What to Give People Who Hate Sci-Fi

Last-minute holiday shoppers gravitate to quickie gift suggestions like “Sci-Fi Books for People Who Hate Sci-Fi” Alex Knapp’s book-buying guide at Forbes.

With one quick click online, we can send a book to our mom’s iPad without a hitch. But what to send? Obviously, as a science fiction fan, I like to try to get other people as excited about science fiction as I am.

It’s not an easy task. A lot of people are simply averse to the science fiction genre, whether it’s because of the association with nerd-dom or an aversion to space and lasers.

As a fellow fan I am perfectly satisfied with Knapp’s mix of classic authors – Heinlein, Bester – and contemporary legends – Scalzi, Sawyer, Resnick. Unfortunately, his premise breaks down immediately in the face of reality. The thing about people who are adamant in their dislike of sci-fi is that as soon as they detect a sniff of it they indignantly spout something that translates to, “I say it’s spinach and I say to hell with it.” To suppose that quality sci-fi, however carefully chosen, will fly under their radar is absurd. Especially a bright orange paperback with a BEM on the cover. (What were you thinking, Alex?)

If you’re a fan who’s desperate for a gift idea, why get sidetracked into unwelcome evangelism? Profit from your knowledge of the best sf novels by making them your guide to non-genre works people will love to receive. Here’s what I mean.

Impressed with Heinlein’s Starship Troopers? Then don’t lose a minute gift-wrapping a copy of Eugene V. Sledge’s autobiographical account  of his WWII service, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa. Truly, when I read it this summer I was utterly impressed by its narrative flow and dynamic style, beyond anything I’ve ever found in a historian (even David McCullough). I also suspected I’d discovered the literary roots of Heinlein’s most famous combat novel – until I saw that Sledge’s was first published in 1981. If there’s an influence at work, it must be Heinlein influencing Sledge. And there’s no question the old master would have been proud to acknowledge Sledge as a student, if such is the case, given the brilliant result.

The Guns of the South came out just a couple of years after I’d read Shelby Foote’s account of the Civil War. Reading Harry Turtledove’s novel I remembered Foote’s coverage of The Wilderness well enough to be impressed by Harry’s detailed historicity of his fictionalized battle. He faithfully replayed the battle until the point where his Confederates turn the tide using AK-47s. For armchair strategists Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative is just what the doctor ordered. (A Ph.D, that is.)   

So that’s the plan – backtrack from your favorite sf novels to the great books that equipped you to enjoy them and the people on your gift list will think you’re a genius.

Murray Moore: Glicksohn Memorial Report

By Murray Moore: We decided after the memorial service not to go to 508 Windermere: if as little as 20 percent of the people attending the memorial went, the house would be jammed. But here is my account of the memorial.

***

Susan Manchester and Mike Glicksohn, I am sure, enjoyed their honeymoon, nearly 18 years ago, in a hotel in Wales. Members of a tour group, I equally am confident, clearly remember Mike, although they and Mike were not formally introduced.

The newlyweds were informed that the group was arriving at 5 a.m. The Singaporeans arrived. Noisily. “Jabbering” was Mike’s description. Mike got out of their bed, opened their room’s door, and, holding a finger to his lips, said “Sssh.”

Susan, when Mike returned to bed: “That seemed to work.”

Mike to Susan: “Maybe the sight of a naked Caucasian shocked them into it.”

“He was very hairy, you see,” Susan explained, describing “my amazing husband” to the family and friends attending her late husband’s memorial service on Wednesday evening.

Many of the places in the pews of Windermere United Church, Susan’s church, were filled by people who, to attend, trudged through the result of a late-winter day-long snowfall.

(The snow must have been a shock to one of my neighbours, who, a couple of days ago, was raking his lawn.)

Perhaps as many people attended Mike’s memorial service as attended Susan’s and Mike’s wedding. “He didn’t want to invite very many people to our wedding. ‘Who would come!?’ he asked. I invited 200!”

Mike attended church with Susan only at Christmas and Easter. “Mike didn’t ask for this” memorial celebration, Susan said. “I am not sure that he would like it very much.”

Rev. Kate Young confessed that she was not sure she would like Mike when Susan invited her to their home for supper. She knew Mike was an atheist, a math teacher, and a science fiction reader. She was nervous. Mike won her over quickly: “Can I get you a drink?”

Mike was delighted that Susan attended church: Mike admired her for her faith: “Susan will say a prayer for you” Mike would tell friends who were in a stressful situation.

