Sunday, July 20, 2014
This morning, plotting my summer vacation reading, Mason & Dixon, which ranks among my favorite novels, came to mind. If any one book could serve as exemplar for Campbell's definition, it could well be this one: a historical romance employing modern meta-storytelling techniques to re-imagine a young America, the virgin landscape divided by a couple of star-crossed, star-gazing, unassuming surveyors onto whose humble names crashed a terrifying amount of significant history. Pynchon lays out his agenda on page 349, declaring that history's Practitioners, to survive, must soon learn the arts of the quidnunc, spy, and Taproom Wit, a jack-of-all-trades job description sounding suspiciously like Novelist. Here is the Past given focus through modern lenses, retrofitted for Star Trek references, seeded with psychic talking dogs, a watch powered by perpetual-motion, sentient bread dough, and a robot duck. Maybe I was never taught any better, but if this historical Frankenstein's monster isn't science fiction, I don't know what is.
This is an advance reader's copy, an artifact from my bookseller days courtesy of a generous sales rep, one of 500 with promotional information on the back (another 500 were in generic wraps). I'd only made it through the Transit of Venus section when the first hardback editions came in, so this one is essentially unread, a treasure. For a long time, I had one of the specially-printed cardboard crates Henry Holt shipped the early printings in (like many things, it didn't survive my time in Montgomery), but I do still have some ridiculous promo cards, suitable for framing, advertising the cinderblock-sized tome as a breezy beach read, canvas lounge chairs parked beneath particolored umbrellas and all. Because, why not. It's only science fiction, after all.