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Science Fiction Thursday: Tolkien Map, Vader Lenin Statues, Plus 'A Canticle for Leibowitz' and 'Iron Sky'

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Science Fiction | October 29, 2015 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Science Fiction | October 29, 2015 |

I apologize for the absence of Sci-Fi Thursday last week, my fellow Jedi. It was an unavoidable consequence of some day job obligations. In other words, it was TK’s fault, so you should probably send him angry emails.

First up, we have the perfect storm of fantasy nerds and cartography, with the discovery of a fifty year old map of Middle Earth that had been folded up and stuck into a book. It’s been stuck in there for quite some time since the thing has been personally annotated by JRR Tolkien himself. The book belonged to Pauline Baynes, and the map was annotated for her by Tolkien while she was working on a new color version of it in the late sixties.

It’s up for auction and is expected to go for around 60,000 pounds (i.e. Brit-bucks). Hopefully whoever wins it is a good person and realizes that they should high-res scan it for the rest of us to enjoy on the Internet even while they professionally frame it for hanging on the wall of their castle.

Here’s a picture of it (click to embiggen):


I actually have a fold out copy of that same map! I used to spend hours as a wee one drawing to scale maps of Middle Earth and then strategically planning and replanning the War of the Ring from both sides and then of course detailing the post-war development of the region. I assume that this is a representative and entirely normal part of everyone’s childhood.

(source: Guardian)

Next, Ukraine passed heavy new anti-communist laws in the wake of that little Russian invasion thing last year. One of the parts of it means getting rid of the last Lenin statues scattered throughout the country. And one artist decided that the best method was renovating one into a statue of Darth Vader instead. Said Mr. Milov: “I wanted to make a symbol of American pop culture which appears to be more durable than the Soviet ideal.” I love the layers of logic that can be peeled back from that statement.

And yes, the helmet is a WiFi hotspot. Obviously.

(source: The Imperial Times)

Book and movie of the week! This week’s were A Canticle for Leibowitz and the film Iron Sky . If you want to comment about either of these, put it in its own comment with the first line being either “A Canticle for Leibowitz Spoiler” or “Iron Sky Spoiler”. Also: if you reply to a comment with one of these spoiler tags, you don’t need to bother putting the spoiler tag yourself. Everyone should just assume that if the top level comment is a spoiler, it’s spoilers all the way down.

A Canticle for Leibowitz Spoilers
A gorgeous and wonderful novel. I love the slow-time feel of it, and the way that it jumps time frames bit by bit in order to let you see the turn of the world over a thousand years or more. It gives it something of a feel halfway between a traditional novel and a collection like World War Z. You feel the passage of time, and pick up all the little details of the way that the past is forgotten step by step, reinterpreted into new mythologies. The circuit diagram holy symbol, the shopping list as mysterious scripture, these are things that in lesser hands would be treated glibly, tongue in cheek. But Miller’s skill transforms them, so we feel the awe the characters feel, and appreciate just how fragile and transient our culture is before the wind of the ages.

And those last words, those last gorgeous words, sic transit mundus. Are we doomed then, the monks ask in the end? To repeat this over and over again? This a book that sticks with you. A book that moves slowly, and yet you can revel in the language page by page. I find great literature is a bit like scripture, in that once it is in you, you can flip to any page and read a few verses and find wisdom there. That’s what A Canticle for Leibowitz is. Agnostic scripture.

Iron Sky Spoilers
I watched the first thirty minutes of this and then shut it off. It’s a horrible movie and I absolutely loathed it. I adore the idea behind it (a hidden Nazi base on the moon!) and the set design and artistic side of things is inspired. But the direction they chose to take in terms of cheesiness was just a complete an utter deal breaker for me. Every time the captured actornaut, tried to act, I wanted to swallow my own tongue. Every time they flashed to the Palinesque president, the number of minutes I was going to keep watching dropped. I do not subscribe to the philosophy of “it’s intentionally terrible so it’s actually not terrible”. Ironically making a shitty movie on purpose does not make the movie any less shitty (I have a similar opinion of the rancid Starship Troopers).

Next week: We’ll read The Three-Body Problem, a relatively new hard sci-fi book that came out of China and has gotten rave reviews. For a movie, we’ll go with How I Live Now , which is a post-apocalyptic movie starring Saoirse Ronan that Netflix has been trying to get me to watch for months.

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.