Jack Staunton reviews Suicide of the Astronaut by Muammar al-Gaddafi
Colonel Gaddafi is, without a doubt, one of the greatest science fiction icons of all time. Who could forget the 1985 Infocom game A Mind Forever Voyaging, where the Libyan dictator dies in a nuclear test predicted for 2011? Add to this the opening scenes of Back to the Future, released that same year, when Libyan gunmen shoot Doc Brown, angry that he has stolen Gaddafi’s plutonium to fuel his time-travelling DeLorean.
No less of a contribution to the genre is Gaddafi’s own sci-fi volume, celebrated 1998 collection Escape to Hell. The lion of Tripoli set pen to paper to lay bare the moral emptiness of our fast-paced, instant-thrills modern society.
Not the least fascinating tale in this book of short stories is Suicide of the Astronaut. A man goes to the moon, full of hope; finds a desolate wasteland; returns to Earth, and realises the home planet is also a vacuous emotional void. As the prolonged civil war in Libya has demonstrated, Gaddafi is a master of suspense, and I’d hate to spoil the ending. However, needless to say, such is the Guide of the Revolution’s way with words, the final line forms a neat unity with the title: “The astronaut then committed suicide.”
This master scribe certainly knows how to give voice to the dilemma of the human condition, “We, however, must go forward with this herb for treating the mentally disturbed, as well as using artichokes”. I think that speaks to all of us. Indeed, with the book currently trading on Amazon for almost £60 a copy, it is clear that Escape to Hell is hot property: my pick for this summer’s top-selling ‘airport novel’.
This is not to say that the book is some sort of trashy pulp fiction. Far from it: Gaddafi is also known as an academic heavyweight. The London School of Economics, who in 2009 received a no-strings attached £1.5million gift from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, distributed over 800,000 copies of Escape to Hell to orphaned children of victims of the Lockerbie disaster, 1986 Berlin disco bombing and 1996 Libyan prison massacre. This was part of the university’s charitable work, using education to help the aspirational disadvantaged become the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. Sadly due to an LSE super-injunction we cannot reveal further details of ambitious plans for further distribution of Gaddafi’s oeuvre developed at a secret directors’ meeting in the university’s Sheikh Zayed theatre.
Moreover, a young group of German Dadaists have made a film of the entire collection, which you can view on YouTube. A Broadway musical is planned for release this autumn.
There’s no such thing as bad publicity, and Gaddafi has once again put himself in the spotlight. He can look forward not only to near-round-the-clock TV news coverage, but also obituaries planned by all major newspapers for later this year. In my view, this young writer’s career is set to keep going up and up.