Η Ασπασία Δασκαλοπούλου, Επίκουρος Καθηγήτρια στο Τμήμα Ηλεκτρολόγων Μηχανικών και Μηχανικών Υπολογιστών, Τηλεπικοινωνιών και Δικτύων του Πανεπιστήμιου Θεσσαλίας, δεν είναι η μόνη Ελληνίδα που μετά από 13 χρόνια εκτός Ελλάδος, της είναι ευκολότερο να γράψει στα Αγγλικά, (γλώσσα των σπουδών της και όχι μόνο), παρά στα Ελληνικά.
Έτσι λοιπόν, όταν μου ανέφερε κάποιες σκέψεις της για “Το Τρίτο Αστέρι”, της είπα «Σε παρακαλώ, μπορείς να τα γράψεις αυτά που μου λες; Είναι πάρα πολύ σημαντικά…»
«Ναι, βεβαίως, αλλά θα πρέπει να ανεχθείς το ότι θα είναι στα Αγγλικά… Σε παρακαλώ εγώ. Μην με βάλεις να γράψω τέτοια πράγματα στα Ελληνικά…»
Η αλήθεια είναι πως προσπάθησα να μεταφράσω το γραπτό της. Αλλά η μετάφρασή μου, το πρόδιδε το γραπτό με κάθε τρόπο.
Οπότε το αναρτώ αυτούσιο. Αυθεντικό. Στα αγγλικά. Άλλωστε τα αγγλικά μάλλον είναι κάτι σαν δεύτερη γλώσσα για τους Έλληνες και όχι μόνο για τους Έλληνες.
Οπότε το αναρτώ αυτούσιο. Αυθεντικό.
Κι ευχαριστώ την Ασπασία για πολλοστή φορά γι’ αυτή της την μοναδική ανάγνωση.
I started reading the book with an a priori anticipation, firmly planted in my mind by the summary on the back cover, that this is about a love story extraordinaire (a Love), transcending Time and Space, set in a broader context of starwars-like adventures to save the World, in the manner Eurythmics meant: everybody would be happy when the bad thing had gone away.
And true to its summary the book delivered what it promised on the cover - which suffices to deem it a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting read. However, in its honest and modest simplicity, the summary had not prepared me for the kind of uplifting reading experience the book threw me into: total engagement from page one; constant curiosity about where it was all going and, more importantly why it was going this way; mental overdrive caused by the multitude of interwoven themes that I could (or thought that I could) spot; a sense of intimacy created by the cultural co-references that I could (or thought that I could) recognize; and finally, a narcissistic tickle, for given my own computer science background, and knowing (from his bio) of the writer's extensive experience in applied computing and space research, I felt that at some abstract level the book could be construed as a serious internal joke, a code to be deciphered only by those "in the know". It took a mere three hundred and twenty pages to produce these effects, and that is more than required in order to deem it an awesome book.
The plot and the aesthetics
This is not your typical fiction book. It's got more of a written film flavour, with its handling of time and alternating locations, while zooming in on relatively few characters; it has a romantic, a thriller and an action movie thread and comes with a terrific soundtrack, as well, for references to much loved songs abound (spoiler alert: there's even a character called Robert Plant!).
It immerses you in the enchanting deep blue speckled with shimmery white and yellow colours of van Gogh's Starry Night; the existentialist feel of loneliness and togetherness when floating in space echoes Kubrick's Space Odyssey (spoiler alert: there is a character called Dave!) and Interstellar; the interactions between human, extraterrestrial and humanoid evoke memories of Blade Runner and Her.
The love story itself, as the centerpiece, is a Nick Cave -"I'll love you till the end of the world" - kind of love, that is established fairly easily on Earth, in the first part of the book - no obstacles in the lovers' course from recognition of each other to union, no anguish to disambiguate each other's feelings, or to maintain the bond; He (Michael) and She (Françoise) are meant for each other, they know it instantly it seems, as if it were forever programmed in their genes, and the only thing they have to worry about is that the world lasts forever, so that their love can stretch to eternity. To save the love they must save the world, that is, their very own need and desire drives their engagement in the good cause of saving the world from evil - the personal concern becomes social, and this is a thoroughly political stance.
The Evil of the plot is personified via a character aptly named Jack White: he is a common person, nothing special, of typical mainstream white Christian American upbringing, bearing typical oedipodean complexes towards his parents, a repressed sexuality, and an urge to be counted as somebody that is vented through his white supremacist attitude and desire to conquer all the known world, Earth and Space included. To this end, White stages a terrorist attack in an airport, in order to steal a memory stick from Him, that holds the ultimate weapon, which He developed.
