Words and Music

Found myself in Edinburgh last night for a bit of a special books and music event in neat little bookshop that was new to me called Pulp Fiction. The shop itself, carrying a well chosen selection of crime and SF/Fantasy books, is well worth a visit. Its high-stacked shelves remind me of the old Murder One in London, but the owner, Steve, has made the smart decision to reserve some space for tables and chairs and a counter that serves coffee and cake. By making the shop somewhere that writers will naturally gravitate to and hang out in (they also host a couple of regular evening critique groups), business should be good.

They also host neat events. Last night paired one of Britain’s most perceptive and stylish SF writers, Chris Beckett, with an Americana-tinged folk band called Southern Tenant Folk Union. An odd combination, you might think, but the whole event came about as a result of the band being inspired by Chris’s first novel, The Holy Machine, (unsurprisingly–THM was one of the best SF debuts in years!); inspired enough to write a song in its honour. In fact, during an excellent opening set marked by great musicianship and personality, the seven-piece admitted to squeezing quite a few SF style storylines into their lyrics. Sneaky, but very good indeed.

Chris then took the stage to read from his new novel, Dark Eden, which is a thrilling-sounding novel (currently hovering near the top of my TBR pile) that charts the unlikely survival of a human colony on a sunless planet. While he’s clearly had a lot of fun building his bioluminescent world, the book overfits the setting with a take on the old Genesis story, and then deepens and complexifies it, examining how stories become histories become religions, with additional nods to Golding and Hoban to create the degenerated society around whom the action revolves.

The first passage Chris read was excellent, and for the second  reading–a suspense-driven action scene–the band joined him, underpinning his delivery with a simple, but effective, musical improvisation. I’ve seen people read to living backing before, and sometimes it works better than others, but this combination was spot-on. Could happily have listened to the rest of the book being read that way.

So, today I’ll be downloading Southern Tenant Folk Union to use as my reading soundtrack for when I finally clear the decks enough to enjoy Dark Eden. I recommend anyone to do the same.

Meanwhile, if you’re around Edinburgh tomorrow (23rd), get up to the west port and check out Pulp Fiction’s day-long launch party.  There’s all sorts of stuff going on including music, facepainting, discounts, a session of Dr Sketchy’s and a bit of burlesque from the hugely entertaining Gilda Lily. It’s a great shop, worth supporting.

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