What a Coincidence

By John Hertz:  I’m a known Jane Austen fan, so you’ll expect me to point out it’s her birthday.  I gladly call her one of the greatest writers in the world — yes, along with Shakespeare and Lady Murasaki.

Thanks to an honorary member of the Epsilon Iota chapter at Florida State U. of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity (oldest and largest music fraternity in the world), you may know it’s Beethoven’s birthday too.

Right there is a coincidence.  Indeed they were contemporaries.  What a lesson for us in the range of human creativity.  They’re not wholly disparate – I’d not say that even of Shakespeare and Lady Murasaki – and being a fan I can’t take refuge in “I am human; nothing human is alien to me” – except to the extent we say (altering the sense of one word) “Science fiction is about people; some of the people are aliens” – but compassing them both calls for a reach. To people who know only that one was born on this day, I may mention the other.

I’ve said a classic is a work that survives its own time; after the currents which might have sustained it have changed, it remains, and is seen to be worthwhile for itself.  I’ve led, I hope – inspired, perhaps – goaded, maybe – discussion on this topic; indeed with some of you.

Today happens to be another historic birthday.  It’s Sir Arthur Clarke’s 100th.

If we triangulate, as I try to, and as Buckminster Fuller taught, we might get an even better span.

So far my favorite Austen novel is Mansfield Park, upon which I can’t do better than recommend Nabokov in his Lectures on Literature. What’s my favorite Beethoven?  There I’m still like – well, somewhat like – Nero Wolfe over the cheese course in “Omit Flowers”.  Yehudi Menuhin playing the Violin Concerto with Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Philharmonia Orchestra?  Solomon playing Piano Sonata No. 29, the “Hammerklavier”? Oh dear.

I can tell you my favorite Clarke is The City and the Stars. That’s no surprise for some of you. I think it’s his masterpiece.  I wrote a note about it for Challenger 25.  There’s a link on the sidebar.  I certainly recommend it to you – the book, I mean, although I’d hardly mind if you read my note.

Some say there’d be no fanwriting without disagreement.  Ted White, I believe, said disagreement is the blood of fanzines (sorry if I misquote you, Ted).  I’ve disagreed with Charles N. Brown over his opinion that Against the Fall of Night is better (literary present tense) than The City and the Stars, into which Clarke made it.  I’ve disagreed with many who’ve held Childhood’s End better.  If you suppose I only put in this paragraph to get your attention, I disagree.

I think today, and the three shining points of this triangle, deserve applause.

An observing eye,
Boundless probing of the heart,
Cerebrating verve.

They aren’t all acrostic (I told you, Greg Benford), but this one is.

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