Archivi del mese: febbraio 2014

Buone notizie dal Vaticano

Conclave“Ever since I read Baron Corvo’s remarkable novel Hadrian the Seventh long ago, I have amused myself with the fantasy of being elected Pope – an ambition complicated to some degree by the fact that I am not in holy orders, nor a Roman Catholilc, nor, indeed, any kind of Christian at all. But I do live in the hope that the Church will some day see fit to make use of my services.”

Così scrive Robert Silverberg nello spiegare come arrivò a scrivere, un giorno di Febbraio del 1971, quel suo bizzarro racconto in cui un cardinale robot viene eletto al Soglio Pontificio.
Esattamente un anno fa papa Ratzinger rinunciava al ministero petrino, facendo strabuzzare gli occhi a tutti. In quell’occasione, andai a recuperare su consiglio di un mio amico un racconto di fantascienza semi-dimenticato scritto da un autore di fantascienza altrettanto semi-dimenticato, Il dilemma di Benedetto XVI di tale Herbie Brenner, e lo pubblicai sul blog. Per una ragione o per un’altra, quell’articolo riscosse un grande successo di visite (anche se ebbe pochi commenti). Sicché mi son detto: perché non provare a ripetere l’esperimento con un altro racconto a tema papale? Se anche questo dovesse piacere e attirare visite e/o commenti, potrei decidere di provare più spesso a postare racconti integrali pescati dal passato.

Good News from the Vatican è un raccontino privo di meriti letterari. Non c’è tensione, non c’è un vero climax, non c’è azione, e il conflitto è ridotto ai minimi termini. Ci sono solo personaggi che chiacchierano davanti al tavolo di un bar a poca distanza da San Pietro, in attesa che dalla piazza si levi la fumata bianca, chiedendosi chi sarà il nuovo Papa, se davvero sarà il cardinale robot. Per di più, il racconto appartiene a quell’epoca in cui sembrava che ogni aspetto della nostra vita sarebbe presto stato contaminato da una visione ipertecnologica del mondo.
Ma è buffo. E un tantino demenziale.
Come la Chiesa.

Pope quits

Good News from the Vatican
This is the morning everyone has been waiting for, when at last the robot cardinal is to be elected pope. There can no longer be any doubt of the outcome. The conclave has been deadlocked for many days between the obstinate advocates of Cardinal Asciuga of Milan and Cardinal Carciofo of Genoa, and word has gone out that a compromise is in the making. All factions now are agreed on the selection of the robot. This morning I read in Osservatore Romano that the Vatican computer itself has taken a hand in the deliberations. The computer has been strongly urging the candidacy of the robot. I suppose we should not be surprised by this loyalty among machines. Nor should we let it distress us. We absolutely must not let it distress us.
“Every era gets the pope it deserves,” Bishop FitzPatrick observed somewhat gloomily today at breakfast. “The proper pope for our times is a robot, certainly. At some future date it may be desirable for the pope to be a whale, an automobile, a cat, a mountain.” Bishop FitzPatrick stands well over two meters in height and his normal facial expression is a morbid, mournful one. Thus it is impossible for us to determine whether any particular pronouncement of his reflects existential despair or placid acceptance. Many years ago he was a star player for the Holy Cross championship basketball team. He has come to Rome to do research for a biography of St. Marcellus the Righteous.
We have been watching the unfolding drama of the papal election from an outdoor café several blocks from the Square of St. Peter’s. For all of us, this has been an unexpected dividend of our holiday in Rome; the previous pope was reputed to be in good health and there was no reason to suspect that a successor would have to be chosen for him this summer.
Each morning we drive across by taxi from our hotel near the Via Veneto and take up our regular positions around “our” table. From where we sit, we all have a clear view of the Vatican chimney through which the smoke of the burning ballots rises: black smoke if no pope has been elected, white if the conclave has been successful. Luigi, the owner and headwaiter, automatically brings us our preferred beverages: Fernet Branca for Bishop FitzPatrick, Campari and soda for Rabbi Mueller, Turkish coffee for Miss Harshaw, lemon squash for Kenneth and Beverly, and Pernod on the rocks for me. We take turns paying the check, although Kenneth has not paid it even once since our vigil began. Yesterday, when Miss Harshaw paid, she emptied her purse and found her self 350 lire short; she had nothing else except hundred-dollar travelers’ checks. The rest of us looked pointedly at Kenneth but he went on calmly sipping his lemon squash. After a brief period of tension Rabbi Mueller produced a 500-lire coin and rather irascibly slapped the heavy silver piece against the table. The rabbi is known for his short temper and vehement style. He is twenty-eight years old, customarily dresses in a fashionable plaid cassock and silvered sunglasses, and frequently boasts that he has never performed a bar mitzvah ceremony for his congregation, which is in Wicomico County, Maryland. He believes that the rite is vulgar and obsolete, and invariably farms out all his bar mitzvahs to a franchised organization of itinerant clergymen who handle such affairs on a commission basis. Rabbi Mueller is an authority on angels.

