The title of Les Murray’s latest collection of poems—Waiting for the Past—is tucked away in the middle of the volume in a poem on the death of his grandmother. It’s a rare prosaic poem for Murray, fittingly titled “Growth,” with lines that mirror the unpredictability of his grandmother’s cancer and a young boy’s wandering in the “Cool dust of evening” in rural New South Wales, Australia.
Science fiction shares with pornography the distinction of being a genre that can be described as either “soft” or “hard.”
Hard science fiction is rigorously technological. Its ideal practitioner is an astrophysicist who has momentarily torn himself away his work at the Hadron Supercollider to popularize the cosmic mysteries he investigates day-to-day.
Soft science fiction is probably what most readers are familiar with, as it encompasses both Star Trek and Star Wars and focuses on character and plot without sweating the scientific detail.
Three momentous events mark 1979 as the year in which modern jihad, having evolved over the course of the century, emerged as a global movement: the establishment of a theocratic regime in Iran, the siege of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. While the conditions for an Islamist explosion had existed for a long time, these events were the spark.
On April 1, 1979, following the overthrow of the shah and the return of the fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini from exile in France, the Shiite populace of Iran voted in a national referendum to become an Islamic republic. A new constitution outlined the central role of divine revelation in determining Iran’s laws, which would be basedon the Koran and the Sunnah, the traditions of Islam.
We construct buildings for shelter from the elements—shelter from wild animals, for that matter. We build for warmth in the winter and cool in the summer. We build to maximize acreage, piling floor on ceiling until the idea of a second-story office becomes something like the Empire State Building. We build for defense, from the first walled village of mud huts to the stacked stone of curtain walls and castle keeps. Sometimes we build for aesthetics, the sheer look of the thing. Other times we build for the glory of God or the monumental remembrance of heroes. Often we construct buildings to invite people in. Even more often we construct buildings to keep people out.