JUNE/JULY 2005

STUFF I’VE BEEN READING

A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • Little Scarlet—Walter Mosley
  • Out of the Silent Planet—C. S. Lewis*
  • Voyage to Venus—C. S. Lewis*
  • Maxton—Gordon Brown*
  • Nelson And His Captains—Ludovic Kennedy*
  • Excession—Iain M. Banks

* Don’t worry. These books were bought for one pound or less at the Friends of Kenwood House Book Sale.

BOOKS READ:

  • Excession—Iain M. Banks (abandoned)
  • The Men Who Stare at Goats—Jon Ronson
  • Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction—Sue Townsend
  • The Wonder Spot—Melissa Bank
  • Stuart: A Life Backwards—Alexander Masters

The story so far: Suddenly sick of my taste in books, I vowed in these pages last month to read something I wouldn’t normally pick up. After much deliberation (and the bulk of the otherwise inexplicable Books Bought can be explained by this brief but actually rather exhilarating period), I decided that my friend Harry was right, and that in the normal course of events I’d never read an SF/Fantasy novel in a million years. Now read on, if you can be bothered.

Even buying Iain M. Banks’s Excession was excruciating. Queuing up behind me at the cash desk was a very attractive young woman clutching some kind of groovy art magazine, and I felt obscurely compelled to tell her that the reason I was buying this purple book with a spacecraft on the cover was because of the Believer, and the Believer was every bit as groovy as her art magazine. In a rare moment of maturity, however, I resisted the compulsion. She could, I decided, think whatever the hell she wanted. It wasn’t a relationship that was ever going to go anywhere anyway. I’m with someone, she’s probably with someone, she was twenty-five years younger than me, and—let’s face it—the Believer isn’t as groovy as all that. If we had got together, that would have been only the first of many disappointing discoveries she’d make.

When I actually tried to read Excession, embarrassment was swiftly replaced by trauma. Iain M. Banks is a highly rated Scottish novelist who has written twenty-odd novels, half of them (the non-SF half) under the name Iain Banks, and though I’d never previously read him, everyone I know who is familiar with his work loves him. 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 artifact 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 museum, 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?

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

Nick Hornby is the author, most recently, of a novel entitled A Long Way Down.


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