David Langford despairs for humanity. He really does
Our local charity shop is closing down, and I rescued a few reference books from oblivion. Chambers Biographical Dictionary is bound to come in handy some day… “Are you looking for your own name in there?” my wife asked. “No, no,” I lied, quickly paging on to Ursula Le Guin, whose entry mentions the Earth Sea ( not Earthsea) trilogy and morphs Planet Of Exile into Plant Of Exile. I remembered the bit in one of Robert Heinlein’s SF novels where the young hero is shocked, shocked when his father scribbles corrections in a textbook.
You don’t expect textbook standards from newspapers, not now they’ve fired all the researchers and fact- checkers. A recent Independent snippet broke the news that Morten Tyldum is to direct the film Pattern Recognition, “Based on the novel Neuromancer by William Gibson…” Fortunately sanity returned when the following Ex_ Machina thumbnail synopsis was of Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition. The Indy obituary for BBC producer/ director Michael Hayes credits him with early Doctor Who stories and, before that, the 1961 SF classic AFor Andromeda – or as the headline put it, “the sci- fi series ‘ The Andromeda Strain’”. Duh.
Another Gibson namecheck from a Sunday Herald piece on the Glasgow Science Festival: “The whole basis of the internet was famously inspired by William Gibson’s book Neuromancer and Isaac Asimov, who recently died, ‘ invented’ earth- orbiting satellites in one of his tales.” Poor old Arthur C Clarke, already forgotten.
The BBC website ran a story about that massive flop John Carter, “based on the books of Conan The Barbarian author Edgar Rice Burroughs”. After the first 5,271,009 complaints, Conan magically became Tarzan. Our most reliable sources of SF/ fantasy disinformation are quiz shows, not covered here ( with a nod to Private Eye’s “Dumb Britain”) for over 50 issues. Put on your tinfoil- lined thinking caps…
The Chase: “In what novel by HG Wells does an inventor travel into the future?” Contestant: “Great Expectations.”
Cash Cab: “What plant is said to deter vampires?” Contestant ( after a long pause): “Well, I was gonna say garlic but that’s not a plant, is it?” Host: “You’ve just won ten pounds!”
The Weakest Link: “In astronomy, a nucleus, a coma and a tail are all parts of which celestial body?” Contestant: “A horse.”
The Chase: “Which Irvine Welsh novel features a monologue by a tapeworm?” Contestant: “Wuthering Heights.” David Langford is not the answer – he’s part of the problem.