Piazza San Pietro

Our group is divided over the merits of electing a robot as the new pope. Bishop FitzPatrick, Rabbi Mueller, and I are in favor of the idea. Miss Harshaw, Kenneth, and Beverly are opposed. It is interesting to note that both of our gentlemen of the cloth, one quite elderly and one fairly young, support this remarkable departure from tradition. Yet the three “swingers” among us do not.
I am not sure why I align myself with the progressives. I am a man of mature years and fairly sedate ways. Nor have I ever concerned myself with the doings of the Church of Rome. I am unfamiliar with Catholic dogma and unaware of recent currents of thought within the Church. Still, I have been hoping for the election of the robot since the start of the conclave.
Why, I wonder? Is it because the image of a metal creature upon the Throne of St. Peter stimulates my imagination and tickles my sense of the incongruous? That is, is my support of the robot purely an aesthetic matter? Or is it, rather, a function of my moral cowardice? Do I secretly think that this gesture will buy the robots off? Am I privately saying, Give them the papacy and maybe they won’t want other things for a while? No. I can’t believe anything so unworthy of myself. Possibly I am for the robot because I am a person of unusual sensitivity to the needs of others.
“If he’s elected,” says Rabbi Mueller, “he plans an immediate time-sharing agreement with the Dalai Lama and a reciprocal plug-in with the head programmer of the Greek Orthodox Church, just for starters. I’m told he’ll make ecumenical overtures to the Rabbinate as well, which is certainly something for all of us to look forward to.”
“I don’t doubt that there’ll be many corrections in the customs and practices of the hierarchy,” Bishop FitzPatrick declares. “For example we can look forward to superior information-gathering techniques as the Vatican computer is given a greater role in the operations of the Curia. Let me illustrate by—”
“What an utterly ghastly notion,” Kenneth says. He is a gaudy young man with white hair and pink eyes. Beverly is either his wife or his sister. She rarely speaks. Kenneth makes the sign of the Cross with offensive brusqueness and murmurs, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Automaton.” Miss Harshaw giggles but chokes the giggle off when she sees my disapproving face.
Dejectedly, but not responding at all to the interruption, Bishop FitzPatrick continues, “Let me illustrate by giving you some figures I obtained yesterday afternoon. I read in the newspaper Oggi that during the last five years, according to a spokesman for the Missiones Catholicae, the Church has increased its membership in Yugoslavia from 19,381,403 to 23,501,062. But the government census taken last year gives the total population of Yugoslavia at 23,575,194. That leaves only 74,132 for the other religious and irreligious bodies. Aware of the large Moslem population of Yugoslavia, I suspected an inaccuracy in the published statistics and consulted the computer in St. Peter’s, which informed me”—the bishop, pausing, produces a lengthy printout and unfolds it across much of the table—“that the last count of the Faithful in Yugoslavia, made a year and a half ago, places our numbers at 14,206,198. Therefore an overstatement of 9,294,864 has been made. Which is absurd. And perpetuated. Which is damnable.”

San Pietro

“What does he look like?” Miss Harshaw asks. “Does anyone have any idea?”
“He’s like all the rest,” says Kenneth. “A shiny metal box with wheels below and eyes on top.”
“You haven’t seen him,” Bishop FitzPatrick interjects. “I don’t think it’s proper for you to assume that—”
“They’re all alike,” Kenneth says. “Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen all of them. Shiny boxes. Wheels. Eyes. And voices coming out of their bellies like mechanized belches. Inside, they’re all cogs and gears.” Kenneth shudders delicately. “It’s too much for me to accept. Let’s have another round of drinks, shall we?”
Rabbi Mueller says, “It so happens that I’ve seen him with my own eyes.”
“You have?” Beverly exclaims.
Kenneth scowls at her. Luigi, approaching, brings a tray of new drinks for everyone. I hand him a 5,000-lire note. Rabbi Mueller removes his sunglasses and breathes on their brilliantly reflective surfaces. He has small, watery grey eyes and a bad squint. He says, “The cardinal was the keynote speaker at the Congress of World Jewry that was held last fall in Beirut. His theme was ‘Cybernetic Ecumenicism for Contemporary Man’. I was there. I can tell you that His Eminency is tall and distinguished, with a fine voice and a gentle smile. There’s something inherently melancholy about his manner that reminds me greatly of our friend the bishop, here. His movements are graceful and his wit is keen.”
“But he’s mounted on wheels, isn’t he?” Kenneth persists.
“On treads,” replies the rabbi, giving Kenneth a fiery, devastating look and resuming his sunglasses. “Treads, like a tractor has. But I don’t think that treads are spiritually inferior to feet, or, for that matter, to wheels. If I were a Catholic I’d be proud to have a man like that as my pope.”
“Not a man,” Miss Harshaw puts in. A giddy edge enters her voice whenever she addresses Rabbi Mueller. “A robot,” she says. “He’s not a man, remember?”
“A robot like that as my pope, then,” Rabbi Mueller says, shrugging at the correction. He raises his glass. “To the new pope!”
“To the new pope!” cries Bishop FitzPatrick.
Luigi comes rushing from his café. Kenneth waves him away. “Wait a second,” Kenneth says. “The election isn’t over yet. How can you be so sure?”
“The Osservatore Romano,” I say, “indicates in this morning’s edition that everything will be decided today. Cardinal Carciofo has agreed to withdraw in his favor, in return for a larger real time allotment when the new computer hours are decreed at next year’s consistory.”
“In other words, the fix is in,” Kenneth says.
Bishop FitzPatrick sadly shakes his head. “You state things much too harshly, my son. For three weeks now we have been without a Holy Father. It is God’s Will that we shall have a pope. The conclave, unable to choose between the candidacies of Cardinal Carciofo and Cardinal Asciuga, thwarts that Will. If necessary, therefore, we must make certain accommodations with the realities of the times so that His Will shall not be further frustrated. Prolonged politicking within the conclave now becomes sinful. Cardinal Carciofo’s sacrifice of his personal ambitions is not as self-seeking an act as you would claim.”
Kenneth continues to attack poor Carciofo’s motives for withdrawing. Beverly occasionally applauds his cruel sallies. Miss Harshaw several times declares her unwillingness to remain a communicant of a Church whose leader is a machine. I find this dispute distasteful and swing my chair away from the table to have a better view of the Vatican. At this moment the cardinals are meeting in the Sistine Chapel. How I wish I were there! What splendid mysteries are being enacted in that gloomy, magnificent room! Each prince of the Church now sits on a small throne surmounted by a violet-hued canopy. Fat wax tapers glimmer on the desk before each throne. Masters of ceremonies move solemnly through the vast chamber, carrying the silver basins in which the blank ballots repose. These basins are placed on the table before the altar. One by one the cardinals advance to the table, take ballots, return to their desks. Now, lifting their quill pens, they begin to write. “I, Cardinal———, elect to the Supreme Pontificate the Most Reverend Lord my Lord Cardinal———.” What name do they fill in? Is it Carciofo? Is it Asciuga? Is it the name of some obscure and shriveled prelate from Madrid or Heidelberg, some last-minute choice of the anti-robot faction in its desperation? Or are they writing his name? The sound of scratching pens is loud in the chapel. The cardinals are completing their ballots, sealing them at the ends, folding them, folding them again and again, carrying them to the altar, dropping them into the great gold chalice. So have they done every morning and every afternoon for days, as the deadlock has prevailed.

