Sci-Fi Heaven – Part Two

ANDY Sawyer leaned back and paused for a moment, before stating clearly and precisely “I’m sorry, but that is bollocks!”

The science fiction librarian and I were continuing our chat in the Sci-Fi Hub at the University of Liverpool’s Sydney Jones library.

The Hub houses tens of thousands of books, videos, audio tapes and other sci-fi goodies.

The reason Andy was so animated is that the conversation had moved on to the sniffy attitude some people have toward sci-fi, and one author in particular.

He added: “When Margaret Atwood says in interviews that Oryx and Crake is not science fiction, but something called speculative fiction or adventure romance, well I’m sorry, but she’s wrong.

“I mean, it’s about genetic engineering in the near future!

“She is on a long list of people who seemingly look down their noses at science fiction, but it is as valid a form of literature and art as any other and has been from the start.”

He said: “When the phrase was coined and just before then, it was the era of great inventors, and sci-fi allowed people to tap into that pioneering spirit by saying if you think this is good, just you wait!

“We have a current Nobel Prize winner, Doris Lessing, who has been a guest at a sci-fi convention, and many other science fiction writers are incredible thinkers who influenced society on many levels.

“For instance some people mock Star Trek, but when Captain Kirk kissed Uhura, that was television’s first inter-racial kiss watched by millions of people, and that made a difference.”

Andy paused for a moment, as if gathering the threads of his argument together.

“If people still say they don’t like sci-fi, I also ask them how come they know all the catchphrases from Star Trek? That usually stumps them!”

Andy – who has just been awarded the 2008 Thomas D. Clareson Award for outstanding service in the promotion of science fiction scholarship – explained he plans to keep expanding the Hub in the future, as despite its vast size, he feels there is plenty more material out there.

“We have only scratched the surface really. People around the world are writing some fantastic material and it fills the imagination to look at what they have come up with – their hopes and their fears too,” he said.

“In the Collection, we get to look after those dreams and nightmares.

“But there is so much going on that we don’t know about, such as stuff that comes from non Anglo-American society. That is really interesting. I know a Bollywood movie is being made, set in the year 2050. I can’t wait to see that.”

And despite his love of all elements of sci-fi, Andy is pretty sure the actual future will not be like the versions we read about.

“If it was, we’d be getting around using jet packs and matter transporters now, while hardly anyone back in the 1940s envisaged a computer terminal at your desk.

“The one guarantee is the actual future won’t be as predicted, but it is still very interesting, challenging and fun to read about.”

You can link to the Sci-Fi Hub here.

Andy recommends … his sci-fi picks

IF people are looking to begin reading science fiction, the Science Fiction masterworks series of books is a good place to start.

However if I was to pick out my favourites, the first would be a writer called Cordwainer Smith.

He mainly produced short stories in the 1960s, with some fascinating ideas about class.

John Wyndham is a fantastic author, most famously in Day of the Triffids, but also The Kraken Wakes and The Chrysalids.

Finally, Ursula Le Guin has produced some wonderful work, such as The Dispossessed and the Left Hand of Darkness.
I like all kinds of science fiction, but I would personally recommend those authors and would feel at a loss if I hadn’t read them.

2 thoughts on “Sci-Fi Heaven – Part Two

  • Andy Sawyer

    on

    Hmm — I come across as harder on Margaret Atwood here than I meant to be, perhaps. She’s by no means the worst example of the “I’m not sf” brigade — in fact she likes sf and supports it. Her statement about Oryx and Crake was more about trying to say that it wasn’t slam-bang space opera stuff and getting her terminology (in my opinion, at least) wrong. This led to a number of critics saying that of course Atwood wasn’t a science fiction writer because she [insert here exactly what science fiction writers *do* when they write sf].

    There are far worse offenders . . . as well as people like Michael Chabon who are very happy to be appreciated by the sf readership and would count themselves as sf fans.

  • “If people still say they don’t like sci-fi, I also ask them how come they know all the catchphrases from Star Trek? That usually stumps them!”

    Not sure that argument holds water. There are a lot of catchphrases from pop culture of all sorts that pop up in “normal” conversation.

    Still, gotta love the guy (and the interview, thanks for it)

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