Monthly Archives: June 2013

Finches of Mars – Brian Aldiss: A Review

finches of marsRight, so I read some reviews of Finches of Mars. Glowing reviews they were, full of praise. It sounded good, so I read it. But now I’m confused. I’m confused because I think I’ve missed something…

Brian Aldiss, science fiction giant, has stated that Finches of Mars will be his final book. It’s set in a future in which overpopulation, extreme weather and war have made life on Earth pretty unbearable. Since the political leaders seem to have abandoned all reason, the Universities of the world unite and pool their resources to fund a project to colonise Mars. They find some water, build a few towers and fill them with Earth’s best and brightest.

Pets are banned due to the diseases they carry and religion is banned because it tends to destroy civilisations. Other than that, the colony is a liberal, pacifist paradise which is just as well because once you’re there, you can’t return to earth.

There’s a problem though. No healthy babies have been born on Mars and if they survive past birth at all, it’s never for very long. To make matters worse, things back home on Earth are spiralling out of control. Since the colony appears pretty doomed anyway, it slips off of the priority-list. All they can do is hope to find some proof that life on Mars is possible.

“Without children, no future, no permanence…”

The story itself is quite interesting and it’s easy to identify with such a desperate situation. In this respect at least, my will to see humanity survive kept me going. In places, Aldiss raises some very interesting questions and I found myself stopping for a wee think every now and then.

So what was my problem with it?

I’ve never read Brian Aldiss before but, given his reputation, I can only assume that there are better titles in his backlist. My main gripe is with the dialogue, which I found a little unconvincing, but maybe that’s just a thing with the genre. People perhaps expect that in the future, conversation will have evolved into something we, in 2013, find flowery and unrealistic.

The ending, about which I’ll reveal little, is intended to give us hope, to restore our faith in humanity’s ability to overcome adversity. To me, it felt like something improbable had been dumped into the story with little warning just to bring it to an end.

All that said it did indeed get excellent reviews, so maybe I just didn’t get it. Maybe it’s because I read it on my phone and couldn’t give it the same level of attention as I might an actual book.

Maybe I’m just not that clever.

I can’t help wondering, however, if his last book would have received the same praise if it had been his first book.

We’ll never know.

Whatever the case, I haven’t given up on Brian and I’ll try one of his earlier titles some time. If you have any recommendations yourself, you know what to do.

Why you should read Flann O’Brien

Flann O'Brien Books

My Flann O’Brien Collection…so far.

Last week, Rome had the honour of holding the second International Flann O’Brien conference. It was a great opportunity for Brian O’Nolan fans to come along and talk about Myles Na Gopaleen. If you’re a little confused, don’t worry – you’re meant to be.

Perhaps it’s his Catholic upbringing which led Brian O’Nolan to embody a holy trinity all of his own. We have Brian, the civil servant – Flann, the novelist – and Myles the columnist and I’m here to tell you why you should get familiar with at least two of the three.

joyceHe’s the other James Joyce

He practically invented post-modernism with At Swim-Two-Birds. It’s a book about a student who spends his days drinking in Dublin’s bars when he really should be studying. That’s the short description. The book is comprised of several parallel narratives – each one crazier than the last – ranging from retellings of Irish legends to pioneering experiments in meta-fiction.

Though they were mutual admirers of each other’s work, O’Nolan wasn’t above poking fun at his literary counterpart. In the Dalkey Archive, Joyce is cast as a disgruntled barman furious that some imposter has been using his identity to publish sacrilegious filth.  The filth in question is, of course, Ulysses.

peigHe isn’t Peig Sayers

For Irish people of a certain generation, the very utterance of the name ‘Peig’ can still provoke horrific flashbacks of compulsory Gaelige lessons. It was indeed a torture with no equal, but at least it gave us the skills needed to get Flann O’Brien’s jokes.

There are lots of jokes in Flann’s work that rely on knowledge of the Irish language. One example that springs to mind comes from the pages of the Dalkey Archive. Teague McGettigan is commissioned by DeSelby to paint a sign for his gate. DeSelby wants him to convey the enormity of his lawn, but in the old tongue. Now, the Irish word for ‘big’ is ‘mór’, pronounced ‘more’. In his attempt to translate his employer’s intentions, Teague gets it a bit wrong and DeSelby returns home to find a sign on his gate that says ‘lawnmower’.

