Group Read 27The Big Book of Science Fiction

Story #39 of 107: “The Squid Chooses Its Own Ink” by Adolfo Bioy Casares

“The Squid Chooses Its Own Ink” by Adolfo Bioy Casares is a nice enough little tale, but it really didn’t do much for me. It’s another story about an alien that comes to Earth to save humanity from itself and protect outer space from us crazy people who have the bomb. We never get to meet the alien, and the story is told in a rather roundabout comic tone. I’m not even sure the alien is the important aspect of this story, but since we’re science fiction readers we zero in on it. I wonder if we were just ordinary fiction readers living in Argentina at the time if the focus of the story wasn’t the teacher and the small-town characters.

The narrative structure, style, and voice felt like other Hispanic stories I’ve read. Since I haven’t read a lot of Spanish-translated stories I don’t know if I’m missing out on literary allusions that might make the story more impressive to people that do. For example, I just finished To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. It’s a comedy of manners that riffs off of many classic English novels. Since I am familiar with those novels, it made Willis’ style an important part of the story.

Since I don’t have that experience with Hispanic novels I could be missing something very delightful in “The Squid Chooses Its Own Ink.”

Like I said above, the science-fictional elements of this story were already tired by 1962 when this story first came out. Maybe those ideas were new and novel in Argentina at the time. The idea behind this story reminds me of The Man Who Fell To Earth by Walter Tevis from 1963. It takes the old idea and gives it deeper pathos. Do not think you know the Tevis novel if you’ve only seen the horrible film version with David Bowie. It’s a beautifully poignant story of a Martian who comes to Earth to save his world and ours but painfully fails. Casares’ SF idea also reminds me of the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still and the 1954 novel A Mirror for Observers by Edgar Pangborn.

Casares only hinted at the theme, but having an alien from space that comes to save us in a Christ-like role is a good idea though. Maybe it’s even time to resurrect that idea. I do like that the alien fails and some of the town’s people didn’t feel humans were worth saving.

“With my hand on my heart,” Aldini murmured, “I say to you that the traveler did not lie. Sooner or later we’ll blow ourselves up with the atomic bomb. There’s no way past it.” 

As if he were speaking to himself, Badaracco said: 

“Don’t tell me that these old people have destroyed our last hope.” 

“Don Juan doesn’t want to change his way of living,” the Spaniard proposed. “He would rather that the world blew up than that salvation came from outside. I suppose it is a way of loving mankind.” 

“Disgust in the face of things you don’t know,” I said. “Obscurantism.” 

They say that fear makes one’s mind run more clearly. The truth is that there was something strange in the bar that night and we all brought our ideas to the discussion. 

“Come on, fellows, let’s do something,” Badaracco said. “For the love of humanity.” 

“Señor Badaracco, why do you have so much love for humanity?” the Spaniard asked. 

Badaracco blushed and stammered: 

“I don’t know. We all know.” 

“What do we know, Señor Badaracco? If you think about men, do you think them admirable? I think the exact opposite: they are stupid, and cruel, and mean and envious,” Villaroel declared. 

“Whenever there are elections,” Chazarreta agreed, “then your beautiful humanity stands revealed naked, just as it really is. It’s always the worst ones who win.” 

“So love of humanity is just an empty phrase, then?” 

“No, my dear teacher,” Villaroel replied. “Let us call love of humanity the compassion for other people’s pain and the veneration we have for the works of our great minds, for the Immortal Cripple’s Quixote, for the paintings of Velázquez and Murillo. In no sense does this love serve as an argument to delay the end of the world. These works only exist for humans to experience, and after the end of the world—and the day will come, whether brought by the bomb or by natural causes—they will have no justification or support, believe you me. As for compassion, it will disappear as the end approaches….As no one can escape death, let it come quickly, for everyone, so the sum of pain will be as small as possible!”

The Big Book of Science Fiction (p. 444). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

I feel there is humorous cynicism throughout this story, but I can’t be sure. I sense that Casares is poking fun at people who live in small towns, but again I’m not sure. The way the characters address and talk to each other seems like it’s meant to be humorous, but I’m behind both a language and cultural barrier, and Casares might have intended no quaint humor at all. Because the alien figures so little in this story, I’m not sure if the story isn’t mostly poking fun at small-town characters.

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James Wallace Harris, 11/3/21

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