Conclave

“I read in the Herald-Tribune a couple of days ago,” says Miss Harshaw, “that a delegation of two hundred and fifty young Catholic robots from Iowa is waiting at the Des Moines airport for news of the election. If their man gets in, they’ve got a chartered flight ready to leave, and they intend to request that they be granted the Holy Father’s first public audience.”
“There can be no doubt,” Bishop FitzPatrick agrees, “that his election will bring a great many people of synthetic origin into the fold of the Church.”
“While driving out plenty of flesh and blood people!” Miss Harshaw says shrilly.
“I doubt that,” says the bishop. “Certainly there will be some feelings of shock, of dismay, of injury, of loss, for some of us at first. But these will pass. The inherent goodness of the new pope, to which Rabbi Mueller alluded, will prevail. Also I believe that technologically minded young folk everywhere will be encouraged to join the Church. Irresistible religious impulses will be awakened throughout the world.”
“Can you imagine two hundred and fifty robots clanking into St. Peter’s?” Miss Harshaw demands.
I contemplate the distant Vatican. The morning sunlight is brilliant and dazzling, but the assembled cardinals, walled away from the world, cannot enjoy its gay sparkle. They all have voted, now. The three cardinals who were chosen by lot as this morning’s scrutators of the vote have risen. One of them lifts the chalice and shakes it, mixing the ballots. Then he places it on the table before the altar; a second scrutator removes the ballots and counts them. He ascertains that the number of ballots is identical to the number of cardinals present. The ballots now have been transferred to a ciborium, which is a goblet ordinarily used to hold the consecrated bread of the Mass. The first scrutator withdraws a ballot, unfolds it, reads its inscription; passes it to the second scrutator, who reads it also; then it is given to the third scrutator, who reads the name aloud. Asciuga? Carciofo? Some other? His?
Rabbi Mueller is discussing angels. “Then we have the Angels of the Throne, known in Hebrew as arelim or ophanim. There are seventy of them, noted primarily for their steadfastness. Among them are the angels Orifiel, Ophaniel, Zabkiel, Jophiel, Ambriel, Tychagar, Barael, Quelamia, Paschar, Boel, and Raum. Some of these are no longer found in Heaven and are numbered among the fallen angels in Hell.”
“So much for their steadfastness,” says Kenneth.
“Then, too,” the rabbi goes on, “there are the Angels of the Presence, who apparently were circumcised at the moment of their creation. These are Michael, Metatron, Suriel, Sandalphon, Uriel, Saraqael, Astanphaeus, Phanuel, Jehoel, Zagzagael, Yefefiah, and Akatriel. But I think my favorite of the whole group is the Angel of Lust, who is mentioned in Talmud Bereshith Rabba 85 as follows, that when Judah was about to pass by—”
They have finished counting the votes by this time, surely. An immense throng has assembled in the Square of St. Peter’s. The sunlight gleams off hundreds if not thousands of steel-jacketed craniums. This must be a wonderful day for the robot population of Rome. But most of those in the piazza are creatures of flesh and blood: old women in black, gaunt young pickpockets, boys with puppies, plump vendors of sausages, and an assortment of poets, philosophers, generals, legislators, tourists, and fishermen. How has the tally gone? We will have our answer shortly. If no candidate has had a majority, they will mix the ballots with wet straw before casting them into the chapel stove, and black smoke will billow from the chimney. But if a pope has been elected, the straw will be dry, the smoke will be white.
The system has agreeable resonances. I like it. It gives me the satisfactions one normally derives from a flawless work of art: the Tristan chord, let us say, or the teeth of the frog in Bosch’s Temptation of St. Anthony. I await the outcome with fierce concentration. I am certain of the result; I can already feel the irresistible religious impulses awakening in me. Although I feel, also, an odd nostalgia for the days of flesh and blood popes. Tomorrow’s newspapers will have no interviews with the Holy Father’s aged mother in Sicily, nor with his proud younger brother in San Francisco. And will this grand ceremony of election ever be held again? Will we need another pope, when this one whom we will soon have can be repaired so easily?

