Pushing boundaries

Thursday, 8 July 2010, 14:55 | Category : Uncategorized
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Over at My Favourite Books we’ve come up with this “we read all books, no discrimination” and it’s been somewhat true for me, more so recently.  I am happy to tuck into well-written non-fiction, I love most subjects and have reviewed cookbooks, history, a couple of reference books and a swathe of other things, except misery memoirs and on the fiction side of things: kitchen sagas and science fiction.

I have this thing about science fiction.  I love sci-fi movies.  But I can’t read the books.  Or so I told myself. When I was very young, in my early Tweens, the only thing my brother read was sci-fi, so by default this is what I got to read too.  A LOT of Asimov and my god, I devoured Dune.

But it’s not something I liked or loved.

This past month I’ve read two science fiction novels both from Gollancz and this is a snippet I got back from one of the editors after I sent him the reviews: “PS: You’ll be won over to the SF darkside before you know it.

It made me grin and feel proud of myself.  I’ve pushed myself into reading a genre that I am really not comfortable with and had the opportunity to grow tremendously as a reader.  It sounds poncy, but it’s not meant to. 

The two novels I’m talking about are:

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

Stone Spring by Stephen Baxter

The above links lead to each of the reviews I did for sfrevu.com and syfy.co.uk respectively.

In The Dervish House, Ian McDonald creates this intense futuristic world but man, his style of writing, the detail, the immersiveness of it, really got under my skin.  I think it also helped that I read it whilst it was so warm here in London.  The novel takes place over a mere five days but it follows six characters all who live in the titular The Dervish house.  Rich and evocative it blends mysticism and near-future technology with ridiculous ease.

The other book is Stone Spring by Stephen Baxter which isn’t necessarily science fiction, as it takes place a long time ago, but Baxter is known for his sci fi operas.  Stone Spring is a different beast compared to The Dervish House.  We have a primitive people desperately trying to make a go of living during a time when nature seemed intent of destroying the world as a whole.  What makes Stone Spring such a fantastic book in my opinion is how he takes one girl’s decision to try and stop the world from flooding, by building a wall, to change history, giving us an alternate history.  The overall scope of the storytelling is BIG and Mr. Baxter clearly has such an amazing time creating this ancient world, that I felt that I was there, shivering in the cold winter wind.

What have I learned from these two very different books? Don’t be scared to try something new.  I won’t say that I’m now a convert to reading sci-fi books but I will say that I am more open to appreciate them.  These two authors are the guys I will now hold every sci fi book I read up to for comparison because really, they were my first ones.  And ones that made an impact on me as a reader.  I felt inspired.  I wanted to write something similar although quite obviously it’s not something I can do as I don’t know the tropes, the rules, of writing sci fi.  I’m rubbish at future technology but quite adept at current technology. 

But, the mere fact that they made me WANT to write in their play-pen tells me that they are skilled artists and that they’ve succeeded in their jobs: they entertained me and they inspired me.

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