|Translations & Essays by Bel Atreides|
I first met him in his first novel, Radix, or rather in its Spanish translation, which was good enough —though far from ideal— to spark your thirst for more... specially for the original text. After reading all Attanasio’s works, translating some of them, and even enjoying the honour of the inscription in his Octoberland, Radix is still for me the best of his books and one of the best SciFi novels I’ve ever read. Surely, it’s not the most perfect of his works, but it’s still the best. In this, Radix is like Gibson’s Neuromancer and Sterling’s Schismatrix (which I also include in my 10 Top List), all of them too bold, too fresh and too experimental to be perfect, but all the three being visionary, mighty, unpredictable, savage, profound and bewildering enough to be counted as the best of their kin.
The fusion of the ancient with the futuristic, the scientific with the mystic, myth and ordinary life, is, from my point of view, one of Attanasio’s most commendable achievements. When describing the astral journey of the Taoist sage who is Merlin’s master in The Dragon and the Unicorn he writes, for instance,—
The pilgrim has no interest in the gods, nor in any earthly thing. He makes no effort to contact them, and they ignore him if they see him at all, small, elusive waveform that he is. He watches their enormous bodies rise and fall in the tidal drifts of sun and moon, breaching through the ionosphere in aquatic sprays of electric fire, like whales in a burning sea...
—he is building an image not only of intense lyricism and grandiosity of vision, but something out of earthly time, something that belongs to the evanescent dreams of the mystic but also to the highest speculations of science, aspiring therefore to be spiritually real as well as materially mystical: a point where the keenest scientific eye and the swiftest mystic wing converge for the mutual recognition of one sort of empiricism in the other, the material in the transcendental and vice versa.
Or see also how he fusses myth and everyday life in Octoberland (in Nox’s episode with the Eternal Ones of the Dance on a street of Manhattan) through the emergence of the magical world onto common reality, igniting it with epic resonances:
Laughter ferried him into a side street, toward the Eternal Ones of the Dance. Ah! They wore different faces, but they were the same ones he had met before on the mud banks of the Euphrates, in the festival plazas of Niniveh, around the ritual fires of Dionysus at Thebes, in the alleys of Rome, on a side street in the Alhambra, in the heatwaves of seven thousand summers, young Princess of the Gypsies and her consorts dancing a rhumba to a bongo drum, the old Jazz Baron, King of the Song, sitting on the stone steps, clapping his hands and stamping his feet, the blare of a trumpet in a third-storey window calling down to Earth the spirits of Small Paradise, haunt of dead lovers and lost children, and the hot air curling with honeysuckle and reefer smoke.
Or how the author of Octoberland (as a new Robin at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream) dissolves the worlds created by the magic of his Verb with that self-referential and unforgettable paragraph:
Overhead, evening’s purple bleared into violet, fading toward the ultratones of the invisible, and within the utter black of the void no stars glimmered, no moon glided, only shoreless depths of emptiness ranged —like the spiteful forgetfulness of a dream.
To appreciate Attanasio’s literature, one has to have developed a taste for the poetic; in fact, no less than for the highest kind of poetic expression. I’ve always thought that if Mallarmé had written SciFi instead of his stardust-winged poems, he would have been Attanasio. Attanasio is the Mallarmé and the Yeats of meta-realistic narrative... and that’s a problem (his problem, mind you!), because few are the ones who expect, or even desire, their reading stories woven into such an exquisite tissue. Many SciFi readers can’t even penetrate such linguistic layer: between the fictive characters with their meandering stories and these readers’ sensibility there is always a crystal wall of words too pure, too dazzling, too daring, too mind-blowing-boggling to be beyonded; they get lost in a maze of echoes too metaphysical to be grasped. If Attanasio had been a mainstream author of the vanguardist tribe, this power of his would have been an asset instead of a handicap; but SciFi and Fantasy seem too often to be trapped in their pulp past and by their pulp ancestry, unable to fully bloom as the native formats of the highest sort of visionary literature. I don’t give up hoping, however, that Attanasio will find one day the Ridley Scott Philip K. Dick got for his Blade Runner (as the cinematic retitling of an old bad novel goes), or the Jackson whom Tolkien found for his Lord of the Rings —true poets of the image to visually convey the full power of the referential works awakening a generation of readers/viewers to a formerly ungrasped shocking magic. Then will this apparent handicap of his become a motive for universal acclaim.
Whatever may the future have in storage for him, as he wrote to me in one of his last letters, for the artistic creator—
The difficulty, of course, is dealing with the darkness: we are immersed in the unknowable. It doesn’t take much thought about the unthinkable and our mortal plight to experience our smallness and attendant terror. In the bad moment, when the heart hurts the ribs, and the guardian angel too eager to protect devours, and all our words have fatally gone through us emptied of their strength, and the mind like a running animal drags us out of ourselves into the electrifying hush, we are the self’s cradle – God’s ecstasy.
|Short stories, essays and unpublished books: http://www.aaattanasio.com/index.htm (Bibliography/ Chronological)|
|Translations by Bel Atreides|
|El Reino del Grial (1996)|
|El Dragón y el Unicornio (1997)|
|El Lobo y la Corona (1998)|