Fumo bianco

Ah. The white smoke! The moment of revelation comes!
A figure emerges on the central balcony of the facade of St. Peter’s, spreads a web of cloth-of-gold, and disappears. The blaze of light against that fabric stuns the eye. It reminds me perhaps of moonlight coldly kissing the sea at Castellamare, or, perhaps even more, of the noonday glare rebounding from the breast of the Caribbean off the coast of St. John. A second figure, clad in ermine and vermilion, has appeared on the balcony. “The cardinal-archdeacon,” Bishop FitzPatrick whispers. People have started to faint. Luigi stands beside me, listening to the proceedings on a tiny radio. Kenneth says, “It’s all been fixed.” Rabbi Mueller hisses at him to be still. Miss Harshaw begins to sob. Beverly softly recites the Pledge of Allegiance, crossing herself throughout. This is a wonderful moment for me. I think it is the most truly contemporary moment I have ever experienced.
The amplified voice of the cardinal-archdeacon cries, “I announce to you great joy. We have a pope.”
Cheering commences, and grows in intensity as the cardinal-archdeacon tells the world that the newly chosen pontiff is indeed that cardinal, that noble and distinguished person, that melancholy and austere individual, whose elevation to the Holy See we have all awaited so intensely for so long. “He has imposed upon himself,” says the cardinal-archdeacon, “the name of—”
Lost in the cheering, I turn to Luigi. “Who? What name?”
“Sisto Settimo,” Luigi tells me.
Yes, and there he is, Pope Sixtus the Seventh, as we now must call him. A tiny figure clad in the silver and gold papal robes, arms outstretched to the multitude, and, yes! the sunlight glints on his cheeks, his lofty forehead, there is the brightness of polished steel. Luigi is already on his knees. I kneel beside him. Miss Harshaw, Beverly, Kenneth, even the rabbi, all kneel, for beyond doubt this is a miraculous event. The pope comes forward on his balcony. Now he will deliver the traditional apostolic benediction to the city and to the world. “Our help is in the Name of the Lord,” he declares gravely. He activates the levitator jets beneath his arms; even at this distance I can see the two small puffs of smoke. White smoke, again. He begins to rise into the air. “Who hath made heaven and earth,” he says. “May Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, bless you.” His voice rolls majestically toward us. His shadow extends across the whole piazza. Higher and higher he goes, until he is lost to sight. Kenneth taps Luigi. “Another round of drinks,” he says, and presses a bill of high denomination into the innkeeper’s fleshy palm. Bishop FitzPatrick weeps. Rabbi Mueller embraces Miss Harshaw. The new pontiff, I think, has begun his reign in an auspicious way.

Amen!

Sui frat boys, o: “I’m going to spelunk the fuck out of that cave!”

Frat BoyFino a che punto può spingersi uno scrittore per documentarsi sugli argomenti delle sue storie? Flaubert trascorse cinque anni della sua vita a leggere tutto ciò su cui poté mettere le mani per scrivere Salammbò, il suo romanzo storico ambientato nella Cartagine del III secolo a.C., e trascorse persino un periodo in Tunisia per assorbire l’atmosfera del luogo. Dick, per scrivere The Man in the High Castle, si chiuse per un anno nella sua biblioteca pubblica di fiducia a spulciare documenti di gerarchi nazisti (e in particolare i Diari di Goebbels).
Ma questo è niente rispetto a quello che ha fatto Carlton Mellick per scrivere il suo recente Clusterfuck, romanzo trash-horror ambientato nello stesso universo narrativo di Apeshit (novella a cui avevo accennato in questo vecchio consiglio dedicato ad altri due libri di Mellick). Dalla sua introduzione al romanzo:

…this book stars college girls and frat boys.
Frat boys are both the worst human beings on the face of the planet and the funniest human beings on the face of the planet, at the same time for the same reasons. In order to capture the frat boy mentality, I read every blog written by every frat boy I could find. This took quite a lot of endurance. I don’t recommend anyone ever attempt this, but the experience was horrible, funny, sad, terrifying, annoying, and strangely enlightening. And I hate to admit it, but I have since grown to emphatize with the average American frat boy despite all his faults. He’s not just the douchebag hooting in the back of the keg party, thinking he’s the toughest/hottest dude in the room. He’s also a human being with hopes and dreams and rich parents who sometimes don’t buy him every single thing he wants. And when nobody else is looking, he sometimes cries when he thinks of his chocolate lab, Stinko, who had to be put to sleep while he was away at college. He had Stinko ever since he was a puppy. He didn’t even get to say goodbye… It’s not fair, bro. It’s just not fair…

Confusi? Non sapete chi sono i frat boys? Neanch’io lo sapevo quando ho preso in mano il libro, benché la pletora di commedie americane sui college viste nelle mie estati adolescenziali avrebbe dovuto mettermi sulla giusta strada. Ci viene incontro l’Urban Dictionary:

A college kid who thinks he’s better than everyone else because he is in a fraternity. Some college kids are frat boys even though they aren’t in a fraternity. Frat boy behaviour is typified by drinking shitty beer, hitting on high school girls, making fun of punks, and wearing boring clothes. […] recognizable by:
1) caucasian ethinicity
2) sleeveless t-shirts
3) inane, misogynistic babble
4) the ginormous SUVs (usually F-150s or Suburbans) with jacked-up wheels they drive, especially with stereos blaring rap or metal
5) visors, especially if worn upside-down, backwards, or a savory combination of the two
6) excessive use of the word “faggot”
7) possession of 40 oz beers, cigarettes, marijuana, and/or beer kegs (full-size or pony). especially alcohol stolen from the local grocery store (see beer run).

