This week’s Flashback Friday: Don’t Bite the Sun by the late Tanith Lee.
A few days ago (May 24th), Tanith Lee passed after a long battle with cancer. She was an author that I discovered in high school, but with Don’t Bite the Sun and its sequel, Drinking Sapphire Wine, being two books I love, I felt it fitting to do a Flashback Friday post on it.
The first time I read the book, it was in the omnibus form titled Biting the Sun and contained both Don’t Bite the Sun and its sequel.
This book was the first I’d read that was so cavalier about sex, drug use, and other forms of instant gratification–all to serve the plot. I’d certainly read plenty of SF/F by then and quite a number of books with graphic violence and detailed sexual encounters (cough, cough, Jean Auel), but Tanith Lee framed it through a different lens.
The exploration of what pleases us in life and whether hedonistic tendencies really lead to happiness was fascinating for me. I grew up in a very religious, very conservative household where books like this weren’t allowed. Had my father known what I was reading, he would have flipped his shit. It’s ironic considering that religion often warns against the dangers of hedonism in a similar way.
It wasn’t that the book plastered a huge warning sign saying “Sex is bad! Drugs are bad! Anything good is bad!” so much as it demonstrated the need for reason and logic in the decisions we make and the paths we chose to follow. I’d already figured out that homosexuality wasn’t evil, and that people could and should be in control of their own bodies. But here was a book that showed that actions also had realistic consequences. No burning in hell because you were in love. Just the simple idea that too many drugs damages the body, unprotected sex could mean disease and pregnancy, and so on.
These were great lessons for my teenaged self. I think many children learn these lessons already, but with the upbringing I had, they were new ideas. Liberating ideas.
Reading this led to my reading of Fahrenheit 451 (Bradbury) and Childhood’s End (Clarke), both of which explore similar themes. All three show a character who experiences an awakening about the world and reality they live in as they find themselves at odds with it.
Today isn’t all that different from particular scenes in this book. People drive too fast, text and drive, and drink and drive. They worship celebrities who have done little more than exist in a vapid state of decaying intelligence. Media often glamorizes drug-use and blows up scandalous events in micro-detail for our analysis and judgement. Folks support murderers and rapists because they’re famous and can do no wrong. Even worse, many don’t have the attention span to watch a movie longer than 90 minutes or read a book past its 100th page.
Everyone has their soap box and their 15 minutes of fame to share it.
With our ever-evolving technology, our society is hell-bent on instant gratification and fast success. What does it mean when our popularity on social media is more important in the eyes of others than our actual worth and value as an individual? When writers’ social media presence is seen as equally important to their writing output and ability?
Don’t get me wrong, I love technology. I’m a gamer and computer geek and love the time spent in front of some electronic device or another, but I also remember that these are machines. There is a wonderful, beautiful world of nature out there to explore and people to have real conversations with that don’t require a social media platform.
Reading Biting the Sun back in the day taught me that sometimes our ample enjoyment is too much, and for all that it seems contradictory, hollow. Reading the book as an adult reminded me of the same lesson.
Sometimes it’s good to take a break from the computer and visit with a friend. Or read a good door-stopper of a book. Or go sit outside with a notepad and write with my hands.