THE TRUTH IS IN HERE; CONSUMING PASSIONS Rog Peyton Tells Jo Ind about His All-Consuming Passion for Science Fiction
Ind, Jo, The Birmingham Post (England)
Science fiction is a term as incomprehensible to many people as emotions are to Mr Spock.
When Rog Peyton set up his Andromeda book shop in Birmingham in 1973, he contacted the local press and told them he was selling science fiction, fantasy and horror.
The journalist was interested. 'Fantasy, eh?' he said. 'So is that about whips, rubber trousers and naughty nurses?'
Rog tried to explain that it was literature like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and C S Lewis's Narnia stories but his efforts only left the journalist bemused.
Now, before any lay-people start feeling smug because you know the difference between fantasy fiction and naughty nurses, just consider if you appreciate the distinction between science fiction and sci-fi.
Apparently, sci-fi is not a neutral abbreviation of science fiction. It is, in science fiction circles, a derogatory term used to apply either to bad science fiction or to science fiction that is popularised through comics and movies.
And, as Rog, aged 57, explains being bad and being the stuff of movies, often goes together.
'Most of the stuff that's allied to the media in TV or films is bad. I don't know why that should be the case, but it is,' he says. 'Star Trek is an exception.'
So what exactly is science fiction? This is, apparently, a matter of heated debate. What one fan might class as science fiction another would not.
'It's a vast subject,' says Rog, 'Even after 40 years I would still not like to give a definition which includes everything I would want to include and excludes all the stuff I don't. We'll all disagree.'
George Orwell's Animal Farm is an example of a novel that is borderline. Fans still argue about whether it is science fiction or fantasy. But science fiction certainly includes Day of the Triffids by John Wyndam, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and Kingsley Amis's The Alteration.
'It isn't all ray guns and bug-eyed monsters,' says Rog. 'That's a very, very small part of it.'
At its most basic, science fiction is fantasy literature that is still within the bounds of scientific possibility. Time travel, for instance, has not been disproved by science, though many believe it is impossible.
This is as distinct from literature about fairies, elves and mythical creatures which is outside the realm of science and therefore fantasy.
Another misunderstanding about science fiction is that it is bad literature, the fodder of pre-pubescent school boys.
Rog says that as with any other genre of writing, some science fiction is bad but some of it is excellent writing with as much skilled construction of character and plot as the best of other literature.
His concern with his Andromeda store is for science fiction to be taken seriously.
His is the only science fiction book store that does not sell comics and which concentrates on the quality end of the market. It is the oldest science fiction store in the world and it is also believed to be the biggest.
Once he had a customer from Australia, who had free air travel and consequently indulged his interest in science fiction by visiting stores all round the world.
When he came to the Andromeda he said: 'Wow, I knew you were the oldest store in the world, but I didn't realise you were the biggest. …