Cosmicomics
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77 of 82 people found the following review helpful
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
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. Now that's really something.

Most striking of all may be the story of a motherly she-particle, whose love for him and the other beings caused "the concept of space and, properly speaking, space itself, and time, and universal gravitation, and the gravitation universe, making possible billions and billions of suns, and of planets, and fields of wheat." It takes a few minutes to sink in that Calvino wrote that the universe was first sparked by love.

Calvino never really explains what Qfwfq is -- I suppose he's an atom or something of the sort, although how atoms have "long silvery arms" or build bamboo bridges. Yet he shows us the lovable, fallible being trying out different forms through the epochs, sometimes lonely and sometimes not. And he gives Qfwfq such life, sweetness and enthusiasm that it's hard not to like him, even if we don't know exactly what he is.

Then again, getting into specifics might wreck the funny, poignant "Cosmicomics" -- it's about love and the universe, and not even the lead character can distract from that.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2000
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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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2006
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. I was especially intrigued with a rather sensitive (and long-lived) character, becoming the subject of observations from distant galaxies, is deeply disturbed by his inability to alter his past actions, now forever fixed in light waves propagating across the universe.

Some reviewers have argued that not all stories are entirely successful. I agree. Some accounts are less structured and wandered around, becoming lost in Calvino's fantasy world. Nonetheless, I find myself returning to these stories for a second and third reading. I am compelled to award five stars to Cosmicomics: one star for superb story telling, one for exotic characters, one for scientific muddling, one for provocative observations, and one for delightful comedy.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2001
I have never read a book quite like this one. It is definitely not a novel, in as much as there is not a set beginning, middle, climax and denouement, nor one or more characters that we follow throughout the book in a series of adventures and incidents. While the book contains a dozen short stories with a common link that may be described as science fiction, I would not call it strictly a book of this genre.
"Cosmicomics" may instead be described as a series of beautifully and imaginatively written poetic fables that defy time and space. They take place prior to, during and after the galaxies and the universe were formed, throughout myriad evolutionary cycles, prior to the birth of mankind, and even ante-dating the beginning of what is commonly called life. These tales concern atoms, molecules and other worldly beings interacting, almost interacting, and even repelling one another while travelling between gravitational and anti-gravitational forces. They may be floating around in space, chasing each other or being chased at one and the same time. There is a story of betting on the chance occurrances of historical, pre-historical, and pre-planetary incidents, and of lovers living in a time before colors, when black, white and shades of gray were the natural order of things. There is a wondrous tale of a time during the formation of the universe, when the earth and the moon abutted one another and people utilized a ladder to climb from the earth to the moon to spoon out milk. One of the most beautiful of these parables concerns the last dinosaur to survive on earth and his relationship and near love affair with one of the new ones. This is truly a book to cherish.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2006
This is a collection of science-fiction short stories about the infinity of our universe, through the experience of Qfwfq, the main character. The infinity of space in our universe is also transposed into the infinity of time, and consequently Qfwfq is immortal and often shapeless. The beauty of the book emanates from the radical originality of Calvino's creative thought process. In these stories, he applies a scientific process to his humor, describing the vagaries of his characters, situations and the space of the universe in general, with scientific reasoning.

The first story, "Distance to the Moon", is my personal favorite. It starts with an era when the moon is so close to the earth that it is reachable with a ladder! The earth inhabitants harness this condition by raking in the cheese that is a natural resource on moon! The core of the story describes how this era comes to pass and blends into our current cosmo-geographic co-ordinates. The ending is most satisfying as it ties together many of our earthy myths, for example, cheese on the moon, and a maiden playing the harp on the moon, into this story, thus describing how these legends came into existence.