Another linguistic pun of his was to spell English word as though they were Irish words, so instead of writing a piece for his column, he’d occasionally raight a píos fomhair higheas colm. I’ll move on before I completely alienate the English speaking world.

He’s hilarious!

Above all reasons to recommend Flann O’Brien, I’d cite his humour. For him, the English language was a plaything and his mastery is evident in the wealth of puns and double-entendres within his work.

Reading Flann O’Brien in public should be done with caution. I’ve had to excuse myself on more than one occasion for disturbing the peace of various alehouses. As an illustration of the Flann Effect, here’s Tommy Tiernan reading a passage concerning the invention of anti-alcohol.

“A cliché is a phrase that has become fossilized, its component words deprived of their intrinsic light and meaning by incessant usage…”

For a bite-size taste of what Flann is about, his Catechism of Cliché makes for a great snack.

I’ll leave you with a few appetisers:

When things are few, what also are they?
Far between.

What are stocks of fuel doing when they are low?

How low are they running?

What does one do with a suggestion?
One throws it out.

For what does one throw a suggestion out?
For what it may be worth.

What else can be thrown out?
A hint.

In addition to hurling a hint on such lateral trajectory, what other not unviolent action can be taken with it?
It can be dropped.

What else is sometimes dropped?
The subject.

My favourite underground shelter

Wool - Hugh HoweyI’ve just finished Hugh Howey’s Wool, which is excellent, by the way. The story revolves around the inhabitants of the Silo, an underground bunker comprising over a hundred floors of cramped accommodation and dystopian paranoia. It sounds a bit claustrophobic and uncomfortable but certainly a lot better than asphyxiating in the toxic winds outside.

It’s a really good read but it isn’t very realistic. I mean, come on – an underground complex designed to house a population of thousands in the event of a global catastrophe.

“Don’t be silly!” I thought.

I suppose any loon can bury a corrugated iron pipe in the ground, stick a sofa and a bucket inside, and then call it a survival shelter. That’s hardly the same thing as a sprawling underground network containing all of the amenities necessary for outliving the rapture.

On the other hand, there are a number of contractors who will build you a home ten feet underground complete with air filtration systems to get rid of that musty last-man-on-earth smell. But I doubt these projects are anything more special than an episode of Grand Designs.

As much as one might like to believe otherwise, enormous subterranean complexes just don’t exist outside of science fiction books.

Then I discovered Vivos.

Vivos LogoVivos was founded in California (where else?!) by Robert Vicino, a man who is certainly more interested in making a lot of money before the apocalypse than preserving the human race afterwards. The Vivos website is peppered with doom-laden phrases and promises of incoming horsemen designed to scare you into parting with your cash. They have a risk-assessment page which contains an exhaustive shopping list of potential catastrophes ranging from meteorites to terrorist attacks.

“Which side of the door do you want to be on?”

You see, certain people – certain Americans, in particular – are very serious when it comes to survival. You may be able to think of a galaxy of terms to describe them, but they prefer to be called ‘preppers’. At one end of the scale, you have the mountain-dwelling firearms enthusiast with enough tins of beans to last him until Judgement Day and beyond. At the other end, you have a whole different breed of prepper.

These people are not short of a few dollars and they think nothing of forking them over for place in one of Vivos’ underground cities.

And these cities are impressive indeed.

The Kansas site consists of a massive underground trailer-park 150 feet under a mountain. The rates are calculated depending on the size of your vehicle which can be anything from a modest caravan ($16000) to an eight-person coach ($45000). On top of this, residents are expected to pay $1500 per person for a year’s food ration. The website isn’t very clear about what happens once that year is up but we can only assume that dollars would be obsolete at that stage.

So what do you get for your money, besides the obvious luxury of surviving the end of the world? All of their sites are equipped with hydroponic farms, emergency services, and entertainment facilities. Needless to say they also have a rifle range and I’ll leave it to your own imagination to conjure up all the things that might go wrong there.

Gladly, you don’t even have to wait for the inevitable to benefit from the inclusion fee. In the meantime, the Kansas facility serves as a members-only resort. At least you no longer need to think about that survival-themed family vacation.

God knows there’s enough to worry about.

