Harry Martinson

THE LAUREATE: Harry Martinson was orphaned at birth. He ran off to join the merchant marine when he was 16 and had to go back to shore a few years later, during which time he wandered Sweden as a bum (lots of authors did this for some reason), so this should not in itself put us off him.) His creative output was fairly large, and includes quite a lot of poetry. Following controversy for his being awarded the Nobel (considering that he was a member of the Swedish academy and had been for 25 years), Martinson killed himself with a pair of scissors.

WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT HIM?: Well, I’ve been making a joke out of what I’ve been reading for a while now. A Swedish science fiction epic poem? What? This is the kind of thing that, at first glance, makes me question the Nobel prize as an objective measure of literary quality. Maybe it will continue to do so.

WHAT ARE YOU READING?: Haven’t you been paying attention? I’m going to read ANIARA: A REVIEW OF MAN IN TIME AND SPACE.

REVIEW: I’ve got to admit, as much as I’ve been making fun of this the last few weeks, ANIARA: A REVIEW OF MAN IN TIME AND SPACE is actually really, really good. The basic plot is this: in the distant future, after mankind destroyed itself and then grew itself back, terrible things happened on Earth. Someone orders people ferried to Mars in these huge ships called golgondas. The Aniara, on a routine people-dumping mission, gets thrown off-course by a meteor that no one saw coming and is flung off irretrievably into the depths of space. It has an AI computer that can pick up electromagnetic broadcasts and generally figure things out at long distances, but after it sees one of the major cities on Earth nuked, it kills itself. The remainder of the poem is about how the people trapped on this ship spend their time with the shadow of death looming over them. It is surprisingly effective.

DO YOU RECOMMEND IT?: Yes, if you can find it. Aniara has been out of print for forty years now, I think.

WHAT’S NEXT: T.S. Eliot and The Waste Land, and I guess I need to do Dario Fo still.

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