When Communication Fails: Nick Hornby on Sci Fi

2241SpaceshipOk, the inspiration behind this post is important for one reason. It's funny as hell.

And the man behind it all is writer Nick Hornby,who is coming to Seattle this Friday eve, so it's a good time to re-pimp him. 

Hornby wrote a pair of my favorite books several years ago, while writing a monthly column for The Believer on his monthly reading habits. The books were: The Polysyllabic Spree and Housekeeping vs. Dirt.

I'd advise everyone to get one of these immediately. The essays are smart and funny and human -- and tie into the fact that many of us as readers think everyone else is so much better read than we are that we keep buying books in the hopes that owning them will suffice and cover up our dimness. And it's more than that, too, aside from an intriguing memoir of sorts and some beautiful descriptions and insight and a good diverse reading list -- with excerpts! I suggest PS first and then H vs D.

I"m going to give you a sample from H vs. D. It's from a month where Hornby decides to try reading some new stuff.

And the new stuff is not a book on the peregrine falcon as he wanted it to be, but a sci-fi novel. And he hits upon the ultra-geeky sci fi type of book and this is not a slag at sci fi which  I actually quite like stories that are speculative and futuristic but not like the one below.

I actually read this section today -- well the part in bold -- to a someone I was talking about work with today and I think it actually helped me get the editing gig -- which is translating technical instructional weepifying text into something that a clerk can read and feel smart about.

Here we go, from p. 58 – 59,  Housekeeping vs. The Dirt. The part in bold is the sentence I re-read about a million times over the last few days.

"When I actually tried to read ‘Excession’, embarrassment was swiftly replaced by trauma … And nothing in the twenty-odd pages I managed of ‘Excession’ was in any way bad; it’s just that I didn’t understand a word. I didn’t even understand the blurb on the back of the book: ‘Two and a half millennia ago, the artifict appeared in a remote corner of space, beside a trillion-year-old dying sun from a different universe. It was a perfect black-body sphere, and it did nothing. Then it disappeared. Now it is back.’ This is clearly intended to entice us into the novel—that’s what blurbs do, right? But this blurb just made me scared. An artifact—that’s something you normally find in a musuem, isn’t it? Well, what’s a museum exhibit doing floating around in space? So what if it did nothing? What are museum exhibits supposed to do? And this dying sun—how come it’s switched universes? Can dying suns do that?

 The urge to weep tears of frustration was already upon me even before I read the short prologue, which seemed to describe some kind of androgynous avatar visiting a woman who has been pregnant for forty years and who lives on her own in the tower of a giant spaceship. (Is this the artifact? Or the dying sun? Can a dying sun be a spaceship? Probably.) By the time I got to the first chapter, which is entitled 'Outside Context Problem' and begins '(GCU Grey Area signal sequence file #n428857/119),' I was crying so hard that I could no longer see the page in front of my face, at which point I abandoned the entire ill-conceived experiment altogether. I haven’t felt so stupid since I stopped attending physics lessons aged fourteen."


Nick Hornby is reading at the Seattle's Central Library, Friday Oct 9 at 7pm. The book he's promoting, Juliet, Naked, is not science fiction.