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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Currently reading - The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe

I don't think I'd ever read the entirety of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym until now. I thought I had, but having "re-read" I now suspect that what I originally read three decades ago was just a long extract in a supposedly "Complete" Writings of Edgar Allan Poe ... or something like that.

Anyway, I was surprised by the verisimilitude of the narrative, which is not what I associated with Poe (having read all, I think, of his shorter fiction). It reminds me of some of Arthur C. Clarke's writing, for example, with its piling up of factual information to evoke a very solid-seeming image of the real world, which is then taken just an increment or two into the unknown (in this case as the characters move toward the then-unexplored South Pole), with no real change in style or in the level of detail. The descriptions of the unknown seem continuous with those of what is known (but outside the experience of most readers).

Poe is, I think, pioneering a hard science fiction technique.

I wonder how much direct influence this work had on any science fiction writers of the following century and the current century. We do know that Poe had a lot of indirect influence on what came later in SF (e.g. via Jules Verne), and his shorter work has doubtless had a huge influence on fantasy and horror writers in particular. But how many recent writers of SF have actually analysed or just picked up on what he does here, I wonder.

There's probably been some research done on this, but if so I'm not familiar with it.


ColinGavaghan said...

It also has a weird connection to R v Dudley & Stephens, the infamous 'cannibalism on the high seas' case in English law.

Max II said...

The only things I have ever read by Edgar Allen Poe that really stand out in my mind are The Raven, of course, and The Murders in the Rue Morgue. This latest post of yours however has made me think I should revisit Poe.