Mike was a twinkly child. “I don’t know anyone who twinkled like Mike did,” Manning Glicksohn, Mike’s older brother by 16 months, said.

Manning taught at Humberside Collegiate for several years, but moved to another school before Mike started his long career at the same school. Manning is tall and bald. His younger brother was neither. One day a student delighted Mike by asking “Mr. Glicksohn, did you used to be bald and teach French?”

Love was a word spoken often during the memorial service. Manning said of his brother, “Mike had a deep belief in the reality of love. Mike embodied it.” Mike loved and helped others love. Also “Mike really knew who he was and he refused to be anyone else.”

Mike Glicksohn was a model for young Robert Sawyer. Robert attended the same high school as did Mike, but 15 years later. Mike’s name was on a varnished wood scholarship plaque. “I saw his name every day. I wanted to be a SF writer. And here was a guy from my neighbourhood who had won a Hugo.” (Torcon 2, 1973, Best Fanzine, for co-editing Energumen).

When Worldcon returned to Toronto (Torcon 3, 2003) Robert J. Sawyer won the Best Novel Hugo for his Hominids. Rob explained that in Hominids he needed a word for his Neanderthals to use describing the best qualities of humans. The word Rob created was Gliksin. “Mike was wonderfully pleased.”

Rob explained that inserting a reference to Mike into one of his works was difficult because Rob is not a fantasy writer: “I had nowhere to put an overgrown hobbit.”

“People are mourning all over the world” because, Rob said, “Mike was world famous among SF readers. Australia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, China, all over. Mike touched people all over the world.”

An audience member said Mike was a curmudgeon about the internet. But “When Mike was with you, he was with you 100 per cent. He didn’t need FaceBook.”

A Mike story. A young child at a meal clearly announced “I have to go potty. I have to poop.” Mike put his hand on the child’s hand and told the child “Thank you for sharing.”

Susan’s uncle praised Mike for giving his niece “the ability to grow, room to do that. Mike accepted people as they are.”

A Mike story. Mike attended a Blue Jays game that lasted 22 innings. Mike was one of the few who stayed in his seat to the end of the 22nd inning. The television camera panned the seats to show the mostly vacant seats. “Look at this man,” the announcer said, meaning Mike. “When this game started, he was clean-shaven!”

Former students, said a former colleague of Mike’s, when they met their teacher on the street, retired since 2006, greeted him “Hello Mr. Glicksohn. How are you?” The greetings were the “mark of a man who did his job. And Michael certainly did his.” Also “I thought it was important that a student be taught for one class by The Glick.”

Mike was a strict but fair teacher. The very young daughter of his great friend and fellow teacher Mike Harper decided Mike’s name was Honey after she heard one-too-many daily phone calls by Mike when he was courting Susan. The young Miss Harper and some others called Mike ‘Honey’, Susan said, “but certainly not his students.”

Susan’s minister was pleased to see Mike in church: “He looked like Jesus!” She admired the sense of humour and the courage with which he met each setback. The progress/lack of progress e-mails which Mike sent were both “hilarious” and “life-affirming.”

When Mike was in St. Joseph’s Hospital Mike gave his minister a straight line. Mike wanted to know if she thought his asking to have the crucifix in his room covered would be offensive? “Not to me,” she told him. “I’m not Catholic.”

“Of course he was a sweet man. He was a great hugger,” Susan said. “And he loved to play card games: trump games, poker. I’m not sorry if you lost money to Mike. I benefited from it.”

“He was an incredible man, a beautiful man to so many, my dear husband. Not a day went by that we did not say I Love You to each other. And what else is there to say?”

glicksohn service

Bulletin from the service.

Update 3/24/2011: Added a copy of the bulletin from Mike’s service sent by Taral. (Thanks!)

Major Canadian Book Distributor Files Bankruptcy

Canadian book distributor H. B. Fenn, which distributed books for Tor, Hyperion, and several other publishers in Canada, has filed for bankruptcy. H.B. Fenn has 125 employees.

In the company’s news release it blamed this development on “ loss of distribution lines, shrinking margins and the significant shift to e-books, all of which have significantly reduced the Company’s revenues.” Quill & Quire explains:

H.B. Fenn suffered a major setback two years ago when its largest sales and distribution client, Hachette Book Group, opened a Toronto publicity and marketing office and took over sales for major national accounts including Indigo, Costco, and wholesalers North 49 and BookExpress.

One of its employees said they are ceasing operations immediately.

Robert J. Sawyer, in a comment on this post, said “I owe a huge amount of my career to Harold and Sylvia Fenn. Absolutely wonderful people, and a great company.”

