Despatches from the Land of Nearly Christmas!

Goodness, what an extremely long time it is since I updated this blog! Prudence here, surrounded by no fewer than three kinds of tea and two cups of coffee. I trust you’re all keeping well?  I thought it was time to do a little update and let you know how everything’s going!

We have been wonderfully, incredibly busy here at PatC HQ since my last update. We’re thrilled by how many wonderful customers and subscribers we’ve got, and sorry to have sold out of subscriptions for the time being, but we do plan to open them up for limited periods again in the future – do keep an eye out in January!

We’ve learnt a lot about what we do and who we’re doing it for – every month we pick up on something new we can do to make things work better – and we’ll be improving things significantly in the months to come, from introducing a new box style that will a) get to us on time and b) get to you on time whilst c) being made in the UK from good quantities of recycled paper, and from restructuring how we do things around the month. We’re also trying to be good and be more strict with our ‘office hours’ – no good comes of 3am customer service, a rule we’ve learnt so often, but always struggle over, because, well, in the middle of the night, you see a query, you want to help! But we must be strong; it’s not always helpful, and it’s easy to end up talking rhubarb when you do this. So, if you don’t get an immediate reply to a query – don’t panic! We’ll be there as soon as we can, we promise. We aim to answer all correspondence within 72 hours.

The other thing we’d like you to know is, we remain just the two of us! We’re not a large subscription box company with a warehouse of books, we’re not backed by financial groups or sponsored by, well, anyone at all. At this point, PatC makes no revenue through anything other than sales of our boxes. We’re two young women who’ve been doing online business for fifteen years, and this is a venture we created from scratch without capital, with only our knowledge and experience. It’s growing beautifully, and we’re so proud of what we do and thrilled by the responses we get every day.

Every box is folded and stamped by Prudence, every single thing in your box is put there by Prudence; every box is wrapped and stickered by the Crow. The Crow does all our photography and coding. Prudence does the Twitter and Facebook; the Crow does Instagram and Pinterest (Prudence is really bad at Pinterest…). Prudence does the post side of things. We share handwriting, cutting-out, book-choosing, gift-making and stock-organising duties, and both do customer service. The only thing we’ve sometimes ‘outsourced’ is the bookbags – Prudence’s mum has done some quite heroic sewing over the last month for us in order to have everything ready for your December boxes!

Also, apart from our little ad with the wonderful IGGPPC, we haven’t advertised externally at all – everything comes from word of mouth, and the loveliest thing of all is to see the groups of friends and family we send to, and to see more and more addresses cropping up in the same student halls, office blocks, streets, schools, cities, towns and villages. Know that we really, really appreciate your conversations in the coffee break, your photos and shares, blogs and unboxing videos!

We really, really love what we do. There’ve been some (extremely!) long nights and some rather heated arguments (“But I just don’t think they’ll like Book X as much as Book Y!” “I think they will!”) but we wouldn’t change a shred of it. Here’s to many more boxes, and, best of all, many more books!

From the picture at the top, you can see this was meant to be more about our Christmas bundle, but I got all excited writing the catchup here! But don’t let me forget – until 10pm GMT on 5th December, you can buy a random vintage book and have it beautifully and seasonally wrapped and sent straight to you, or your loved one, or a vague acquaintance, for just £6 in the UK. To do this, head here immediately! Quantities are limited; some genres more than others, so we’d advise not leaving it too long! Meanwhile, happy December!

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There’s Nothing Like A Penpal! #IGGPPC and How We Fell In Love With A Geek Community Again

Greetings, everyone! Prudence here. When we began putting Prudence and the Crow together, there were so many inspirations. So many things we wanted to encompass, so many feelings we wanted to encapsulate. Right up there was the feeling of getting post from someone who’s made an effort to put together post that you’ll actively enjoy! The idea behind our curated vintage book-providing service is that it’s with you in mind – the longer you subscribe with us, and the more we get to know you through social media and so on, the more accurate our bookshopping for you can be! Of course, we’re always happy to send completely random books to subscribers who enjoy that, and no contact is required at all to get the most from that service – we have some customers who specifically say they’d rather not let us know anything about what they usually read because they’ve come to us to branch right out, and that’s fun as well, but for others, the ongoing relationship is all part of the fun.

And that, that is a lot like the old art of Having A Penpal. I had a lovely penpal when I was about eight years old, who lived in the UAE. She wrote me incredible long letters about her life, her school, her family. Everything was so very different from my life, and so utterly fascinating, of course, but as I grew older, and she grew older, we wrote less frequently and less still – our cultures were so far apart, and the means to access them to share just didn’t exist in the early nineties, so I would tell her about TV I liked, but couldn’t share it with her, and vice versa…she would tell me about music she enjoyed, but couldn’t send it to me to experience. We couldn’t have things in common, then, and, alas, I didn’t have the skills to keep up the conversation, and so we fizzled. I still wonder how she is. We did exchange the occasional card, in later years, and, I confess, I still hope to get one from her again one day!

