The other day, I had to make a 34 mile round trip to the small town that houses my local vet's office to pick up a bag of the indoor cat's cat food... (Yeah, the outdoor cats get the cheap, inferior brands, but they INSIST on sharing with passing skunks, possums (which give horses a crippling disease) and raccoons.)
I hated to go in for just ONE item, but I did not want to spend money unnecessarily. (If I go into a store, I will not "window" shop -- I will impulse buy, and I really don't NEED anything right now. I'd LIKE several things, but... slap my hand...) So, I went LATE in the day, and hit the library just before it closed.
I started into the fiction stacks by reverse alphabetical order, and rediscovered Kurt Vonnegut. I have his Player Piano; Welcome to the Monkey House; Slaughterhouse-Five; The Sirens of Titan; Cat's Cradle; and Deadeye Dick, but I noticed he's been a busy little boy since I last caught up with him...
Somewhere I got copies and read Mother Night; Slapstick; God Bless You, Mr. Roswater; and Breakfast of Champions, but I missed Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons; Jailbird; and Palm Sunday completely.
The library boasted five of his, Deadeye Dick, the last one I can remember reading, and four I'd never heard of.
The librarian, who is always inquiring about what attracts people to what they check out, probably remembered me taking out all the Nora Roberts books she had last summer. Kurt is a FAR CRY from those! When I explained that he was one of my favorite science fiction authors, she asked if he was mis-filed in the regular stacks. That made me stop and think. Yes, he DOES write science fiction. But not always.
Glancing through the titles I'd selected, I decided that two of them probably WERE NOT science fiction, tipping Galápagos: A Novel toward her to illustrate. Hard to judge a book by its cover, and even adding the title is not necessarily a help, but she was satisfied that her job had been properly done.
This decision of where to file what output of an author is a puzzlement to me. Last summer, I found all of Nora Robert's romances in the general fiction section in Corydon, but part in the romance and part in general fiction in Centerville's bigger library.
The Centerville librarian (50 mile round trip to the "bigger" town) tried to explain to me why a romance writer was only partially filed in the romance collection. "If they become best sellers, they are filed in the general fiction section."
Well, THAT explains everything, right? A mere ROMANCE novel can't possibly become a best seller??? Right???
If you're not familiar with Kurt Vonnegut, but like to read, take anything of his for a spin... He is VERY READABLE, but gets the old gray cells firing on all cylinders, as well, to mix a metaphor...
He loves to begin with some outrageous premise. In Deadeye Dick, it is a kid fires a gun in town. The bullet heads toward the center of town, circles around the inside of a church bell, caroms off on a new tangent, then enters a window in another house, killing a lady by hitting her right between the eyes. How could anyone disengage after such an engaging beginning?
Galápagos: A Novel is just as inventive. "One million years ago, back in 1986..." (The volume I was reading has a 1985 copyright...) and goes on to state the premise that somewhere along the line, evolution took a BAD TURN and created individuals with unconscionably BIG brains, who almost succeeded in destroying the earth with them... but evolution has now rectified that error, our futuristic narrator informs us. (He's done the "mad scientist destroys the earth" thing before, but they are never crazy mad scientists. They are human, necessary, dedicated to doing good... but, ah, that tragic flaw... He does it SO WELL. I vividly remember the creation of "ice nine" and how it escapes the (utterly safely sealed) lab. Unfortunately, I can't remember WHICH BOOK it happens in... I'm pretty sure the firebombing of Dresden is in Slaughterhouse-Five, and Welcome to the Monkey House is a volume of short stories...) Sounds as if it might be time for some re-reading...
Second sentence in, I realized, oops, Galápagos: A Novel, in spite of Darwin's ship and the odd animal forms on the cover, IS science fiction... but he did DEDICATE it to a naturalist. I'm in chapter three. His characters are so vivid, you don't CARE that he's slipping you BIG DOSES of scientific theory... They become part of the plot.
When he gets autobiographical with Charles Darwin, you are happy to recognize the foreshadowing that is revealing how the sleazoid heading out to the Galápagos expecting a South Pacific island paradise is going to get his comeuppance.
I wish he were still at Iowa U.'s fiction writer's workshop instead of in New York. (and that musicologist Peter Schickle was still at Iowa State!)