Some New Books – January 2016

I haven’t bought any new SF books in ages now, but, with Christmas behind me and a few quid spare in my pocket, I took the notion over the past couple of weeks to trawl Ebay.co.uk for some books. Actually, none of them are “new”, as there’s not a lot of modern SF that I enjoy, with the exception of some anthologies of short fiction and a very narrow range of authors and sub-genres. But I did find two second hand/used anthologies of classic Golden Age stuff, which is much more my kind of thing, one collection of Isaac Asimov’s fantasy stories, essays and articles, and, finally, one “Best of the Year” SF anthology, from 2007.

  • SCIENCE FICTION: THE BEST OF THE YEAR 2007 EDITION edited by Rich Horton (trade paperback, Prime Books, Germantown MD, US, 2007, ISBN-10: 0-8095-6297-9, ISBN-13: 978-0-8095-6297-8)
  • MAGIC: THE FINAL FANTASY COLLECTION by Isaac Asimov (Paperback, Voyager, London, 1997, ISBN: 0-00-648203-1)
  • GREAT TALES OF THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg (hardback, Galahad Books, New York, 1991, ISBN: 0-88365-772-4)
  • THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Kingsley Amis (Large Format Paperback, Penguin Books, 1983, first published by Hutchinson & Co., 1981)

The SCIENCE FICTION: THE BEST OF THE YEAR 2007 EDITION trade paperback is a nice anthology of reasonably recent (less than ten years old) stories, twelve in all, five from Asimov’s SF Magazine, two from F&SF, and the other five from five different sources both magazines and books. I haven’t read this one yet, but there are a few authors in it that I usually like (Robert Reed, Walter Jon Williams, Ian Watson, Robert Charles Wilson), and Rich Horton rarely puts together a bad “Best SF” anthology.

MAGIC: THE FINAL FANTASY COLLECTION is a single-author collection of Isaac Asimov’s fantasy (as opposed to SF) short fiction. It’s also notable for collecting a number of Asimov’s essays and articles about fantasy and other subjects. It’s a bit of a strange one, this, although I found it an interesting mix of articles and fiction. And Asimov’s fantasy is just as logical as his science fiction, with its own strict internal rules and limitations, which made it easy for me to read, despite the fact that I’m not a huge fan of reading fantasy.

GREAT TALES OF THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION is a cracking anthology of classic Golden Age SF put together by the ever-reliable trio of Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg. Nine stories in all, almost all of them published in Astounding during the 1941-1947 timeframe. Some of the biggest names in SF are in this one – Isaac Asimov, A.E. van Vogt, Jack Williamson, Theodore Sturgeon, Lester del Rey, C.L. Moore, Ross Rocklynne, A. Bertram Chandler, T.L. Sherred – and with some of their most classic stories.

THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Kingsley Amis is another cracking anthology, with a completely different group of stories and authors to the previous anthology. Only Asimov appears in both, but with different stories. And there are seventeen stories in this one, almost twice as many as the other anthology. Aside from Isaac Asimov, we’ve got Arthur C. Clarke, Poul Anderson, Frederik Pohl, Brian W. Aldiss, Cordwainer Smith, H. Beam Piper, Harry Harrison, Damon Knight, Anthony Boucher, James Blish, Robert Sheckley, J.G. Ballard, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Jerome Bixby, F.L. Wallace and Philip Latham. That is a hugely impressive line-up of SF author talent with some of their most classic stories.

The Kingsley Amis anthology is a completely different kind of book to the other one edited by Asimov, Waugh and Greenberg. I wouldn’t really consider it a real “Golden Age” anthology at all, as the stories are from the 1950s and 1960s (there’s even one from 1979!), rather than the 1940s (the actual “Golden Age of SF” is usually considered to be circa 1938-1950, when Campbell’s Astounding ruled the roost unchallenged, and before the appearance of F&SF and Galaxy). The stories are therefore slightly more sophisticated than those in the other book, with much less of an emphasis on stories from Astounding, and a much higher percentage coming from F&SF, Galaxy and other sources. The stories are of the highest calibre, and the only criticism I would have is none of them actually qualify as “Golden Age” SF, as they come from a later period, and there are several of the 1960s stories that even come dangerously close to belonging to the New Wave. I guess Amis’ interpretation of “Golden Age” SF is a bit different to the rest of us, and maybe a bit more of a personal one. 🙂

All in all, a nice little batch of books. I’ve gotten the bug back again for hunting down SF books. I must get back on Ebay to see if I can find a few more classic anthologies.

