New Maps: More uncollected John Sladek
(2019) edited by David Langford, Ansible Editions, £???, trdpbk, 255pp, ISBN 978-0-244-15877-4
One of the reasons (there are others) I go to fewer conventions these days is that the SF personalities and authors, whose company I enjoyed in the 1970s to 1990s, are no longer with us. We no longer have the likes of, say, Brian Aldiss, Iain Banks, John Brunner, Harry Harrison, Rob Holdstock, Bob Shaw, or Jim White, nor book dealers such as Ken Slater, Richard & Marion van der Voort, or Paul (Gamma) Gamble. Without these regulars, UK Eastercons just aren't the same. Of course, on the author front, we still have their books, but I am not sure that their backlists still sell particularly well (though I still regularly see Iain Banks' novels in bookshops): I do occasionally worry whether the new generation of SF readers are missing out? Nonetheless, regularly seeing these folk year-after-year and you get a feeling for the real person; their character. I miss them...
The writer John Sladek was not someone I knew and alas never will as he passed in 2000 aged only 62.. I know he was living in England in the 1970s and '80s when I was a UK Eastercon regular but, if he did go to conventions, I cannot recall our paths crossing. (Having said that, he was a Guest of Honour at the 1982 Channelcon Eastercon, but if we ever met it is something I simply do not remember.) I have read (decades ago) his novel The Reproductive System (1968) but one novel does not get you the measure of the man. However, having read New Maps: More uncollected John Sladek I feel that not becoming acquanted with the man that I have missed out.
New Maps: More uncollected John Sladek is a compilation of just a few of his SF shorts, essays, short articles, book and film reviews. What does come across is a fiercely intelligent, no nonsense person that occasionally, just occasionally, has a twinkle of fun in his eye.
I have to say that his book and film reviews are less reviews and more critiques. It is likely that today's SF readers will have themselves read some of the works 'reviewed', which makes Sladek's take interesting in that you can see whether or not you agree. I have to say, more often that not I did but also I found that he gave me something I never thought of: an interesting new perspective irrespective of whether or not I concurred.
And the man can write. He has a sharp, penetrating way with words.
What also comes across is his loathing of pseudoscience. If you do too, then you'll enjoy his demolishing Eric von Daniken.
The non-fiction reviews too are engrossing. I enjoyed the reviews of three math conundrum books. And he challenges the reader with the 'Monty Hall' problem (though it is not referred to by name though now I have given it to you, you can search engine it). Sladek predicts that this will cause arguments in bars for years to come. He is so right.
In his review of the film Bladerunner (we've all seen that) he quickly departs the review with a brief summary of Philip K. Dick's life and the themes his novels explored before returning to the film to muse that if its makers had stuck closer to Dick's thematic visions, rather than stray into Hollywood cliché, then it would have been even better. The film makers had not bothered to immerse themselves in both the source novel and the man's oeuvre: they had not gotten to know him.
Many of us will never get to know John Sladek, but Dave Langford has done a commendable job of bringing together this compendium of his short works. You will now never meet Sladek, but if you are a seasoned SF aficionado then you are likely to enjoy the Sladek take. So consider this a firm recommendation.
The other thing, is that as most of the stories, articles and reviews are only a page, two or three long, this is an ideal bed-time or commuter read. If you do enjoy genre then do consider this worthy offering: get to know John Sladek. Meanwhile, I am getting The Reproductive System off the bookshelf.
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