[Thanks to Steven H Silver for the story.]

TV Misguidance

TV Guide

TV Guide

I was at a friend’s house last night and picked up his copy of TV Guide to read the story about Flashforward. Immediately, I crashed into the insulting statement that the series is based on a 1999 novel that nobody read.

I believe I’m repeating the line almost verbatim; some of you subscribers can check me. (I should have surreptitiously torn out the page to take home. When I searched the TV Guide magazine site today I found a great deal of that issue’s contents online, but not the segment containing this brutal comment.)

It seemed to me the writer’s intended point is that nobody can predict the story arc that the tv series will follow by reading Robert Sawyer’s book. But what an unfortunate line. And rather out of synch with the rest of the magazine’s favorable coverage of the series, judging from the other articles online.

Relatively Good Timing

FlashForward, the tv series based on a novel by Robert Sawyer, has just premiered(*).

While the author is enjoying maximum name recognition, ISFiC Press is seizing the opportunity to advertise its collection of his stories, Relativity, and use the author’s popularity to attract attention to the press’s other books. Discounts are available – the more you buy, the more you save.

The full press release appears after the jump.

(*) And the Crotchety Old Fan reviews it here.

Continue reading

Phyllis Gottlieb Passes Away

Phyllis Gottlieb passed away July 14 at the age of 83 due to complications related to a ruptured appendix, posted Robert Sawyer. And he paid tribute on her memorial page, saying:

Phyllis Gotlieb was the mother of Canadian science fiction, and a great inspiration to me. She was a founding member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America — the only Canadian in that group when it started in 1965.

Flashforward to TV

Robert Sawyer’s 1999 novel Flashforward is expected to debut as an ABC television series this fall – under the same title, split into two words.

People in Flash Forward have visions of deaths, relationships gone wrong and other significant events six months in the future, but as their lives unfold, it appears there are ways to circumvent what might otherwise seem to be predestined….

The media are likening the show to Lost. Credited as series creators are David Goyer, one of the writers on The Dark Night and Brannon Braga, a writer-producer on 24 and Enterprise.

Anti-Fan Mail

A fan named Jason wrote this e-mail to the official Hugo Awards website to voice his deep dissatisfaction with the Best Novel of 2003:

I recently bought a novel by an author I did not know based on the fact that he had won a Hugo award for his science fiction. The novel called Hominids had to be one of the worst books I have ever read, and I will never again purchase a book on the recommendation of the “Hugo Award.” You do yourself and the genre of science fiction a great disservice when you promote such work as legitimate and award worthy.

Please feel free to share my criticism with whomever you feel would benefit from it.

And so I shall. While I have no complaint about Hominids, I still haven’t forgiven the Hugo voters for choosing Bladerunner over E.T. as Best Dramatic Presentation of 1983, so I believe to that extent I feel Jason’s pain.

In my reply, I asked Jason to keep in mind that the Hugos are selected by a popular vote of members of the year’s World Science Fiction Convention. Every book generates its own bell-shaped curve of fans and haters. I rarely agree with all the Hugo winners myself, but I chalk it up to divergent tastes and that darned democracy thing at work again.

Fans’ tastes are highly divergent. I’ve seen blog entries declaring all kinds of Hugo winners unworthy of the award — including Zelazny’s “And Call Me Conrad” and even me, come to think of it.

P.S. to Jason: Feel free to join this year’s convention and become a voter. By all means, air your views about your favorite (and not so favorite) sf. And there’s nothing preventing you from Googling Robert J. Sawyer’s webpage and telling him what you think directly. Just don’t say I sent you.

Is the Emperor Naked?

SF Signal’s JP Frantz has posted Why I Stopped Reading: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon, an iconoclastic slam against the Hugo-nominated and Nebula-winning novel. (I won’t call it a review – he didn’t finish reading the book, remember?)

I’ve been waiting for the Best Novel Hugo debate to “go negative,” as it’s termed in election-year jargon. And that choice of jargon is no coincidence, for this category turned into a campaign the moment the other four nominees (McDonald, Sawyer, Scalzi, and Stross) offered free electronic copies of their novels to 2008 Worldcon members, an unprecedented move. (We still have to buy Chabon’s.)

That brilliant gamble can only pay off if people like one of their books better than Chabon’s, and I’m sure they’ve anxiously been waiting for any sign they’re gaining traction against the perceived front-runner (thus playing Obama to Chabon’s Clinton?)

And they ought to worry. These are the same Hugo voters who gave a Neal Stephenson novel the award a couple of years ago. Those people might do anything!