BEYOND THE BARRIERS OF SPACE AND TIME edited by Judith Merril

This time around, we have an SF anthology. This one is an oldie, from 1955, and is compiled and edited by Judith Merril, another of my favourite anthologists. This is the first Judith Merril anthology that I’ve featured on this blog, and most certainly won’t be the last.

TITLE: BEYOND THE BARRIERS OF SPACE AND TIME
EDITED BY: Judith Merril
CATEGORY:Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY:Anthology
PUBLISHER: Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 1955
FORMAT: Hardback, 1st Edition, 291 pages

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Theodore Sturgeon
  • Preface by Judith Merril
  • “Wolf Pack” by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (short story, Fantastic, Sept/Oct 1953)
  • “No One Believed Me” by Will Thompson (Saturday Evening Post, April 24, 1948)
  • “Perforce to Dream” by John Wyndham (short story, Beyond Fantasy Fiction, Jan 1954)
  • “The Laocoon Complex” by J. C. Furnas (Esquire, April 1937)
  • “Crazy Joey” by Mark Clifton and Alex Apostolides (short story, Astounding Science Fiction, August 1953)
  • “The Golden Man” by Phillip K. Dick (novelette, If Magazine, April 1954)
  • “Malice Aforethought” by David Grinnell [Donald A. Wollheim] (short story, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov 1952)
  • “The Last Seance” by Agatha Christie (short story, Ghost Stories, November 1926)
  • “Medicine Dancer” by Bill Brown (short story, Fantasy Fiction, November 1953)
  • “Behold It Was a Dream” by Rhoda Broughton (Temple Bar, November 1872)
  • “Belief” by Isaac Asimov (novelette, Astounding Science Fiction, October 1953)
  • “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury (Saturday Evening Post, September 23, 1950)
  • “Mr. Kincaid’s Pasts” by J. J. Coupling [John R. Pierce] (short story, Fantasy & Science Fiction, August 1953)
  • “The Warning” by Peter Phillips (short story, Fantasy & Science Fiction, September 1953)
  • “The Ghost of Me” by Anthony Boucher (short story, Unknown, June 1942)
  • “The Wall Around the World” by Theodore R. Cogswell (novelette, Beyond Fantasy Fiction, September 1953)
  • “Operating Instructions” by Robert Sheckley (short story, Astounding Science Fiction, May 1953)
  • “Interpretation of a Dream” by John Collier (The New Yorker, May 5, 1951)
  • “Defense Mechanism” by Katherine MacLean (short story, Astounding Science Fiction, October 1949)

This anthology is a 1st UK Edition, published in London by Sidgwick & Jackson, old stalwarts in the SF publishing field. It features nineteen stories by a wide assortment of authors, many of them pretty obscure. There is also an Introduction by Theodore Sturgeon, a Preface by Judith Merril, and a Bibliography at the back of the book.

The Bibliography erroneously lists the Anthony Boucher story (“The Ghost of Me”) as having appeared in the June 1942 edition of Astounding Science Fiction. It was the June 1942 edition of Unknown. I’ve done the usual with all of the stories that appeared in the SF&F magazines, giving their month and year of publication, and noting if the stories were short stories, novelettes, etc. But several of the stories were not published in the SF&F magazines, appearing instead in general mass media publications. In those instances, only the name of the magazine and the year of publication is listed.

Highlighting the stories from the regular SF&F publications of that era, there are a few familiar faces and stories, although many are also totally unfamiliar to me. There are some old favourites – Bradbury’s “The Veldt”, Asimov’s “Belief”, and Dick’s “The Golden Man” (an old childhood favourite of mine). There are also a bunch of unfamiliar stories from very familiar authors – Wyndham, Miller, Boucher, Sheckley, Clifton, Cogswell, Phillips, Wollheim (as David Grinnell) and MacLean. But the other stories are by totally unknown authors (to me, anyway). The stories may have appeared in the regular SF mags, but I’m afraid I’m totally unfamiliar with them and their authors (J. J. Coupling and Bill Brown).