As in: “Woah, look at that frat boy riding around in his giant monster truck with KC lights and the passed out girl in the passenger seat. I hope his truck tires blow out and he flips over and burns in a firey inferno.”

Non siete ancora del tutto convinti di aver inquadrato il soggetto? Permettetemi allora di mostrarvi del materiale di repertorio:


Is this the frat life?

Ora prendete personaggi del genere, shakerateli con delle fighette del college e gettate il tutto nel peggior canovaccio da spelunking horror (1), con tanto di cunicoli claustrofobici, buio e squartamenti. Otterrete un romanzo buono a farvi ghignare come dei deficienti per due o tre serate.
Bisognerebbe fare un monumento a Mellick per la sua dedizione al mestiere. Da un anno a questa parte, ha fissato come tabella di marcia di pubblicare quattro libri all’anno: uno per ogni trimestre, a Gennaio, Aprile, Luglio e Ottobre. Per ora ci sta riuscendo. E sembra – dico sembra, bisognerebbe leggerle tutte per verificare – che finora la qualità e la varietà delle storie rimanga alta. E nel mentre, trova anche il tempo per bruciarsi il cervello sui blog dei bro. Notevole. Un cinque alto e una lattina di birra schiacciata sulla fronte per Mellick. Anche se continua a non pubblicare in formato digitale i suoi romanzi degli ultimi due anni e mezzo – that’s not cool, bro. That’s not cool at all.

Mi piacerebbe dedicare in futuro un articolo più lungo, e forse anche un Consiglio, a questo Clusterfuck – magari in tandem con Apeshit, in un grande post di celebrazione dell’horror di bassa lega. Quello in cui si ride con le gengive di fuori di fronte a vittime urlanti che vengono smembrate e violentate con gli arti mutilati dei loro amici morti… Ma cosa sto dicendo? Scusate, è l’effetto che mi fa questa roba.
Quello che volevo dire, è che il genere horror è poco rappresentato su Tapirullanza. Intanto, sondo il terreno e vedo se la cosa interessa. Vediamo cosa salta fuori.

The Descent

Un fotogramma da The Descent, il capolavoro dello spelunking horror. Anche questo film meriterebbe un articolo.

(1) Non sapete cosa sia lo spelunking horror?
Prima cosa: siete degli sfigati. Period.
Seconda cosa: è un normale canovaccio horror, solo che avviene dentro delle caverne (to spelunk è l’attività di esplorare grotte). Di solito, coinvolge un gruppo di persone più o meno ritardate che entrano in un complesso di caverne semisconosciute all’uomo, finiscono intrappolate dentro e dovranno vedersela con legioni di mostri/mutanti orrendi. Anche se i film più famosi del genere sono usciti intorno alla metà degli anni 2000, il sottogenere non è mai diventato troppo famoso. Chissà come mai.

I Consigli del Lunedì #38: The Dancers at the End of Time

The Dancers at the End of TimeAutore: Michael Moorcock
Titolo italiano: I danzatori alla fine del tempo
Genere: Fantasy / Dying Earth / Commedia
Tipo: Romanzo (Trilogia)

Anno: 1972-1976 / 1993
Nazione: UK
Lingua: Inglese
Pagine: 670 ca.

Difficoltà in inglese: ***

The cycle of our Earth (indeed, our universe, if the truth had been known) was nearing its end, and the human race had at last ceased to take itself seriously…

Può esistere l’amore alla Fine del Tempo? Jherek Carnelian crede di sì.
Miliardi di anni nel futuro, quando il sole è ormai consumato e la Terra si avvicina alla fine della sua vita, gli esseri umani sono ormai diventati simili a dèi. Gli anelli che hanno alle dita permettono, con il più piccolo dei movimenti, di comporre e disgregare la materia a piacimento, così che in un secondo possono fare o disfare palazzi, città, interi continenti, esseri viventi. Non conoscono il dolore né la malattia, e possono vivere in eterno; perciò passano la vita a divertirsi, correndo da un party all’altro, creando capolavori di bellezza e scambiandosi complimenti.
Jherek Carnelian, l’ultimo essere umano ad essere nato da un ventre materno, è un’esteta, ammirato da tutti per il buongusto delle sue creazioni e delle sue maniere. E quando un bel giorno, durante un party, appare dal nulla una viaggiatrice del tempo venuta dalla Londra di fine ‘800, Jherek decide di innamorarsene e vivere una bellissima storia d’amore. Ma Mrs. Underwood è una donna di sani principi, e farà di tutto per resistere alle tentazioni e tornare nella sua epoca. E mentre Jherek si lancia attraverso il tempo e lo spazio per coronare il suo impossibile sogno d’amore, si avvicina il giorno della morte dell’intero Universo… Quella tra Jherek e Amelia Underwood potrebbe anche essere l’ultima delle storie d’amore.

