LIANE HANSEN, host:
For this week's installment of our summer reading series, we spoke with Jacob McMurray. He's a senior curator at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle. He's also a senior curator at the Experience Music Project, a museum celebrating jazz, hip-hop and other contemporary American music.
When Jacob McMurray was about six years old, his mother bought "The Chronicles of Narnia" series by C.S. Lewis, and those novels hooked him on science fiction and fantasy. Through the years, he's moved on to Alan Dean Foster's "Sentenced to Prism," about a man exiled to a planet populated by crystalline entities, and the "Gormenghast" trilogy by Mervyn Peake, which follows a royal family and their eccentric servants who live in a crumbling castle. Although McMurray's a loyal sci-fi fan, some of the stories he's read haven't aged very well.
Mr. JACOB McMURRAY (Senior Curator, Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame): A lot of books in the '50s and '40s don't hold up at all now because either the scientific advances that they're talking about just never happened, or these sort of cultural things that are happening at the time are so different than what's happening now that it seems absurd. I think a lot of the stuff from the '60s and '70s, when authors were trying to focus on social aspects of humanity--I think those books hold up really well. You know, a lot of the science fiction that's happening in the '80s and '90s and today is, you know, less fantastic, sort of focused on scientific technologies that are happening today.
HANSEN: McMurray recently started "The Fifth Head of Cerberus" by Gene Wolfe, three novellas about the social decline of two sister planets and how the characters cheerfully come to accept their horrible and strange fates. McMurray compares Wolfe's storytelling to the writings of such magical realist writers as Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Mr. McMURRAY: Gene Wolfe reminds me a lot of this story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez called "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World," where this gigantic drowned man arrives on the shore of this little farming village and the women all come down to the beach and they're so amazed at the beauty of the dead man. And, you know, there's never concern that this is a weird situation or that, `Wow, a dead man has just floated up on the beach.' It's--that sort of magicalness is what captivates me with Gene Wolfe.
HANSEN: McMurray says the most profound book he's read this year is Michel Houellebecq's "H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life." Horror writer Lovecraft never achieved fame or wealth by the time he died in 1937, but his pessimistic worldview and writing style have influenced modern novelists such as Stephen King.
Mr. McMURRAY: H.P. Lovecraft felt that we were in this island of placidity amidst black seas of infinity, and if we actually knew what was out there and could fathom all of that, we would go instantly insane.
HANSEN: McMurray stays in close touch with the music world through reading. This fall he's looking forward to revisiting "Hammer of the Gods," Stephen Davis' history of the influential '70s rock group Led Zeppelin.
Mr. McMURRAY: I remember reading this book drunk at a party. And, you know, Led Zeppelin is one of those bands where there's a lot of mythology associated with them. There's one story that's a very famous story about sex and fish in the Edgewater Hotel that Led Zeppelin was involved in.
HANSEN: You'll have to read the book to find out the details of that scene. WEEKEND EDITION's summer reader Jacob McMurray is senior curator at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame and at the Experience Music Project.
For more information about our summer reading series and for a library of reading recommendations, visit our Web site, npr.org. Next week, selected listeners will tell us about their favorite summer books.
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