Press your spaceface close to mine

You’re Twelve-Stepping Me To Death Here, Bitch¹

Posted by Sunday on Feb 11, 2009 at 1:47 am in Literature

One of my favorite things to do is to recommend science fiction books to people who either don’t know anything about scifi, or even better, people who actively dislike it.  The thrill comes from a simple, smug chunk of knowledge: they haven’t read the right stuff yet.  It’s like matchmaking, but less weird and not nearly as potentially friendship-killing.   There is skill involved.  I don’t want to saddle just anyone with a copy of Winterlong.

This is why I automatically cringe whenever a list of THE MOST IMPORTANT BOOKS YOU’LL EVER READ is printed; maybe for you, who ever you are, but so far every one of these “master lists” has left of Voltaire’s Candide, which immediately negates their credibility.  For me.  But maybe not you.  It depends.  See?  It’s a sticky toffee of a problem, except not as desirable.

The Guardian recently published a list of “1000 novels everyone must read” broken into categories, one of which is scifi and fantasy.   Must you read them?  Well, no.  Should you read them?  Some of them, others not so much.  It’s British, so there is an interesting skew to what I imagine are British scifi favorites (many authors of whom I’d never even heard of), but sadly a strange preponderance of novels I’d barely categorize as even magical realism, let alone science fiction.  Lord of the Flies?  They listed Margaret Atwoods The Blind Assassin, but not The Handmaid’s TaleThe Magus?  I mean, to be honest the Guardian list reads like a particularly uninspired college syllabus for a class called Naptime: Obscure Fiction You’ll Immediately Resell Back to the School’s Bookstore.

And then somehow, in what I desperately hope was some kind of covert racist commentary, Tony Morrison’s Beloved winds up in this list.  They might as well have included Anne Frank’s Diary.

For the sake of balance, here are a few books I’d put on a damn list.

  1. Neuromancer, by William Gibson.  There are a lot of reasons to obsessively love this book, and as many reasons to discredit it as luckily popular among many similar books emerging at the time.  Both positions are valid.  For me it was the first time I’d read something that really, really went out of my comfort zone.  I’d happily been reading fantasy and light science fiction until that point (think: Piers Anthony), and then suddenly things weren’t so flip any more.  It was like everything else I’d read had been making out on a couch with my clothes on, and suddenly Neuromancer had my pants off, a condom on and wasn’t giving me time to protest my virtue.
  2. Winterlong, by Elizabeth Hand.  I was lucky to read Winterlong during a strange time in my life, something I highly recommend you save Winterlong for.  I was 19, on prednisone (a steroid that makes your moods all topsy-turvy), I was breaking up with a boyfriend and working long hours at my first real job.  Life was surreal already, and along came this book about cannibal children, corporeal Death, bioterrorism post-apocalypse, adolescent concubines and heavily gene-modified animals.  Highly recommended.
  3. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson.  The pacing and flow of this novel still gives me chills.  The first chapter is perhaps one of the best chapters of science fiction ever written.  I live in a kind of terror/hope that someday, some impossibly brilliant director will be able to make a film of it (it’d have to be more like two or three films) and reveal it for the visual super-masterpiece that it truly is.  On the other hand, no.   Hollywood better stay the fuck away from it.
  4. The Child Garden, by Geoff Ryman.  This one went under everyone’s radar and still managed to snag two big awards.  I literally and truly called in to work sick the second day of reading this novel because I simply had to stay home and continue reading.  It’s the closest thing I can compare to a kind of science fiction mythology: dark and sad while hopeful and lyrical, saturated with curiosities while never failing to be somehow familiar… It’s not a perfectly easy read, but is often the book I recommend to intellectual friends who claim they don’t like scifi.
  5. Dune, by Frank Herbert.  What, it’s a classic among classics.  Read it again.
  6. The Fermata, by Nicholson Baker.  This is unabashed smut, so don’t leave it lying around at work or anything.  Anyway, what would you do if you could stop time?  Chances are, if you’re a man² you’re going to be looking up ladies’ skirts at any opportunity.  I love books that obsessively describe the detail of fantastic things (I mean the time-stopping, in this case, not the panty-grabbing) without feeling the need for excessive plotline – I mean, isn’t the ability to stop time enough?  Don’t get me wrong, there’s an underlying drama, but for the most part The Fermata is a kind of dirty, elaborate daydream and a real lesson in savoring a single idea.
  7. Blindsight, by Peter Watts.  I am too tired to try and describe Blindsight, so instead: reading Watts is like playing a literary game of Dig Dug, an exercise in a kind of infuriating, thrilling futility.  You know he’s going to sting you with some kind of suckerpunch regarding the nature of consciousness and will, but you keep reading anyway.  The writing is just too good.  I keep coming back to him with more quarters, inevitable kill screen or no.
  8. Candide, by Voltaire.  If you’ve been to college you’ve probably read this, maybe even if you went to a decent high school, but you should read it again: the dystopia and snark of this thin little read is the basis for the Great Triple Threat, aka, We, 1984 and A Brave New World.  Anytime anyone has ever said to you in a kind of glazed, moronic lowing “Everything happens for a reason!” and you’ve felt your skill crawl – that’s Candide.  Basically, it makes fun of Oprah.
  9. Momo, by Michael Ende.  If you ever find a copy of this book, buy it.  Better known for having written The Never Ending Story, in my opinion Michael Ende’s Momo is a better book.  Ostensibly a book for children, it’s about a mysterious little homeless girl who is instantly beloved by everyone she meets.  When the Men in Grey suddenly appear in town, everything starts to go downhill.  A cautionary parable about the dangers of overwork, materialism and adulthood.
  10. I know you want ten, but I only have nine.

¹A line from an GalacticMu favorite film, The Specials.

²Or a woman, jeez.

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February 11th, 2009 | Literature

One Response to “You’re Twelve-Stepping Me To Death Here, Bitch¹”

  1. Avi Abrams Says:

    Great list, thanks!

    Try Felix Gotschalk if you can find him

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