Anelli dai poteri illimitati, viaggi nel tempo, banditi spaziali, inseguimenti, galassie che esplodono, intrighi diabolici che si dipanano lungo milioni di anni: The Dancers at the End of Time è una commedia d’avventura che non può essere presa sul serio. La Gollancz l’ha pubblicata negli SF Masterworks, ma anche se si maschera dietro il gergo della fantascienza l’opera di Michael Moorcock è un Fantasy spensierato. Ciò che mi ha incuriosito e affascinato da subito è il soggetto: esseri semidivini che riprendono l’atteggiamento decadente dei dandy fine-ottocenteschi alla Oscar Wilde, i cui unici timori sono la noia e il cattivo gusto.
The Dancers at the End of Time si presenta come una trilogia – composta da An Alien Heat, The Hollow Lands e The End of All Songs – ma a conti fatti è un’unico romanzo diviso in tre parti; ogni libro comincia dove finiva il precedente, ed elementi e subplot introdotti nel primo libro trovano risoluzione nel terzo. Nel complesso, seguiamo le avventure di Jherek e Amelia Underwood per quasi 700 pagine. La grande domanda con cui avevo avvicinato il romanzo era quindi: come farà l’autore ad acchiappare e mantenere l’interesse del lettore, con protagonisti virtualmente invincibili e un mondo senza conflitti?

I'm Bored

Pure gli abitanti della Fine del Tempo hanno i loro problemi.

Uno sguardo approfondito
I romanzi di Moorcock si possono dividere in due filoni. Ci sono quelli “seri”, drammatici, come Behold the Man o Gloriana (entrambi dei quali hanno un Consiglio dedicato su questo blog) o Mother London: romanzi ben strutturati, con un tema subito riconoscibile e una trama che si dipana in una catena di cause ed effetti. E poi ci sono le minchiate sword&sorcery, come i cicli di Elric, o Corum, o del Nomade del Tempo (The Warlord of the Air e seguiti): serie di episodi più o meno scollegati, che spesso nascevano come racconti autonomi sulle rivistacce di fantascienza e fantasy dell’epoca. Anche la qualità della scrittura era ben diversa. Benché Moorcock non sia mai stato un grande prosatore, i primi erano più curati, mentre i secondi paiono seguire la filosofia del “buona la prima”.
The Dancers at the End of Time è una via di mezzo tra i due filoni. Come le opere della seconda categoria, è scritto abbastanza da cani. La storia è raccontata da un narratore onnisciente, che per la maggior parte del tempo sta alle spalle o nella testa di Jherek, ma di tanto in tanto non si fa problemi a zoommare su altri personaggi, a fare commenti sull’ingenuità, o a parlarci di cose che esplicitamente il personaggio non vede o non nota. I sentimenti dei personaggi sono spesso raccontati, invece che mostrati attraverso le loro azioni. Quando Moorcock non ha voglia di scrivere una scena, ricorre ai riassuntoni e persino a lunghi discorsi indiretti. Interi episodi che vengono anticipati al lettore, e che ci si aspetterebbe sarebbero mostrati in ogni dettaglio, vengono invece risolti fuori scena e spiegati in due righe in maniera del tutto anticlimatica. Ecco ad esempio come vengono trattati i primi appuntamenti amorosi tra Jherek e Amelia: “They explored the world in his locomotive. They went for drives in a horse-drawn carriage. They punted on a river which Jherek made for her”. Pretty lame, huh?

Anche dal punto di vista della struttura, The Dancers at the End of Time ricorda le storie pulp di Elric o Corum. La storia si sviluppa come una serie di episodi autoconclusivi, retti dal tema centrale della quest amorosa di Jherek per conquistare il cuore della bellissima viaggiatrice del tempo: prima Jherek deve scoprire dove si trova; una volta scoperto, dovrà trovare il modo di sottrarla all’uomo che la tiene prigioniera; una volta riscattata, deve riuscire a farla innamorare di sé; e così via, un ostacolo alla volta. E in generale, ho avuto più volte l’impressione che Moorcock sviluppasse la trama man mano che scriveva e gli venivano in mente le cose, senza un vero piano generale
Al contempo, però, diversamente dal filone sword&sorcery, si ha la sensazione ci una certa unitarietà della storia, e che la trama stia andando da qualche parte. Nel corso della vicenda si aprono una serie di subplot che non vengono mai abbandonati, ma si riaffacciano periodicamente e alla fine trovano una conclusione. All’inizio del primo libro, un buffo alieno arriva sulla Terra dai recessi della galassia per annunciare che si sono palesati i segni dell’imminente fine dell’Universo, dopodiché il tema è accantonato. Ma nel terzo libro la fine dell’Universo arriva davvero e i protagonisti dovranno affrontarla.

Big Crunch

A sinistra, il Big Crunch secondo la moderna cosmologia. A destra, il Big Crunch secondo JFK.

Il vero piacere di leggere The Dancers of the End of Time sta nel godersi le trovate e l’ambientazione fuori dal mondo di Moorcock. Gli abitanti della Fine del Tempo sono personaggi buffissimi, talmente abituati a vivere senza rischi o bisogni da essere mentalmente dei bambini: ogni volta che vogliono cambiano sesso, razza, forma, carattere. Non temono neanche la morte, dato che se accidentalmente vengono ammazzati possono essere resuscitati con uno schicco di dita. E’ divertente anche soffermarsi sulla loro immoralità. Affascinati come sono da ogni cosa esotica, amano collezionare alieni e viaggiatori nel tempo, per cui si divertono a catturare tutti quelli che trovano e a imprigionarli nelle loro menagerìe – dei veri e propri harem di schiavi. Ma loro non si accorgono di star facendo qualcosa di orribile; non si sono neanche posti il problema.
I personaggi sono adorabili. L’Orchidea di Ferro, la madre di Jherek, è una donna fine e volubile che ama dipingersi dei colori delle pietre più pure e ha concepito suo figlio con un perfetto sconosciuto per noia. Lord Mongrove è un gigante dal volto deforme che, per posa, passa il tempo ad autocommiserarsi e vive in un castello gotico munito di fulmini e pioggia eterna. E che dire dell’enigmatico Lord Jagged di Canaria, che veste sempre di giallo e non perde mai il suo sorriso beffardo, o del Duca di Queens, famoso per il suo cattivo gusto, o di Mistress Christia, la Concubina Eterna, o di Gaf il Cavallo in Lacrime, o dei Lat, alieni con tre occhi a forma di pera che vivono per stuprare e distruggere. Il romanzo di Moorcock è una galleria di personaggi cretini.

