£2.95) Bookshop Specialists
I You'll ilnd Science Fiction Bookshops who can supply your SF needs at 17 & 40/42 West Crosscauseway, Edinburgh (031 667 0426). In Glasgow, the tour month old Forbidden Planet at 168 Buchanan Street (041 331 1215) will do much the same.
m13_ OLD FBONTIERS
Pioneers Richard Kadrey ((iollancz £1 1 .95) In ‘Pioneers'. a subscriber to the old school of SF. we follow two genetically engineered artificial humans. Angelo and Ariadne. as they cross the galaxy. Their mission is to rescue the said pioneers. who are. it turns out. space explorers sent
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into orbit cenguries ago during
To the majority oi readers, science are. a is the impenetrable black hole at literature. Mainstream SF (Huxley, Orwell, Wells) has been absorbed into the respectable study-worthy canon to the extent that it is no longer looked at as science tictlon. At the other end oi the scale is a chaotic mass of writing loosely termed SF, but which spans a multitude ot generic galaxies. Kenny Penman, co-owner oi the Science Fiction Bookshop in Edinburgh, attempted to enlighten me.
‘Sclence ilction can mean everything that isn’t mainstream - except Westerns and love-stories. There’s lots oi diiterent tictlonal genres, and the books that don’t ilt obviously into anything else get put into the science ilction category. Traditional science tiction (hard SF) is basically about robots and contact with alien races. 0r there’s some sort ot scientiiic principle behind the book. But that’s gone out oi vogue a bit now.’
‘The major publishing boom just now is iantasy. It outsells everything else by three to one. A spin-oit irom Tolkien, the stories involve any premise which is slightly iantastlcal - elves, wizards, magic spells, sorcery. Myth may be an important element too.’
‘Then there's dark fantasy which is really horror. The two important
modern elements are cyberpunk and humanist SF. The latter is
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Earth‘s expansion into space. Angelo keeps a journal ofhis adventures which forms the basis of the story-line.
The Earth is in a post-holocaust situation. destroyed this time by a ‘viral‘ infection (AIDS?) which has killed off most of the population. All life on Earth is sterile and is staring in the face of oblivion. Hence the search for a saviour in the form of one of the ancient pioneers. which runs alongside Angelo‘s search for nobility and identity.
The book is steeped in SF tradition with its hunt fora stronger ethical code and its utopian vision. Overall. the novel is lightweight fodder which. measured on a more modern SF scale. seems an adolescent triﬂe. (Kenny Penman)
Metrophage Phillip Mann (Gollancz £1 1.95) Survival in a fragmented
sell-explanatory. Cyberpunk has been adopted by the youth culture. It’s a contemporary derivation oi hard SF. It’s about plugging into computers and taking drugs, mixed up with hard-core detective tictlon. The drugs side oi it goes back to the Sixties’ perception oi how LSD would open the gateways to the mind.’
Readers tend to stick to their prelerred area oi SF, sometimes obsessively devouring piles of books at a time. The stock plots ot hard SF (Penman observed that in many cases they were ‘the same iormula as Westerns‘) are not oil-putting because at the variety oi treatments. ‘Certain plots are re-hashed a million times over—the post-nuclear plot ior example. The quality oi the story depends on the ability of the writer. A good one, just as in mainstream books, can make an old story seem new.’
‘Some books can be very thought-provoking, others can be just a literate soap opera. But that's no diiterent irom mainstream writing either.’
New titles appear irequently to satisiy the ierocious appetites oi SF addicts, but print-runs are generally smaller. ‘Although sales are not usually high,ihere is a constant and regular demand iorthe product, so it's oiten easierto get published as an SF writer.’
The roots of the SF cult-tollowing go back, believes Penman, to the legacy oi the Sixties. ‘Some topics which were important belore then - like utopias — dwindled because oi the nuclear bomb. They've been replaced by post-nucear holocaust story-llnes.’