HHhH – Laurent Binet: A Review

hhhh-by-laurent-binetSometimes a book comes along which changes the way you think about books. In HHhH, Laurent Binet redefines historical fiction and injects some much-needed life into an arguably tired genre.

The book charts the fates of paratroopers Jozef Gabcík and Jan Kubiš and the blighted Operation Anthropoid. Their mission is to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the Butcher of Prague and the man dubbed by Hitler to be “the most dangerous man in the Third Reich”.

And he is a right bastard.

The book’s title refers to the famous Nazi in-joke, “Himmler’s Hirn heisst Heydrich” – Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich – marking Heydrich as a chief architect of the Final Solution. Binet had originally planned to call it Operation Anthropoide but his publishers dissuaded him on the grounds that it sounded too much like science fiction. Now booksellers across the world are faced with another problem – HHhH is a title that’s almost impossible to pronounce without hyperventilating.

But it’s not just about killing Nazis. HHhH is a book for writers and in it, Binet wrestles with the dilemma of writing a historically accurate account without letting his own imagination fill in the gaps. He constantly refers to other accounts of the period, scorning their inaccuracy and implicitly highlighting the superiority of his own book.

The author’s real triumph is his ability to maintain the excitement and suspense even when we know that our heroes are embarking on a suicide mission. As their hour of judgement approaches, Binet stalls, withholding a climax which he himself cannot bear to confront. This makes for genuine edge-of-the-seat reading that rivals any mass-market thriller.

A measure of the book’s success is its universal appeal. Almost all of my fellow booksellers have read it and loved it. That’s quite a feat when you consider that we rarely all agree on anything. From a marketing standpoint, HHhH looks like a “man’s book” and that has been the main stumbling block whenever we try to recommend it. But, so enamoured are we that none of us will take no for an answer, stopping just short of holding customers hostage until they agree to buy it.

For me, HHhH is the best book I’ve read all year. That’s something that I would usually have great difficulty saying but in this case, I’ll gladly run up a mountain just to shout it out. It’s different, it’s exciting, it’s educational and it’s funny and it has landed right at the top of my ‘essential recommendations’ list.

If you haven’t read it yet then I’m not talking to you again until you do. That’s how passionately I feel about it.

If you have read it, and now feel a gaping void in your life, then worry not, because you probably haven’t read it all. Binet was so scathing about Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones that the publishers decided to omit a whole section of the book. Thanks to, that section can be read in full here.


A Challenge Overcome

earthDid you know how many countries there are in the world?

Lots – and some of them have authors living in them. Ann Morgan knows all about that. In 2012, she set herself the challenge of reading a book from every independent country, all 196 of them, to celebrate the Olympics. Writers do mad things, don’t they? You can read the whole story over on her blog – it’s quite inspiring, especially if, like me, you’re somebody who mindlessly sets themselves challenges for no apparent reason.

Today was a typical case in point. In Ann’s latest blog post, she asks her readers to pop along to their local bookshop and count how many countries are represented on the shelves.

“I can do that”, I thought. But then I thought I could do so much more. I decided to find out how well represented each country was within the fiction section, create an Excel spread sheet, and make a pie chart.


It got a little out of control and, between helping my beloved customers and chatting to my colleagues, it took all day. Now that it’s done, I have to wonder what I’ve gained from the experience…other than a pretty rubbish-looking pie chart.

I suppose the joy of a job thoroughly completed is reward enough. I’m better equipped to do my job as well. Let’s say somebody comes in looking for a book from Kyrgyzstan. Can you name one? Did you even know there was such a thing as Kyrgyzstan? I can’t say I did, but today I discovered Jamilia by Chingiz Aytmatov…a guy from Kyrgyzstan!

I learned something and you can’t put a price on that.

In closing, here’s the list for all of you anoraks out there.



Have fun!

Foodie Tuesday: A Delicious Life – New Food Entrepreneurs

9783899554670Check this out! I’ve always had this fantasy (you’ve probably had it yourself) where I open a little pop-up restaurant in, say, Paris and change my life in a range of exciting ways. Sounds like a dream, like something other people do – but you might be surprised at the variety of dreams that have become prosperous businesses.

If you’re a lover of food and an admirer of these “other people”, then have a wee look at A Delicious Life. Published by Gestalten, this book is a bona fide catalogue of lives you’ll wish you were living.

It’s amazing.

