Waterstone's Liverpool One Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

Waterstones Liverpool One Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

"This is space. It's sometimes called the final frontier. (Except that of course you can't have a *final* frontier, because there'd be nothing for it to be a frontier *to*, but as frontiers go, it's pretty penultimate...)"
- Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures

About Us

This is the official blog for the book club held in the book lounge of Waterstones Liverpool One.

The group meet at 6pm on the first Monday of the month to discuss their thoughts and opinions on the books selected. The books range from classic fantasy to brand new science fiction short story collections.

It's a fun and friendly atmosphere and all are welcome: from those who have never read any science fiction or fantasy before, to those who don't read anything else.

The group, and this blog, are administered by Glyn Morgan, the Bookseller responsible for the Science Fiction section of the store and an avid reader of SF who is currently studying for his PhD at the University of Liverpool.

If you would like to comment on any of the books we've read, this month or in the distant past, please feel free to contribute to the comments section of the relevant posts.

Visit this club's little sister: Coffee and Comics

Thursday, 8 September 2011

NEW EVENT: Richard (K.) Morgan signing

It's been a while since I've had a science fiction or fantasy specific event which I've been able to bring to your attention and then two come along at once (more on the second one when the details are ironed out - but its a doozy!).

First off is a signing with award winning Richard Morgan, signing in store on October 19th at 12.30pm:

Remember The Steel Remains? We read it wa-ay back in October 2009 so I don't blame you if you're a bit hazy, indeed many of you weren't even with us so long ago. Anyway, go read it if you haven't already - it's a brilliantly dark, gritty fantasy that sits on the boundary between science fiction and fantasy inspired by stuff like Moorcock's Elric and the Howard Conan stories (not the naff film...).

Richard made a name for himself with hard hitting, excitingly dark science fiction such as the Takeshi Kovacs books (Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, and Woken Furies) and his Arthur C. Clarke award winning Black Man, before moving over to Fantasy and writing the utterly superb and gritty The Steel Remains in 2008.

His new novel, The Cold Commands continues the adventures begun in The Steel Remains and is a hotly anticipated addition to the genre. If you're a fan of George R. R. Martin's brand of fantasy, or Joe Abercrombie, then you'll absolutely love these books. 

Richard has also written graphic novels, such as Black Widow: Homecoming, and was lead writer for the blockbuster videogame Crysis 2

So don't miss this opportunity to meet one of the top names in science fiction and fantasy, come along and get some books signed! 

- If you can't make the signing please contact the store and we can arrange for a reservation to be made and your book to be signed in absentia.

Official Facebook event <-- invite your friends!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical by Robert Shearman

The first love song in the world, as composed by a pig in the Garden of Eden…
The Devil, alarmed when his hobby of writing romantic fiction begins to upstage his day job…
A man finding love with someone who has an allergy to his happiness, another losing love altogether when his wife gives him back his heart in a Tupperware box…

By turns macabre and moving, horrific and laugh-out-loud funny, Robert Shearman's short stories come from a place just to the left of the corner of your eye. Following his World Fantasy Award-winning 'Tiny Deaths', this new collection puts a bizarre twist on the love story. What is love, why does it hurt so much, and how is it we keep coming back for more?

 - Winner of the Readers' Award in the Edge Hill Short Story Competition.
 - Winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story Collection.

What Did We Think?

Much praise was meted out for this, the second collection of Short Stories we've read in our times as a book club.

We liked how Shearman uses the fantastic to express more "mundane" issues. In doing so he accurately and poignantly conveys emotions, concepts and ideas that few other fantastical authors are capable of expressing in their work (or mainstream authors for that matter). It was felt with almost unanimous consent that the stories in this collection make a connection with genuine human emotions, particularly (of course) that of Love.

Despite praising the use of the fantastic, it was also appreciated that Shearman seems to know the power of understatement - both in the amount of fantastic elements a story requires, but also in the prose used to tell it. Many, if not all, of the stories were paced superbly and felt natural at the lengths they were published in. At the same time it was noted, and appreciated, that several of the stories use rather clever narrative techniques and devices, however they are also used in the perfect manner so that they complement the story rather than draw unnecessary attention away from the plot or mood being evoked.

At some point in the session someone must have picked out pretty much every story individually as an example of one they really liked. Even "George Clooney's Moustache" which was, on the whole, found to be a deeply disturbing tale. On the whole the collection was praised for being consistently good rather than putting its best stories at the beginning and deteriorating over the course of the book, as can sometimes happen in such collections.