However, I cannot say the same of all the other stories. Calvino often dwells too much in his pseudo-scientific humor, which becomes a drag to even a scientist like me. The greater part of many of the stories are dedicated just to the concepts, characters and situations that are the creative genius of Calvino. As a consequence, the story itself goes nowhere, and is essentially a scientific meditation on these zany concepts. This is my opinion on stories like "A Sign in Space", "All at One Point" and "Game without end". Having said that there is still a lot of life and dynamism in many other stories like "The Dinosaurs", and "The Aquatic Uncle". All in all, a refreshingly original creation, although some stories are just that and not too much more.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2005
I forget how much writing can do sometimes until I come across a brilliant piece of experimental work. Even the category experimental falters under the brilliance of writers like Ondaatje (see the Collected Works of Billy the Kid) or, especially, the grand-Master himself, Calvino. This little book about the creation of the universe has it all. It's strange to find yourself relating to the moment that some fish took from sea to earth, sympathizing with the conservative elders and their praise for the old country (or sea I should say), yet wanting to run on the new land-generation's new legs and leave the elders behind; the story explores (although only metaphorically) the levels of immigration, emigration, natives versus foreigners back in the--what was it?--protozoan era. These stories function on a multitude of levels all at once. There are stories about the moon being just a jump from a boat at sea, and how the craters were filled with yogurt you could scoop out with your foot. The plots aren't the focus though, nothing is, and that's what's so spectacular about these stories: they work literally, metaphorically, primordially, biblically, mathematically, scientifically, philosophically, sociologically, linguistically, and any other -ally you can think of. This book has it all and does it all. Keep in mind it's told from the perspective of a character that existed before language did. Besides Calvino I can't imagine another author penning this work. This is a must for all fans of literature and those who like experimental work if you haven't read this stop everything and get your eyes on those pages.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 1998
These are not stories in the typical sense. Plot, character development, motivation, etc. aren't the main points here. Calvino takes certain astronomical ideas or theories and makes a story out of them. For instance, the big bang becomes a story about "people" all crammed together into one tiny point, who then explode outward into the universe, sometimes running into one another and discussing the old times. Some stories, such as "A Sign in Space," are so intellectual and devoid of physical action, that they are disappointing. Others, like "The Distance to the Moon," take a concept that is ludicruous and develop a good story out of it. These are not your regular stories--more like science fiction fairy tales. They are, I would guess, unlike anything you've read before and worth checking out.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2004
To read Italo Calvino is a strange and wonderful experience - no literary parallels suggest themselves. He is undoubtedly among the most original, imaginative writers of the 20th century.
Cosmicomics, then, is likely to be a revelation for the uninitiated reader, getting ready to crack the crisp, white cover and dive into its mysterious interior. What we have here is a collection of some twelve short stories tracing the history and evolution of the cosmos.
Each of them begins with a scientific premise - the moon's changing proximity to the Earth, for example, or the Big Bang theory - from which Calvino proceeds to give free rein to his imagination (much to the pleasure of the reader).
A constant guide throughout the itineraries spanning billions of light years is old Qfwfq - a sort of omnipresent cosmic particle, imbued with child-like qualities and always willing to share his quirky observations, romantic misadventures and innermost secrets.
Through the span of the stories Qfwfq confesses the nature of his affectionate tie with the moon, explores the belt of a galaxy, recalls the Universe as it was before its expansion when all of space was condensed into a singularity, the seeing of the first sunrise ever, the agony of being the last existing dinosaur and his never-ending ache for a primordial unity. The characters that are introduced throughout the stories range from a wide ontological array - abstract chemical compositions, brightly colored mollusks, gases and so on. Definitely not a conventional group but with names like (k)yK and Mrs.Vhd Vhd, how could they be?
Cosmicomics teaches its reader while remaining playful. It is at once a work that is surreal, philosophical, humorous and entertaining, without slipping into pretentiousness. The collection is masterfully translated from its original Italian by William Weaver. The writings remains beautiful, lucent and at times, gravity-defying. Calvino succeeds in making the unimaginable accessible to us, so that we can begin, at least mentally, to take leaps that span light-years. The reader should re-discover the awe, the on going `wow' of the universe, happening at this very moment.
"And at the bottom of each of those eyes I lived, or rather another me lived, one of the images of me, and it encountered the image of her...in that beyond which opens, past the semiliquid sphere of the irises, in the darkness of the pupils, the mirrored hall of the retinas, in our true element which extends without shores, without boundaries." (Cosmicomics, Italo Calvino)
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2000
Out of all the Calvino books lining my shelves, Cosmicomics is my favorite, hands down. It enchants, it engages, it bewilders (Well, I suppose that goes without saying...it is Calvino, after all), it passes from friend to friend with great reverance and smiles. He takes incredibly abstract thoughts and zeroes in on what is universal and personal to us all...wouldn't you freak out if you spotted a sign on the edge of the universe that pointed a wagging finger your way, with the admonishment "I saw what you did!"? I love this book. It ranks right up there in my top 5 ever.
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