The book charts the successes of different businesses across the world and I’m not just talking about eateries. We have, for example, Arvid Häusser, a top-drawer designer who has invented the most beautiful, porcelain coffee machine you’ve ever seen. Or there’s Put A Egg On It – a biannual food magazine from Brooklyn full of features, tips and personal stories all printed on green paper.

This is a book about food and the people who love it.

I’ve noticed quite a demand for books such as these in recent years. I put it down to enterprises such as Rachel Khoo and The Pizza Pilgrims. In one case, we have the gorgeous Rachel, who ran a teeny-tiny restaurant from her pokey little flat in Paris, followed inevitably by the book and TV show combo. Then we have the Pizza Pilgrims who scaled down a Neapolitan business model to fit inside a Piaggio Ape and made a mint on the streets of London. You can see their TV show or buy their book at your convenience.

An idea – that’s all you need.

I don’t want to spoil the whole experience for you but, by all means, check out Lick Me I’m Delicious, the brainchild of Charlie Harry Francis. When you see his steampunk mobile nitro ice cream buggy, you’ll start wondering where the line is drawn between fantasy and reality.

But the entry that really blew my mind into a fine, pink mist was Wohlfarth Schokolade. Christophe Wohlfarth creates things from chocolate that are so mad you’ll just accuse me of taking drugs. You can buy, and I’m not making this up, a record that you can take home and play on your standard turntable…but it’s made of chocolate! That’s music you can eat! If the world of food hasn’t gone completely off the hinges then I don’t know what’s going on.

So there you are, buy it for yourself, a friend, you ma and see what’s been fizzing around in my head like popping brain-candy. Or just get your local bookseller to remove the cellophane and you can have a cheeky, non-committal browse on your lunch break. You might even be inspired to start your own exciting new food business.

Europa Editions Publishes Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy

Total Chaos - Jean Claude IzzoFans of gritty European crime novels sit up and pay attention! Europa Editions have just published Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy.

Set in the cultural melting pot of Marseilles, these books take root in a seed-bed of bigotry, racial tension and fundamentalist rumblings. If that’s not the perfect setting for a crime novel, then I’m damned if I know what is.

In Total Chaos, the first book, we meet Inspector Fabio Montale, son of Italian immigrants and one-time street thug. Now, as a policeman, his thuggish skills are only put to use in the service of justice.

When the daughter of Algerian immigrants is found murdered, Montale must solve the case in a hurry before sectarian violence can erupt. He has a problem in that he can’t trust his colleagues. He can’t trust them because they’re a bunch of racists and, even though he’s a bit rough around the edges himself, Montale is essentially a knight of justice.

“So much violence. If God existed, I’d have strangled him on the spot. Without batting an eyelid. And with all the fury of the damned.”

He’s a good guy with a broken heart. The Marseille he used to know has become so engrained with problems that he barely recognises it. Gang wars, racism and drugs have turned his beloved hometown into an intimidating sprawl of high-rise apartments.

To escape the grim truth, Montale indulges in La Dolce Vita. He gorges on the finest food the Mediterranean has to offer, washing it down with generous quantities of wine (Incidentally, if you’re hungry, don’t read this book – it’s a kind of torture you’ve never suffered before, trust me). Fed and watered, Montale likes nothing better to sit and look at the sea.

But he’s a busy man and he can’t delude himself forever. Soon he must leave the table and face the reality he’s been trying so desperately to ignore.

A lot of crime fiction tends to politely skirt around social issues, resigning them to footnotes in a more exciting plot. Jean-Claude Izzo moulded his stories around these issues and instead of ignoring them, they become the obstacles that Montale must overcome.

“Marseilles isn’t a city for tourists. There’s nothing to see. Its beauty can’t be photographed. It can only be shared. It’s a place where you have to take sides, be passionately for or against. Only then can you see what there is to see. And you realize, too late, that you’re in the middle of a tragedy. An ancient tragedy in which the hero is death. In Marseilles, even to lose you have to know how to fight.”

Aside from Montale, the main character in the trilogy is Marseilles itself. We can see a colourful and vibrant place, hear the noise and smell the food. It’s multitude of problems sits on one side of a scale but is counter-balanced by the sheer life bursting from its seams.

So give it a try, or you can pop along to Europa Editions’ website and browse through a whole catalogue of authors you’ve never heard of.