In among the regular SF authors and magazines from that era, there are some real oddities. As I’ve already mentioned, there were several totally unfamiliar stories by unfamiliar authors, originally published in mainstream non-SF publications – John Collier (The New Yorker), J. C. Furnas (Esquire) and Will Thompson (Saturday Evening Post).

There is also a story from 1926 by Agatha Christie (“The Last Seance”), which is a strange one for an SF anthology, although many pre-1960s SF&F anthologies were often a varied mix of more cross-genre types of stories. Finally, there is another oddity which was first published way back in 1873, a story by Rhoda Broughton (“Behold It Was a Dream”). Broughton was the niece of J. Sheridan Le Fanu, and an accomplished author in her own right, although regretfully now mostly forgotten. The Bibliography completely omits the listing for this story, for some reason.

A very interesting anthology, and a bit of a strange mix. Should be a good read.

STORIES FOR TOMORROW (1954) edited by William Sloane

Stories for Tomorrow

I‘ve got an interesting anthology in front of me at the moment. Actually, I’ve got two different editions of it. Firstly an original US 1st Edition hardback, which I bought from a dealer on Amazon. This is an ex-library copy, and came without a dustjacket, otherwise the book itself is in excellent condition. The other edition is the UK 1st Edition hardback, complete with dustjacket (pictured here), which has slightly different contents to the US Edition.

The US edition first…

TITLE: STORIES FOR TOMORROW
EDITED BY: William Sloane
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 628 pages
PUBLISHER: Funk & Wagnalls, US, 1954

CONTENTS LISTING:

About This Book by William Sloane

PART I: THE HUMAN HEART

  • “The Wilderness” by Ray Bradbury (Today, April 6th 1952, revised for Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1952)
  • “Starbride” by Anthony Boucher (Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1951)
  • “Second Childhood” by Clifford D. Simak (Galaxy, Feb 1951)
  • “Homeland” by Mari Wolf (first published as “The Statue”, If Magazine, January 1953)
  • “Let Nothing You Dismay” by William Sloane (written for this anthology)
  • “A Scent of Sarsaparilla” by Ray Bradbury (Star Science Fiction Stories #1, February 1953

PART II: THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS

  • “The Exile” by Alfred Coppel (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1952)
  • “The Farthest Horizon” by Raymond F. Jones (Astounding Science
    Fiction
    , April 1952)
  • “Noise Level” by Raymond F. Jones (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1952)
  • “First Contact” by Murray Leinster (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1945)

PART III: SWEAT OF THE BROW

  • “Franchise” by Kris Neville (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1951)
  • “In Value Deceived” by H. B. Fyfe (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1950)
  • “Okie” by James Blish (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1950)
  • “Black Eyes and the Daily Grind” by Milton Lesser (If Magazine, March 1952)

PART IV: DIFFERENCE WITH DISTINCTION

  • “Socrates” by John Christopher (Galaxy, March 1951)
  • “In Hiding” by Wilmar H. Shiras (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1948)
  • “Bettyann” by Kris Neville (reprinted from New Tales of Space & Time, edited by Raymond J. Healey, 1951)

PART V: THE TROUBLE WITH PEOPLE IS PEOPLE

  • “The Ant and the Eye” by Chad Oliver (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1953)
  • “Beep” by James Blish (Galaxy, February 1954)
  • “And Then There Were None” by Eric Frank RussellAstounding Science Fiction, June 1951)
  • “The Girls from Earth” by Frank M. Robinson (Galaxy, January 1952)

PART VI: VISITORS

  • “Minister Without Portfolio” by Mildred Clingerman (Fantasy & Science Fiction, Feb 1952)
  • “The Head-Hunters” by Ralph Williams (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1951)
  • “Dune Roller” by Julian May (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1951)
  • “Disguise” by Donald A. Wollheim (Other Worlds Science Stories, February 1953)
  • “The Shed” by E. Everett Evans (Avon SF&F Reader, January 1953)

PART VII: THREE EPILOGS

  • “The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke (Star Science Fiction Stories #1, ed. Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, 1953)
  • “The Forgotten Enemy” by Arthur C. Clarke (King’s College Review, December 1948)
  • “The Answers” [also as “…And the Truth Shall Make You Free”] by Clifford D. Simak (Future, March 1953)

This is an ex-library copy, which came without a dustcover, when I bought it from a dealer on Amazon. Otherwise the book itself is in excellent condition.

