The March meeting of the SF Book Group went very well, with a bigger turnout. I think word is getting round – new faces there and we’re acquiring a good number of regular participants which is great. Everyone seems happy to participate – no-one just sitting there too shy to have at least a little say, which is terrific ‘coz Alex and I don’t want to do all the talking.
Last night was the turn of the great Alfred Bester and the Stars My Destination (originally published as Tiger!Tiger!) and was the choice of Fiona, our Geeklette who has since escaped the evil tentacles of Waterstone‘s (everyone gets out but me, I get Steve McQueened on the barbed wire each time I try). I was very glad I had to re-read this _ I last read it nearly 20 years ago and only recalled a few broad strokes and none of the wonderful detail. Despite being written mid-50s it’s still a very fresh and relevant read. In the Orion SF Masterworks edition (a damned good series of classic SF re-issues) Neil Gaiman writes an introduction, noting how influential this book had been especially on the 80s Cyberpunk generation of writers such as Bill Gibson, especially with it’s corporate-run future.
Actually there were so many little details that been mined (or reworked as a homage or just plain ripped off) by other works over the decades since its publication. The starship which smuggles illegal immigrants for a huge fee then dumps them out of the airlock was reused as Chump Dumping by perps in Judge Dredd’s Mega City One. The blind woman who sees in infra-red and sonar seems a little too close to the way Daredevil ‘sees’ for comfort. The central character, Gully Foyle is a real anti-hero with pretty much no moral compulsions, just his burning desire for revenge (which makes the finale all the more unexpected and fascinating) – obviously a character distilled from the violent anti-heroes of 40 and 50s noir detective fiction (hell, he makes Richard Morgan’s Kovacs look like a softie). One of the few places Bester (who is honoured by having Walter Koenig’s character named after him in Babylon 5) got his very believable future society wrong is in the plastic surgeon’s reaction to Foyle’s facial tattoos – he has heard of such things but never seen them. No body art of augmentation? Boy, he got that one wrong, big time! But I guess we can let him go for that since an American author writing such a critical novel of arch-capitalist society in the 1950s is pretty amazing (no wonder he wrote it in the UK, probably worried McCarthy would have had him up in front of the House Un-American Committee – today we are far more civilised and would Ashcroft would just arrest him without charge). Followed by a few jars with some of the group in the enjoyable Victorian environs of the Guildford Arms sipping Bitter and Twisted.