Fables from the Fountain

OK this one needs a bit of an explanation before we get to the book. Back in 1957 the great science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke published a book of short stories that he had written over the preceding 4 years and had appeared in various places in that time. The stories were all linked as a series of tall tales told in a pub called the White Hart by one of the regulars there, Harry Purvis. I first came across the book in the mid 1970’s when I was about 11 or 12 during a period when I was avidly reading through not only Clarke’s work but that of the other two writers of the ‘big three’ in Sci-Fi, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. At first I wasn’t very interested, I was heavily into Sci-Fi and this was just a group of people in a pub telling stories, mind you some of them have a scientific base and they were funny so I persevered and grew to like the plot twists that were an invariable part of each tale. I no longer have the book, assuming I ever did, it could have been from the library, although I remember the cover well with a giant squid almost covering the pub and I have fond memories of the stories themselves.

I found out many years later that The White Hart was based on a real pub called the White Horse in London where Sci-Fi fans and writers used to meet up in the 50’s. These included John Christopher (The Death of Grass, The Tripods Trilogy etc.), John Wyndham (The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Awakes etc.) and of course Arthur C Clarke himself. Appropriately the concept of Fables from the Fountain was dreamt up in a London pub by Ian Whates a few weeks after Clarke’s death in 2008 and the day after the Clarke award ceremony for the best new science fiction novel released in Britain. Whates had founded Newcon Press a couple of years earlier and conceived a homage to Tales from the White Hart with stories by current authors who had all in their own way been inspired by the great innovator that was Sir Arthur C Clarke.

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The various writers in the new book have taken pseudonyms to be characters who meet at the Fountain to swap stories. Unlike the original the tales are given from assorted standpoints, rather than always by Harry Purvis although it’s good to spot references to him in several of the narratives. Because of the nature of the tales it is difficult to say much about them, they are short because of the premise of the book that they are stories told over a pint or two. Some like Neil Gaiman’s brilliant piece are very short at 4½ pages, so it is hard to avoid giving away the twists and turns they manage in so few words. Rereading the book after almost seven years (it was published in May 2011) for this blog  has been an interesting experience, I was surprised by how many I didn’t remember the ending to even if I instantly recognised the pre-amble.

There is high science represented and some truly awful puns, Professor Mackintosh explains how his life was saved by smoking, we find out surprising things about Muscovy Ducks, whilst Heisenburg, Schroedinger and surprisingly even William Blake get name checks. One of my favourites is ‘On the Messdecks of Madness’ by Raven about which I can say almost nothing without spoiling the enjoyment except it’s the only fantasy story I can recall that uses the great diarist Samuel Pepys’s admiralty career as a basis of the plot. Whilst another explains the 1908 Tunguska explosion and of course there is the obligatory Area 51 tale without which no collection of stories aimed at SF geeks would be complete.

The full list of stories are as follows, I’ve included the introduction here partly because the book does as well in the numbering of the index and also because Peter Weston’s introduction is definitely worth reading.

  1. Introduction – Peter Weston
  2. No Smoke without Fire – Ian Whates
  3. Transients – Stephen Baxter
  4. Forever Blowing Bubbles – Ian Watson
  5. On the Messdecks of Madness – Paul Graham Raven
  6. The Story Bug – James Lovegrove
  7. “And Weep Like Alexander” – Neil Gaiman
  8. The Ghost in the Machine – Colin Bruce
  9. The Hidden Depths of Bogna – Liz Williams
  10. A Bird in Hand – Charles Stross
  11. In Pursuit of the Chuchunaa – Eric Brown
  12. The Cyberseeds – Steve Longworth
  13. Feathers of the Dinosaur – Henry Gee
  14. Book Wurms – Andy West
  15. The Pocklington Poltergeist – David Langford
  16. The Last Man in Space – Andrew J Wilson
  17. A Multiplicity of Phaedra Lament – Peter Crowther
  18. The Girl With the White Ant Tattoo – Tom Hunter
  19. The 9,000,000,001st Name of God – Adam Roberts

The copy I have is the hardback limited edition (number 61 of 200) and is signed by all 19 writers. At the time of writing the title is still available from Newcon Press, although now only in paperback and not signed from this link.

Now if you’ll excuse me it’s Tuesday; so it’s the get together night at the Fountain, Polish barmaid Bogna will be serving behind the bar and I can hear the call of a pint or three of Old Bodger, although I’ll be careful to avoid the Ploughman’s lunches.

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2 thoughts on “Fables from the Fountain

  1. Pingback: The old ones are the good ones | Velcro City Tourist Board

    1. I really enjoyed the story Paul and yes I’m sure Samuel does appear in other stories but probably more for his personal life rather than his naval career. Thanks for adding something to your blog about my post, I’ve subscribed to your newsletter and look forward to reading more.

      Like

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