There are a few stories here that I’m familiar with, either being old favourites of mine, or having vague but fond memories of them – all of the stories by Clarke, Bradbury, Simak, Russell, Leinster and Blish. The rest I’ve either not read at all or read so long ago that I can’t remember them. Personal favourites among these are Blish’s “Beep”, Leinster’s “First Contact”, Russell’s “And Then There Were None”, Simak’s “Second Childhood”, Bradbury’s “The Wilderness”, Robinson’s “The Girls from Earth”, and both of the Clarke stories.

As I’ve already said, the UK 1st edition is slightly different to the US edition:

TITLE: STORIES FOR TOMORROW
EDITED BY: William Sloane
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 476 pages
PUBLISHER: Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1955.

CONTENTS LISTING:

About This Book by William Sloane

PART I: THE HUMAN HEART

  • “The Wilderness” by Ray Bradbury
  • “Starbride” by Anthony Boucher
  • “Homeland” by Mari Wolf
  • “Let Nothing You Dismay” by William Sloane
  • “A Scent of Sarsaparilla” by Ray Bradbury

PART II: THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS

  • “Noise Level” by Raymond F. Jones
  • “First Contact” by Murray Leinster

PART III: SWEAT OF THE BROW

  • “Franchise” by Kris Neville
  • “In Value Deceived” by H. B. Fyfe
  • “Black Eyes and the Daily Grind” by Milton Lesser

PART IV: DIFFERENCE WITH DISTINCTION

  • “Socrates” by John Christopher
  • “In Hiding” by Wilmar H. Shiras
  • “Bettyann” by Kris Neville

PART V: THE TROUBLE WITH PEOPLE IS PEOPLE

  • “The Ant and the Eye” by Chad Oliver
  • “Beep” by James Blish
  • “And Then There Were None” by Eric Frank Russell
  • “The Girls from Earth” by Frank M. Robinson

PART VI: VISITORS

  • “Minister Without Portfolio” by Mildred Clingerman
  • “The Head-Hunters” by Ralph Williams

PART VII: THREE EPILOGS

  • “The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • “The Forgotten Enemy” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • “The Answers” by Clifford D. Simak

As with many anthologies from that period, a number of the stories have been cut from the UK edition that were in the original US edition. There are seven fewer stories, and the UK edition is 152 pages shorter. My UK edition also has a nice dustjacket, although the one on my copy is a bit on the tatty side.

Overall, another very interesting anthology. I’m looking forward to working my way through this one.

BUG-EYED MONSTERS edited by Anthony Cheetham

This is a nice little anthology, containing ten stories (more accurately NINE stories and one radio play adaptation) spanning thirty years 1938-1968. It is edited by Anthony Cheetham, with whom I am totally unfamiliar.

TITLE: BUG-EYED MONSTERS
EDITED BY: Anthony Cheetham
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 280 pages
PUBLISHER: Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1972.
ISBN: 0 283 97864 3

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Anthony Cheetham
  • “Invasion from Mars” by Howard Koch (with Orson Welles) – 1938 radio adaptation of War of the Worlds, CBS, October 30, 1938
  • “Not Only Dead Men” by A. E. Van Vogt (1942) (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1942)
  • “Arena” by Fredric Brown (1944) (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1944)
  • “Surface Tension” by James Blish (Galaxy, August 1952)
  • “The Deserter” by William Tenn (1953) (reprinted from Star Science Fiction Stories, edited by Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, February 1953)
  • “Mother” by Philip José Farmer (1953) (Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1953)
  • “Stranger Station” by Damon Knight (1956) (Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1956)
  • “Greenslaves” by Frank Herbert (1965) (Amazing Stories, March 1965)
  • “Balanced Ecology” by James H. Schmitz (1967) (Analog, March 1965)
  • “The Dance of the Changer & Three” by Terry Carr (1968) (reprinted from The Farthest Reaches, edited by Joseph Elder, Trident 1968)

According to Cheetham’s interesting little introduction, the title of the book is a gentle, fun jibe at the old, stereotypical “bug-eyed monster” of the pulps. However the ten stories in the anthology are of an altogether higher quality than those old yarns in the pulps, almost a “rehabilitation” of the old bug-eyed monster.

