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09 December 2017 @ 06:14 am
Respectable sf  
Fifty years ago, I was reading Hermann Hesse because that’s one of the things dope-smoking hippies did. When I got to The Glass Bead Game, I thought, “Wow! This is sf, the kind of sf I love! Why didn’t anyone tell me?” Here is John Hertz discussing the book in precisely those terms.

And here’s what I wrote about it a while back: It's a science fiction book. There is a novum, a new thing, in the form of the Game, and we are told much about the impact this has on society, institutions, and individuals. OK, so it's more Galaxy than Astounding, but it's science fiction.

The game itself, and the sfnal effort to describe the indescribable in telling us about it, are remarkable. Joseph Knecht is a fascinating character. You can see the book as a romantic call to flee from mere abstractions into life itself, or you can see it as a cynical warning to stick with a good abstract gig if you've got one because life itself will kill you. I've looked at it from both sides now, as the song says, and it works either way. One small fun fact: Like John Brunner's The Whole Man (another favorite of mine that I read at about the same time), this one started as a frame tale.

and also Hesse, like soap operas and country music, is unfairly judged by his supposed audience. I first learned of him from Colin Wilson, and one of the few misses in Dwight Macdonald's demolition of Wilson is his bafflement at someone taking that much time over a minor, (then) obscure Swiss writer. The early stuff is romantic; as the title indicates, Beneath the Wheel is almost pure "I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!" Demian and Steppenwolf have some literary merit to go with the self-dramatization (Area Teen Is the Only Existentialist in the World). Journey to the East is almost as good as The Glass Bead Game.

Thanx to File 770
Elenbarathielenbarathi on December 9th, 2017 03:32 pm (UTC)
I think that's the only one of Hesse's that I didn't read - I'll have to go look it up now, since you say it's his best. Thanks!