MARK KAMINE

SURVIVAL OF THE ODDEST

NICHOLAS MOSLEY WANTS TO HELP THE HUMAN RACE PREPARE FOR ITS NEXT EVOLUTIONARY CATASTROPHE. THE QUESTION IS, WILL HIS BOOKS STAY IN PRINT LONG ENOUGH?

DISCUSSED: Hopeful Monsters, Catastrophe Theory, The British Union Of Fascists, Writerly Intrusion, Speech Tags, Allan Massie, Aristocratic Good Samaritans, John Cheever, J. M. Coetzee, Existential Despair, Rosa Luxemburg, Bertolt Brecht, Voltaire

Nicholas Mosley likes the language of science. “‘Hopeful Monsters,’” he tells us in his autobiography, “was a term used by biologists in the 1940s to describe mutations that were on the edge of going one way or the other—either to extinction or, if some change in the environment that suited them happened to coincide, to the establishing of a new strand of life.” Mosley used the term as the title of his most well regarded novel. Hopeful Monsters (1990) is laced with references to the uncertainty principle and to the building of the first atomic bomb. Its characters are physicists, biologists, psychoanalysts, and philosophers of science and language, and are often shown exploring in their conversations the nexus where religious belief and evolutionary theory meet.

Mosley’s Catastrophe Practice series of novels, which culminates in Hopeful Monsters, owes its title to catastrophe theory, a branch of chaos theory that explains unexpected, decisive (catastrophic) change in physics and biology. In the introduction to the series Mosley suggests that it might be possible for the human race to practice for such “sudden jumps” in evolution, to “prepare the ground” for the growth necessary to survive catastrophe.

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Mark Kamine writes for the Times Literary Supplement and The New Leader. He works on movies and TV shows in the New York area, currently as assistant production manager on The Sopranos.

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