Italian writer Italo Calvino (1923 – 1985) has been covered before on this blog with his WWII short stories from Into the War. His main literary styles may have been neorealism and postmodernism, but he still fashioned himself as something of a virtuoso short story writer. This is where the Cosmicomics enter the fray, with this complete collection made up of 20 stories to form one volume.
Published in 1965, the stories are narrated by the extant being Qfwfq and its romp around ludic science-fiction, science-based, fantastical notions. The collected stories tell the history of the Universe ever since the Big Bang, with no real attention paid to logic or facts in the name of fun and entertainment. The result? A vivid batch of stories alive with a sense of wonder and joy. Hurray!
The Complete Cosmicomics
As with other writers, such as J.G. Ballard, Calvino turned to the fantastical after expressing himself through more serious works. Whilst Ballard wrote almost exclusively for the science-fiction genre as a younger man, before turning semi-autobiographical with 1984’s Empire of the Sun, Calvino took the reverse route, documenting his experiences before doing an about turn and entering a world of spontaneous fun in middle age.
The result is there’s no real sense or structure to the stories, it’s all rather nonsensical, whimsical, and all the more marvellous for it. You can bask in the joyous flow of the prose as you’re taken on a weird and wild adventure; the opening story, Distance to the Moon, is about a lost love, zero gravity, milking the Moon, and there’s lots of floating about and using the Moon’s orbit (you can watch an animated adaptation of this further below).
Qfwfq, who witnesses all the events, is an exuberant sort who babbles in an excited manner akin to Ishmael from Moby Dick. He leads all the endearing stories and you’ll meet a wide batch of personable oddballs in what is something of a cult novel (seriously, have you ever heard of it before this blog? Hmmmm?!) that should be enjoyed by many new generations.
The big question really is this: are these childrens books? By which we mean, is it suitable to read them to children? Having grown up reading Brian Jacques wonderful Redwall series, plus Terry Pratchett’s equally remarkable Nome Trilogy (two wonderfully charming writers sadly no longer with us), we can attest they are. Although there are adult themes afoot, frankly we consider this essential for young minds in order for them to fully flourish.
We don’t mean prod them with sticks whilst they read through Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward, but we do suggest here’s a way to spark up young minds with imaginative, magical, and rather timeless stories which will instill a sense of wonder into their daily this and that. Oh, and us adults will love it, too. Innit.
Calvino’s work is positively crying (if not outright bloody screaming) for animated adaptations and, lo and behold, there have been plenty of them. The above is the best one we found after perusing YouTube, with a lovely Satie soundtrack and a bit of French voiceover. Oui? Non! Oui? Merde, oui! Take a moment to skip through it, or watch the whole thing. Whatever – just enjoy.