10 December 2007

Lugones a story a day: "The Firestorm"

I'm reading the short story collection "Strange Forces" by Leopoldo Lugones, which is arguably the first Argentine work of science fiction. (A distinction which does not appear to be held in high esteem by his countrymen, who consider him an "outmoded writer.") I'm trying to read one story every weekday and record my immediate reaction.

"The Firestorm" is the story of a rain of a recurrent rain of burning copper that falls on an unnamed desert city (probably North African) as related by a misanthropic (and equally nameless) narrator. It's a fairly simple yet chilling story. No explanation is ever offered for the source of the cataclysm, but it's effects are devastating as the city is slowly but utterly destroyed. This vision of urban devastation echoes with notes of Sodom and Pompeii, but also seems to suggest the urban terrors that would come in the 20th and 21st centuries, including the firebombings of WWII, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and September 11th. That it was written in 1906 makes it seem particularly prophetic.

4 comments:

Gonzalo said...

Carlos. By the same time, I'm reading the same book ("Las Fuerzas Extrañas") by Lugones. "The Firestorm" is the story of the destruction of Gomorrah, (Sodom's "twin city"). Of course we know the source of the cataclysm....and the narrator is one of the last inhabitans of the city (and that is the science fiction point). I don't know if you read the original book (in spanish) or a translation, but what I found marvelous was the description of the lions arriving to the city.

Carlos said...

I read the book in translation. I can read in Spanish (pero leo mejor en ingles) but the copy I had available (at the library) was in English. It's funny that I completely forgot that the city was Gomorrah. I think I actually sort of prefer the ambiguity presented by a nameless city meeting a mysterious fate.

The translation did have some problems. I remember one of the stories has a character whose name seems to switch between Juan and John a couple of times. I hope to get ahold of the original work soon. How did you like the rest of "Las Fuerzas Extrañas"?

Gonzalo said...

Sorry Carlos for not answering before, but I went on holidays and no internet for 20 days!!!
I consider “Las Fuerzas Extrañas” a good book, in a general appreciation, though, some short stories were quite dense, as you comment, (for example “The metamusic” or “The omega force” with those pseudo scientific descriptions, maybe too long). But on the other hand, “Yzur” is one of the best short stories I’ve read. It really amazed me.

In your comment to “The horses…” you wander about Lugones politics…..Well buddy, that’s a really mess. He was a very contradictory person…..He was socialist (A/KA communist???), then he turned into nationalism (but not with the usual nationalist combo in Argentina –that is close to the Roman Catholic religion-), militarism of Spartan inspiration and finally fascism……as you can see a controversial guy….

And finally, try this: www.cuspide.com It's a book shop on line in Argentina. If you're interested you can get some books in their original language at a fair price (the problem may be the shipping costs from $ 22 -a 2 pound package- to $ 37 -a 10 pound package-)

Carlos said...

I'm curious if you think "The Horses of Abderra" is meant as political analogy, or am I reading too much into it?

I think my favorite stories were "The Firestorm" and "The Origins of the Flood." "Flood" had some really fascinating imagery, which was reminiscent of Lovecraft. I have to admit, I also kind of liked "Psychon" which I thought was pretty funny.

I find it interesting that Lugones is borrowing from authors such as Poe, Wells and Verne. I think this makes his fiction something of a predecessor to Borges and Cortazar. The science talk is interesting, partially because he takes it so seriously. (Even when it's incredibly wrong.)

Thanks for the web site. Luckily my parents travel to Argentina at least once a year, and can bring me back books. I currently have plenty of books to tackle.