Wednesday, July 05, 2006

SFX Online Reading Group


People out there may like to know that SFX, that indispensible magazine, is starting an online Reading Group.

Each month a classic SF title is up for discussion.

A-list authors like Stephen Baxter & Jon Courtney Grimwood will be joining in the discussions.

You can e-mail your reviews/comments/reactions to, or post on the books section of the website's forum

Each month the magazine will carry a feature on the spotlighted book, starting with issue 148, available 30th August.

The first selected title is HG Wells' "The War of the Worlds", and you have until 3rd August to read and submit your reactions.

I'll be having a go : anyone else interested?


michael said...

I saw the SFX reading group in my copy of the magazine. I thought about giving it a go, but I found TWOTW quite tedious when I read it at university.

Having said that, maybe it's worth another look? I guess there is a bit of a steampunk vibe to it, which might interest me more than it did last time I read it.

Bibliothecary said...

I think this is a great idea. SF has long languished with other kinds of genre fiction at the neglected end of the literary food chain. It's about time that genii like William Gibson and Philip K. Dick garnered the recognition they deserve and if initiatives like this do anything to redress the balance, I'm all for it.

A tip for Michael: when reading TWOTW, imagine the narrator's voice as that of Richard Burton... works every time for me, although at some point I have to block out the unpleasant intrusion of David Essex into the narrative.

lonewytch said...

i think that's a brill idea, though i read more around fantasy fiction than actual sci-fi it is a genre i enjoy and have long intended to read TWOTW so will defintely give it a bash for 3rd August. one of my fave ever sci-fi-ish series is Julian May's Saga of the Exiles it brilliantly weaves a sci-fi tale in with magic and celtic mythology, i highly reccomend it.

michael said...

I've got to admit, I'm not aware of having seen any of Richard Burton's work. I might try substituting Jean Luc Picard for a while. Reading the comments above in his voice is having quite a soothing effect. Engage!

swlrir said...

I've just finished TWOTW : the first reading for quite a while. Richard Burton's narrative voice is definately with me : and it helps : Michael : try the Jeff Wayne musical version to hear what we mean.

TWOTW is one of those books (like Jekyll and Hyde & Frankenstein?) that everyone thinks they know without actually reading it: after the radio broadcast, the films, the TV, the musical etc it is good to get back to the original.
It is a short and simple tale told in the first person, set in the small towns and villages surrounding London, and, later in the capital itself.
The tension is built up and maintained as complacency and mild curiosity give way to disbelief, terror and panic.
The reader, like our hero, has no way of knowing the extent of the invasion; communications break down and we only know what the narrator sees and hears for himself, or what he is told.

The companions our hero meets along the way serve to illustrate different reactions to the situation: the Artilleryman, at first brave and stalwart, later an impractical dreamer; the drunken and pathetic Curate who represents the failings of organised religion; and the Sisters who show us the fortitude of the ordinary Englishwoman, all add perspective to the narrator's experiences.

So this is the story of one ordinary intelligent Englishman facing up to disastrous and extraordinary circumstances.

It is "real" SF : the menace and it's overthrow are founded on scientific concepts, the Martians are truly alien in physiology, thought, and in the power and strangeness of their devices.

TWOTW is a bit dated : it was written in the 1890s, after all : but it is one of the most important and readable early cornerstones of SF : a book everyone should read.

michael said...

My esteemed colleague, Bibliothecary, points out that I have indeed encountered Richard Burton. I have a vague memory of a warped vinyl copy of the Jeff Wayne musical, owned by my parents.

So, between them, Bibliothecary and swlrir have jogged my memory. I'm blaming the heat... Thanks, gents!

swlrir said...


Lonewych : thanks for remiminding me about "Saga of the Exiles": I've reserved the first 2 volumes as I have a holiday coming up.

I'm going to Ludlow, so I'm re-reading Phil Rickman's "Smile of a Ghost" : a superb supernatural/mystery set in the town; half way through, I feel I'm there already!

Bibliothecary : (Am I only imagining the stuffed crocodile & astrolabe in your office?) : I definately agree that we should try to bring SF & Fantasy out of the ghetto : just not sure how to do it!

I've tried horror with a general reading group, with little success "I hadn't read any Horror Books before, and I won't be again!"

We always talk about our general reading, so I have recommended dozens of genre titles : but no take up is evident. However I don't seek out and read Aga Sagas when they are recommended to me.

I'm putting together some short lists (10-12 titles) of must read SF; Fantasy; Horror. These could be the basis of library displays, reading group choices, online promotions/forums.

I would welcome any input including (briefly) why your choice is indispensable.


Bibliothecary said...

Swlrir: Alas I can admit to neither an astrolabe or preserved exotic fauna in my office space, but as Michael can testify, there is many an arcane, dusty tome to be found on my desk.

I can sympathise with your experience of introducing horror into general reading groups. The nearest we have ever got are the Gothic classics Frankenstein and Dracula, which just about come in under the radar as "classic fiction"! We try to expand our readers’ horizons but some titles seem to be a step too far.

One of my minor reader development successes was the inclusion of Reaper Man in our reading group programme: way at the other end of the SF&F gamut, this month our Thursday night reading group will be discussing Huxley's Brave New World. (The latter, of course, is covered by the "classic fiction" tag.)

Does anyone think that an SF&F only reading group would be successful, either in Bolton, Wigan or Trafford? Perhaps it's something we could trial online?

swlrir said...

I did try an SF, Fantasy & Horror group in Leigh a few years ago; It limped on for four months with 2 members + myself and a caretaker, then I put it out of its misery.

But, ever hopeful, I wouldn't mind trying again. I would also be interested in trialling an online group, or joining in with a Bolton or Trafford group, time & (public) transport permitting.

It's a shame about the crocodile, but I suspect it would have been outlawed for Health & Safety reasons.

michael said...

I would love to see a genre fiction reading group.

An online trial could pave the way for either a single meeting, or several local meetings, of the members' meatselves.

I only started reading SF in earnest relatively recently. I'm a reader in need of development! So you can count on my participation as a library user, as well as support through my day job.

And, I have to say, a stuffed crocodile would be a wonderful addition to our basement office. The closest we've come so far was the dried-up silverfish Bibliothecary found...