(1) A Real Space Opera: Japanese Team Turns Polish Novel Into Parisian Opera
Solaris is an international smörgåsbord of a story.
It began life as a Polish science fiction novel by author Stanislaw Lem, became a largely forgotten Soviet television movie, then became a revered classic film by Russian/Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, and was later reinterpreted in a remake by American Steven Soderbergh that’s been reviled almost as much as it’s been ignored.
(If you want to start a fistfight, go to a gathering of film buffs and claim loudly that the Soderbergh version is superior to the Tarkovsky version, as my brave–or possibly reckless–friend Peter Watts has done in this blog post.)
It’s been an album, Music for Solaris, by Australian composer/producer Ben Frost and Icelandic composer/conductor Daníel Bjarnason. The album was inspired by both the novel and the Tarkovsky film, and was performed with “film manipulations” by Brian Eno and Nick Robertson (you can hear a selection on Bandcamp or on the Icelandic label Bedroom Community).
It’s also been a chamber opera by German composer Michael Obst.
And now, at long last, it’s been turned into a full-blown orchestral opera.
Okay, but now it’s an avant garde orchestral opera, blending familiar operatic elements with 3D images and electro-acoustic music (see the video embedded below). In addition, each main character is portrayed by two players: by a singer/actor, as tradition requires, but also by a dancer.
The play premiered March 5. How did it fare?
The reviews appear to be mixed. Miranda Jackson of Opera Brittania called it “consistently captivating” and the musical performance “sublime.”
Francis Carlin of the Financial Times was less impressed. Although it had “strong singing” and the score had “memorable and emotional moments,” the choreography and electronic effects “overwhelm.” And, Carlin asks, “what is the point of writing an opera when you park the singers at either side of the stage and have dancers tell the story?”
Maybe only time will settle the matter. If history’s verdict is negative, it will only encourage someone to take yet another stab at the story. On the other hand, if Solaris‘s track record as an adapted work is any indication, then even if the verdict is positive that’s unlikely to hinder later artists from adapting yet again.
(2.1) First We Take Shinjuku: Godzilla Reconquers Japan
Two Godzilla-related pieces of news have come out of Japan recently.
Toho, the Japanese studio that produced the original Godzilla films, announced late last year (December 2014), in the wake of Gareth Edwards’ successful 2014 venture, that they were getting back into the giant monster game (see, for instance, BBC and Variety).
Toho had previously said that their 2004 installment in the franchise, the 50th anniversary project Godzilla, Final Wars, would be their last.
Then, just recently, the Hotel Gracery in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, announced that it is refurbishing its premises to include a Godzilla theme, with a giant Godzilla head bursting through the roof, themed rooms, and Godzilla movies in the Toho theater under the hotel.
It’s great to see old lizard-breath towering over Tokyo again!
(2.2) Then We Take Haiku: The Awesome Double Bill You Didn’t Know You Wanted… Godzilla and Janis Ian
And here’s a bit of Godzilla-mania that’s not from Japan.
If you’re familiar with Janis Ian it’s probably as a Grammy-winning singer/songwriter who rose to fame in the 1960s and whose most recognizable song is the hit “At Seventeen.”
What you may not know is that Ian is also a lifelong science fiction fan and an SF author. She edited and contributed a story to Stars: Original Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian, an anthology whose roster includes Stephen Baxter, Gregory Benford, Robert J. Sawyer, Nancy Kress, David Gerrold, Harry Turtledove, and Michael Swanwick.
She also has a story in Galaxy’s Edge Magazine (Issue 4, September 2013), edited by Mike Resnick.
And lately, Ian has initiated a truly magical project: Godzilla haiku.
Yes, the Japanese movie star monster has conquered Ian’s heart. She writes Godzilla-related haiku and posts it on her Facebook page. She also invites you and me and everyone else to write our own Godzilla haiku and send them to her for posting.
This is clearly one of the best ever uses of Facebook ever.
The maddening thing about it, though, is that once you begin reading the haikus, it’s almost impossible not to try your hand at them. As I wrote this, I kept being interrupted by nagging fragments of giant monster haiku that would pop into my head.
Eventually I gave in and tried writing one.
Colored leaves drifting
Sweet fragrance of late autumn
Bones crunch in my mouth
And whether you think your first attempt rocks or sucks, it’s also damned near impossible to prevent yourself from trying another one.
My breath, my fiery glow
Makes drifting ash of a town
Yet burns me inside.
You see what I mean.
Meeting my agent
Bitter argument at lunch
You can find a recent Facebook post about the project, and about how to participate, here. If you dare.