You’ll be glad you did!

Top 5 beach reads of 2013

With the summer holidays approaching, you may soon find yourself at a beach. If you’ve been to one of these places before, you might have seen one or two people reading books. This year, why not take a look around at your fellow sunbathers and see which beach reads they have on the go. Chances are it’ll be one of these.

inferno - dan brown - top 5 beach readsInferno – Dan Brown
It’s very fashionable to make fun of Dan Brown these days. His name has become synonymous with nonsensical thrills and a devil-may-care attitude to the English language. It’s not literary fiction, I’ll grant you that – but you don’t necessarily want to think very hard when you’re on holiday.
Inferno, his latest offering, is an unrelenting slideshow of constant peril with the obligatory Brownian scavenger hunt. Robert Langdon comes to the party armed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of symbols – which would be really dull if everyone wasn’t trying to kill him.




a wanted man - lee child - top 5 beach readsA Wanted Man – Lee Child

You can’t really go wrong with a bit of Lee Child. Jack Reacher is the Stranger in Town – a man with a dark past and a flair for violence. I like to call him a One-Man A-Team.

In A Wanted Man we find Jack hitch-hiking, of course. Nobody wants to pick him up because he’s still bearing the scars from the end of Worth Dying For. Eventually he gets a lift to a nearby Premier Inn and relaxes for the rest of the book.

Only joking, he gets picked up by a stranger who leads him into another implausible adventure filled with verbal threats and bleeding knuckles.



gone girl - gillian flynn - top 5 beach readsGone Girl – Gillian Flynn

Even though this book has been enjoying success for several months, I believe that many people have been saving it for the deckchair.

With its riveting plot and deceptive twists, Gone Girl makes a perfect beach read.

Don’t however open the book expecting to make a whole bunch of new friends – this book is filled with nasty people whose selfishness acts like a poison infecting all around them.

Check out my full review of Gone Girl here.



secret keeper - kate morton - top 5 beach readsThe Secret Keeper – Kate Morton

Looking instead for a good mystery without all of the broken teeth and f-words, Kate Morton is the way to go.

Morton has found a formula that works for her and by god she’ll stick to it.

Her use of multiple time-lines makes it feel like you’re reading two or three stories at the same time.

But you’re not.

You’re reading one 600 page tome about some persisting family secret which demands closure.



the life - martina cole - top 5 beach readsThe Life – Martina Cole

Martina Cole markets herself as “the person who tells it like it really is” which only makes me wonder why on earth she has such an intimate knowledge of organised crime.

The Life tells the story of the Bailey brothers’ rise to power and their struggle to maintain it. This book, like much of Cole’s backlist, is peopled with straight-talking no-nonsense Eastenders. Nobody is beyond breaking a few rules (and noses) to satisfy their own agenda.

If you like your books tense and gritty with an element of street-justice then buy this…or nick it off the back of a lorry.



There you have it, the five books you’re most likely to see at the beach this year. Why not let us know what you’re taking on holiday?

‘My Kindle’ is not a valid answer.


The Difficulties with Selling Short Stories

tgssI’ve noticed something in my time as a bookseller – a lot of people, most of them in fact, think they don’t like short stories.

Me, I love them.

A couple of years ago, I went through a strange phase which left me without any attention span. I’d get about three chapters into a book before throwing it at the wall in exasperation. It was bad – nothing could hold my interest. Maybe I was just choosing the wrong books, who knows?

Now, for Joe Soap on the street, this isn’t an issue, but the inability to finish a book is a pretty fundamental handicap when you happen to be a bookseller – how are you going to recommend something you haven’t read? You could lie, I suppose, but here at your favourite bookshop, we don’t do that. This is the kind of moral quandary that was keeping me awake at night.

It was around this time that I discovered short stories.

For the better part of a year, I read short stories exclusively and looking back on it now, it was like eating a box of chocolates without a map – very exciting with surprises around every corner – some pleasant…some not so.

By the end of it, I’d sampled a wide variety of authors whose larger works I’d found intimidating and I’d gained an enormous repertoire of collections to recommend to my valued customers.

“How happy they’ll be,” I thought.

I was wrong.

The scene is always the same. I’ve built a good rapport with someone, we both enjoy the same things, we’re joking and laughing and it doesn’t even feel like work. And then I ruin everything.

