Where everyone was going today: Back to the stores. I have never in my life ventured out on the day after Christmas, but I felt a burning urge to get out of the house today. The weather, while not idyllic, was not bad. It was a bit blustery and chilly, but sunny and dry. Good enough, I’ll take it. So where did I have to go so badly that I dared risk life and limb among the post-holiday shoppers? The bookstore. More specifically, my home away from home, Powells. I was on a quasi-mission, hoping to locate a copy of a Tarot deck that has recently become scarce, due to some sort of copyright war. Anyway, there were none to be had at Powells, but there were certainly more than enough books.
I treated myself to a book that Harlan Ellison has stated is “One of my favorite nightmare novels.” It says so, right on the front cover of The Book of Skulls, by Robert Silverberg. The edition I picked up is the 2006 edition (it was originally published in 1972 and won a Nebula Award), and the cover says “Soon to be a major motion picture” although I can’t find anything about it online. There is no information at the mother of all movie sites, IMDB.com. Probably just as well, Hollywood would doubtless turn it into a splatter-flick, gore-fest. It tells the stories of four friends who discover a book, the titular Book of Skulls that leads them to a secret sect in the Arizona desert who, for a horrific price, will grant immortality to two of them. There’s been some criticism of the book’s classification as sci-fi (it was nominated for a Nebula in 1972, and both the Hugo and Locus awards in 1973), but sci-fi and fantasy/horror have long been lumped into one category. People still debate about the genre Frankenstein belongs to. Is it horror? The first sci-fi?
I also picked up Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space . This one is a hard sci-fi novel, originally published in 2000. Reynolds has a PhD in astronomy, and worked at the European Space Agency which informs his work. The story concerns a scientist who is on the verge of uncovering the reason for the annihilation of an advanced civilization 900,000 years ago. Sounds like someone doesn’t want him to find out what happened to them.
I finally picked up John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War after reading about it now for ages online and how Scalzi used the internet to create a fanbase, which aided him in getting published. The premise is a decades long war in space for the few habitable planets out there. In this universe retirees, senior citizens, are recruited to serve two years in the military, allowing the green troops to benefit from their wisdom and experience. In exchange for two years service in combat, provided you survive, you get your own little homestead on one of these planets.
And last but not least, I also took home Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, which, while it’s not classified as sci-fi (it was in the Mystery section), I think it could easily fall under sci-fi, as an alternate universe story. From the back cover:
Welcome to Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.
I picked this one because I’ve never read any Jasper Fforde, but he contributed a Pep Talk to NaNoWriMo this year that I really enjoyed and thought I’d like his writing. It sounds almost Pratchett-esque, although I don’t really like comparing authors to each other all the time. Fforde even has introductory notes and material at his Web site.
Now I just have to decide which one to read first…