Friday, 29 June 2012

Writers that changed me: (2)

So my first choice was Colin Wilson, a prolific and very well known writer. For my second choice I have chosen  a writer so obscure that I have never met anyone who knew of her. In fact I have only ever read 1 book of hers - yet that book, that single paperpack, is one I have read at least 15 times since I first read it as a 20 year old.

It is not a great piece of Literature. Not a work of outstanding philosophy. In fact, it is a minor work in  the genre of Science Fiction. As a youngster, I filled my mind with E.E. Doc, Smith's The Lensmen series, with Olaf Stapleton and his Starman series and many, many other Sci Fi writers, from Asimov to Zelazny, their works introducing me to a huge range of ideas on humanity, politics and so forth.

This single book though, by this unknown writer, is the one I keep coming back to. It's a grand book spanning millions of years. It touches on evolution, robots, telepathy and dinosaurs and how the universe might end. It is also deeply human, even though its main protagonist is a robot called Tec, as its characters each undertake a search to discover "Who am I?" and as such it touched all the same places inside me as The Outsider.

The novel is The Second Experiment by J.O. Jeppson, the second wife of Isaac Asimov.

So what was it about this book?  It's hard to say. The story revolves around the alien Roiss as they prepare for their magnificent Second Experiment and, more importantly,  their robot servant Tec. It is, I think, the development of Tec's sense of self that grabbed hold of me,  that and of his sense of smallness in such a huge, complex world - yet this insignificant robot manages to first, imperil the whole universe, and then, save it. The colossal time span of this book blew me away. I guess it helped feed a sense of perspective - perhaps that's what all fiction really strives to do. Our conscious minds can be so small, so removed, so self-absorbed in their own thoughts/reactions/etc that it can overwhelm an adolescent striving to develop a sense of who they are, of what their place might be. Literature, in all its forms, offers the developing mind a chance to gain a greater perspective, to enter a consciousness - for isn't that what a book is? - other than their own, and suddenly the reader is not alone anymore. That is what this book gave me, perspective.

I have since found out there is a sequel which I am tempted to track down, but as a friend of mine recently alluded to, perhaps its the books we read in our teens or early twenties that most influence or shape us. Perhaps I should not track down the second book - the story certainly doesn't need any further telling. Perhaps it is best to leave the cherished experiences of our youth alone, not examine them too closely, not sour them by trying to build upon them in deliberate ways, rather, enjoy them and keep journeying on, knowing those books you read all those years ago that gave meaning to your life in the time when you were discovering/searching for that meaning, remain present within, part of the Literature DNA. of who you have become and who you still might be.

I once wrote a story for the Carlton Football Club about an old coat I had, and loved, for many years. I bought the coat in an Opportunity Shop for 3 dollars and one day, while crossing a street in Lygon St. Carlton,  bumped into a footballer I adored in my childhood by the name of John Ragsy Goold. Ragsy commented on my coat and offered to buy it but I refused. I loved that coat and it now superceded by love for the footballing idol of my childhood. That's how life goes. Things replace past things. The danger - take heed consumers of the world - is in rushing towards that change. The rush diminishes the experience - and our existential experience is, ultimately, all we have.

With The Second Experiment, I never did rush. I savored that story, put it aside for a time and then savored it all over again. Perhaps that's how I will leave it. I will not buy another book of J.O. Jeppson's, instead about once every year or so, I'll take out the Second Experiment and let her story take me on a grand tour of the universe and,  of my youth.

The book's cover

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