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The sixth day and other tales

by Primo Levi

  Print book : Fiction  |  1st Summit Books ed

The Sixth Day and Other Tales    (2011-03-10)


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by wppalmer

Review of The sixth day by Primo Levi published by Abacus Books (1988).
Reviewer W. P. Palmer

Some years ago I reviewed another of Levi's books, The Periodic Table (Palmer, 1988), for this journal (now in Bill's Amazon reviews). I was so impressed with his writing for its relevance to us as science teachers, that I will now review another of his books. The Sixth Day was originally written in Italian in 1966, and not available in English until 1990, with the paperback not available until 1991. It is again a collection of short stories (twenty-three of them in this volume). They are all fictional and all contain a major scientific theme, usually related to chemistry. Quite a few of these are future orientated and might well be classed as science fiction, though Levi's work is not usually put in this category. I feel that whilst these stories are certainly clever and entertaining, they are not in the class of those in The Periodic Table probably because they are less autobiographical. Although they were written more than quarter of a century ago, some stories do contain a prophetic element, though sometimes the fulfillment of the prophecies in other stories seems as far away as ever.

For example, in the story called `Retirement Fund', a machine which provides fully realistic images for the purchaser along preset themes, called 'The Torec', is described: the description matches quite closely the 'virtual reality' devices that have only become technically possible in the last few years. Similarly there is a story about water becoming suddenly viscous, like the case of `polywater'. The story behind `polywater' was that another polymerised form of water existed, and this particular scientific report was scotched in the early 70s, due to small quantities of glass having dissolved in the water. However Levi's story `Excellent is the water' is far more exciting.

The only inaccuracy that I noted was probably just a translator's error (p.84), when the word voltameter, rather than voltmeter was used to measure electrical potential. Overall I believe this is an interesting and worthwhile collection, though not as well written as The Periodic Table. Levi's novels are of importance in the education of any science teacher or scientist.

Palmer, W.P. 1988 Review of The Periodic Table by Primo Levi, in The Australian Science Teachers' Journal, Vol. 34, No. 2 (May), pp. 91-92.
Originally published as Palmer, W. P. (1994). A Review of 'The Sixth Day' &' The Wrench' both by Primo Levi, Abacus Books,The Australian Science Teachers' Journal Issue 133, Vol 40, No 2, pp.81-82

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