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Literature / Cosmicomics

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Cosmicomics is a collection of short stories, connected through a frame story. A 1965 work by Italo Calvino, in which scientific facts become premises for the mind screwy tales and love stories of an undefined being named Qfwfq.

As indicated by its title, Cosmicomics is a book that is at once cosmic and comic, the sublime and the ridiculous coexisting on the same plane. Each chapter opens with a scientific fact and a following assertion by Qfwfq that he was there to see that science in action, before launching into a narrative that spins an imaginative and strangely human story from a seemingly cut-and-dry factoid with inhuman creatures as the characters. Atoms and galaxies become toys for children. A universe comes into being thanks to a statement about tagliatelle. Major historical events on Earth are the subjects of bidding between immortals. The love between two mollusks enables everyone around them to gain eyesight. Sometimes the scientific premise will actually be a disproven one. This in no way hinders Qfwfq.

Truly, Cosmicomics is a work best experienced through firsthand reading than secondhand telling. If you've ever wanted to know just how inventive stories based on scientific theories and principles can get, this book will be more than happy to show you - and maybe get you to see more than a little bit of yourself in seemingly cosmic and unapproachable beings.

This book contains examples of:

  • Cheesy Moon: In "The Distance of the Moon", the moon is depicted as having once been close enough to Earth for people to regularly get cheese and milk from it.
  • Exposition of Immortality: The stories are told in first person as the memories of the extremely old narrator, Qfwfq. Among Qfwfq's memories are when he was among the first amphibians that colonized land, when he invented seashells, and his infancy before the Solar System formed.
  • Fun with Palindromes: Many of the names of the stories' characters are palindromes, usually of random letters — besides Qfwfq himself, two of his rivals from distinct stories are called Kgwgk and Pfwfp, while one of the characters in "All in One Point" is called De XuaeauX.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Well, fish thing in Uncle N'ba N'ga's case. He's a stereotypical recalcitrant elderly relative who refuses to move with the times and mocks all habits of younger generations, except here in the context of a Devonian fish griping about modern amphibian goings-on.
  • The Heart: The kindly woman in "All in One Point", who is the only one the quarrelling neighbours can all love.
  • Last of His Kind: In "The Dinosaurs", Qwfwq is the last Dinosaur left in the world after disasters, plagues, and the attacks of the New Ones have destroyed all the others. So much time has gone by then that nobody even recognizes him for what he is, and he spends most of the story thinking and philosophizing to himself about what it means to be a Dinosaur now that the Dinosaurs are gone.
  • Love Hurts: Qfwfq can't catch a break with any of his love interests. Even if they reciprocate, something always happens to drive them apart.
  • Mind Screw: Just what kind of being is Qfwfq? Has he really lived through all the experiences he claims to have, presumably changing in sync with the universe, or is it more of an alternate universes/reincarnations thing? And let's not get started on the individual stories themselves; "The Distance of the Moon" is the least mind screwy of the bunch as it's actually about concepts you can easily imagine (the moon once being close enough for people to be able to obtain cheese and milk from it) instead of things like, say, everyone in the universe being at the same single point (or rather, before there is any distance or space) or Qfwfq managing to create a sign in space long before materials for signs existed.
  • Negative Continuity: The scientific theories for some of the stories contradict each other (notably, one story is set before the Big Bang, while another is based on the Stedy State Theory). This didn't hinder Calvino in the least.
  • Painting the Medium: The story "Gli Uccelli" ("The Birds") is narrated as if it is a description of the panels of a comic, including some jokes and tropes that would only made sense in a comic and some jokes and tropes that wouldn't make sense in a comic.
  • The Power of Love:
    • In "All at One Point," the universe is formed when a kindly woman's declaration that she'd love to make tagliatelle for everyone else causes them to envision the tagliatelle and then the kitchen and then the entire universe from there, and that's when all of that somehow comes into existence.
    • The Power of Love also fuels a number of important events, such as the creation of eyes, time and shells.
  • Racist Grandma: In this case, Uncle N'ba N'ga, an elderly relative of Qwfwq in a story about the first creatures to leave the oceans, who hates land animals.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Uncle N'ba N'ga thinks that he can be rude simply because he's still a fish, while his younger relatives have become primitive land animals.
  • Scry vs. Scry: The plot of the story "How Much Shall We Bet?" revolves around Qfwfq and Dean (k)yK making long-running bets about future events, beginning in the very dawn of time with wagers about the probably of atoms forming and stars igniting and continuing into the present day. Qfwfq has the advantage at first, but then starts making grand, risky guesses about precise events billions of years in the future, mostly focusing on events in historic times even though Earth hasn't yet formed at the time of betting; Dean (k)yK instead beats against him out of skepticism that the context of these bets will even occur. Once Qwfwq starts to realize that his predictions were off, it's too late to do anything about them and the cascade effect erases the long advantage he had built at first.
  • Through His Stomach: In "All in One Point", the first ever beings lived in the non-dimensional singularity of the pre-universe. Mrs. Ph(i)Nko's desire to feed them all tagliatelle was what caused the Big Bang.
  • Time Abyss: Qfwfq has witnessed all the history of the universe, and even more: "All at One Point" describes his life before the Big Bang — that is, before time existed.
  • The Unpronounceable: Almost all of the characters' names qualify, especially given Calvino's propensity for not using much in the way of vowels in this field: Qfwfq, Rwzfs, De XuaeauX, Granny Bb'b, Mr. Hnw, Kgwgk, Pfwfp, Lll, etc. Some even have things in their name like parentheticals or ^(x). It's actually a bit jarring when the love interest in "The Form of Space" has a recognizably human name... and even then, she has the last name of H'x.