Our tenth reader and I sat down on a park bench in the shadow of a private all-boys school to discuss Pamela Zoline’s subversive sci-fi story “The Heat Death of the Universe” (1967). It’s an amazing work of short fiction that deftly portrays a housewife’s nervous breakdown alongside a discussion of physics and cosmology. We spoke about Zoline’s impressive depiction of order and chaos, the experimentation of New Wave science fiction, and the successes and shortcomings of short fiction. (This interview also features a brief discussion of Louis Sachar’s wonderful book Holes if you’re feeling nostalgic.)
“The heat death of the universe — which is the sort of tendency towards chaos of a closed system that some people believed might affect our universe — becomes this kind of metaphor for her life and her attempt to maintain order as her life and her world becomes more and more disordered. She feels this helpless pull towards disorder, and that becomes a metaphor for how she feels helpless in other ways… It’s really great because it’s a mid-century women’s story about someone being trapped in a domestic situation, but it’s written…in such a way that it elevates it to feeling like the stakes are that of a sci-fi story, when it’s really about a person having a nervous break.”
Pamela Zoline – “The Heat Death of the Universe” <– A PDF of the story if you’re interested!