The Orbital Review of Literature
Entry for 2016-07-02

The launching facilities are now available, although the hardware is not, to put aloft a series of satellites for literary monitoring and forecasting. The assignment may ultimately go to Comsat, but current betting favors the Environmental Science Services Administration of the Department of Commerce, which already has custody of the various weather satellites.

Beyond the technical problems, some of the basic decisions still to be made are daunting. Should satellite reviewing and forecasting include plays as well as books? What about art, music, cinema, even TV? And should the satellites park in high, synchronous orbit to survey global trends, as called for in the plans for ANGST/COM I? Or should they, as the advocates of VULTURE I would have it, circle in low orbit and predict the closing of a play before it even opens?

There are also political problems. Would the early detection of a Yevtushenko or a Pasternak be worth the risk of a new kind of U-2 incident? Could a reversal in the earth's magnetic field turn orbiting critics into orbiting censors? Still, the major question at the moment is the same one that has plagued all plans for automation: the specter of unemployment. With ANGST/COM in orbit, what is to become of reviewers?

For whatever reassurance it is worth, reviewers have not suffered -- in fact, they have flourished -- in the one field where satellites have made their heaviest inroads. Anyone who examines a recent issue of the Monthly Weather Review will get some inkling of what is in store for reviewers when literary satellites become as plentiful as weather satellites.

What happens is that electronic monitoring takes over the labor of scanning and leaves the reviewer free to concentrate on scholarship. Every reviewer becomes a critic, and every essay is breathtakingly recondite. An example is A. Winn-Nielsen's article on baroclinic instability as a function of the vertical profile of the zonal wind, published in the November issue of Monthly Weather Review. Mr. Winn-Nielsen addresses himself to the quasi-geostrophic, baroclinic stability problem and is able -- as the hamstrung TV weatherman is not -- to assume arbitrary values for the zonal wind profile and adiabatic lapse rate.

What reviewer could fail to envy this freedom to make assumptions? Elsewhere in the issue, a hurricane off Cuba is mercilessly panned (deservedly, I might add) for its weak temperature gradients on isobaric surfaces and its low-level easterlies. And, as if to demonstrate their liberated point of view, two of the reviewers go so far as to challenge some of our traditional assumptions about springtime.

If the day comes when PATHOS II orbits the earth, detecting allegorical occlusions before they reach galley proofs, while PROLOGUE IV anticipates the merging of an alienation front with an autobiographical trough or a ridge of high dudgeon, and CURTAIN V, ACT I, and SCENE II triangulate Broadway, the Monthly Weather Review is in for some stiff competition. Fed by ZEITGEIST I through VI, Partisan Review may have to become a weekly while SR publishes daily and the New Republic retreats to the safety of politics and foreign affairs.

This assumes, of course, that literary and dramatic reviewers will find it possible to reconcile themselves, as the meteorologists have, to working hand in glove with the Environment Science Services Administration of the Department of Commerce.



(from Saturday Review, 1968)