There’s quite a mix in this anthology. We start off with one which is very apt, given the title of the anthology. Howard Koch’s (and Orson Welles’s) classic 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’s seminal 1898 interplanetary invasion novel War of the Worlds. It first appeared in book form in the anthology Invasion from Mars), edited by Orson Welles (Dell, 1949). The Martian invaders are probably the original archetype for all the B.E.M.s that came afterwards, so this one is as good a place to start as any. I’ve read it before in a number of publications, and it’s always nice to revisit it.

As for the other nine stories, as usual, there are a few that I’m familiar with, and a few that I’m not. Fredric Brown’s classic Arena and James Blish’s Surface Tension are the two that I remember best. Both have always been favourites of mine. Frank Herbert’s Greenslaves is another one that I recall liking, although my memory is a bit fuzzier on the details of that one. I have very vague memories about encountering the Van Vogt, Knight, Tenn and Carr stories at some point in the distant past, but don’t recall anything about them except the briefest details. I don’t recall ever reading either the Farmer or Schmitz stories before.

I may not know (or recall) a few of the stories, but with the exception of Koch, the other nine authors in the anthology are all VERY familiar to me. No obscure writers here, although I must admit that I’m much more familiar with Terry Carr as one of my favourite anthologists, rather than as an author. Overall, this looks like a good one. With those names in it, how could it not be? I think I’m going to really enjoy reading BUG-EYED MONSTERS. 🙂

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Three)

This one has been a long time coming, far too long. But better late than never, I suppose… 🙂

The Barren Years – The Near-Death of Geekery During the Eighties

All throughout the first half of the 1970’s, I was in geek heaven, having seemingly unlimited time to spend on my obsessions with comics, sf literature, telefantasy and sci-fi films. But by 1977-78, things began to change considerably.

I began my A-Levels at college in September 1977, two years of brutal, non-stop studying, followed immediately by another four years of more of the same as I pursued an Honours Degree at university. This intensive studying at college and university during the 1977-83 timeframe drastically curtailed my free time. Except for a few short weeks over the summer breaks, I had no free time at all.

Added to this, there was the rapidly declining health of my father and the ever-growing responsibilities that I had looking after both him and my disabled brother. My father was being increasingly crippled by severe rheumatoid arthritis and other debilitating health problems, and within a few short years, by the time I was in my first year at university, he was a wheelchair-bound invalid. I was now responsible not only for looking after two disabled adults, but for also somehow trying to miraculously find the time to study for an Honours Degree as well.

The result of all this was that my geek hobbies pretty much died in the early Eighties, or were put on life support for quite a few years, at the very least. This prolonged period of sheer, relentless drudgery totally broke two out of three of my longest-standing geek hobbies – reading comics and SF literature. Only the sci-fi television and film obsession escaped relatively unscathed, and my sci-fi TV and film watching habit has remained relatively constant over the years.

It took me a long time to recover from those years, particularly when it came to reading SF. Sure, I still read a fair bit of SF today, but, even now, my SF reading habit hasn’t quite recovered to its former frequency, and is certainly nowhere near the obsessive marathon levels it had been at during my teens. Unlike back then, I rarely read novels at all these days, although I still read short fiction regularly. I used to be an obsessive reader of novels back in my teens, but that all ended back in the early-1980’s, and I no longer have the time, the patience, focus or powers of concentration to devote to reading novels on a regular basis. I guess I just fell out of the habit. Maybe I can get back into it again.

These days, when I do occasionally read a novel, I focus only on a very narrow range of sub-genres, usually Classic Space Opera, Hard SF, and their mutant offspring, New Space Opera. Even back when I was an avid SF novel reader, I was never as fond of softer, more sociological, political or anthropological SF as I was of Hard SF and Space Opera. With the exception of a few Alternate Histories and anything to do with Time Travel or Temporal Paradoxes, I rarely read any Soft SF at all these days. My novel reading consists mainly of the latest novels by the likes of Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, Peter F. Hamilton, Charles Stross, Greg Egan, Peter Watts, Linda Nagata and a few other similar authors.

