Sunday, 9 January 2011


If cats were my first real love that has stayed with me all my life, Science Fiction runs it a fairly close second. When I was about four or five and started reading the British weekly comics, it wasn't long before I knew the type of material that I really liked and was that space stuff, starting with Captain Condor in The Lion-
-and followed not long after by Jet Ace Logan.
 The sublime Jeff Hawke followed later.
By that time I'd joined the library and, although an omnivorous reader, was always on the lookout for the space stuff and by my mid-teens, although still devouring anything and everything, was a confirmed fan of SF. When I met Susan at the age of 40 I'd amassed a sizeable collection most of which I then had to get rid of (along with a similarly large collection of comics) when I moved into her small flat. It wasn't such a big deal then as it might have been ten years earlier as I'd been reading less and less and more and more crime fiction for some years, plus anything else which took my still omnivorous fancy. I'd also found myself on the fringes of SF fandom after years of involvement when it had become the focus of my life.

Over the next 20 years I found myself reading less and less SF, though still interested, and maintaining only slenderest toehold in fandom. Now in the last couple of years I've found myself buying SF again, not a lot and very selectively. I've mentioned this from a different angle before but bear with me if I repeat myself somewhat. It started with a couple of collections from Gollancz which were both nicely produced -Robert E Howard's The Complete Chronicles of Conan, an edition which deliberately shed the post-mortem additions and rewrites by L.Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter to present the stories in their original form, and Necronomicon The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft which, excluding collaborations, is actually pretty much the complete HPL and has a nice extensive concluding essay. Any, yes, I know they are respectively Fantasy and Horror and not SF but as far as I'm concerned the three genres are heavily related (though I could equally argue otherwise). In January 2006 I bought a lovely 600 page hardback The Jack Vance Treasury. I can be specific about the date because that was when I went into hospital for four weeks and read most of it there.

I then bought several books published by NESFA Press starting with the massive 6-volume set The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny which I've written about elsewhere in this blog, before moving on to the remarkable Cordwainer Smith, Charles L Harness, an author little known outside the SF community but influential within it, and several others -I'm not doing a complete list.
In case you aren't au fait with the genre, most of these precede the 1980's and indeed some date from the 1940's. They are also almost completely short (well, shorter than novel-length) fiction which is unusual for me as I normally prefer novels. But you are correct if you suspect it's a bit of a nostalgia trip. It is, though I find little to enjoy in modern SF, allowing for a number, if not numerous, exceptions like Ken  Macleod's The Restoration Game (which I got as a freebie).

The most recent book I bought (which I picked up new in hardback and for under £9.00 from an Amazon Marketplace dealer) is this one-
The stories are selected by Wolfe himself, which makes me query the use of definitive as authors are not always the best judge of their work, who writes a brief afterword to each story.

For those who believe SF is literature this is probably the best example of single-author short-form SF you could possibly have and I would match this against any other contemporary American author's short fiction, any other. Wolfe is not a difficult writer to read but he is deceptively subtle and there is often far more going on beneath the surface of his work than is readily apparent. I've read perhaps about a third of the stories before and those many years ago. I'm going to take my time with this book and savour these fine subtle stories and then I will put it back on the shelf where it will nestle next to a NESFA collection by A.E. Van Vogt and author who, despite writing very vigorous and idea-packed stories (mainly in the 40's & 50's) is not one who would ever be acclaimed as a literary giant but who is still fun in a cock-eyed way. GW and AEVV, two very different sides of the coin that is Science Fiction.

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