(3) Three-Body Problem Nominated For A Nebula
In Issue 4 of SFATW we caught up with Liu Cixin, the celebrated Chinese SF author whose novel The Three-Body Problem had just been published in an English translation by Ken Liu (“Sino-SF: Liu Cixin Makes a Splash in English With “The Three-Body Problem“).
In related news, The New Yorker has published an article about the author, calling him “China’s Arthur C. Clarke.”
Which is kind of like calling someone “the next Bob Dylan,”a term applied to a long string of musicians over the last forty-plus years, from Donovan and John Prine to Bruce Springsteen. It’s a bit of journalistic shorthand that’s meant to be a little descriptive and a little complimentary, but which tends to be not much of either.
It is, most of all, something an artist outgrows as he or she becomes sufficiently well known that journalists no longer feel the need to identify the person by using other artists as points of comparison. Here’s hoping that Liu Cixin is soon familiar enough not to be burdened with a dopey title.
In a nother Three-Body-related tidbit, Ken Liu, who translated the novel into English, has also been nominated for a Nebula. His nomination comes for the novella “The Regular,” which I’m pleased to say you can read in the (free!) first issue of the new magazine Forever, from Neil Clarke (of Clarkesworld magazine).
Get your copy of the first issue of Forever in ePUB or Kindle format from the links on this page.
(4) Dystopian Fiction On The Pope’s Bookshelf
I was interested to see Salon announce that the current pope–who has made waves in a number of ways–is also “Pope Francis, science fiction lover.”
I scrolled down, anxious to see whether the Argentine former nightclub bouncer, currently resident in the Vatican, was, perhaps, a Star Trek fan (guessing that he’d be a connoisseur of the original series, if anything). Or maybe, given that he’s been unpredictable on other counts, he would turn out to have a shelf (or eReader) full of more dour fare–some paranoid Philip K. Dick and disturbingly prescient John Brunner, for instance.
It turns out, though, that what he’s a fan of is a single novel that I’m not sure really qualifies as science fiction, although it’s clearly speculative fiction of a dystopian type.
The book is Lord of the World, by English author Robert Hugh Benson, first published in 1907.
It’s set in the early 21st century–now, in other words. A U.S. senator is elected president of the entire world–a world now dominated by an atheistic, Marxist, global police state in which suicide and euthanasia are legal and Esperanto is the official language of the UK.
Benson was a convert to Catholicism, and in the hellish world he creates, the world government hunts down the last pope, who is in hiding with his retinue.
As Salon writer Gordon Haber puts it:
Julian Felsenburgh, a man of great charisma and linguistic ability… rises from U.S. senator… to President of the World. He encourages pogroms against Catholics and destroys Rome, which everybody goes along with, even though the guy might as well have a giant blinking Anti-Christ on his forehead.
In other words, it sounds a lot like Left Behind and a host of other apocalyptic, End Times religious fiction. From a speculative fiction point of view that’s not very interesting, no matter how compelling it may be for someone with a particular strain of Christian faith, or how much insight it may give into the current pontiff’s thinking, but what is interesting is the place the novel has in the history of speculative fiction.
First, it’s considered one of the earliest works of dystopian fiction, and it’s a clear predecesor to that brand of dystopia where ordinary people look for meaning and happiness in a world dominated by an oppressive government or company. In this sense it’s an ancestor to 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, Soylent Green, and THX 1138, and some aspects of the Alien franchise, as well as more recent entries like The Hunger Games.
Second, although it has many sources and antecedents, the particular form it takes is as a reaction against the technophilic optimism of H.G. Wells. Benson sets himself up as the anti-Wells, sketching out a world with many of the elements Wells believed might bring about a utopia, but inverting the result so that Wells’ dream is turned into a nightmare.
If you’re curious about Lord of the World, Project Gutenberg offers it for free in multiple formats. To download, click the link below for the format you prefer.
(5) Skeletons and Science Fiction: Mexican Illustrator, Smithe
Mexican genre art seems to be haunting SFATW. We’ve touched on it twice in previous issues:
- SFATW Issue #2, “Mexican Psychedelic SF: Inés Estrada and the English debut of Lapsos,” and
- SFATW Issue #7, “The Glory of Mexican Pulp Art.”
And now here it is again.
The Mexican illustrator and graffiti artist known as Smithe turns out some gorgeous images that clearly draw both on traditional Mexican sources and on modern imagery from science fiction, horror, and comics, all of it brought together with a surrealistic touch.
I strongly recommend you click on the images–each one will embiggen (a lot) individually.
And so, until next month amigos, adiós!