For the past two decades or more, at least ninety-five percent of my SF reading has been short fiction, usually multi-author anthologies, although I do read the occasional single-author short fiction collection. I did read the SF magazines circa 1997-2003, Analog, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Interzone and SF Age, but SF Age folded, and Interzone changed hands and I didn’t like the new direction it took after David Pringle gave it up. And even worse, the US magazines Analog, Asimov’s and F&SF were all dropped by my local newsagents, which meant that I no longer collected ANY science fiction magazines. These days, I collect the various “Year’s Best” SF anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois, David G. Hartwell, Rich Horton and a few others. These, plus a few interesting “theme” anthologies, allow me to keep up to date with the cream of modern short SF. However, by far the vast majority of the SF anthologies that I read are collections of classic and vintage SF, pre-New Wave (I did NOT like most of the fiction from the New Wave era), and mainly material from the Golden Age and pre-Golden Age of Science Fiction.

As for comics, I actually gave up reading them altogether for a full decade, from 1982-1991. I’d been reading comics continuously since I was about three or four years old (1964-65), starting off with the British weekly comics such as Lion, Valiant and Eagle. Then, in late-1972, I discovered the Mighty World of Marvel, followed soon after by Spider-Man Comics Weekly and the Avengers, and became a fanatical reader of the black and white Marvel UK reprints throughout the rest of the 70’s. I also started reading the colour Marvel US comics (which I bought via mail order) about a year or two afterwards, and all through the 1970’s I read both US and UK Marvel comics side-by-side. But by the end of the 1970’s, in my opinion, both Marvel UK and Marvel US had gone into decline (or maybe I was just getting fed up with or “growing out of” them), and once I began my A-Levels (1977-79), followed by university (1979-83), the immense pressures of study meant that I had to give up on reading all but a handful of my favourite comics.

I had given up on the Marvel UK titles altogether by about 1979, and stopped reading all but three or four of the US Marvel titles, dropping them altogether by about 1980-81. My final comic of that era was the classic UK comic Warrior, and when it folded in 1982, and with 1982-83 being the year of my “finals” at university, I stopped reading comics altogether for a long, long time, the first period in my life that I hadn’t read comics since I was a very young child. I came back to them sporadically during 1991-1992 and 1994-1995, but I only really became a serious comics collector again from about late-1997 onwards. However, the good news is that my comics reading habit has actually grown again in recent years to a level that greatly surpasses what it was even back in my teens.

I’m still a hardcore geek, and always will be. But those dark years back at the end of the 1970’s and during most of the 1980’s almost totally ruined it for me on a permanent basis. Luckily I’ve now pretty much fully recovered most of my geek cred and activities. Mostly.

But as much fun as being a geek still is today, the one thing that I can regretfully never rediscover is that wide-eyed innocence, enthusiasm and sense of sheer joy that I experienced way back in my early teens, when I first became a serious geek. It’s like being a virgin. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. 🙂

It’s all just not quite as wondrous and pure any more when you’re a middle-aged cynic. 🙂

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Three)

The Barren Years – The Near-Death of Geekery During the Eighties

All throughout the first half of the 1970’s, I was in geek heaven, having seemingly unlimited time to spend on my obsessions with comics, sf literature, telefantasy and sci-fi films. But by 1977-78, things began to change considerably.

I began my A-Levels at college in September 1977, two years of brutal, non-stop studying, followed immediately by another four years of more of the same as I pursued an Honours Degree at university. This intensive studying at college and university during the 1977-83 timeframe drastically curtailed my free time. Except for a few short weeks over the summer breaks, I had no free time at all.

Added to this, there was the rapidly declining health of my father and the ever-growing responsibilities that I had looking after both him and my disabled brother. My father was being increasingly crippled by severe rheumatoid arthritis and other debilitating health problems, and within a few short years, by the time I was in my first year at university, he was a wheelchair-bound invalid. I was now responsible not only for looking after two disabled adults, but for also somehow trying to miraculously find the time to study for an Honours Degree as well.

The result of all this was that my geek hobbies pretty much died in the early Eighties, or were put on life support for quite a few years, at the very least. This prolonged period of sheer, relentless drudgery totally broke two out of three of my longest-standing geek hobbies – reading comics and SF literature. Only the sci-fi television and film obsession escaped relatively unscathed, and my sci-fi TV and film watching habit has remained relatively constant over the years.

