Tuesday, August 07, 2007

give the plumber some

as some kind of karmic punishment for the blog post on flooding, we had an actual flood in our building last week. narrowly averted, in our apartment on the second floor, caught in the nick of time, but there was inches of water in the basement and the fourth floor apartment in our line got quite moist apparently, the owner being away. the plumbing here is ancient, doubtless dating back to when the building was built in the 1920s, and has always been mysterious and distinctly eerie. there'd be disconcerting gastric gurglings emanating from the kitchen at odd hours, LOUD. then there was the period when the sink would fill up with soapy bubbles. you'd come in and it was up to the brim. clear white bubbles at first, later flecked with alarming looking black bits. the first theory was an improperly installed dishwasher on a higher floor, but then it turned out it was the ancient drainage pipes that had become clogged with decades of sediment, like a chlorestorol-coated artery (so that was what the black bits were, arterial placque, ancient scum. yum yum). a "trap" was installed, a sort of unidirectional filter designed to prevent flow-back, and that worked for a while, the foam ceased. But recently--a warning sign we should have heeded--there were a few incidents of low-level froth-back, and the Eraserhead-like rumblings from the building's intestines had a new intensity. anyway last week i come in the kitchen and the sinks--enormous old fashioned ceramic tubs that make me think of the word "scullery" --were full to the brim with brackish brown water, seconds from overspilling. Panic stations! I started ferrying the stuff by the bucket to a sink in the hallway's garbage chute area, and the bleedin' bucket disintegrates in my hand, flooding the hallway. Took me an hour to mop up it up. An upclose and well whiffy reminder that there's nothing aesthetic about floods when they interact with the human word; looks nice in a field, all oneiric and utopian-uterine maybe. but in urban areas, it's abjection time, with sewage, garbage, allsortsa ordure to reckon with. Decay and ruined possessions and rotten food. Next day the plumbers arrived and embarked on a major project of wrenching out the clogged-up ancient drains, which had finally become impassable, resulting in the waste kitchen water from all twelve floors backing up to the fourth floor. As well as the main drain they replaced a vent originally designed to evacuate sewer gases--yum--but completely compacted with grot--double yum). The work is done, the dust and lead-paint particles are mostly cleared up, the holes in the walls awaiting to be replastered and restored, covered for now with cardboard and sticky blue tape. There's just this faint, moldy odor, which i'm hoping comes from the interior of the building, escaped moisture that's festered. No, nothing aesthetic about first-hand flooding, nothing at all.


Returning (gingerly) to the subject of flood lit, Frieze-man Dan Fox pointed me in the direction of Deluge, a 1927 s.f. novel by S. Fowler Wright. Sez Dan, "it involves cataclysmic tectonic plate shifts somewhere else in the world causing mass flooding across the globe. a family, living the quiet life in their cottage in the country, is torn apart, as the floods claim the whole country, save for a small archipelago of villages once collectively known as 'the cotswolds'... in its own way, considering the time at which it was written, it's quite a brutal novel."

James Taylor tells me that the English Channel rises/Home Counties inundated novel I'm thinking of is by John Christopher, which is what I'd actually suspected but wasn't sure. (He also did a cataclysmic novel called The Death of Grass, which concerns about massive crop failure leading to famine and social collapse). The novel is called A Wrinkle in the Skin, the skin presumably being the continental plates which ripple causing the oceans and dry land to swap places.) I was surprised by how much of the plot I'd remembered from one read 30 years ago.

Another obvious one is John Wyndham's The Kraken Wakes, although the flooding element comes only in the later stage of the book. Basically aliens arrive on Earth with a view to taking over, getting rid of us, they establish themselves on the bottom of the seabed, there's a series of mysterious events, attacks, boats disappearing. Then later on they decide to literally liquid-ate humanity, and start melting the polar ice caps, the ocean rises 200 feet or something, more rapidly than human civilisation can adapt to, everyone flees to the mountains, which become islands. But (as per the denouement of The Triffids), a plucky scientist discovers the enemy's Achilles heel...

Finally, Kpunk passes on some info sent to him a while back by one China Miéville,
on the subject of the resemblance between Aldiss's Greybeard and P.D. James's Children of Men. Well, apparently, there was a bit of stink about this, accusations flying (Aldiss apparently wrote a piece called "Literary Coincidence" for the Spectactor), resulting in angry denials from P.D. James. The s.f. community was particularly peeved on account of James' attempt to distance her book from the science fiction category, a common move by "proper" novelists who dabble in the s.f. mode (with the honorable exception of Kingsley Amis and Anthony Burgess who were generous with their praise and respect for the genre.)

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