Re: Teranesia/books/etc

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Thu Dec 13 2001 - 00:57:20 MST

At 06:24 PM 12/13/01 +1100, Neil Blanch wrote:

>I'm always a bit stunned that no-one seems to have read Geoff Ryman's "The
>Child Garden". Aside from the very interesting take on posthumanism &
>extropian values that the book takes it is one of the most deftly handled SF
>novels I've ever read and an intensely moving read. If you can find a copy I
>heartily reccommend it. I don't dare describe the plot or the emotional
>range of this audacious novel

Ah well, by a stroke of luck I discuss this wonderful book a bit in READING


...there is no doubt that some contemporary sf is at least as well-wrought
as its high-toned mainstream cousins, and better than any sf from the past.
The following paragraphs from recent novels confirm it: they sing, and
beautifully. The first is from John Crowley's Aegypt, perhaps closer to
magical fantasy (but not magical realism) than to science fiction:

                There were angels in the glass, two four six many of them, each one
shuffling into his place like an alderman at the Lord Mayor's show. None
was dressed in white; some wore fillets or wreaths of flowers and green
leaves in their loose hair; all their eyes were strangely gay. They kept
pressing in by one and two, always room for more, they linked arms or
clasped their hands behind them, they looked out smiling at the two mortals
who looked in at them. All their names began with A.

        And here is the rapturous reworking of Dante that closes Geoff Ryman's
novel of genetic engineering, The Child Garden.

                All her separate selves were freed: the infant and the child, the orphan
in the Child Garden, the actress and the director, the wife and the
People's Artist, Milena the Angel, Milena the oncogene, Milena who carried
the mind of Heather, and the Milena who remembered Rolfa.
                They rose up like the white pages of a written speech thrown to the
winds. The pages blew like leaves, were scattered to their individual and
eternal Nows. The Nows were no longer linked by time or by a self. They
went beyond time, to where the whole truth can be told. It takes forever to
tell the truth, and it is bound into one volume by love. That is the third
book, beyond words or low imagining.

        The Child Garden posits a future Britain governed by the worst excesses of
reductive science and idealist ideology masquerading as materialism. Like
most fashionable postmodern novels it is also a text about the creative
process of reading. Its sustained inventions are often metaphors that seem
drawn directly from current high literary theory, as Umberto Eco's are, and
like Eco's are, happily, steeped as well in traditional learning and
        For it is above all an impressive reconstruction of Dante Alighieri's
journey, 700 years ago, from the Inferno through Purgatory to a
transcendental and beatific vision. Quite literally, it proposes (and
embodies) The Divine Comedy as a 21st century Wagner might conceive it in a
Bayreuth as large and inescapable as the polluted sky.
        Milena, amnesiac refugee to British purgatory from Czechoslovakian hell,
halfway through her truncated life, is a prim, sour Tenniel Alice who
commits Dante's own sin - she forgets her (lesbian) Beatrice, a wild woman
composer named Rolfa Patel, Genetically Engineered for life in the
Antarctic to the form of a great polar bear. By the standards of the
ruling Party, Milena's sin and crime is to love Rolfa in the first place.
`This was a semiological product of late period capitalism. Milena
suffered, apparently, from Bad Grammar' (p. 2). Her story is a
Bildungsroman, taking Milena from cramped repression to insight,
redemption, indeed sainthood. It is funny while genuinely moving, teemingly
fecund, baroque yet cleanly and beautifully written.
        Subtitled `A Low Comedy', it is that and much more. Ideas tumble about the
page like performing animals, like human infected by diseases of
information. Most of its characters are educated/indoctrinated by designer
viruses, and get their sustenance straight from sunlight through their
rich, mutated purple skin. What is more, nearly everyone dies by 35, a
side-effect of the contagious cure for cancer. Retarded children,
preternaturally learned via their viruses, drolly debate Derrida. `"Now
what is Derrida really talking about in his article on Plato?" "Writing!"
chorused the Lumps. Then, washed by the same viruses, they remembered other
answers' (p. 178). If Rolfa is Milena's Beatrice, the viruses (especially
one that encodes the persona of dead Heather, who reads all Marx's works to
the child and cannot be shut off) are her collective Virgil. Ryman's book
comes very close to being the long-awaited work that successfully bonds the
force and aspirations of both literature and sf.


Damien Broderick

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