The Complete Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino, translated by Martin McLaughlin, Tim Parks, and William Weaver
This book is a somewhat sprawling connection of odd short stories that were viewed as part of a series, most of them with a protagonist of definitely non-human form and a nearly unpronounceable name, Qfwfq. The series of stories was originally intended to be a conflation of the author’s interest in the cosmic as well as a desire to frame what might be considered as science fiction or space fantasy in a comic light rather than viewing it as a dystopian matter. Something funny happened, though, over the course of nearly two decades in the writing of this series of stories, and that is an unintentionally dark and gloomy turn as the author himself grew older and approached death. While death is a tragedy, this collection of stories is a reminder that it is also tragic when one has immortality in the absence of morality, and can simply only rely on an eternity of making the same mistakes over and over again and dealing with the frustration of the repercussions and consequences of your previous errors and mistakes living on as long as you do, a sad realization which most people avoid by dying before the extent of the repercussions of their evil becomes obvious to themselves. Despite his desire to write comedy, the tragic nature of the setup of his story saga forced itself on his work in spite of his best intentions to keep things light and humorous.
Coming in at about 400 pages long, this book is a compilation of several collections of short stories that are part of a large saga about a being who appears to be at least as old as the physical universe and who also appears to take on various forms but not learn as much as one might expect. The stories in this collection deal mostly with cosmic matters such as the moon, the earth, the sun and other stars, galaxies, dinosaurs, and the like. Most stories begin with a statement of scientific fact as it was known or understood at the time of the story’s writing, and then contain an imaginative and odd fictional story that demonstrates some aspect of that science in speculative form. Some of the stories are rewrites of others (most notably final story “The Other Eurydice”), and many contain allusions to other writers and other stories, demonstrating a metafictional awareness that is likely to appeal to those readers who are in on the jokes and the frequent Italian-language puns that can be found but which escape the translation because of their linguistic nature.
Overall, this is certainly a good collection of stories, what makes it so tends to cut against the goals and intentions of the author. The author wanted to make speculative fiction that was comical instead of tragic as much science fiction is, and the setup of his cosmography made tragedy inevitable because of the immoral nature of the conduct of his protagonist and the results of those errors through space and time. The author wanted to craft a set of stories that transcended the boundaries of human-focused fiction by creating a being that was definitely not human, but ended up creating a fallen being that is easy for us to understand in his bumbling and errors and in the focus of the author on aspects of creation that are particularly of interest to human beings, like dinosaurs and the solar system. And the author wanted to craft fiction that was solidly grounded in science and thus factuality, but the science that he sought to have as a foundation was unsteady and often subsequently demonstrated to be mere fiction as well, thus not providing the sort of contrast he wanted. Yet ultimately these failures are not bad, in that they demonstrate how the truths of God’s ways can be found even out of the premises of someone who was not in any way godly or right-thinking person.