I am drawn to post-catastrophe survival stories and read three in a row recently. George Stewart’s Earth Abides, Walter Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I’d read Stephen King’s The Stand last year and it rather like Earth Abides in many ways.
All classics in their own right but each leaving me wanting. I am a glutton for good writing – when I read a phrase and say, ‘I wish I wrote that.’ I didn’t get that from Earth Abides. And yet the courage and persistence of the main character doing what most decent men would do over the years and charting the way Nature would reclaim North American cities is admirable. It comes under that category that so many SF stories written in the mid 20th Century fall in where the protagonist is nice – and so lacks that gritty conflict modern readers want. Yet Miller does that in Canticle. Terrific writing, scary deaths of the main characters and yet amusing in a noir way. I suppose the book troubled me as it is about how faith – especially the Catholic Church in whatever morphed form it has post nuclear war – is necessary to pull Mankind through. It’s done tongue in cheek and I can still enjoy the way the story is told and smile at the characters. The Road is marvellous with grit and conflict around each dark corner yet hope is wired all the way through.
For the next Chester Library SFF book group meeting this coming Saturday 3rd December we are having a Desert Island Discs session where we each suggest a SFF book we couldn’t live without. That is sooo hard. I am also at a disadvantage to many of the others in that although I have been reading SF for decades my rubbish memory denies me the opportunity to recall enough details to talk about most of them. Also I have been writing more than reading in the last ten years. To top that I don’t normally like to re-read books on the grounds that life is too short. Besides the fact above that I am drawn to post-apocalyptic stories, I also want to be awed by vistas new, which generally means exploring new planets or weird places. And I want to enjoy the writing style. I’ve no time before Saturday to read Gene Wolfe’s books and the many others I see listed on ‘must read’ compilations on the web. I think M. John Harrison’s Light is high on my suggestions though I may yet cause issues with some by suggesting one of the best books I’ve read for writing style and imagination: The Collector Collector by Tibor Fischer. It is fantasy rather than science fiction but imagine a story from the point of view of an ancient non-human entity, who collects souls that collects items. It was Fischer’s The Thought Gang that re-energised my urge to write. It’s all his fault!
I don’t suppose I’m allowed to have my own Exit, Pursued by a Bee as my chosen book. Ha ha.