The Art of Science Fiction

It’s common knowledge that Science Fiction (or Scientific Romance as it was originally called) was very much a product of its time.  A combination of Victorian adventure story, the influence of war and Empire, the speed and revelations of the industrial revolution (and the associated scientific advances), and, in the hands of the best writers, a literary critique of the times.  There are earlier traces of the speculative and the fantastic, but it was the Victorians that firmly set the template of what we now know as Science Fiction.

Title-pageEven early explorations of this new form of writing were associated with striking visual art, which is wholly appropriate for the nature of the genre.

A good example are the illustrations for the 1905 French edition of H.G. Well’s ‘The War of The Worlds’ (first published in 1897).  Henrique Alvim Corrêa (1876–1910) was a Brazilian artist working in Belgium who created wonderfully atmospheric images, full of darkness, light and menace, an example of which can be seen to the left.

As was common at the time, many of the stories we now know as novels began life as serialised stories in popular magazines like The Strand Magazine, Pearson’s Magazine, and The Idler.  It’s wasn’t until the 1920’s though that specialist Science Fiction magazines began to appear.Amazing Stories

Beginning with Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories in 1926 – these highly illustrated magazines soon proliferated and spread the graphic iconography of the genre as much, if not more, than the words from which they originated.

In a strange way the magazines, which were there to spread the ‘word’ of Science Fiction were superseded by the images they used to illustrate the text.  When the cinematic Science Fiction boom of the 1950’s took hold it would only be a short time before the age of the magazine was over (apart from a few survivors).

Although I love early Science Fiction stories (I’d read all of H.G Well’s short stories before I’d left school), I did not feel as much of a fondness for the mid-20th century stuff (and the space operas were just a drag!).  I was far more attached to the films of the 1950’s Science Fiction craze (many of which were based on novels) and even now I would rather see a Science Fiction film than read a Science Fiction book (probably because Science Fiction is such a fantastically visual genre).  I think this is part of the reason why I have migrated to the relative of Science Fiction in the speculative fiction genre that is The Weird.

Village Of The DamnedSince the magazines lost their near-monopoly on Science Fiction stories and the eventual decline in such movies (The Village of The Damned being one of the last original stories of the era), the graphic or illustrative element of the genre flourished on the covers of paperback books.

I remember in the 80’s and 90’s seeing loads of classic Science Fiction paperbacks with cover art from the 1960’s and 70’s in charity shops – but of course, like so many other things, I did not appreciate them at the time!  It is now rare to see the striking and strange book covers at all, and particularly the first editions (paperback or otherwise) anywhere at all.

Fortunately I recently came across a collection of these speculative stories from another age and I decided to buy the lot!  They look stunning and on the whole are in fantastic condition; but my mind is skewed towards the Weird and that is where my heart is, so reluctantly I have decided to pass them on.  Just looking at the covers makes you wonder what imaginative wonders the pages contain and I would love to have the time to read them all but it’s just not possible.

I currently have them for sale very cheaply on eBay, here, but be quick, the first lot end this Sunday evening (25th Oct.) – why not try a few, you never know what astounding stories await!

Here are just a few of the books available:-

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The Art of Reading

women-dress-reading-books-turkish-nail-polishMost people take reading for granted and much of the text we read has changed format over the past few decades from analogue sources to become largely electronic in form.  This of course is fine for the majority of what we read, because a vast amount of it is at best work related or instructional, and if not then it’s usually inconsequential chatter.  But what about reading for pleasure or for proper learning?

I can see the advantages of reading via an e-book (particularly the space saving aspect and the instant access to what you are searching for) but this convenience has not persuaded me to exchange printed words for e-ink.  Part of the pleasure for me is in the connection to the physical page, it’s natural feel and warmth, a book has a physical presence, it feels like a body of work, rather than an anonymous block of plastic and the cold glow of a screen – simply put, you cannot snuggle up with a computer, can you!

With this in mind it was interesting to read recently that the format we read on significantly affects how well we absorb what we are reading.  Apparently we tend to skim read the digital, whereas we are more inclined to mentally and emotionally connect with the analogue – it is nice sometimes to find that what you instinctively feel is actually supported by a range of learned studies.

Ironically it was on the digitally published treehugger.com website that I found an article by Katherine Martinko called Why You Should Read More Paper Books This Year which summarises the issue quite nicely (I have reproduced it below).

E-readers are undeniably practical, but science has weighed in on the debate and come up with a surprisingly traditional conclusion.

As life moves faster and faster, there is a growing desire to slow things down. This is reflected in the burgeoning “slow” movements, in which people purposely take time to complete tasks that could otherwise be done faster. Interest is increasing in activities such as knitting, cooking the “slow” way, baking bread, engaging in slow travel, and shopping for “slow” fashion.

There is even a “slow reading” movement, which advocates regaining the ability to enjoy an old-fashioned paper book for long periods of time without the distractions of the digital world. Some people have even started book clubs where they get together to read in silence, phones turned off.

You may think it strange to place such priority on a mere material, but these slow readers realize something that many others don’t – that reading paper books has real benefits, supported by a number of studies, that e-readers simply cannot match, despite their undeniable practicality.

Readers absorb less on Kindles and iPads than when they read on paper.

According to a study from Norway’s Stavanger University, lead researcher Anne Mangen says:

“The haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.”When 72 Norwegian tenth-graders were given a text to read either as a PDF or as a printed document, followed by a comprehension test, the “students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension tests than students who read the texts digitally.”

The Wall Street Journal reported a 2007 study of 100 people that found that multimedia presentations using a mixture of words, sounds, and moving images resulted in lower retention levels than when the audience read a plain text version, minus all the fancy so-called comprehension aids.

Reading on paper reinforces a skill that must be practiced in order not to be lost.

We have become so accustomed to reading sentences accompanied by links and colourful advertisements that it’s actually difficult to follow the long and often meandering progress of literary sentences.

Screens have changed the way in which we read. Barraged by information and in a perpetual hurry, most of us read, without even realizing it, in an “F” pattern – scanning across the top line of text, but then down the left side of the screen and only partly across the other lines, searching for important words and headlines.

Slow reading is exercise for your brain.

Unless we actively pursue the act of reading as it used to be done, we risk losing our ability to enjoy it – and there are repercussions for that, including greater stress, poorer mental agility later in life, reduced ability to concentrate, and less empathy.

Kids do better in school when firmly grounded in reading, and that is a lifestyle habit that is seriously influenced by parental guidance and example. A 1997 study published in Developmental Psychology found that reading ability in first grade is closely linked to academic achievement in grade eleven – all the more reason to have paper books lying around the house as a tangible reminder to keep reading.

Slow-reading advocates recommend setting aside 30-45 minutes per day to read a book, much in the same way you’d dedicate time toward regular exercise. Make a date for yourself with a paperback, and think of it as a workout for your brain. It will calm you before bed in a way that an e-reader screen cannot, and you will experience a real improvement in your ability to get through a novel, especially if you haven’t done it in a while.

Perhaps you can make it a personal challenge for 2015 to read more than one book, which is what 25 percent of the U.S. population failed to do last year.