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Cosmicomics Paperback – October 4, 1976

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Editorial Reviews Review

An enchanting series of stories about the evolution of the universe. Calvino makes characters out of mathematical formulae and simple cellular structures. They disport themselves amongst galaxies, experience the solidification of planets, move from aquatic to terrestrial existence, play games with hydrogen atoms -- and have time for a love life.


Metaphysical conceits are a thing of the past. Now with moon shots and interstellar probes, a writer really in tune with his age has to think of scientific conceits, or better yet, treat mathematical formulate, or theories and equations from physics, as if they were "characters" gamboling about the universe, beaming and burping through the void, carrying on the most enlightened (though not necessarily enlightening) conversations:" 'Ahal' I said. 'Why don't we play at flying galaxies?' 'Galaxies?' Pfwfp suddenly brightened with pleasure. 'Suits me. But you. . . you don't have galaxy!' 'Yes, I do. . ." ' Italo Calvino offers many similar exchanges, his tales being extraordinary and brilliant (if you like them; tiresome and thin, if you don't) variations on the whole spectrum of evolutionary transformations, contractions, and expansions that have affected time and space since whatever your version of genesis happens to be. Calvino is a witty and fanciful fellow who enjoys linguistic pirouettes somewhat in the manner of Nabokov, but he lacks the latter's commanding personality, and he relies too heavily on the pathetic fallacy (the illusion that external objects have human feelings), so we find his simple cellular creatures telling us "When I was a kid, the only playthings we had in the whole universe were the hydrogen atoms. . . ." etc. etc. For science fiction devotees, in any case, clearly the most sophisticated item yet from that genre. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Product Details

  • Series: Harbrace Paperbound Library, Hpl 69 (Book 69)
  • Paperback: 153 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; 1st edition (October 4, 1976)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156226006
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156226004
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,313 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 84 people found the following review helpful By ewomack VINE VOICE on November 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
Prepare to read something you are not prepared for. This book will send you into realms of storytelling that seem impossible even as you read them. Cavort with "beings" who are present at the beginning of the universe and the big bang; be present at the moment someone (or something) plays with "a thing" for the first time. A review cannot do this book justice. It is utterly mind-blowing, beautiful, funny, and profound all at the same time. The writing is crystal clear (even in translation), which adds to the book's mystique. One of the best things about this book is the sheer impossibility of making a movie out of it. It exploits the best of what written stories can give us: imagination and the freedom to evoke our own mental imagery. The images floating through my head while I read this defy description. The stories themselves defy description (as I found out when trying to convince others to read it). Why can't more books be like this?
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By EA Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
In the beginning, there was... Qfwfq? Italo Calvino apparently thought so -- his magical-realist fantasy "Cosmicomics" is one of the two best novels he ever wrote. Enchanting, surreal and whimsical, this is a look at the history of the cosmos that you will never find in any astronomy books.

Qfwfq is an ancient being -- he was a child playing with his family when the matterless void began to produce.... "things." Along with others of his kind, he has lived an immeasurably long lifetime, watching the Big Bang itself -- uniquely described in this case -- and the galaxy form, the earth cool and start to produce life.

And so Qfwfq goes through the ages, with all the rivalries, crushes, lost loves and exciting discoveries that a person experiences in their life (even though his life is uncounted millions long). And behind each of his experiences is a great cosmic event -- the Big Bang itself is caused by a loving aunt-like friend, an adolescent crush follows the moon away from the Earth, a rivalry forms between himself and the nasty Kwgwk, and his first love is doomed by his love of color on Earth's forming surface.

It takes a truly unique imagination to create something like this -- Calvino takes forming planets, whirling galaxies and ultraviolet rays, and gives them a whimsical spin. One moment he is taking your breath away with his descriptions of the Milky Way, the next he's getting smiles for the image of Qfwfq and his pals playing marbles with hydrogen atoms.

It's that mixture of grandeur and innocent whimsy that makes "Cosmicomics" so good. Not to mention, of course, Calvino's talent for poetic prose. In less than a paragraph, he can convey the vastness of the universe; in less than a chapter, he can describe the beauty of primeval Earth. In detail.
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Mark Valentine on July 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
I resisted this book at first. Calvino wrote a series of 12 related short stories that work as a novel (but each story stands on its own), each playing with visual images. In his book, The Uses Of Literature, Calvino writes about Cosmicomics, saying, "My aim was to show that writing using images typical of myth can grow from any soil, even from language farthest away from any visual image." He does this with incredible agility, quickness, exactitude, visibility, and multiplicity.
The first tale, for me, was the most mind- boggling. "The Distance Of The Moon" is surreal, absurd, fantastical, and utterly engaging. It is worth the price of the book itself. Four characters cavort on the earth and the moon--this was back in primordial days when the two planetary bodies were fighting to be separate--where they collect moon milk and throw it back to the earth with spoons. It is at once a tale of unrequited love, of absurd fantasy, of visual imagery, and humor that is from one of the best writers of this century.
Read it as a study of narrative; Calvino crafts his tales using symbolism, multiple meanings, all with precise, gifted language, it is worth the price of admission.
I think that any and all Sci Fi Lit classes should include "The Distance Of The Moon," or the entire book itself. I've dog-eared and scratched my copy already, and you're going to have to pry it from me. Now, I swear by it.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Michael Wischmeyer on February 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
How does one describe Italo Calvino? A superb, imaginative story teller? A startlingly creative writer? Author of provocative, compelling, fantastical fiction?

Cosmicomics is a superb introduction to a uniquely remarkable author, a storyteller in a class by himself. These twelve tales begin with cosmological observations such as "At one time, according to Sir George H. Darwin, the moon was very close to the earth". What follows is a first person (or perhaps, first entity would be more precise), imaginative account, loosely tied to the introductory scientific premise.

The protagonists are decidedly strange, perhaps atomic scale particles, mathematical expressions, cellular structures, simple biological forms, or extinct creatures. Calvino never quite describes the story teller, leaving us to exercise our imagination. What is clear, however, is that these entities, rather remarkably, exhibit behaviors like jealousy, arrogance, self-delusions, rivalries, and ambition. Similarly, relationships between particles, or force fields, cells, or whatever, are described not by complicated equations, but are cast in familiar terms: we find uncles, spouses, lovers, and enemies.

The plots defy easy categorization. One involves a blind mollusk (no visual organ) contemplating the invisible beauty of his/her (gender is somewhat non-specific) colorful, spiral, carbonate shell. Another is a poignant account of two lovers separated by evolutionary divergence. A third involves two rivals falling endlessly along some gravitationally curved path.
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