Ma se i comprimari sono perlopiù delle macchiette bidimensionali, i protagonisti sono più sfaccettati e capaci di una certa evoluzione nel tempo. La trasformazione più forte la vediamo in Amelia, che parte come lo stereotipo della donna vittoriana della piccola borghesia, tutto rispettabilità e “cosa penseranno i vicini” ed “esportiamo la civiltà britannica attraverso il tempo e lo spazio”, per poi essere davvero cambiata dagli eventi e diventare qualcosa di diverso alla fine della trilogia. E Jherek, che conosciamo come un dandy perfettamente a suo agio nel proprio mondo, sarà di colpo un fanciullo inerme quando finirà in un’altra epoca, dove i suoi anelli non funzionano.
Anche se i toni della commedia scanzonata sono il mood prevalente del romanzo, Moorcock sa toccare anche altre corde, e in alcuni momenti l’atmosfera diventa seria, o addirittura drammatica, o lirica e romantica. Stesso discorso per il genere: nel corso delle quasi 700 pagine di Dancers, si passa dal romanzaccio d’avventura alla storia d’amore, dal vaudeville alle piccole miserie della vita coniugale, passando per la commedia da salotto.

Vaudeville

Vaudeville. Una roba di questo genere.

Quel che è più importante, The Dancers at the End of Time non si prende mai sul serio. Sa di essere una mezza minchiata, ma vuole esserlo nel modo più appassionante possibile. Non è certo un capolavoro, sia perché è scritto un po’ alla cazzo, sia perché quando si chiude il libro non si ha una nuova visione del mondo né si ha scoperto una grande verità. E’ un romanzo di intrattenimento, puro e semplice, che però riesce a esserlo in modo intelligente, non banale, e fantasioso. Ed è un romanzo dal ritmo serrato, in cui succedono sempre cose e c’è sempre un motivo per andare avanti, e difficilmente ci si annoia. Alcuni dialoghi sono veramente deliranti, e mi è capitato una volta di scoppiare a ridere come un deficiente mentre ero in tram (e non è una cosa che mi capiti spesso). Chissà cos’avranno pensato le vecchiette.
Per gli appassionati dell’ambientazione condivisa moorcockiana del Campione Eterno (che io ho sempre trovato cretina, ma c’è a chi piace), l’opera non manca di lanciare riferimenti e strizzate d’occhio. Ritroviamo Oswald Bastable di The Warlord of the Air, Una Persson del ciclo di Jerry Cornelius, pure la macchina del tempo di Karl Glogauer di Behold the Man (e Glogauer stesso fa una breve apparizione). Né, visto l’elemento vittoriano, possono mancare citazioni de La macchina del tempo, e Wells stesso fa un cameo.

Jherek Carnelian è il fanciullo ingenuo e spontaneo di Rousseau, non conosce il dovere né il dolore. Ma la sua quest per trovare l’amore lo porterà a scoprire cos’è la moralità, la virtù, la colpa, il dubbio, il rimpianto, e la felicità. La sua sarà veramente l’ultima storia d’amore alla fine del Tempo?

Dove si trova?
The Dancers at the End of Time si può scaricare in lingua originale su Bookfinder (formati mobi ed ePub) e su Library Genesis (solo mobi); in italiano non l’ho trovato.

Are we human or are we dancers

Un romanzo che si pone domande importanti.

Qualche estratto
Ho scelto due brani il più possibile diversi. Il primo, tratto dal primissimo capitolo della trilogia, mostra una conversazione tra Jherek e sua madre, l’Orchidea di Ferro: Jherek, che si sta appassionando di letteratura vittoriana, vuole imparare ad essere ‘virtuoso’ ma non è sicuro di aver afferrato il significato. Intanto sua madre rievoca cose divertenti che hanno fatto (tra cui scatenare un olocausto nucleare). L’altro, tratto dal secondo libro, è un dialogo davanti a una tazza di tè tra Jherek e Howard Underwood, rispettabile borghese dell’Inghilterra del 1896, che col suo crescendo di assurdità e conflitto mi ha fatto rotolare per terra dal ridere.

