twenty-nine (the Karen Joy Fowler Book Club)

by nike, November 3, 2014
Piero Longhi's Clara the Rhinoceros. Oil on Canvas. 1751.

Piero Longhi’s Clara the Rhinoceros. Oil on Canvas. 1751.

Two bright bangles on an arm clang, a single bangle is silent, wander alone like a rhinoceros.

~ Khargavi?ana-sutra [the Rhinoceros Sutra] c.29 BCE

Clara had once attended a creative writing workshop run by Karen Joy Fowler, and what Karen Joy told her was: We are living in a science fictional world. During the workshop, Karen Joy also kept saying, I am going to talk about endings, but not yet. But she never did get around to talking about endings, and Clara left the workshop still feeling as if she was suspended within it, waiting for the second shoe to drop.

Eventually, Clara attempted a cold equations story, and though Karen Joy never read it, Clara thought she might have liked it if she’d had the chance. In Clara’s story, False Equations, the Emergency Despatch Ship (EDS) was packed full of animals, rather than people, and the stowaway was the child of a breeding pair of White-backed vultures. An egg when she was smuggled aboard, the stowaway hatched during the journey to Walden (rather than Woden).

Clara made several copies of the story and sent them out to the other members of her book club. Fern wrote back to say that the story was too complex and far-fetched. Bea wrote that she hadn’t time to read anything just then except the book that they were supposed to be reading for their next meeting. And Belle said simply that there were far too many cold equations reworkings and inter-textual responses out there, and she didn’t see why Clara had bothered attempting another if she had so little to say about the matter.

The painting by Piero Longhi is of the famous Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicorns), Clara. She toured Europe during the mid-eighteenth century, in the company of Captain Douwe Mout Van der Meer, after her mother was killed by hunters and she was tamed by the director of the VOC (Dutch East India Company) in Bengal. Piero Longhi painted two portraits of her, which are almost identical. In one the audience in the front row wear masks, and in the other they are unmasked.

The Khargavi?ana-sutra, or Rhinoceros Sutra, is the oldest existing Buddhist text. The original – a scroll excavated from the Jalalabad Plain, is housed in the British Library. The sutras, or suttas, are fragmentary, but generally end with the instruction that one should ‘wander alone like a rhinoceros’.

This piece is the beginning of a longer story. Perhaps.

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    • November 3, 2014

    'The Cold Equations' is a story by Tom Godwin, published in the August 1954 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. You can read it online here ... During a short story workshop at the Brisbane Writers Festival in 2014, Karen Joy Fowler talked to the participants, albeit briefly, about 'The Cold Equations', and the various stories that have been written in response to it. Clara may, or may not, have attended that workshop.

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