarus, meets the Gods, and hears how they apparently regard most of the philosophers and theologians who follow them as a bunch of clowns. I'm not quite sure why Lucian specifically recruited the satirist who unwittingly lent his name to the genre of Mennipean satire for his tale, at least not beyond his quite obviously being a fan, but it places True History firmly in a tradition which led to Gargantua and Pantagruel, Gulliver's Travels, and others - in case that much wasn't obvious. In other words, it more or less does what science-fiction is supposed to do, even by the terms of Brian Aldiss; and it's a thumping good read, in case I haven't made that clear.

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