If anything a criticism of the book was (rather ridiculously) that the stories were so good that you couldn't read them too quickly in succession or they would erase the preceding stories from your mind - so captivating and intense is each narrative. For this reason it reassured at least one member of our group that the stories have been published separately as it was felt that with room to grow in isolation from the other brilliant tales in the collection, they would truly shine.

Votes were as follows: 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 7, 6

Next month's book is the rather more traditionally fantastic The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemsin.

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

[I refuse to use the film tie-in cover]


A psychologist arrives at a research space station called Prometheus, his mission to ascertain whether research into the mysterious planet of Solaris should be terminated. He finds Prometheus all but deserted, its straggling crew seemingly haunted by hallucinations of figures from their pasts.


What Did We Think

[Glyn's Note: I wasn't present for this session and the notes were kindly taken by Al Shipman. What follows are his transcriptions with some minor editing by yours truly. I've added a few comments of my own in square brackets - much like this one, some with some factual background, others with my opinions.]

[First opinions seem to be negative...] Rachel struggled to have an opinion whilst Susan thought badly written, and didn’t hold her attention, so had to skim, and even then didn’t get to end of book. Susan felt that being a Russian translation was not a valid excuse and what came across was lazy writing [I should point out that firstly, Lem was Polish not Russian (major faux pas), and secondly that the translation commonly available in English is actually a translation of a French translation, so I feel bad that Lem might be being misrepresented here]. These feelings tended to provoke speed reading, thus the reader could easily go on to miss the context and undervalue the prose. Several people agreed with these points to varying degrees, and most people chose to skip the internalized dialogue of Kelvin.

Al felt that the way Russians [Poles!] tend to write, very introspectively, and the significant age of the work (before many aspects of modern science and before the full emergence of psychology as a science) were significant challenges for the modern western reader. Rachel suggested this was in part due to the book being very much of it’s time in the sixties [Solaris was written in 1961, the English translated was released in 1970]. Liz wondered if it was all in Kelvin’s mind. Elaine sympathised with this viewpoint. The book was very intense but had a slow narrative, with stunted dialogue. Elaine suggested that it started better than it finished…she was very disappointed by the end. Although later in the discussion Al pointed out how moving and pertinent the closing line was “…I persist in the faith that the time of cruel miracles was not past”, and several people did find this line to be quite moving, and was food for further thought for Elaine also.

Liz could see why it was picked up for a movie, as it reads very cinematically. No exposition of the story. Susan noted that lots of things could have been left out. Rachel liked the oddness of the lack of narrative, and felt that this was done on purpose.

The sense of personal loss in the story was perhaps understated. Rheya’s sacrifice was met with mixed viewpoints. Considered quite surreal. There was some discussion of the Rheya’s .. past read and present representation, both suicidal. Al suggested that the recent movie adaptation made much more of the role of Rheya. Some amusement over what was going on in in Sartorius’s laboratory. The ocean as an immature child god growing and learning on a galactically slow timescale. The subjectivity of their attitudes was noted by Al to detract from true scientific approach, and therefore discredited their ‘studies’. Furthermore Kelvin wasn’t very convincing as a psychologist. He was too immotive, even from the start. Hardly likely.

It was strange that Kelvin, and thereby the readers, do not experience the ocean close up until the end of the book, though this was very possibly deliberate. Al commented that the recent film adaptation was highly effective, addressing many of the concerns raised in the discussion. The producers saw fit to change the ending. In one sense this was very odd, as the moving final line was lost. On the other hand, the cinematic ending was not untrue to the spirit of the book and raised a number of interesting points that were not a million miles from the spirit of the book. By the end of the discussion, there had been a degree of re-assessment by the members of the group.

Final votes out of ten were: 9,6,6,6,7,8. Final score: 7/10

There was much enthusiasm for next months book, Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical

[Coda: I am a big fan of this book and acknowledge there are stylistic problems and its possibly not as sophisticated in its prose as some other science fiction has proven to be - this however could be down to the double translation issue (I'd be interested in reading the original, but since that would involve learning a language I have absolutely no grounding in it is clearly not going to happen). For me Solaris is a classic example of 60s/70s science fiction which is exploding established tropes and perceived truths. In Solaris Lem is examining the idea of the alien in a way which is in equal turns frustrating and pessimistic, completely odds with earlier visions of aliens which are humans with funny names and a different colour skin. Solaris is a relatively rare view of an alien which is genuinely alien, and thus completely incomprehensible to humanity. As a Pole, Lem is probably better placed to write this kind of fiction than anyone else given that Poland has frequently in its recent history been subjected to alien languages and cultures and experiences incomprehensible traumas and situations beyond the control of its populace or government. For me Lem remains on of the most important, and least recognised, authors of science fiction operating at his time, and Solaris a keystone of his work. - Glyn]