I have recently been reading some of the more esoteric books in my science fiction collection. It started because a friend gave me a copy of ‘The Entropy Tango’, one of Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius stories. I was talking to him about rereading ‘The Final Programme’ and he gave it to me.
Unfortunately I found it a hard read and had to put it in the ‘too hard’ basket so I fell back on reading some Philip K Dick. First was a quick re-read of ‘A Scanner Darkly’ which I’d read again just a couple of years ago. Then I got onto more serious fare, ‘The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch’ (TSPE).
TSPE is a marvellous, wonderful book that concerns itself with many topics that interest me at the moment, particularly identity, reality, drug taking and addiction and even some aspects of godhood. It is a novel that rewards thought and reflection as you read. As you follow the story through the tale of Barney Mayerson (whose name is constantly confused by other characters) and the man who is his employer at the beginning of the tale, Leo Bulero, you descend into a number of rabbit holes — the question of how many and if you ever climb back out is just one of the questions I am currently thinking about as I read it for the third time in as many weeks.
Reading TSPE again reminds me of the value of going back to the great book and authors that had me enthralled in my teen and early adult years such as both Dick and Moorcock. I think I’m going to have to make a run on some second hand bookstores and see what I can find.
This novel falls into the sort of science fiction that has me celebrating the genre and wondering where it is going.
As I look at the shelves of the section of my local bookstore devoted to “Science Fiction and Fantasy” I wonder how a reader is supposed to find the latest equivalent of authors such as Moorcock, Dick, Harlan Ellison and even Isaac Asimov who used the freedom from reality of the SF genre to explore the edges of our society and make you think about the big questions. Instead I see cookie cutter sword and sorcery fantasy, “magic” and “vampire” novels with series books such as Buffy or Star Wars. These are taking over the one or two shelves devoted to the mixed fields of SF & F.
I wonder how much of it can be put down to the death of the great SF pulp magazines. The only one I know that’s still publishing is “Fantasy & Science Fiction” who not only publish on paper but also through Amazon for the Kindle at a reasonable 99 cents a monthly copy. Indeed they even let you subscribe to a digest for free that gives you a short story and a number of the columns every two months.
It’s getting harder and harder to find good reading recommendations outside general fiction. Sydney used to have one good science fiction bookstore, Galaxy, but it has now closed and the last few years the quality of the staff had declined, while ten years ago they would have had no trouble on my last visit they were lost helping me find a good book for my brother Graeme when I asked for “out of left field science fiction by an Australian author published in the last year or at most two.”
I also find it hard when I go to Sydney’s biggest bookstore, Dymock’s on George St, and try and find new non-fiction to read. My last attempt was after I’d finished re-reading ‘Brunelleschi’s Dome’ so I asked for “a good biography or non-fiction book on one of the Italian Renaissance artists or architects in paperback” and got a blank look. Amazon did slightly better — I tricked it’s recommendation engine by adding ‘Brunelleschi’s Dome’ to my Wish List. It’s a great book and a great tale by the way, an epic tale of the building of Florence’s famous dome.