Sitting in the cinema with my mate Stephen back in another lifetime, as the opening credits for Total Recall unfurled. The year before, I had had a job which involved some proof reading of a corporate newsletter. We were told not to bother with certain parts, as they had been there for years. One of the new guys disregarded his instruction, and found an error that had been sent out to clients for years. (I laughed a lot, and learned a lesson.) You reach a point where mistakes just hit you in the eye. And there it was. Our favourite writer’s name misspelled in the credits as Phillip K Dick.
The world didn’t end. I knew I was right though, because back in primary school, we received a booklet every year that was supposed to be an educational resource but was mainly industrial puff pieces for major corporations operating in Australia. Philip Electronics made a big deal that their name was spelled with only one ‘l’ – just like electron. And for some reason, whenever I meet a Phil(l)ip, that sticks with me. I knew PKD was like the electron.
Anyway, nearly 30 years on, watched the start of Total Recall again earlier today, and waited for it, and there it was, PKDs name still misspelled. And still, the sky did not fall. And why do I remember this stuff?
Some science fiction people I sometimes read – Charles Stross and Ken Macleod – wrote / spoke recently and separately about how they don’t read / haven’t read much science fiction from the past (respectively one and two) decades. No judgement here – I gave up on speculative fiction entirely at one stage, and at another realised that all I was reading was non-fiction. Sick of tropes, sick of same-same, sick of same but different. I understand / sympathise / empathise completely. I never required that Len Deighton read non – Len Deightons.
It made me think, though, as a person who is not a member in any sense of any speculative fictional community – no conventions, fandoms, gatherings, groups, first name bases, whateverseses: could something similar be said about most genre writers, or at least, established genre writers? So when people are on panels together, are they largely speaking past each other, without engagement, or perhaps at best, only momentary engagement?
Does it matter? I suppose my mind comes back to it a bit because (again as an outsider), I always thought that somewhere else out in the world there were all these sf writers reading and commenting on and fighting about each others work (reinforced most recently by reading “The Night Ocean” by Paul La Farge). I may have just assumed that all sf writers were Brian Aldiss, with many thoughts about such things. But these were childish, unexamined thoughts, perhaps.
Maybe Margaret Thatcher was right (did I really just write that?) – there is no such thing as society, or at least, speculative fiction society. Say it isn’t so! 🙂
On the recommendation of a trusted reading friend, I have the first three Bernie Gunther novels of Philip (spelt correctly!) Kerr sitting on my bookshelf. I will read them. Seeing Kerr’s obituary the other day, I felt a little guilty. Honest, one day, I will. They sound right up my alley – noir, Berlin, WW2 and after, etc. What’s stopping you?, asked my friend. I admitted it: I did read one book he wrote, and I read it to the end, and it was one of the worst books I have ever read. My friend looked at me like there was something wrong. I wanted to like it, I added quickly. The subject matter was interesting. You know I like horror, and my interest in religion, and I race through a good thriller. Hang on, he says, what was it called? “Prayer” I said. His face changed. Oh yeah, that! He almost spat. I had blocked it out. That one’s fucked. But the others are good.
So I shall read the others