Monday, March 31, 2008

Where to now, science fiction

Arthur C ClarkeA report in The Guardian asks: With the death of Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Heinlein and, now, Arthur C Clark, whose short story The Sentinel was made into that mega movie 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, which I watched three times (because I could understand it the first time around) has passed on, is there a future for science fiction? Ray Bradbury and Ursula LeGuin are also old.

Well, apparently, Wikipedia now lists 43 sub-genres of science fiction though 'you must never call it sci-fi if you're talking to a fan', and new genres appear to be added every week. (Ask a fanboy -- or fangirl -- near you, and prepare to run.)

Here are a few (very few) definitions from Wikipedia and other sources:

Alternate history based on the premise that historical events might have turned out differently, using devices such as time travel to change the past, or set in another universe.

Biopunk uses elements from the hard-boiled detective novel, film noir, Japanese anime, and post-modernist prose to describe the nihilistic, underground side of the biotech society.

Clockpunk. There are two sub-sub-genres: Historical Clockpunk explores how the world would be if certain technological developments that occurred later had happened in the Renaissance. Non-historical Clockpunk is set in settings similar to the Renaissance but on alternative worlds or planets.

Cyberpunk includes advances in information technology and especially the Internet (cyberspace), artificial intelligence, bionic prosthetics and brain-computer interfaces, and post-democratic societal control.

The Guardian

Saturday, March 29, 2008

I shot my hero

Little PrinceHenry Samuel writes in The Telegraph that Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince, one of the top 50 best-selling books of all time that has been translated into 100 languages was shot down by a German World War 11 fighter pilot. But Horst Rippert, 88, said he would not have fired at the author on July 31, 1944, had he known his victim was one of his
literary heros.

He is quoted: If I had known it was Saint-Exupéry I would never have shot him down ... He knew admirably how to describe the sky, the thoughts and feelings of pilots ... His work inspired many of us to take up our vocation.

A former German World War II fighter pilot has claimed he shot down French literary hero Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince, 63 years after the event.

All this is to be revealed in a new book, Saint-Exupery, the last secret. Rippart was tracked down by Luc Vanrell and Lino van Gartzen, and the book is co-written by French journalist Jacques Pradel.

Before this, Saint-Exupery was thought to have committed suicide.

The Telegraph

How fast do you read?

Michael Henderson in his story Life's too short to read five novels a week in The Telegraph examines a claim by author, reviewer, Booker Prize judge Philip Hensher's claim that he has been reading at least five novels a day, every day, since he was five years old or 9880 novels, including Marcel Proust famous novel (yes, that one) in Italian, laying claim to the title of all-time-clever-clogs! He is 43.

Before that the man who read everything was novelist, critic, biographer and composer, Anthony Burgess (not counting Coleridge who was said to have devoured books at an alarming rate). The only other person alive who could still challenge Hansher for that title is, apparently, Clive James.

As an author Hensher has penned six novels (the latest, called The Northern Clemency, out this year), one book of short stories and one of essays. If that isn't enough, he contributes two newspaper columns each week, occasionally collaborates on other projects, and teaches creative writing at the University of Exeter. All this makes me feel so ashamed at my laziness.

I admit I am a slow reader, and I can't read more than one hour at a stretch -- I will have to get up, go for a walk, get a drink, eat something, and then come back to the book. It took me two weeks to finish reading Milan Kundera's The Curtain and JM Coetzee Diary of a Bad Year, but I was reading other books at the same time. But typically I take about two weeks to finish
a book unless it is one of those huge tomes, which I largely avoid these days anyway.

I was not always this slow a reader though I never could speed read and used to envy others who did. I have been reading since I was seven, not counting my pre-Enid Blyton years. I used to race through books when I was younger, to find out the ending more than anything else, but I
think I have slowed down considerably, mostly out of choice. Reading now is like sucking on a sweet, I want the flavour to last as long as possible and for the aftertaste to linger after that. I will reread passages, swish it around with my tongue one more time, look up from the book and simply stare at space for a while after a particularly striking passage. (I also toss books aside rather more quickly these days if the author takes too long to get to the point of his argument.)

The Telegraph

Friday, March 14, 2008

A new way of marketing books

A Times Online report says that Random House is experimenting with a new way of marketing books: the book trailer. Readers struggling to choose their next book can now view book trailers (currently released for three new Random House titles and available online) before making a purchasing decision.

The report says: 'The 90-second trailers were made by students of the National Film & Television School (NFTS) as part of the Book Video Awards, a new initiative between the NFTS, Random House, The Bookseller and'

The three books featured are Small
by Matt Beaumont (Bantam), Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff (Heinemann), and The Outcast by Sadie Jones (Chatto). All three trailers can be seen at the Random House website,, YouTube and other viral sites.

This video is my favourite. But I am not sure if I am going to allow my book buying decisions to be made by a trailer. Though admittedly more non-readers could be turned on if the trailers are interesting enough. (Suggest you down load it completely first and then watch it through.)

Times Online

Stereotypical readers

Ben Hoyle writes in Times Online that, 'The British buy books by television personalities, Americans are obsessed with self-improvement, French choices are more highbrow, the Germans like holidays while the Japanese have more eclectic tastes.' Only Harry Potter breaks the trend. This survey of global reading habits was done by Amazon.

Amazon has listed the bestselling books on its sites in Britain, the United States, France, Japan and Germany.

The Japanese like health-and-beauty titles: Yukuko Tanaka's Face Massage and Inspiring Exercise are included in a list that consists of a Michelin guide to Tokyo restaurants, a scientific treatise on (human) viruses, a comedian’s autobiography and three volumes of Manga.

The British like celebrity chefs, TV presenters and trivia. There are only three novels in the list: Harry Potter, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Orange Prize-winning Half of a Yellow Sun and Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns.

The French list has seven works of fiction with exotic sounding themes. It has one autobiography in the list is that of Simone Veil, the Auschwitz survivor who became the first female President of the European Parliament.

The American list is dominated by self-improvement: Eat, Pray, Love, Good to Great (business), Now Discover Your Strengths, Deceptively Delicious and The Secret (also on the German and Japanese top tens). Do Americans really feel really that inadequate?

Germans like books about travel and the outdoors.


Times Online

WH Smith discovers a new bestseller

Beef JerkyJames Hall reports in The Telegraph that WH Smith, the stationary retailer that operates 40 stores within various Los Angeles' LAX airport terminals, has discovered a massive bestseller that has netted annual sales of nearly GBP 4 million. Its called beef jerky, a salty dried-meat snack.

WH Smith noticed that one of the biggest selling items at these airport stores was beef jerky, bought mostly by Japanese customers.

This was what was happening: '... beef is very popular in Japan. However it was also very rare and very expensive. Japanese customers were therefore stocking up on beef jerky at the airport, rehydrating it for days when they got home, and using it in traditional beef dishes.'

'Sensing a great business opportunity WH Smith stocked up on beef jerky in every store near an Asia-bound departure lounge.'

The Telegraph