Friday, September 15, 2006

A Touch of Frost

[this just rambles on in a stream-of-human-consciousness way]
I was up in the loft at the weekend, looking for old Inspector Frost books; I'd found 'Frost at Christmas' on the bookshelf and, having read it, wanted to re-read the other books in the series. I didn't find any which made me suspect that someone very close to me had given them to charity - although I've subsequently found one in a box under my desk at work.

I don't read many crime novels, the only other ones I can recall reading are the Mma Ramotswe series - funnily enough I started reading both sets of books when I relocated to China in 2003. As I recall I would have read anything, as we had no English-language TV and hardly any DVDs.

One of the books I found in the loft was a collection of stories by Stanislaw Lem, including one called 'Return from the Stars', in which the hero returns from a 127 journey into space (that was only 10 years for him due to time dilation.

The first part of the story is fairly bewildering - and deliberately so -as Lem describes the hero's bafflement at how different the world is and his consequent culture shock: e.g. he rejects the option of rehabilitation at a special facility on the Moon and opts to go straight back to the Earth, on the spaceship that takes him there he struggles to control his seat as it tries to mould itself to his body; he gets hopelessly lost on the transport system because he doesn't understand what any of the signs mean or how anything works; he goes to a hotel but can't work find the bed, so he sleeps on the floor, furniture morphs out of the walls when required but he doesn't know how to work it.

One of the most poignant bits is where he meets a very old man (134), who he remembers having met as the young son of one of his colleagues; they talk briefly about some of the people they both knew but in the end they have nothing to say to each other. It reminds me of when I was a student and meeting people who I'd known at school but who hadn't gone to University, at the time it felt like they had grown old while I had stayed young, they lived in the grown-up world of work and families whereas I was in the student world of beer and mates

What I liked about this story was the way the future is utterly bewildering and people's values and attitudes have changed, in the way that the modern world would be incomprehensible to a medieval person, not just technologically but socially, they wouldn't understand cars and mobile phones but neither would they comprehend your job nor your relationship to your boss.

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. Which is also true of the future.

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