Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Sipping drinks on the porch in the sunset, Farsheed Shomloo, an immigration lawyer, pointed to a book on the patio table and told Jim, “You should read this new book about Iran, it’s really interesting.” Jim replied:
“I don’t want to read it. I know the outcome already. In Iran, there is beautiful poetry and everything turns out a disaster. Here the poetry is not so beautiful, but people are free to discover the best in themselves; that’s why America has happy endings. Here it’s a negative system: there is no entrenched despotism, no will to dominate. We immigrants can remake the whole country if we want to. It’s ours for the taking, as if there is a perpetual clean slate where nobody is ever owed anything. I’ll tell you, the Iranian revolution was a disaster for Iran and a success for America, because it brought a lot of talented, ambitious Iranians here. Every time there is a disaster in the Third World, it’s a good thing for America, since the best of the middle class finds its way here.” (Robert Kaplan, from An Empire Wilderness)
‘Once giants walked the earth,’ she repeated, emphatically. ‘Yes, titans absolutely, it’s a fact.’
Three mothers creaked and swung with expressions of fascinated absorption upon their smiling faces; but Raza Hyder took no notice, closed his eyes, grunted from time to time. ‘Now the pygmies have taken over, however,’ Bilquis confided. ‘Tiny personages. Ants. Once he was a giant,’ she jerked a thumb in the direction of her somnolent husband, ‘you would not believe to look, but he was. Streets where he walked shook with fear and respect, even here, in this very town. But, you see, even a giant can be pygmified, and he has shrunk now, he is smaller than a bug. Pygmies pygmies everywhere, also insects and ants – shame on the giants, isn’t it? Shame on them for shrinking. That’s my opinion.’ (Salman Rushdie, from Shame)
The Spartans were perfectly aware of the atrocious suffering they were inflicting and never imagined their victims could forget it. The solution was to establish terror as a normal condition of life — and that was Sparta’s great invention: to create a situation in which terror was seen as something normal. (Robert Calasso, from The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony)
He had built empires of scientific capability to manipulate the phenomena of nature into enormous manifestations of his own dreams of power and wealth – but for this he had exchanged an empire of understanding of equal magnitude: an understanding of what it is to be a part of the world, and not an enemy of it. (Robert M. Pirsig, from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)
Taking eight flights and traveling something like 14,000 miles in the last two weeks I’ve had some reading time on my hands. Thankfully I had friends with me, including Batwoman, Buffy, Hellblazer, Supergirl, Unwritten, Secret Avengers, and Wolverine. A girlfriend once told me that she loved to fall asleep with a book, it felt like company. Similarly, I was happy to have my comic books with me. The familiar faces were a comfort and a distraction.
“… All idealization makes life poorer. To beautify it is to take away its character of complexity — it is to destroy it.” (Joseph Conrad, from The Secret Agent)
“Life is so embarrassing,” he said. “How I love it.” (Robert Boswell, from The Geography of Desire)
“It never occurs to you that the beautiful princess and the wicked old witch believe exactly the same thing: Anything at all, including cunning and lies, will work for the beautiful; nothing helps the ugly.” (John Gardner, from Freddy’s Book)
Society had tamed the erratic fellow by co-opting him into the mainstream. For its largest threats, society reserves success. (Richard Powers, from Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance)
The difference between men and sheep seems to be that men, unlike sheep, need not be led to the slaughter but are carried there on the wings of their own enthusiasm. (William Gerhardie, from God’s Fifth Column)
“That’s why opera is important, Baron. Because it’s realer than any play! A dramatic poet would have to put all those thoughts down one after another to represent this second of time. The composer can put them all down at once – and still make us hear each one of them. Astonishing device: a Vocal Quartet! … I tell you I want to write a finale lasting half an hour! A quartet becoming a quintet becoming a sextet. On and on, wider and wider – all sounds multiplying and rising together – and the together making a sound entirely new! … I bet you that’s how God hears the world. Millions of sounds ascending at once and mixing in His ear to become an unending music, unimaginable to us! That’s our job! That’s our job, we composers: to combine the inner minds of him and him and him, and her and her – the thoughts of chambermaids and Court Composers – and turn the audience into God.” (Peter Shaffer, from “Amadeus”)
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