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The Heat Death of the Universe and Other Stories

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Contents: The Heat Death of the Universe (1967) The Holland of the Mind (1969) Instructions for Exiting This Building in Case of Fire (1985) Sheep (1981) Busy about the Tree of Life (1988)


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Contents: The Heat Death of the Universe (1967) The Holland of the Mind (1969) Instructions for Exiting This Building in Case of Fire (1985) Sheep (1981) Busy about the Tree of Life (1988)

30 review for The Heat Death of the Universe and Other Stories

  1. 4 out of 5

    Aerin

    It was one of the science fiction-themed Great Courses I listened to last year that turned me on to Pamela Zoline. The professor described her as one of the greats, a writer ahead of her time, who had only published a single book (a brief collection of five short stories) in 1988, and radio silence ever since. I consider myself fairly well-versed the genre - most of the other authors discussed in the course were familiar - but I had never heard of Zoline. I felt like I'd just stumbled onto an ex It was one of the science fiction-themed Great Courses I listened to last year that turned me on to Pamela Zoline. The professor described her as one of the greats, a writer ahead of her time, who had only published a single book (a brief collection of five short stories) in 1988, and radio silence ever since. I consider myself fairly well-versed the genre - most of the other authors discussed in the course were familiar - but I had never heard of Zoline. I felt like I'd just stumbled onto an exciting secret. I found a copy of her out-of-print book - The Heat Death of the Universe and Other Stories, what a fantastic title - in excellent condition, and it was one of my highly anticipated reads for this year. It was... not what I was expecting. First, this is pretty decidedly not science fiction. I haven't taken enough literature classes to really pin down what it is - the best descriptor I can think of is "experimental." Or just "weird," but not in the sense of the blend of sci-fi, horror, and fantasy that's usually termed weird fiction these days. It's just... weird. Only one of these stories, "Instructions for Exiting the Building in Case of Fire," feels at all at home in the SF genre, and even then just barely. It's about a collective of parents, all over the world, who attempt to avert nuclear war by kidnapping hundreds of children, surgically altering them, and sending them to other countries to be raised in other families. How could we nuke the Soviets when our own beloved children might be among them? What if the other was really just us, man? It's a blend of Cold War dread, aging flower-child feminism, facile utopianism, and Freudian psychology that permeates the book and... that sort of thing just doesn't really jibe with me. Not these days. The political potentialities that kept Zoline awake at night in the 70's and 80's just seem so quaint now, and her solutions so ludicrous. And sure, it may be shitty of me to judge a decades-old book by modern standards, but I'm just not interested in reading political fiction that has no relevance to me here, now. Which is why I enjoyed the first two stories the most. "The Heat Death of the Universe," despite being first published in 1967, still felt revelatory to me. It's about a housewife trying to stave off entropy (in her housekeeping, in her mental health, in the cosmos as a whole), and the structure of the story itself seems to be doing the same. Each paragraph is numbered, the action clearly labeled and separated by clinical scientific facts and definitions, but still everything is breaking down. The heroine can't stop it, and it's driving her insane. 39. Sometimes Sarah can hardly remember how many cute, chubby little children she has. ... 50. Sarah Boyle imagines, in her mind's eye, cleaning and ordering the whole world, even the Universe. Filling the great spaces of Space with a marvelous sweet smelling, deep cleansing foam. Deodorizing rank caves and volcanoes. Scrubbing rocks. The story holds up as feminist fiction, as psychological fiction, as a successful example of where mucking around with structure actually serves the story. It's not what I would call science fiction, but I can see why it's Zoline's best-known work, why only SF publications were interested in it, and why readers at the time took notice. The other story I liked was "The Holland of the Mind," about a young American couple who move to Holland with their young daughter. He's a freelance writer, she doesn't work, and they end up just kind of floating through life and letting the forces of the world around them tear them slowly to shreds. As with "Heat Death," the structure is odd, interlaced with tourist-guide blurbs, phrasebook translations, historic factoids. Again, the structural oddness works in this story because it matches the theme and the central metaphor - the troubled mind is like Holland, which has to constantly maintain dams and dikes to keep the forces of destruction at bay. By the last two stories, Zoline's style was starting to feel gimmicky and excruciatingly boring. "Sheep" is the longest and by far the strangest in the collection. There are several strands of what could loosely be termed a "plot," but the piece seems mostly to exist to create a sort of liminal, wakey-dreamy state for the reader with the repetition of counting sheep, while simulating the odd and meaningless productions our mind's theater throws at us when we're on the edge of slumber. Ten pages of this, and I could have nodded sagely and said, "ah yes, how very artistic and smart you are, Ms. Zoline." But 80 pages just felt like a coordinated assault on my tenacity as a reader. I made it through, but barely, and I'm sure I missed most of the literary nuance of the thing. The last story, "Busy About the Tree of Life," was entertaining for awhile, and also - if you squint - maaaybe a tiny bit science fictional? It starts with a young child, Gabriel, who is being raised alone in some sort of facility, overseen by scientists. We never learn more than that, and that's as close to SF as it gets. Most of the story follows four generations of Gabriel's ancestors, starting with all 16 of his great-great-grandparents. Every single one of his progenitors dies young in some horrific tragedy (the Titanic, the Hindenburg, major earthquakes and volcanoes, train derailments and theater fires). For awhile I was enjoying these brief vignettes, but there are fully thirty of them before we get back to Gabriel, and then the story just kind of shrugs and says, "that's it!" Okay. I mean, to the extent that I am not educated or patient enough to plumb the depths of Zoline's stories, I admit that there is probably a lot in them that I missed. Particularly in "Sheep" and "Tree of Life," which I did not read thoroughly or closely. So it may not be you, book, it's probably me. But to label Zoline a master of SF is, in my opinion, flatly wrong. What she writes is literary fiction with a psychological focus and a lot of structural quirks. But I suppose if I had known that, I wouldn't have sought this book out, and I'm really glad I read those first two stories.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Thom Dunn

