randwolf (randwolf) wrote,

Space Opera

Well, actually a book-length collection of science fiction poems on which an opera was based. (The title was too good to pass up.)

Aniara: A review of man in time and space, Harry Martinson. Translation from the Swedish by Stephen Klass and Leif Sjöberg, Story Line Press, Ashland, Oregon, 1999. Originally published in Swedish as Aniara; en revy om människan i tid och rum, Bonnier, Stockholm, 1956.

It's a very odd piece of work, 103 poems set against a common background. The space "ferry" Aniara, carrying refugees from a war-torn, ecologically destroyed far-future Earth to Mars, suffers from disaster, and ends drifting towards the constellation of Lyra. The poems tell the stories of its passengers and crew. The book is narrated by the Mimarobe, the poet who tends the ship's computer, the Mima, which I suspect is a reference to Mimîr.

There's a lot here: some classic 50s reaction to the horrors of the 20th century, some criticism of the society of its time, and some pure visionary poetry. My reactions to it were uneven. It is, overall, a very grim work--a huge tragedy, set against the backdrop of an enormous one. There are enormous insights and playfulness and poetry. There also are the sorts of failure-to-convince of early science fiction - the Aniara's disaster does not seem to make physical sense -, confusing construct words (these would perhaps make more sense to the Swedish reader), and dated social commentary.

And here is poem number 85:

  The galaxy swings around
    like a wheel of lighted smoke,
    and the smoke is made of stars.
  It is sunsmoke.
  For lack of other words we call it sunsmoke,
    do you see?
  I don't feel languages are equal
    to what that vision comprehends.
  The richest of the languages we know,
    Xinombric, has three million words,
    but then the galaxy you're gazing into right now
    has more than ninety billion suns.
  Has there ever been a brain that mastered all the words
    in the Xinombric language?
  Not a one.
  Now you see.
  And do not see.

Aniara was Martinson's great work, and a part of the reason for his Nobel prize for literature. There have been multiple performance adaptations of it, as a well-thought of opera with music by Karl-Birger Blomdahl and libretto by Erik Lindegren, a planetarium show, and several stage versions, which you can read about here and here. James Blish, a critic of music and poetry as well as an SF writer, reviewed the opera and commented that it was a thoroughly eclectic work, with twelve-tone and electronic parts, all of it, well integrated. So far I haven't heard or seen any of them, and are no video recordings I can find references to.

I am stunned by the weirdness of all this: someone won a Nobel prize for, in part, SF poetry? ...and maybe sometime I will dig out some of the recorded work.

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