“So, do you ever read short stories?”

I’m met with an awkward grimace usually reserved for street pamphleteers and the same tired excuse: “I prefer something to get my teeth into.”

That’s fair enough, I suppose, but sometimes I’ll persist and make a few suggestions – all of them titles I know they’ll like – but we’re not friends anymore. I’m just some raving idiot in a bookshop and they’re an uncomfortable stranger backing slowly away from me.

Now I’m not saying short stories don’t sell at all. Your Chekhovs and Carvers tick over fairly regularly but what hope can a budding author hold when all they have is a first collection of short stories. These could be the greatest, most inspiring tales you’ll ever read – but you’ll never read them – because you want to get your teeth into something.

I’ll leave you with a friendly suggestion. The next time you’re stocking up on books, grab a collection of short stories. It could be just one author or, if you prefer, an anthology. Ask your friendly bookseller for advice if you’re not sure where to start. Take your book home and read one a week – pick a time when you’ve got a few minutes to kill and you’ll see. You’ll see that you’ve always liked short stories – you just thought you didn’t.

Roadside Picnic: An Obsession

RoadsidePicnicI don’t read a lot of Science Fiction so when I do, I want to make sure it’s something different. The genre is filled with books we all supposedly must read before we die. You can find George R. R. Martin or Arthur C. Clarke in any bookshop any day of the week. I sell these sci-fi essentials to people all of the time and their familiarity is taking its toll.

I first became aware of Roadside Picnic thanks to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. Developed by the Ukrainian company, GSC Game World, this is a violent and brutal first-person-shooter set in the abandoned wastes around the ruined Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. It’s easy to assume that a video game concept such as this was dreamt up in some board room but in order to find the origins of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., we need to go back in time.

Published in Russia 1971 by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic tells the story of Red Schuhart, a Stalker. Due to some extra-terrestrial event, pockets of weirdness have popped up all over the world.  The book is set in and around one particular area, known as the Zone. This is a strange and dangerous place where the normal rules of the universe no longer apply and where alien artefacts lie waiting to be found. To prevent this from happening, the zone is cordoned off and regularly patrolled by UN forces.

Who would dare brave the traps and anomalies of the Zone? Stalkers, like Red Schuhart of course. Because of their unique scientific value, the alien artefacts are worth a pretty penny on the black market. Red is after one artefact in particular, the legendary ‘golden sphere’. Stalker hearsay says that this artefact can grant wishes.

This is a novel filled with strangeness and wonder – not a plot-driven thriller. The images of an abandoned, overgrown landscape are beautiful and the characters deal with an existential angst that Satre would have been proud of.  One man who sought inspiration from Roadside Picnic was the enigmatic Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris, Mirror).

In 1979, Tarkovsky directed the movie, Stalker. Loosely based on Roadside Picnic, it’s a very long, very artsy film containing extended, hypnotic scenes where the characters are evidently just waiting for something to happen.  The unnamed Stalker leads two men known only as the Writer and the Professor through the zone to find a room.

Guess what this room does.

The wish-granting room lies at the end of an intricate path of invisible perils, haunting images and whispered Russian poetry. I don’t expect Stalker is everyone’s cup of tea but if you like Soviet art films of the 70’s, you might just fall in love with it.

zona_gq_21dec11_642Geoff Dyer is in love with Stalker. He’s into it in a big way. Last year, he wrote Zona, a scene-by-scene description of the movie including biographical details and miscellaneous trivia. You could consider it the script of an unrecorded commentary track. In Zona, Dyer himself questions the commercial logic behind writing a book about a film that few people have seen but it’s of little consequence to him – he has nurtured a love for the film for most of his adult life and this book is an expression of that love. I’m sure he’d be pleased to know that he has gained at least one satisfied reader.

As for Roadside Picnic, I’ll admit that from a bookselling point of view, it’s a hard one to shift but every now and then, I get talking to a particular kind of customer. They don’t normally read science fiction, but when they do, they want to make sure that it’s something different. For good or ill, these curious few trust my recommendations. And I do recommend Roadside Picnic whole-heartedly. If you too are sick of the old sci-fi clichés and want something unexpected, this is the way to go.

Equally, if you want to read a very funny book about a film you’ve never seen, pop along to your favourite bookshop and get them to order you a copy of Zona…because they probably won’t have it in stock.