Gilgamesh in the Outback

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Given the increasingly democratic nature of Western societies, how to elevate ordinary lives to a heroic or tragic level has been a noticeable preoccupation of literary writers for more than a century.

It is part of the overall restraint of London's work that she raises this central question but does not force a dogmatic answer upon the reader. Tim Gibbons - West Australian To get a sense of what Gilgamesh is like, imagine one of those Outback bodice-rippers put on a strict diet, pared down to essentials, purged of the excess water weight of set pieces involving eroticized sheep-shearing and adorable kangaroos.

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Francine Prose - New York Times Book Reviw Joan London's glancing, iridescent, intelligent first novel doesn't do anything so crass as suggest a moral. But if it did, it might come close to the truth old Frank glimpsed hazily on his deathbed: Whatever "the point of it" is, it still has to be worked out anew in each generation. Gilgamesh and his story are there to remind us that this is as close to immortality as we may ever get. Elizabeth Ward - Washington Post A compelling debut The epic scope of the novel is complemented by an extraordinary sensitivity to detail.

From the intractable Australian outback to a shabby-genteel London rooming house, from the Orient Express to the Armenian city of Yerevan simmering under Soviet occupation, the settings glow with a dream like intensity, evoking both the allure of adventure and the ambivalent embrace of home. Amanda Heller - Boston Globe This novel by Australian Joan London was a finalist for several major prizes in her native land, and it's easy to see why.

Its story—of a year-old girl living in a remote corner of the country who bears a child by a briefly visiting Armenian and then follows him to his native land, in the Soviet Union on the brink of WWII—is riveting in its strangeness and immediacy, evoking with stark power a world almost inconceivably isolated and remote.

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Right from the start, when Frank, a veteran of WWI, brings his nurse and inamorata Ada with him to live on his farm in southwestern Australia, we are in a vividly realized and elemental landscape. And when their daughter Edith is seduced by the strange Aram the driver for her mother's British friend , gives birth to baby Jim and a few months later sets off to seek the boy's elusive father in his remote country, one has entered the realm of the legendary and epic journey conjured by the book's title.

The chapters covering Edith's sojourn in Soviet Armenia, threatened by both Germans and Russians, are unforgettable, brought to life in myriad brilliant details.

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Only when Edith returns to Australia after the war and gradually picks up the threads of her old life does the story begin to lose its grip. London's stark prose and command of a wonderfully maintained brooding atmosphere, however, make this an adventure to remember.

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At the hospital, he meets a woman named Ada, who -- like many fictional and cinematic angels of mercy -- has volunteered to entertain and presumably cheer up unfortunate blokes like Frank and has discovered herself to be insufficiently angelic. Ada feels little enthusiasm for her ministrations.

But she was clumsy and offhand and didn't smile enough. She lacked the sense of charity that lit the faces of the other young women. They marry, live briefly with Ada's Russian sister-in-law who is a subplot in herself , then move to the Australian outback to manage a small farm.

And the ensuing disaster is worse than anyone could have predicted. By now, we're happily prepared to spend more time with Frank and Ada, but the couple, like most parents, turn out to be merely minor players in the drama of their children's lives. Frank dies, and Ada retreats into a helpless sweet-natured lunacy, with occasional lucid spells. Their older daughter, Frances, already shows signs of the humorless fanaticism that will dominate her adult self -- until she finds her true calling, running a farm with another woman. Edith, the younger daughter, emerges as the book's heroine.

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Intelligent, observant, resourceful and gifted with a rich and entirely plausible inner life, she is compelling enough to hold her own in this paradoxically stripped-down and densely populated epic. One morning, walking barefoot to work at the local version of a grand hotel, Edith encounters two mysterious strangers who, she is amazed to learn, are headed for her home.

The two men -- Edith's cousin, Leopold, and his handsome Armenian friend, Aram -- having finished with their work at an archaeological dig in Iraq, are determined to see a bit more of the world. Along the way, they've dropped in on the ''antipodean branch'' of Leopold's family. From the minute they arrive, Edith's life is irrevocably changed.

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Lying awake at night, ''her eyes wide open, she felt she could rattle the cutlery in the drawer, make the water jump from the jug, like a witch in a fairy tale. She could almost think it was this force that caused the men to sigh and groan and turn in their sleep.

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In the summer of , he had moved into an apartment in New York where Randall Garrett, an established science fiction writer, lived next door; Harlan Ellison, another promising young novice, also lived in the building. Garrett introduced Silverberg to many of the prominent editors of the day, and the two collaborated on many projects, often using the name Robert Randall.

He divorced his first wife in and married writer Karen Haber the following year. He now lives in the San Francisco area. Douglas Fratz Advertisement It is easy to argue that over the past five decades, Robert Silverberg has been the field's most prolific author of superior science fiction of all lengths, especially short fiction. Although Silverberg's short fiction has been featured in a number of previous collections -- some of which have been retrospective volumes with titles that include "best of" or "collected stories" -- this new Subterranean Press series of The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg is a welcome and necessary addition to the library of any science fiction reader.

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This sixth volume covers the mids, a very productive period in Silverberg's career. These works show a mature science fiction writer at the top of his craft. It is important to understand that this series is not the complete stories of Robert Silverberg -- which would have been of unmanageable size -- but most of his short fiction work from this five-year period is included here, and all fourteen stories are of amazingly high quality. In this post-initial-Lord-Valentine-novels period, Silverberg was not an innovator per se , but these stories demonstrate his mastery of using the existing themes and tropes of science fiction to invoke profound emotion and intellectual effects.

Although the stories vary greatly in their length, setting and tone, there are many themes and tropes recurring across stories.