1.
Jherek went to sit with his back against the bole of the aspidistra. “And now, lovely Iron Orchid, tell me what you have been doing.”
She looked up at him, her eyes shining. “I’ve been making babies, dearest. Hundreds of them!” She giggled. “I couldn’t stop. Cherubs, mainly. I built a little aviary for them, too. And I made them trumpets to blow and harps to pluck and I composed the sweetest music you ever heard. And they played it!”
“I should like to hear it.”
“What a shame.” She was genuinely upset that she had not thought of him, her favourite, her only real son. “I’m making microscopes now. And gardens, of course, to go with them. And tiny beasts. But perhaps I’ll do the cherubs again some day. And you shall hear them, then.”
“If I am not being ‘virtuous,’ ” he said archly.
“Ah, now I begin to understand the meaning. If you have an impulse to do something — you do the opposite. You want to be a man, so you become a woman. You wish to fly somewhere, so you go underground. You wish to drink, but instead you emit fluid. And so on. Yes, that’s splendid. You’ll set a fashion, mark my words. In a month, blood of my blood, everyone will be virtuous. And what shall we do then? Is there anything else? Tell me!”
“Yes. We could be ‘evil’ — or ‘modest’ — or ‘lazy’ — or ‘poor’ — or, oh, I don’t know — ‘worthy.’ There’s hundreds.”
“And you would tell us how to be it?”
“Well…” He frowned. “I still have to work out exactly what’s involved. But by that time I should know a little more.”
“We’ll all be grateful to you. I remember when you taught us Lunar Cannibals. And Swimming. And — what was it — Flags?”
“I enjoyed Flags,” he said. “Particularly when My Lady Charlotina made that delicious one which covered the whole of the western hemisphere. In metal cloth the thickness of an ant’s web. Do you remember how we laughed when it fell on us?”
“Oh, yes!” She clapped her hands. “Then Lord Jagged built a Flag Pole on which to fly it and the pole melted so we each made a Niagara to see who could do the biggest and used up every drop of water and had to make a whole new batch and you went round and round in a cloud raining on everyone, even on Mongrove. And Mongrove dug himself an underground Hell, with devils and everything, out of that book the time-traveller brought us, and he set fire to Bulio Himmler’s ‘Bunkerworld 2’ which he didn’t know was right next door to him and Bulio was so upset he kept dropping atom bombs on Mongrove’s Hell, not knowing that he was supplying Mongrove with all the heat he needed!”
They laughed heartily.
“Was it really three hundred years ago?” said Jherek nostalgically.

Nope, Still Bored

2.
A silence followed. He was handed a tea-cup.
“What do you think?” Mr. Underwood had become quite animated as he watched Jherek sip.
“There are those who shun the use of tea, claiming that it is a stimulant we can well do without.” He smiled bleakly. “But I’m afraid we should not be human if we did not have our little sins, eh? Is it good, Mr. Carnelian?”
“Very nice,” said Jherek. “Actually, I have had it before. But we called it something different. A longer name. What was it, Mrs. Underwood?”
“How should I know, Mr. Carnelian.” She spoke lightly, but she was glaring at him.
“Lap something,” said Jherek. “Sou something.”
“Lap-san-sou-chong! Ah, yes. A great favourite of yours, my dear, is it not? China tea.”
“There!” said Jherek beaming by way of confirmation.
“You have met my wife before, Mr. Carnelian?”
“As children,” said Mrs. Underwood. “I explained it to you, Harold.”
“You surely were not given tea to drink as children?”
“Of course not,” she replied.
“Children?” Jherek’s mind had been on other things, but now he brightened. “Children? Do you plan to have any children, Mr. Underwood?”
“Unfortunately.” Mr. Underwood cleared his throat. “We have not so far been blessed…”
“Something wrong?”
“Ah, no…”
“Perhaps you haven’t got the hang of making them by the straightforward old-fashioned method? I must admit it took me a while to work it out. You know,” Jherek turned to make sure that Mrs.Underwood was included in the conversation, “finding what goes in where and so forth!”
“Nnng,” said Mrs. Underwood.
“Good heavens!” Mr. Underwood still had his tea-cup poised half-way to his lips. For the first time, since he had entered the room, his eyes seemed to live.
Jherek’s body shook with laughter. “It involved a lot of research. My mother, the Iron Orchid, explained what she knew and, in the long run, when we had pooled the information, was able to give me quite a lot of practical experience. She has always been interested in new ideas for love-making. She told me that while genuine sperm had been used in my conception, otherwise the older method had not been adhered to. Once she got the thing worked out, however (and it involved some minor biological transformations) she told me that she had rarely enjoyed love-making in the conventional ways more. Is anything the matter, Mr. Underwood? Mrs. Underwood?”
“Sir,” said Mr. Underwood, addressing Jherek with cool reluctance, “I believe you to be mad. In charity, I must assume that you and your brother are cursed with that same disease of the brain which sent him to the gallows.”
[…] Mrs. Underwood, breathing heavily, sat down suddenly upon the rug, while Maude Emily had her lips together, had gone very red in the face, and was making strange, strangled noises.
“Why did you come here? Oh, why did you come here?” murmured Mrs. Underwood from the floor.
“Because I love you, as you know,” explained Jherek patiently. “You see, Mr. Underwood,” he began confidentially, “I wish to take Mrs. Underwood away with me.”
“Indeed?” Mr. Underwood presented to Jherek a peculiarly glassy and crooked grin. “And what, might I ask, do you intend to offer my wife, Mr. Carnelian?”
“Offer? Gifts? Yes, well,” again he felt in his pockets but again could find nothing but the deceptor-gun. He drew it out. “This?”
Mr. Underwood flung his hands into the air.

Tabella riassuntiva

Una commedia assurda e iperbolica ambientata alla Fine del Tempo. Struttura della trama molto episodica, poco “da romanzo”.
Fantasia scatenata e ritmo serrato. Moorcock scrive da cani.
Un romanzo d’avventura fantasy che è anche una storia d’amore. Difficile “immergersi” in un mondo così cretino ed esagerato.