Bookmas! with Hugh A.D. Spencer


Bookmas: keeping independent booksellers in the black.

Today’s not-so-secret BookSanta: Hugh A.D. Spencer!

SpencerHughAD_lgTwice nominated for Canada’s Aurora Award, Hugh A.D. Spencer’s science fiction has been published in On Spec, Tesseracts, Interzone, Descant, and New Writings in the Fantastic. Many of his stories have been dramatized by Shoestring Radio Theatre for National Public Radio. His novel Extreme Dentistry has been lauded by the likes of David Nickle (read his Bookmas suggestions here) and Cory Doctorow (The Rapture of the Nerds), who helpfully put Extreme Dentistry‘s first chapter up on Boing Boing. Hugh completed graduate studies at McMaster University, where he conducted anthropological studies into the origins of religious movements in science fiction fandom.

What 2014-published fiction would you recommend?

Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland.  Is Coupland out of style these days? In the redacted words of the book’s completely repulsive protagonist, I don’t give a monkey’s flying f–k. This book is hysterically funny and while it is not my favourite Coupland  (find The Gum Thief and Girlfriend in a Coma), any work that depicts the nuking of the Pacific Ocean plastic waste vortex is worthy of your attention.

I also think it’s time that we all realized that Coupland is an important SF writer. He might not like that label but that is too f–king bad.

What 2014-published non-fiction would you recommend?

The Man from MarsThe Man from Mars: Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey by Fred Nadis. This falls in the category of extremely necessary books (at least for me). Palmer was a major influence in early SF fandom and went on to popularize UFOs and various “occult” and alternate worldviews like hollow Earths and the really bizarre Shaver Mystery (which reads like a mash-up with Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Book of Mormon, and the cheesiest 1940s porn you can think of).

I first learned of Palmer when I was researching the origins of religious movements in SF fandom, and after reading Nadis I realize that while Palmer “gifted” a lot of pseudo-science to the world, he actually did have a moral compass. Palmer could have been another L. Ron Hubbard but I think he liked people too much to do something like that.

What one 2014-published book do you believe needs more love?

Dave Nickle’s short story collection Knife Fight and Other Struggles, partly because it it’s a short story collection and we need more of them, and partly because it has some incredible yarns. The title story reminds one of the hideous scenes of Toronto in 2011; when all the arts groups had to stand in front of a tribunal of stupid, greedy, crack-smoking boors and plead for their continued existence. Plus there’s punching, slicing and stabbing!

Casserole DiplomacyAnother book that might need even more love is Casserole Diplomacy and Other Stories — which is the 25th anniversary anthology of On Spec Magazine.  Sometimes I think we take On Spec for granted, sort of like it was the CFL of speculative fiction. We shouldn’t; as the longest running English language Canadian SF magazine, On Spec is an incredible achievement and many of our best writers got their start there — including people like Dave Nickle, Karl Schroeder, Allan Weiss…and oh yes, me

What book that you’ve read in 2014 (not necessarily a 2014 book) would you recommend?

The Dynamite Club: How a Bombing in Fin-de-Siecle Paris Ignited the Age of Modern Terror by John Merriman. An analysis of why a young man in 1894 Paris had a couple of beers and left a bomb with enough dynamite to take out most of the café. This account of 19th Century European anarchists is fascinating in itself especially if you read it in conjunction with G.K. Chesterton’s novel The Man Who Was Thursday (which you should read regardless) — and there are obvious comparisons to Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Maybe that’s too obvious a connection because of the shared focus on using explosives as a vehicle of political discourse. I think the 19th Century French Anarchists were more visionary and creative than 21st Century terrorists. More like Anonymous — but using gunpowder instead of code.

Cities in FlightWhat ongoing series of books would you recommend?

I’m getting older. That means I could be dead soon and so I tend to avoid series. I might take a chance and read a fat Stephen King but I try to do it really fast and while I’m in the bathroom. If you insist I suggest looking at James Blish’s very fun Cities in Flight books (where is the TV mini-series?) or the Winnie the Pooh stories (which should be read every year to maintain mental health).

What author would you recommend?

H.G. Wells — not just the scientific romances but those are his best work. However, The Dream, Christina Alberta’s Father, and Mr. Britling Sees it Through are powerful and moving books that are (sadly) still very relevant today. I also think you can download those books off Project Gutenberg.

What’s the one book you’ve read in your lifetime that you think everyone should read? 

Now I feel like I’m finally on that mission for the Latter-Day Saints that my mother always dreamed of for me.: “Here, read this one perfect book….” Or if the time-flow, geography and genetics were different, maybe I would be some kid in the Cultural Revolution waving Mao’s Little Red Book as we shipped some poor economics professor off to work in the turnip collective.

However, I will mention The Time Machine. It is a beautifully written evolutionary fable that hit me at just the right time in my life and after reading it and watching 2001 five times in one day (sans LSD); it cultivated a more cosmic perspective — which has been both useful and comforting over the years. On dear, that does sound a little religious doesn’t it?

Let’s go specific: what books would you recommend for:

  • The Lathe of HeavenThe science-fiction fan: The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin. It is a perfect book. It changed me, it changed my understanding of what SF could do, and it changed the way I look at the world.  Pretty impressive for a 120 page paperback.
  • The horror fan: Even though some of my work involves some pretty gruesome stuff, I don’t read that much horror. I did enjoy Stephen King’s 11/22/63 a lot. The scariest thing about it was the overwhelming sense of despair you get when you worry that you might have wasted your life.
  • The fantasy fan: You must never read fantasy. It represents a serious public safety problem.  Please see my article on Susan McGregor’s blog if you’d like to be further annoyed by my strange but true opinions on this topic.
  • The strict realism fan: There is no such thing as realism. Go read Le Guin’s other great SF novel The Dispossessed instead.
  • The thriller/mystery fan: Just about anything by John le Carré or Len Deighton. I sometimes miss the Cold War because it gave us all those great spy novels and Strangelovian nuclear war nail-biters. It’s so nice of Mr. Putin to be working so hard to bring the CW back for us.
  • The Psychopath TestThe non-fiction fan: One of  my recent favourites is Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered The World by David Sheff. I am not a gamer but some of the people I love are — and this book really helped me understand them better. Also, you really can’t appreciate how personal computing transformed everything until you understand the role of video games in that process. I also recommend Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness IndustryIt is definitely not an academic work and there has been some dispute about whether Ronson is too superficial in his investigation into an incredibly complex phenomenon. However, he raises some really interesting and important questions. Ronson also takes some incredibly dangerous risks when he conducts his research. I’m afraid I found his near-stunt journalism both terrifying and entertaining.

If, god forbid, people couldn’t find any of your books, who else would you suggest they seek out for a similar literary fix?

Matt Ruff. I wish I had written Bad Monkeys. In spots I felt like he was peering into my brain and writing down what he saw there. How rude!

What would you recommend for the holidays in a non-literary context?

Kaiju ChristmasLike a lot of Canadians families we have the tradition of binge watching DVDs as we huddle in our tiny home, trapped by the cold and dark, hoping that the power doesn’t go out and we all die.  Our binging started harmlessly enough with LOTR and the Harry Potter films, then we moved on to Doctor Who and somehow we got into Tokusatsu TV shows like Ultraman, Ultra7 and Johnny Socko and His Giant Robot.  This year is likely to be yet another Kaiju Christmas.