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Book Report: Terra!

I must have been in high school when I first read Terra!, by Stefano Benni, and thought it was the Greatest. Thing. Evar. Well, we didn’t say Greatest. Thing. Evar. in those days. It was before the Simpson. Yes, yes, before the Simpsons. Imagine that. Anyway, I think the book suited the mid-eighties and my teens particularly well, it’s post-nuclear hijinks making me feel daring and superior, as if I saw through enough of society’s ills to appreciate this wild work, unlike the drooling yahoos circumjacent. So there’s that.

It turns out, though, that it’s a fairly good book. It’s not great, and in particular he doesn’t have any way of making the plot-wrapping-up bit readable, but there it is. There are a lot of good jokes and a few great jokes. Mr. Benni interrupts the plot every now and then to have one of his characters tell a story, and the stories are generally wonderful. We visit half-a-dozen marvelous places, from the glittering double-spaceship of the Amerussian Shieks to the Snakeman’s junkpit asteroid. The language (it’s translated by Annapaola Cancogni) is wild and irregular, and there are a handful of places where the English is clumsy or false, but on the whole, it’s a fun ride.

And, of course, one of the fun things about reading specfic from the mid-eighties is seeing how much our fears about the future have shifted. Mr. Benni was riffing off our fears of nuclear winter, corporate takeover of government functions, street violence and oil dependence. He uses the images of Japanese technical superiority and penchant for miniaturization that were prevalent at the time, and the images of obscenely wealthy Arab oilmen who really run the world that were prevalent at the time, and the images of the nobility of rejecting technology that were prevalent at the time. And it’s fun to see which images are still prevalent.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,