23 April 2008

Walter M. Miller, Jr. A Canticle for Leibowitz. New York: Bantam, 1988.

Current scientific theory suggests that, while the universe has been expanding since the “Big Bang”, it will eventually run out of steam and begin contracting. As matter collapses into black holes, becoming denser and denser, it will finally be reduced to a single, infinitely compact and unsustainable point--leading to another “Big Bang”, when it starts all over again.

Miller’s tale, originally published by Lippincott in 1959, applys this same cyclic principle to humanity. It is the story of a Catholic sect, founded by a penitent scientist after the Flame Deluge--present-day man’s first nuclear war--to preserve what was left of historical knowledge from the backlash against learning that followed. its three sections show man’s progress, from the struggle to legitimize learning around 2800 A.D., to its embrase by secular society in 3200, through the inevitable repetition of history which, once again, brings down Lucifer’s fire to destroy a technologically advanced but morally corrupt society in 3700.

This is a book of complex ideas and theological questions, such as man’s responsibility for the use of knowledge and the meaning of hope, but it is neatly summarized in these lines:
How shall you “know” good and evil until you shall have sampled a little? Taste and be as Gods. But neither infinite power nor infinite wisdom could bestow godhood upon men. For that there would have to be infinite love as well.

Infinite love does return to the world, briefly, as the second holocaust descends, to show that hope, like history, moves in cycles.


15 April 2008

National Library Week: April 13-19
Celebrate with a Book!

In other news, J.K. Rowling demonstrates that, while she is a fine writer, she does not understand copyright law. Her suit, claiming that Steven Vander Ark's Harry Potter Lexicon infringes on her right to use her characters to create her own encyclopedia of the fictional world they inhabit, shows that the concept of 'fair use'--which allows new, derivative creations based on published material, is still widely misunderstood.

Rowling is not alone is her confusion: music labels, movie studios, and (especially) the Disney Corporation all want us to believe that once they 'produce' something, it is theirs forever. It's not, even though Congress has tried very hard to support that view (the copyright term, originally 14 years, now extents 70 years past the author's death). No, we still have rights. We can, legally, make a copy of an item. We can create a parody of it or, as Vander Ark has done, compile, organize, and arrange material in a new and useful fashion. That Vander Ark's work is useful should be obvious from the fact that Rowling herself called him to consult while producing her later Harry Potter books.

While Ms. Rowling's desire to produce her own encyclopedia is understandable and her intention of donating the proceeds to charity is worthy, she does not have exclusive rights to use the material just because she originally created it. Here's hoping the judge understands both letter and intent of the law better than she does and dismisses this suit immediately.