The stories in this book are warm, cozy, cutie stories, wildly creative, and based on strange phenomenon that had (then) been recently discovered, and how these phenomenon could affect someone on a personal level, at least if they happened to be an ageless quasi-omnipotent being like the narrator Qfwfq, and good luck trying to pronounce that. The stories unfortunately are hit and miss some are beautiful poetic works, others are way longer then they need to be. Of course these are translated stories from a postmodern writer so how much of this is intentional, or lost in translation, or just plain bad writing is almost impossible to know.
The Distance of the Moon – this is the first story that I read by Calvino, long before getting my hands on the full collection. It is also the best and most beautiful story in the collection. Men row out to the ocean and hoist a ladder between their boats and the moon, where they mine for moon cheese. The story is incredibly good, easily one of my 10 favorite stories of all time. There are only two problems, one: it sets up a false hope for the rest of the book. Most of them are not nearly as beautifully written, wildly imaginative, or memorable as this one. The other problem is the title, it’s not beautiful, wildly immaginitive, or memorable either, but in fact, none of the titles in the collection are. Though there are some other good stories.
At Daybreak – a less memorable story about life in space before the stars ignited. This is a good exsample of why some of the stories fall flat. There’s only so much you can say about a world without light, but Calvino says about ten times more then he has to.
A Sign in Space – this is a story about how the galaxy spins and the sun takes 200 million years to make a complete circuit. In this story Qfwfq leaves a sign in space to mark where he was, but since it takes so long to come back around, he forgets what the sign was.
All at One Point – this is easily my second favorite story in the collection, a very humorous story about life before the big bang, when everyone lived in the singularity. This included an immigrant family that pissed off all the natives and ran their close line from one end of the singularity to the other. The story is full of paradoxes and is probably the funnies of the collection.
Without Colors – According to the folk that wrote the introduction to the collection, this is one of the more profound stories because it describes in words a world without color (and being a British publications colors is annoyingly and incorrectly spelled: “Colours”) and how the narrator perceived the change and the transition into a world of colors. Unfortunately it does not work well for me because I am colorblind. So the sensations which Qfwfq describes are difficult for me to understand, much less care about.
Games Without End – this is a cute story about a game between Qfwfq and his friend the also unpronounceable Pfwfp, where they keep changing the rules when it would seem like one person was getting ahead of the other. These rules would eventually become the laws of physics. Definitely another story worth reading in this collection.
The Aquatic Uncle – this was another story that the introducers of the book found very good, but I found lacking a bit. At this point I don’t remember the story very much, but based on the name I think it was about the first fish to come onto land, who was Qfwfq’s uncle.
How Much Shall we Bet – this story involved Qfwfq making bets with his friend (k)yK. It’s a cute story, but a little long winded for my taste. If I remember it right they were betting hydrogyn atoms because that was the only thing they had at the time.
The Dinosaurs – this is another really good story, but kind of sad. In it Qfwfq is the last dinosaur on earth, and he is being hunted by humans that fear him. Actually they might not be humans, but humanoid type creatures, things like this are intentionally left ambiguous in the book. Eventually he makes it to a place where a single young girl finds him, but not knowing who or what he is becomes his friend. It’s one of the more if not most serious stories in the collection.
The Form of Space – this story is about Qfwfq falling in space and hoping that his path will cross that of his female lover Ursula H’x. Again the story is a little long winded, and not very memorable.
The Light Years – I was looking forward to reading this story, and it was essentially the reason why I picked up the book in the first place (that and thinking the rest of the stories would be as good as “the Distance of the Moon”). The story deals with the speed of light, the premise is that something saw Qfwfq do something embarrassing millions of years ago, and held up a sign saying “I saw you” but Qfwfq can’t react because the event occurred so long ago and whoever saw it is long gone by this point. Unfortunately it is again a little too long winded for the material given.
The Spiral – this is a story about the creation of the first shell and ultimately the first Eye. It gets really weird in the middle of the story, and reminds me of “Wittgenstein’s Mistress” a lot with its constant abrupt references. The story serves more as a finisher to the collection then a story itself. It’s a little long winded at parts as well, and very circular in nature, but I think here this is all done intentionally as a way to imitate the spiral of a shell. Not one of my favorites in the collection, but it’s not too bad either.