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November/December 2012
 
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Curiosities

Heavens, by Louis Untermeyer (1922)

IN THIS parody collection's supernatural frame-story, the afterlife comprises 976 heavens, many with literary themes. New to Limbo and bewildered by choice, our nameless protagonist samples the heavens of five authors—three still remembered for sf/fantasy:

"The Heaven of Queer Stars" opens with vertiginous dazzles of prose, just like a G. K. Chesterton landscape description with the volume turned to eleven. Against a background of vast celestial pantomime, eternal bliss means Chesterton's favorite pastime of debate. His Father Brown-like mouthpiece brilliantly out-argues a Mephistophelian adversary resembling GKC's old sparring partner Bernard Shaw, whose protests are swamped by the incoming flood of paradoxical rhetoric. It's Chesterton at his most exhausting.

"The Heaven of the Time-Machine" pokes fun at H. G. Wells as eternal proponent of Science, Progress, and Utopia, of a glorious twenty-first century where "corners and all dust-collecting angles had long since vanished from architecture." Alas, when the Time Machine ("the incessant typewriter") shifts our hero to the year 5,320,506, he finds thermic-electron-clad post-humans telepathically deploring the grubby present day and dreaming of future Utopia.…

The best spoof is "The Heaven Above Storysende," gently mocking James Branch Cabell's style and trick of disguising verse as prose. After "certain adventures which are rather more unmentionable than not," the Heaven-seeking quest hero launches into increasingly strained rhyming speeches whose invariable refrain is: "For I am Ortnitz and I follow after the unattainable end." Cabell himself praised this "damnable cleverness."

The nonfantastic parodies, with poets tackling Einstein's relativity, are also fun.

—David Langford

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