Buddy Holly, Bradley Denton, and Bahktin

I’m almost reluctant to write about Brad Denton’s Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede because I’ll be talking about it in my Eaton Science Fiction Conference paper on retro-futurism and nostalgia.  Instead of covering that material here, I bring you… “Two Ways of Looking at BHIAAWOG.”

1) THE PEDAGOGICAL ANECDOTE.  During class, I used BHIAAWOG to cover the ideas of Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin.

Bakhtin fostered the concept of heteroglossia in the novel.  He theorized that–unlike poems, for example, which are judged by unified meaning and tone–novels have to be evaluated on terms of the form’s innate ability to voice multiple (sometimes contradictory) ideas.  No single voice gets all the authority, not even the third-person narrator or the character with the best lines.  The tension between these multiple viewpoints gives the novel social power.

BHIAAWOG provides that in spades.  We have a first-person narrator reading his mother’s first-person diaries and commenting on them.  We get that narrator’s psychiatrist’s notes* along with conversations between various extraterrestrials.  Parts of the text are told from the point of view of a cybernetic dog struggling with its surveillance mission and its innate, canine urge to devour beef jerky.

Just as importantly, we get characters debating religion, science, and rock & roll.  Every side is heard from –the televangelists, the yuppie fitness freak (who turns out to be a pretty great heroine), the jaded baby boomer kids who either embrace or shun their parents’ hippie values.  The book is a brilliant, sci-fi consideration of all the major American obsessions filtered through many social strata.

2) THE PERSONAL ANECDOTE:  I read Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede shortly after the last band I played in broke up.  I was starved for a creative outlet, but also really enjoying a new part-time gig teaching college English.  And I toying with the idea of getting a Ph.D. so I could teach even more.

I devoured the book in a day and a half, mostly reading on a sofa bed in a friend’s living room while traveling cross country.  I learned that Denton had studied at the University of Kansas, a place where I was planning to apply for grad school because of their prominent Center for the Study of Science Fiction.

Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede sealed the deal for me.  If KU wanted me, I’d go there.  Anyplace that put out people who wrote books like that had to have something special going on.

People throw around the “that book changed my life” line too much, but I’d be lying if I said anything less.

*My students quickly pointed out that these hilariously digressive psychiatric notes reveal more about the shrink than the patient.

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