The scene of the terrorist attack itself is the stuff you'd expect to see in a Luc Besson movie, as savage and tragic as we, through news bulletins, have sadly become accustomed to witnessing in recent years in Europe and the US.
At the end of the first part of the book, which takes place entirely on Earth, between 1984 and 2030, the lovers win: they survive and rescue the memory stick, and grow old together in la Rochelle. It's believed that White died, hence they and the world are saved and their love can persist "till the end of the world".
The choice of la Rochelle is splendid, for as I discovered when I looked it up there is, in fact, a lighthouse there, called Phare du Bout du Monde! So yes, He loved Her and She loved Him till the end of the world, and the only thing standing in the way of eternity seems to be life's inevitable physical limitation: death.
“A second chance! That’s the delusion. There never was to be but one", wrote Henry James in The Middle Years. So, here's the plot twist: the book-film affords our couple a second chance, in an extraordinary way.
We move forward in time but not in the too distant future, it's 2070, and a new Michael (not entirely unrelated to the previous character), who commands and flies a space lifeboat, sets out to patrol extraterrestrial colonies; thus he comes across a new Françoise (also, not entirely unrelated to the previous character!). The two fall in love as easily and naturally as their counterparts in the first part of the book, and discover that together they must fight the same old Evil, Jack White, who survived apparently, and continues to be a threat to the world. In so doing they must travel to the dark side of the moon (echoes of Pink Floyd here) and ultimately solve a riddle.
The second part of the book is full of detailed descriptions of extraterrestrial colonies, the aircraft and digital assistance equipment available, landscape views of space, so much so, that you're entirely convinced the writer has been there and is reporting back from experience. Those readers already versed in computer science and artificial intelligence recognize familiar themes, the Turing test, natural language processing and speech recognition, robotics, temporal algebras and persistence, safety and liveness properties of systems, etc., to name but a few.
The puzzle that must be solved is encrypted in the title of the second part: Ni Dieu ni Maitre. This slogan is associated with the anarchist movement in England in the late 19th century and later became associated with the industrial workers of the world movement. It features prominently in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. In the context of this book the theme of the nature of the relation between creator and creation is very intelligently exploited to offer a solution to the heroes’ plight.
The banality of Jack's background evokes correlations with Hannah Arendt's view on evil. The final difficulty to be overcome, appearing cryptically as the Ni Dieu ni Maitre puzzle opens up the broader political philosophy topic of anarchy and the dynamics of equality in a society possibly comprising human and autonomous android ‘life’.
The computer science/artificial intelligence thread relates to issues about cognition and consciousness from the philosophy of mind community, which in turn might give rise to further questions on the nature and the dynamics of identity.
The point of contention between the battling sides in both parts of the book, that is the ultimate weapon, brings up issues relating to Ethics and science.
Even the smooth effortlessly formed love bond of the story offers plenty of food for thought, mainly around issues of trust and the navigation of couples around differences.
The internal joke
A common programming structure, for "us, in the know" is that of a loop, that is contained within a broader program. Typically, the loop itself is preceded by an initialization part, where the variables of interest are associated with some starting values, and these variables are then recomputed via the repetitive computation performed by the loop. The number of repetitions depends on a loop test, a condition that when rendered false will cause the loop to terminate. Also, loop structures present a so-called invariant property, which as its name suggests is meant to hold true throughout the loop iterations.
In my biased, to the point of perversion, reading I construed the book as a program. The first part is the initialization of the variables stage, where He and She (M for the universal male and F for the universal female) start out with whatever background value they carry and become L(ove)
Evil Jack White is a constant E that acts as the loop test. So while there is evil, fresh instances of M and F will be meeting, falling in love and united fight E. The second part is a loop and L :=M+F its invariant.
The joke can be stretched further if one starts picking up on the clue that some characters are instances of the same class – but maybe a further elaboration on this point gives away too much of the plot.
Painting, music, philosophy of mind, ethics, computer science in general and artificial intelligence more specifically, and ultimately politics, are all included in the pack, blending seamlessly. A reader who shares similar influences with the writer experiences the reading itself as a walk through the woods towards a meeting of their shared fraternity, as connotations are identified and mental connections are made between shared cultural references. A reader who doesn't happen to share a similar background is not left wanting though, for the ride becomes a treasure hunt, full of clues to pick up, decipher and put together, a ritual to become a member of the said fraternity.
Whether that was part of the author's intention cannot be established, of course, and a common fallacy we readers commit is the ascription of our own interpretations to authors, but part of the book's seduction, for me at least, rests with its effectiveness in provoking the reader not to just read its content, but rather to read into it, to personalize it.