Ultimately, reading science ilction is about iinding your own niche. ‘lt's a sprawling tleld oi diiterent types some oi which you'll like and some ot which you won't. It you pick the right ones to start all with, you might ilnd quite a lot that you like. It’s a more adult iield than it was 10 years ago. it’s more an attitude than a knowledge that allows you to read SF.‘ (Kristina Woolnough)
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.«xﬁb. :f.-.~.' _ cyberpunk vision of Los Angeles. engulfed by and turned into one huge barrio. is the priority ofJonny. hero anti-hero of‘Metrophage'. Jonny‘s hunt for a killer brings him hints of a more dangerous threat to the city. His involvement eventually dissipates the threats and there is a resolution of sorts.
The conventions of traditional SF are largely ignored. as there is no interaction with the upper echelons of power — the plot revolves around minor criminals and terrorists — and the morality is on the level of a spaghetti western - extremely tenuous.
The book does much to lift science fiction out of its lightweight reputation. and, with this kind of novel. the genre can more convincingly set out its stall as adult fiction. (Kenny Penman)
Oil-Planet Clifford D. Simak (Methuen £11.95). Forfive decades now Simak has occupied a position of mid-table respectability in science fiction's second division. These seven short stories span most of that period. from 1943s ‘Ogre‘ to ‘Construction Shack' of 1972.
Their typical subject matter involves a group of men (the only female in the book is a robot called Nellie) roaming the galaxy and pondering the strange behaviour of them darn funny alien critters. These men. all ofthem with names like Jack. Doc or Mac. are usually confronted with some thorny problem or other. which they solve by sitting down. lighting their pipes. and using good old human rationality. Their implicit aim is to turn every small alien settlement into Boise. Idaho or Middletown. Nebraska.
But Simak. despite that imperialism. displays a humanity lacking in the work ofthc genre‘s gung ho technocrats. and in the best stories here — ‘Ogre'. "The World That Couldn‘t Be‘ — shows an awareness that alien cultures may possibly be superior to our own. that they are not all necessarily run by little green men with evil on their twisted minds.
He can. nevertheless. still produce hard science fiction of the mind-numbineg tedious kind. as when. in the first page of 'Construction Shack‘. we are informed that Pluto‘s ‘density worked out to 3.5 grams per cubic centimetre. rather than the unrealistic figure of6l) grams. previously supposed‘.
His work is comfortingly nostalgic. offering a vision of the way the future used to be when the genre was young. While some science fiction fans may revere him. non-specialists are unlikely to be over-enthused by Simak. whose major faults are lack ofverve and imagination. (Stuart Bathgate).
IMAGINED CORNERS Willa Muir ISBN 0 86241 140 8 £3.95
CONSIDER THE LILIES Iain Crichton Smith ISBN 0 86241 143 2 £2.95
ISLAND LANDFALLS Robert Louis Stevenson ISBN 0 86241 144 0 £3.95
THE QUARRYWOOD Nan Shepherd ISBN 0 86241 141 6 £3.95
THE STORY OF MY BOYHOOD AND YOUTH John Muir ISBN 0 86241 153 X £2.95
THE LAND OF THE LEAL James Barke ISBN 0 86241 142 4
TWO WORLDS David Daiches ISBN 0 86241 148 3 £2.95
MR ALFRED M.A. George Friel ISBN 0 86241 163 7
MEMOIRS OF A HIGHLAND LADY Elizabeth Grant (1797—1885) Vol I ISBN 0 86241 145 9 £3.95 Vol II ISBN 0 86241 147 5 "£3.95
THE HAUNTED WOMAN David Lindsay ISBN 0 86241 162 9
SUNSET SONG Lewis Grassic Gibbon ISBN 0 86241 179 3 £2.95
HOMEWARD JOURNEY John McNair Reid ISBN 0 86241 178 5 £3.95
MY FIRST SUMMER IN THE SIERRA John Muir ISBN 0 86241 193 9 £2.95 THE BLOOD OF THE MARTYRS Naomi M itchison ISBN 0 86241 192 0 £4.95
THE WEATHERHOUSE Nan Shepherd
ISBN 0 86241 194 7 £3.95 WITCHWOOD John Buchan ISBN 0 86241 202 1 £3.95
CANONGATE PUBLISHING 17 Jeffrey Street, Edinburgh
The List 2 ~15 September 1988 61