You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


There's a lot of ground to cover here, but I am going to try to keep it short.

When I decided to start a blog the one thing I knew I did not want it to be was a stunt. You know, like that woman who cooked all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Or the guy who tried to live with zero carbon footprint. One man read the Bible and aspired to live strictly by its rules for one year. Another read the Encyclopedia Britannica, perhaps because some one else had already laid claim to the Oxford English Dictionary.

These are stunts, done with a book deal in mind if not already in place, and, in the best of all possible scenarios, Hollywood will come knocking. Although I doubt that guy who read the OED is holding his breath for a call from Dreamworks. An on-air chat with Terry Gross is a real possibility, and in the most extreme cases, stunters might make it onto Oprah.

So No Stunts, I swore, No Stunts!

Without benefit of any sort of transition -- When I was an adolescent I read a fair amount of science fiction. I think I was more or less done with it by the end of eighth grade.That was when Frank Herbert's Dune was serialized across an unheard of four issues of Analog Magazine, and when I finished it I thought that there could not only never be a better science fiction novel, there could never be a better novel period. (I was allowed to subscribe to Analog because it was the only science fiction magazine that never had half-naked women on the cover.) By college I was telling people, should the topic come up, that I did not like science fiction. Invariably, whomever I told that then felt compelled to recommend the one science fiction novel I was sure to like. "No, really, this is perfect for people who don't like science fiction."

Over the years I would sometimes read something that somehow "transcended the genre." What that meant in practical terms was Philip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard. But Dick now has three volumes in the Library of America, right up there with Emerson and Melville. And Ballard really isn't always science fiction. At least not the ones I read.

Around the first of this year I went on a serious Ballard binge, and of course it is science fiction, at least by his definition. It's an exploration of inner rather than outer space. It got me thinking about the genre again, and reading Ballard's memoirs and essays really got me interested. There, I learned that to call the genre sci fi marked you as a hopeless parvenue. Properly speaking it should be referred to as sf. And I came across Ballard's review of The Billion Year Spree, Brian Aldiss's 1974 survey of the genre. Looking for a copy of that, I came across David Pringle's 100 Best Science Fiction Novels: 1949 - 1985. I was intrigued.

For one thing, I was surprised how many of the best from the 1950's were the ones I read in the 1960's. And since I worked around used books for thirty years, there were very few titles on the list that I could not visualize in their twenty- to thirty-year-old paperback editions.

So I have decided to give them a try, but this is not a stunt. For one thing, I have absolutely no commitment to this project. I do not intend to read them all, and I have no interest in rereading what I've read before, even if it was forty years ago. (Following a disheartening experience in the 1980's, I have always thought that Ray Bradbury novels need to come with the warning lable, Do Not Read Past the Age of 25.) I am not going to try reading them in order, but I do have one fetishistic preference. I want them to be in crummy mass market paperback editions. If I can't find those, or if those editions have exorbitant, collectors' prices, I want my copies to come from the library with broken bindings and lots of stains. And, yes, I will write about them for Potato Weather. Maybe.

But even though I may write about them on occasion, this is not a stunt. I expect no book contract, and if Dreamworks calls, I'm sorry, I can't come to the phone.



    it depends on how inventive the stunt is. you should find the worst of the worst and then rewrite it into something better. something in the category "good idea/bad execution". or cross a diamond with a pearl.

  2. Your list:

    John Crowley! I'm reading that one.

    Another list, this one statistical, in the way a CNN poll is statistical:

    I wonder if there is any overlap in these lists. Scanning them...very little.

  3. David Pringle -> Beloved Pringle -> Potato Weather



  5. Good work on finding the Pringle List. I had real 11 of the titles before starting this current non=stunt.

  6. Stuntman,

    I've read 16 of these, though there are authors on there that I was sure I'd read everything they've written, yet those books don't ring a bell.

    1. _1984_ by George Orwell [1949]

    3. _The Martian Chronicles_ by Ray Bradbury [1950]

    8. _Fahrenheit 451_ by Ray Bradbury [1953]

    9. _Childhood's End_ by Arthur C. Clarke [1953]

    23. _The Door into Summer_ by Robert A. Heinlein [1957]

    25. _Non-Stop_ by Brian Aldiss [1958]

    27. _Have Space-Suit Will Travel_ by Robert A. Heinlein [1958]

    30. _A Canticle for Leibowitz_ by Walter M. Miller [1959]

    31. _The Sirens of Titan_ by Kurt Vonnegut [1959]

    34. _Hothouse_ by Brian W. Aldiss [1962]

    36. _A Clockwork Orange_ by Anthony Burgess [1962]

    40. _Cat's Cradle_ by Kurt Vonnegut [1963]

    48. _Dune_ by Frank Herbert [1965]

    50. _Make Room! Make Room!_ by Harry Harrison [1966]

    51. _Flowers for Algernon_ by Daniel Keyes [1966]

    55. _Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep ?_ by Philip K. Dick [1968]

    The Hopeful Parvenu