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Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

Cosmicomics (edition 1968)

by Italo Calvino

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Authors:Italo Calvino
Info:Harcourt Brace & World (1968), 153 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Italian literature

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Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino


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The form for the short stories in this book is that Calvino takes one of man’s latest findings about the universe or evolution, states it in the first paragraph, and then builds a creative, impossible story around it, narrated by a being called ‘Qfwfq’, and including others with mathematical or scientific type names, such as Dean (k)yK, or Mrs. Ph(i)Nk0.

These intelligent, human like beings inhabit space particles or live hundreds of millions of years, and yet have foibles like little attractions and jealousies, or needing to scratch themselves on the early grainy matter of the solar system. Children will play marbles with atoms along spacetime’s curves. A newly evolved creature on land will argue with the old Uncle who believes that land-living is going to be a ‘limited phenomeon’. Two beings will bet on events in the early universe, starting with supernova formation and then quickly getting into mundane things in mankind’s history on the earth, begging the question whether what we do is pre-ordained or not. Observers on earth and distant planets will communicate with signs that take 100 million years to reach one another. A sightless mollusk will make the eyes of others possible, and ‘see’ his loved one through the images collected by those eyes.

In short, in all this dancing across time and space, anything is possible, and the stories are uniquely playful. While the concepts and names sound nerdy, there is a lightness throughout Calvino’s writing. In making his characters transcend the limitations we humans are bound to, he seems to gently point out how small we are in the universe, but at the same time how One we are with it, and to each other. ( )
3 vote gbill | Feb 2, 2016 |
Calvino's novel is similar to Borges in the high-concept, borderline metaphysical premises, but more focused on the characters rather than following all the consequences of that premise. That's not to say that Borges isn't emotional; one of his under-appreciated gifts, and one lacking in most of his wanna-be successors, was in wringing emotional grist out of his evocative images and premises. Instead, Calvino isn't afraid to weave a separate emotional story onto the premise, or wander off-topic as he continues down the tale.

Indeed, Calvino is more interested in using the outlandish settings to more literally represent emotions and relationships that exist in our own lives, albeit in more subtler forums. For example, one of the stories depicts the transition of some species from the land to the sea—but struggling with relatives who have refused to make the change, and seem stuck in their ways yet still insist on their own wisdom.. Our narrator's girlfriend is thoroughly habituated to the land, and he fears of the consequences if he introduces her to his great-uncle. Even if we aren't amphibian, can't we recognize this tale?

This sort of panpsychism pervades the stories, with our narrator Qfwfq taking the form of a dinosaur, a mollusk, pre-creation matter, and more. Calvino's painstaking efforts to depict the sensory experiences of these creatures are what lends the book a poetic edge, since you rarely see those kinds of explorations in prose. There are exceptions of course, like Nagel's "What is it like to be a bat?", but they tend to be specialized forms and not general fiction.

Talking about it with a friend, she mentioned that the book seemed to be more a novel than a collection of short stories, and I'd agree. Resonating throughout many of the stories is love, loss, and dealing with the confluence of the two. Calvino's language is beautiful, yet dwells in melancholy. If this had been his only book I would have thought it a personal obsession, but it instead resonates as a particularly thoughtful thematic choice for a book concerned with the consequences and casualties of cosmic creation. ( )
  gregorybrown | Oct 18, 2015 |
A curious collection of short fantasies which feature anthropomorphized sub-atomic particles, cellular structures and prehistoric life forms, as they exhibit all-too-human emotions and motivations as they meander through and manipulate space and time and matter and energy. Think of it as a universe where everything that exists is animated, intelligent and has recognizably human agendas. Interesting and entertaining, but not something I'd be inclined to read again someday. ( )
  burnit99 | Jul 6, 2014 |
Just finished the first story, about the Earth and the Moon and longing and elliptical orbits and desire, and I'm both charmed and thrilled already.


Now, having finished the collection, I'm glad to report that many of the stories that followed that one are just as curious, amusing, and odd as the first. Not all of them achieve equal levels of excellence, but there are enough such stories to make the read worthwhile.

The characters in these stories are elementary particles, equations, and principles of physics. Also a dinosaur and evolving fish making the transition to landside locomotion.

On occasion the attempts to convey concepts on a universal scale or to describe essential existential watersheds grow tiresome, but Calvino is so adept at humanizing his characters--including the multitude who live in cramped quarters in a single, pre Big Bang point--that his tales always take on the pleasant shades of fable. They may dwell on the expansion of space the the effects of gravity, but they are at heart tender stories. Even when describing the first dawn or the moment that the abyss unveiled the notion of color, they speak about love, loss, and longing. ( )
  phredfrancis | Feb 8, 2014 |
A co-worker who majored in Liberal Arts recommended this book that she read in her Italian Lit class. It was described as “super funny”. In my first attempt to read it, I quit in the first chapter. The story of when the moon was so close to earth that people would jump back and forth between earth and the moon seemed too absurd. Many years later, I made a second effort, and this time found the entire book great (even “super funny”). Each chapter begins with a short description of a modern scientific discovery or theory. These are from various scientific fields: astronomy, biology, paleontology, etc. Then the narrator, who is often human-like, but usually not quite human, launches into an “eye-witness” account which, in his opinion apparently, validates and clarifies the abstract scientific explanation. It is like the author is trying to create new mythology that includes modern man's expanded understanding of the Universe. But it is done with a lot of humor and obviously is not meant to be taken too seriously. My favorite chapters were The Dinosaurs, because it was a little darker than the other chapters, and the final chapter, The Spiral. The Spiral is the best in the book, in my opinion, because it summarizes the ideas that the author has been trying to convey in the preceding chapters. ( )
  dougb56586 | Feb 1, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (47 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Italo Calvinoprimary authorall editionscalculated
Baranelli, LucaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Montale, EugenioContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weaver, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Una volta, secondo Sir George H. Darwin, la Luna era molto vicina alla Terra. Furono le maree che a poco a poco la spinsero lontano: le maree che lei Luna provoca nelle acque terrestri e in cui la Terra perde lentamente energia.
At one time, according to Sir George H. Darwin, the Moon was very close to the Earth. Then the tides gradually pushed her far away: the tides that the Moon herself causes in the Earth’s waters, where the Earth slowly loses energy.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
There is a later, expanded work "Complete Cosmicomics" / Tutte le cosmicomiche" that contains significant amount of material that does not exist in this, original edition. Please keep the different editions separate.
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Book description
Colección de todas las cosmicómicas escritas por Italo Calvino.

Table of

The distance of the moon --At daybreak --A sign in space --All at one point --Without colors --Games without end --The aquatic uncle --How much shall we bet? --The dinosaurs --The form of space --The light-years --The spiral.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156226006, Paperback)

An enchanting series of stories about the evolution of the universe. Calvino makes characters out of mathematical formulae and simple cellular structures. They disport themselves amongst galaxies, experience the solidification of planets, move from aquatic to terrestrial existence, play games with hydrogen atoms -- and have time for a love life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:33 -0400)

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