It took me a long time to recover from those years, particularly when it came to reading SF. Sure, I still read a fair bit of SF today, but, even now, my SF reading habit hasn’t quite recovered to its former frequency, and is certainly nowhere near the obsessive marathon levels it had been at during my teens. Unlike back then, I rarely read novels at all these days, although I still read short fiction regularly. I used to be an obsessive reader of novels back in my teens, but that all ended back in the early-1980’s, and I no longer have the time, the patience, focus or powers of concentration to devote to reading novels on a regular basis. I guess I just fell out of the habit. Maybe I can get back into it again.

These days, when I do occasionally read a novel, I focus only on a very narrow range of sub-genres, usually Classic Space Opera, Hard SF, and their mutant offspring, New Space Opera. Even back when I was an avid SF novel reader, I was never as fond of softer, more sociological, political or anthropological SF as I was of Hard SF and Space Opera. With the exception of a few Alternate Histories and anything to do with Time Travel or Temporal Paradoxes, I rarely read any Soft SF at all these days. My novel reading consists mainly of the latest novels by the likes of Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, Peter F. Hamilton, Charles Stross, Greg Egan, Peter Watts, Linda Nagata and a few other similar authors.

For the past two decades or more, at least ninety-five percent of my SF reading has been short fiction, usually multi-author anthologies, although I do read the occasional single-author short fiction collection. I did read the SF magazines circa 1997-2003, Analog, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Interzone and SF Age, but SF Age folded, and Interzone changed hands and I didn’t like the new direction it took after David Pringle gave it up. And even worse, the US magazines Analog, Asimov’s and F&SF were all dropped by my local newsagents, which meant that I no longer collected ANY science fiction magazines. These days, I collect the various “Year’s Best” SF anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois, David G. Hartwell, Rich Horton and a few others. These, plus a few interesting “theme” anthologies, allow me to keep up to date with the cream of modern short SF. However, by far the vast majority of the SF anthologies that I read are collections of classic and vintage SF, pre-New Wave (I did NOT like most of the fiction from the New Wave era), and mainly material from the Golden Age and pre-Golden Age of Science Fiction.

As for comics, I actually gave up reading them altogether for a full decade, from 1982-1991. I’d been reading comics continuously since I was about three or four years old (1964-65), starting off with the British weekly comics such as Lion, Valiant and Eagle. Then, in late-1972, I discovered the Mighty World of Marvel, followed soon after by Spider-Man Comics Weekly and the Avengers, and became a fanatical reader of the black and white Marvel UK reprints throughout the rest of the 70’s. I also started reading the colour Marvel US comics (which I bought via mail order) about a year or two afterwards, and all through the 1970’s I read both US and UK Marvel comics side-by-side. But by the end of the 1970’s, in my opinion, both Marvel UK and Marvel US had gone into decline (or maybe I was just getting fed up with or “growing out of” them), and once I began my A-Levels (1977-79), followed by university (1979-83), the immense pressures of study meant that I had to give up on reading all but a handful of my favourite comics.

I had given up on the Marvel UK titles altogether by about 1979, and stopped reading all but three or four of the US Marvel titles, dropping them altogether by about 1980-81. My final comic of that era was the classic UK comic Warrior, and when it folded in 1982, and with 1982-83 being the year of my “finals” at university, I stopped reading comics altogether for a long, long time, the first period in my life that I hadn’t read comics since I was a very young child. I came back to them sporadically during 1991-1992 and 1994-1995, but I only really became a serious comics collector again from about late-1997 onwards. However, the good news is that my comics reading habit has actually grown again in recent years to a level that greatly surpasses what it was even back in my teens.

I’m still a hardcore geek, and always will be. But those dark years back at the end of the 1970’s and during most of the 1980’s almost totally ruined it for me on a permanent basis. Luckily I’ve now pretty much fully recovered most of my geek cred and activities. Mostly.

But as much fun as being a geek still is today, the one thing that I can regretfully never rediscover is that wide-eyed innocence, enthusiasm and sense of sheer joy that I experienced way back in my early teens, when I first became a serious geek. It’s like being a virgin. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. 🙂

It’s all just not quite as wondrous and pure any more when you’re a middle-aged cynic. 🙂