Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The obituaries that were never meant to be

The other blog, well it just isn't. So instead, I'm fighting blank page syndrome by starting with a one line thought and seeing where it takes me.

My reading life started backwards and will probably end as such with the aid of a magnifying glass or some really super weird glasses as my eyes change from short sighted to long sighted as age is wont to do. I've never opened a large print book, a brief stint of work experience in a library (yes, more fun than it sounds, I loved it more than photocopying in an estate agents for a week) forcing me to acknowledge the existence of such things but not to ever venture inside, lest somehow the eyesight required to read such things were catching.

As if.

The problem with having an over active imagination and yet no imagination at all - I cannot tell you how any of the characters within a book look unless there is a film or TV series created of it, either before or after - is that when you are a child the books all seem believable. There is no belief to suspend and so an escalating ability to read outpacing ones birthdays is a rather dangerous thing. All my books came from the local library (or mobile library) and so medical crime, gangster crime, Agatha Christie and classics all mixed with Chalet School and Sweet Valley High in my book bag.  I'd read all our set texts for GCSE English years before. Mute point. Bored, and onto other things.

But never fantasy or science fiction. Through my teens and early twenties, I remember adamantly stating that if a book had a dragon in it I just wasn't interested because there were no such things as dragons and why on earth would I want to waste time reading about things that didn't exist? (Snowcrash was the marked exception, but apart from a brief foray into William Gibson, the only one)

The worst thing of all is that lack of self awareness which led to that sentence being uttered. I needed escape when I was a child. And yet somehow, I decided at some point that denying myself that escape into the fantastical - instead, for some reason, choosing crime and drama's as escape. And of course, they are not.

Turning 30 does things to you. One of the things it did to me was make me stop being such an idiot. Discounting an entire genre on the basis of 'there be dragons' is a childish thing to do and so, as I grew up, I decided this too must change.

Dragons, it turns out, are cool. Before George there was Anne and Robin. And it's important that we don't forget that. But for me, being okay with the dragons led, like a gateway drug, to science fiction. And then, bizarrely, into the thing my other half refers to nervously as 'hard science fiction'. Hard because it's hard to understand? Who knows. I refuse to refer to Wikipedia on things like this.

Because there was Iain M Banks and he made it all seem so simple. Yes, simple. A culture called Culture may sound bizarre but trust me, it's not. It's perfectly logical. Minds which control ships which are human and yet are not, have empathy and yet do not. Female characters rendered wonderfully and frequently thanks to Cultures ability to gender switch through choice. The magnificent book that turns the phrase 'it's only a game' into a pause for thought (Player of Games) through to the sweeping theological wrangle that emerges through 'subliming' (Hydrogen Sonata). And when it comes to the Sonata itself, the thought provocation which lingers, long after the book is put down, fired by the idea that a woman would genetically modify herself in a way which even to her own culture is slightly strange, just to play a particular piece of music on a particularly archaic musical instrument. Do we respect her? Are we supposed to?

Except of course, the book is nothing to do with the Sonata. And yet somehow, it's actually absolutely everything about the Sonata.

Through the Culture series and because of it, I have become less of snob about books. They are the gateway through which I now discover Peter F Hamilton - and eventually there will be others when I am finished reading about a road (A303) and done with my obsession over Tudor England (I know a lot about Henry VIII and nothing about Elizabeth).

Reading, or rather the enjoyment of reading is a gift, not a choice, or so it seems to me. And discovering an author who can challenge me but also make me laugh is a rare gift indeed. This man I'll never meet, never be too shy to speak to, whose signature I'll never get, who I'll never get to thank, allowed me to follow him through a universe inside his mind. The Culture universe.

So I am sad. Intensely sad. As sad as I was when I learned Kurt Cobain was dead. Because to us, us idiots whose noses bury in books, who abandon Kindles because they don't feel or smell the same, who risk RSI to carry our latest close to us, just in case - to us the loss is the same, I think, as it is when a favourite musician dies.

And the fact the Culture will never sublime, or choose not to, that I will never know if the Minds all go mad eventually, or what's beyond the edge of the universe, will never spend 10 minutes trying to work out exactly which snarkery this particular ships name is referring to...

Keenly felt. This is a small, pathetic, silly attempt at explaining what I can't help feeling is actually unexplainable. The story ended before the story was ended, and that is no disservice to the author, but rather the biggest compliment I could ever pay.

No comments:

Post a Comment