    The title story is a classic, but I recall Brian Aldiss said she was exceptional in general. (1/19/10)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Elle

    It is a shame we only have one collection from Zoline. The title story alone makes this worth seeking out.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mikaela Bichara

    You can publish this in a mobile app so a lot of readers can see your lovely work. Check on NovelStar and see how other writers earn by pursuing their passion in writing.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nikhitha

    for The Heat Death of the Universe

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ben Lerner

    only for the Heat Death of the Universe

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lena B

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. *only "The Heat Death of the Universe" *only "The Heat Death of the Universe"

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    okay this is something I actually wrote back in 1982 [I found some old college notebooks]...my apologies for all the grammatical errors but I will just copy my review word for word. "the problem with this story is that it has no purpose other to vent the authors purposelessness. the story has no moral, nor a message of hope. One wonders if the author wrote this for sympathy, to expound on the drab, dull trivial existence of suburban living, in the hopes that a reader can agree that in a world of S okay this is something I actually wrote back in 1982 [I found some old college notebooks]...my apologies for all the grammatical errors but I will just copy my review word for word. "the problem with this story is that it has no purpose other to vent the authors purposelessness. the story has no moral, nor a message of hope. One wonders if the author wrote this for sympathy, to expound on the drab, dull trivial existence of suburban living, in the hopes that a reader can agree that in a world of Sugar Frosted Flakes and cancer is is a lot of frustration. This piece, being written in 1967, was a caricature coinciding of the immense changes occurring in the world at that time, On a general social level, people were beginning to become a more integrated, ecological animal with their world. Books such as the Greening of America were written examining the so-called Counter-Culture with its emphasis on natural holistic foods, communing with nature and breaking away from the sterility of the world of Sarah Boyle who has so little meaning in her life she can't even remember how many kids she has and is so bored she labels and numbers the separate objects and items with her own household. This story is "jump-on-the-bandwagon" of how aware people thought they were by recognizing the lifelessness of a TV dominated, pre-packaged, Instant-Everything society. Sarah Boyle is so out of touch with what she could or might be she buys every available cleaning antisepticory [sic] device in the market, a manic depressant compulsion to belong to a schizophrenic world that caused her disunity between mind and body. It is a story of helplessness and a faint detection that something is not quite right in life, children eating food that only mostly causes tooth decay while choking on plastic toys [unseen as gifts] amongst the food. It is a world of routine, of paralysis towards the life force. Sarah's pet turtle is dying but all she can do is watch it die as she writes "HELP help help help" on her modern day appliances, totally impotent to change. Essentially Zoline's antiseptic life world is the scapegoat for the purposelessness of the victims of that world. With no solutions or alternatives to that drudgery but hysterical violent destruction of it, Zoline's approach to a solution is only infantile and base adolescent. Need is apparent for change out of the life-style but the only hope Zoline can offer is death and destruction. This view is very pessimistic and childish, and is indicative of a lack of insight and power of a foresightful visionistic mind on the part of Zoline. Accordingly, destruction is one course of action to change the course of an existence of a frustrated Sarah Boyle-type character but it is only a reflection of the lack of purpose, hope and meaning that the author imparts to us. Recognition of a malady is the first step towards recovery and cure, but spitefulness towards the sickness will never remove it, only remedies will. And until there are remedies, or even quests or searches for remedies [and Zoline doesn't even give us a glint of those] we will only be presented with despair, futility, anxiety and purposelessness which is the essence of the short story The Heat Death of the Universe by P.A. Zoline"

  9. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Gordon

    Review for Heath Death of the Universe: As I read about the history of feminist science fiction, Zoline's Heat Death of the Universe keeps popping up as part of the established canon for this area of writing. The story is very in line with the era of The Feminine Mystique, but as if voiced by a woman knowledgeable in science, comparing her situation to entropy. It's an emotional piece where readers can feel the slow build of futility in the narrator's life, and understand why her daily activities Review for Heath Death of the Universe: As I read about the history of feminist science fiction, Zoline's Heat Death of the Universe keeps popping up as part of the established canon for this area of writing. The story is very in line with the era of The Feminine Mystique, but as if voiced by a woman knowledgeable in science, comparing her situation to entropy. It's an emotional piece where readers can feel the slow build of futility in the narrator's life, and understand why her daily activities feel like a never-ending attempt to combat chaos with an increasingly smaller energy load. It's a clever, low-sf story that probably made quite an impression in the sf community when it came out for being so different and domestic. Definitely an insightful read with historical significance.

  10. 4 out of 5

    m raye

    The Heat Death of the Universe is one of my very favorite short stories.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Greg Bingham

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ollie Goldson

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tamara Gallagher

  14. 5 out of 5

    Earl Locsin

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sofy

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alexander

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Samblanet

  18. 4 out of 5

    Emily Erickson

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  20. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Bedford

  21. 5 out of 5

    Becca

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  23. 5 out of 5

    Vinit

  24. 5 out of 5

    Estelle

  25. 4 out of 5

    mimosa maoist

    "Sheep" is a unique experience, and inspiring. "Sheep" is a unique experience, and inspiring.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Forrest Norvell

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mimi

  28. 5 out of 5

    Wordweaverlynn

  29. 5 out of 5

    Karrel

  30. 4 out of 5

    Peter Nelson-King

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