Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bookshop Customers No.1 (in an occasional series): The Science Fiction Reader

People are very unkind about readers of science fiction and fantasy novels, portraying them as geeky virgins who still live with their parents. As a bookseller who has dealt with thousands of sci-fi fans over the years, I must protest at this crude generalisation. I have met at least seven science fiction readers who didn't conform to this stereotype.

My main issue with the sci-fi/fantasy fans was their relentless questions about forthcoming books. Giving customers information about new titles is part of a bookseller's job, but the fantasy readers nearly always drove me to a state of desperation.

'When's the next book in the Throngard saga coming out?' (We look books up by author and title, not saga and anyway, why are you asking me? Don't tell me you haven't spent ages looking at the author's website)

'Can you phone around your branches to see if they have a signed hardback of Terry Mobble's Planet of Woodlice?' (Of course; I've got nothing else to do)

'Is this any good?' (No of course it isn't, but it's got a map with a 'Western Sea' and some people with silly names and superfluous apostrophes - what more do you want?)

I became very adept at spotting any potential sci-fi/fantasy enquiries and would quickly hide, leaving the less experienced members of staff to learn the hard way. I felt a guilty pleasure at overhearing them say 'Sorry, but how do you spell P'taneth Mhoordu? Is it one word or two?'


John Self said...

Heheh. In my local Waterstone's, they used to have the SF/Fantasy section right at the back of the shop, so the sight of the browsers didn't distress other shoppers.

Seriously though, if you do come across a signed copy of Terry Mobble's Planet of Woodlice (a sewn-in ribbon bookmark would be a bonus), let me know.

It's for my nephew.

Steerforth said...

It's almost a real book. When a former employer first introduced an EPOS system I amused myself by entering fake books on their inventory and the first title I thought of was Planet of Woodlice.

Anonymous said...

Spelling problems reminds me of a lovely (very young) colleague at Books Etc typing Donkey Kokey in to the computer, then asking what it was about.

The Silver Eel said...

David Langford, winner of multiple Hugo awards for his fiction and fan/critical/review writing, is being interviewed by a local television station during an SF convention. He is being asked about the geeky/unwashed/weird/social-misfit thing, or about poor writing or silly covers or unpronounceable names. And he goes on to give a reasoned and articulate defence of science fiction, pointing to the fine writing of Le Guin and Leiber and Ellison and Aldiss and Ballard, the classics like 1984 and Brave New World and We which the gatekeepers won't acknowledge as SF, the way SF reflects the contemporary concerns of modern society and is the only branch of fiction really to get to grips with technology as the defining force of the 20th century. He points to the number of scientists now working in their field because of the inspiration they got from people like Asimov and Clarke and Pohl. And he is beginning to wind up by saying with a slight chuckle, "I mean, you musn't assume that we're all - "
- and at that exact moment, someone wearing a Darth Vader mask walks behind him with one of those guns that fires ping-pong balls, shouting "Kill! Kill! Kill!"
At which point the interviewer assumes that we are indeed all.
(With apologies to the original recounter of this anecdote in Interzone.)