"Lost in the Library of Life"

Number 1

An Acnestis Submission


Simon Bisson

"Welcome my friends, to the show that never ends"

This is my first contribution, so I'd better introduce myself. I'm Simon Bisson, you've probably met me at The Champion or at a convention, or spotted me out there on the Net. During daylight hours I'm a research engineer building the fabled information superhighway, by night I'm most often found surrounded by a pile of beaten paperbacks. I also write for "Online World", an Internet magazine (I think it's quite good, but then again they let me write them fun rants about telecoms...).

The title? When I edited the Bath Sf Group's fanzine "Aquae Sulis -- No Parking", I felt like producing my own fanzine, but all that happened was the title. It felt like such a good one, so...

"Pump up the volume..."

I was about 10 when I first read the short story. At the age of 13 someone showed me the outline in Omni. I was in my twenties when the novel came out, and I'm still waiting for the movie. But the other day, as I wait for my thirties, I walked into my local record store, and found the CD.

It may seem odd to write about music in an APA devoted to written Sf, but over the years, no matter what else I've read, Arthur C. Clarke's story "The Songs Of Distant Earth", in all its incarnations, has remained one of my favourites. So how does Mike Oldfield's album compare?

"Songs..." is Clarke at his haunting best, his distant style a counterpoint to the tragedy of a lost home, torn away by the impossible distances between the stars, and the untimely death of the Sun. And yet, in the music that the passengers of the last starship from Earth bring to the lotus-eating colonists there's the hope of a new future.

Oldfield tries to capture the spirit of the book in his music, an ambient soundscape full of snapshots of speech and music. As he traverses the structure of Clarke's novel, the songs sneak through, to culminate in the beginnings of music: a tribal chant.

It works. There's only one problem, there's the CD-ROM due next year.

"You must remember this..."

There's one hazard of being a bibliophile. It's not the problems with storage (though when one leads a peripatetic life, that's certainly a problem!), it's the to-be-read pile.

Sometimes it's big, sometimes it's small. Mine never seems to drop below 20 books or so, leaping up and down in the corner of the room. In fact there are two piles -- those in the database, those waiting for a chance for title, author, isbn, date, and comments to be stored in binary. And the size of the database continues to grow. It's not fun, remembering to type each book into the machine as it's bought, so they gather, the uncatalogued, in their own little piles -- uncatalogued, unread, uncatalogued, read.

Oh, for a nice room with lots of shelves...

"Recent Reads"

Time for a quick trek through last month's reading.

Agyar, Stephen Brust: I don't normally read a lot of fantasy, but in that genre Stephen Brust is a writer I keep coming back to. Agyar was a surprise -- a horror novel neatly disguised as urban fantasy. The novel follows a few first person weeks in the life of Janos Agyar, who is not at all what what he seems... Enjoyable, complex and well written.

Starfarers, Transition, Metaphase, Nautilus, Vonda MacIntyre: This one is space opera for the '90s. A multifaceted story of Earth's first starship. This space-going university heads off unprepared into the wild yonder, to make first contact. McIntyre's four volume novel -- the only way to describe this work -- charts the tangled lives of the starship's faculty through the first failed contact, and their attempts to both repair interstellar relations and to return home.

Midshipman's Hope, David Feintuch: Hornblower in space -- no more, no less. Feintuch has no pretensions, and has turned out a nice little pot-boiler. A disaster kills off a starship's officers, leaving an inexperienced boy in command (a familiar plot...), and he must struggle through various central-casting adversities to his destiny. The art of the pulp lives on!

The Well-Favored Man, Elizabeth Willey: Another non-run-of-the-mill fantasy, this is Zelazny's Amber with everyone being nice to each other. It's also a sequel to "The Tempest" and a Heinleinesque science fiction novel: Willey is one brave writer. And, against all the odds, this one works. It's not "Little, Big",but it's certainly one of the best fantasy novels I've read.

Dark Mirror, Diane Duane: A Star Trek TNG novel, Duane's "Dark Mirror" is rather fun (a dose of "guilty pleasure" reading). An alternate universe tale, with a touch of the evil twins syndrome. Diane writes literate Sf and fantasy, and manages to imbue her Star Trek offerings with a sense of fun -- as well as a good story. Here she also manages to reveal that Picard gets his books from Hay-on-Wye...

Men At Arms, Terry Pratchett: Pratchett never fails to amuse, and this police procedural/comedy-of-manners/arms race satire hits the spot! Every now and then I think that Pratchett must be some type of soap opera, as I find myself looking forward to the reappearance of each minor character and place. Ook ook. Woof.

Manhattan Transfer, John E. Stith: Hard Sf as disaster novel. Alien Okies steal Manhattan Island, and add it to their collection of cities. This is classic Campbellian puzzle fiction, man as superman solving the problems that super-intelligent high-technology aliens find insoluble. It's nice to see that American-ingenuity always wins through.

"That's All Folks..."

Simon Bisson 32 Darrington Road Borehamwood Herts WD6 4LL