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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

December 19, 2005

You Love It

Simon's been talking about books he hasn't got around to reading, and the sinking feeling that accompanies the realisation that, in fact, you might not get around to reading everything before you kick off.

Then we got into a discussion about books I'd loaned him in the past, and why they are so hard to get hold of (and expensive). Rare books? Who'd a thunk it?

I've always understood that you might want to own a book because of the way it was printed (it used to please me that the Long Eaton Library had a copy of De Aetna, a 15th century book that featured one of the earliest examples of a Roman typeface, and one that for me has a timeless beauty and is still one of my favourites - in the form of Bembo. It's the lettering I always do in my daily doodles). On the other hand, it's surprising how often fairly decent writers become hard to find.

When I was younger, I used to get a warm feeling looking at the wall-of-yellow that was the Gollancz-dominated Science Fiction section of the Luton library. Then, as now, I was cavalier about reading stuff and not knowing who had written it. I'm bad with names and titles, but one writer I became aware of (by the 3rd book of hers I'd read) was Kate Wilhelm. She's a unique voice, and has also crossed genres, writing thrillers and courtroom dramas, detective stories - all with aplomb. As an SF writer, she's more Margaret Atwood than Arthur C Clarke, a fine example of how even pseudo-science can make good science fiction.

Wilhelm writes social science fiction, more than anything, the kind of thing that can be as much detective story or courtroom drama as future history, or can join together the fields of genetic engineering, sociology, and environmental science to create great literature.

I keep meaning to collect together all the various Wilhelm editions I've accumulated (mostly thanks to the internet) and work out which ones I have still to get. My wife got one (miracle!) from the local library the other day, and I said, "Haven't we got this?" We had - but it did take me half an hour to find it - most of our bookshelves are stacked two layers deep.

Talk of Wilhelm's genre-defying habits reminds me that I've been wanting to say something about how popular science fiction actually is - it's just that some people don't realise they're watching it. It's well known that the Fantasy genre is phenomenally popular (Pratchett, LOTR, Narnia, Harry Potter), though there are better fantasy books that haven't been franchised in quite the same way. Beyond the obvious fodder like Doctor Who, Star Trek, Smallville, Stargate, The X Files, etc, The Simpsons, for example, is as much part of the genre as the more obvious Futurama (anything can happen in Springfield, and nobody ever gets older). Then there's House, which (as I've said) was a fantastic explication of the scientific method as applied to diagnosis. Not to mention Numb3rs an FBI/Cop drama which solves crimes using mathematics.

Lost, of course, is pure science fiction, and the ever-popular "what if" style of alternate history (like Fatherland) rests on SF foundations. In fact, a lot of this stuff is much more like science fiction as-it-is-written than the space-time-based material.


  • I could not cope with 2 deep stacks of books on my shelves as I know I would lose things. I am currently plotting more time-wasting activities in my life by transferring my files across to my new compy and continuing with the long task of cataloguing my books: the better to trawl for those duplicate copies (Cloud has never been forgiven for buying a second copy - albeit in a different edition - of Milan Kundera's "Immortality").

    I may well look up Kate Wilhelm: looks up my street. Ta for the tip!

    By Blogger Lisa Rullsenberg, at 9:57 am  

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