But the point here is – there’s never been a better time in history to have a penpal from across the world! It’s so easy to share interests, to meet through something/someone/somewhere/someplace you love, as a fan, a student, as a professional, whatever! And there’s also never been a nicer time to receive physical post, for so much of our communication is electronic and transient. That’s not to say that physical is better, but the option is a wonderful thing. And it’s so easy to point someone to, say, Cabin Pressure, and within moments you can introduce someone to what was, for years, a little British radio sitcom, but what is now (rightly, marvellously) regarded as one of the most accomplished pieces of British comedy in a generation. Then you can play Yellow Car together via Facebook Messenger, even if it isn’t quite fair when one of you is in Wisconsin, and the other in London! You can have so many shared jokes and entertainments, and all at the touch of a few keys.

When the International Geek Girls Penpal Club launched last year, I was in there like a shot. I’ve participated in at least ten rounds, and met some incredible people. I’ve made penpals I know I’ll write to – whether truly, or via email – forever, simply because we get on SO WELL. When you sign up for a round with the #IGGPPC, you list your top five current geek loves, whether that’s the works of Neil Gaiman, Ancient Greece, Sherlock Holmes, crochet or the films of Ingmar Bergman or whatever, and the marvellous people at IGGPPCHQ will hook you up with a fellow geek with as much in common as possible, and off you go! You know you’ve likely already got something you both love to share your enjoyment of, and then also you’ve got all those differences in country, town, life, pets etc that make having friends such a worthwhile pursuit!

Plus, even if you aren’t sure about the idea of having a regular penpal right now, there’s the magnificent forum, with active conversations going on about everything from recs for inexpensive fountain pens (my Lamy, btw, is one of my favourite things ever) to Ms. Marvel to fanfic to the films of Tim Burton. There are regular blogs and vlogs on a variety of topics, meetups all over the place and as if that wasn’t enough, you can participate in swaps and challenges from candy swapping to daily Instagramming. Honestly, everything is awesome. Nothing is too geeky to bring to the table, and you can bet that somewhere in the world, there’s an Iggle who’d love to share that love with you! In a year of hanging out there, and on Twitter with many an Iggle, I’ve yet to see a cross word exchanged, or an issue had. My experience of it has been gloriously fluffy and fun, and it makes me so incredibly happy to be part of such a thing, especially when the internet so often loves nothing more than to fall hard for criticism and the dark side.

The reason the IGGPPC is the only place we’ve advertised with to date is because we feel so completely at home with that community, and it’s, frankly, a pleasure simply to see ourselves alongside such great company! And because we hope that, having already established a love of communicating, good post and geekery, people will also enjoy what we do XD

I just can’t speak highly enough for this community, and, if you’ve yet to jump in, then Round 15 -Time Travel-themed! – is now open, and there’s no better time to get your best stationery together and go for it! There’s no more geekish, daft, wise and joyous community out there. I meant to write this post long ago, to celebrate the IGGPPC’s birthday back in March, but I never did get around to it…so…happy June, IGGPPC, and all who sail in you! Thank you for some fabulous friends and conversations and, indeed, customers! We love you all 🙂

 

On Reading and Having Read: the Downsides of ASOIAF

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Greetings all, Prudence here! I hope you’re enjoying this soggy (in the UK, anyway – I hear the Swedes are having magnificent weather?!) end to May, and have your booknoses in something interesting. I’ve just finished reading A Song of Ice and Fire for the second time, because I was getting annoyed with having not-quite-finished it before, and having read it so quickly the first time that I’d forgotten most things about who was who and where and why. So, at the beginning of the year, I started again.

The thing is, those are some hefty books. Great books (mostly – I have some real issues with the structure of A Feast for Crows, but that is not for this post! And also I do have the fifth book in the set pictured above, but I was halfway through reading it at the time of photographing) but still, they’re enormous (no seriously, those editions specifically are gorgeous but VAST. We had to take them back on the train and it was much more muscular work than being a booklover generally consists of!). I am a fond and avid reader of many things, and I always have a string of books on the go, and it’s true that in the time I’ve reread ASOIAF I have also read books on robots, food, tidying and boarding schools, but still, I’ve felt very nagged by not just being in the middle of that series, but really wanting to finish it. I do like reading, but sometimes, I wonder if I like Having Read more.

Perhaps it depends on the book. There are some books, like “Buzz Aldrin, Whatever Happened to You in All the Confusion”; that I love so very much, I never want the experience of reading them to end, because the trickle of wonderfully well-placed words is the greatest delight imaginable. The very experience of consuming the words is as pleasurable and fascinating as the story within them. There are some writers – Margaret Atwood is sometimes a good example of this for me – where the experience of reading the words is one I actually find preferable to consuming the story. It’s certainly true that there are gloriously-crafted phrases, paragraphs, scenes and, occasionally, whole chapters of ASOIAF, but as a whole, the experience of reading it has been largely one of putting together a mosaic and not being able to see the whole picture.

The Very Long Book can really frustrate me when I want to look back on it (and, of course, ASOIAF is so much worse in that sense being as it is also the Unfinished Series of Very Long Books) but I have yet to finish it. I’m not always the most disciplined reader, either. I’m fickle and changeable. If I’m really loving the words in a novel, I’ll treat it like an excellent meal, or a delicious drink, consuming it incredibly slowly, or, worst of all, even failing to pick the book up at all because I want to know there’s more of it there to enjoy. You can tell how much I’m enjoying a book by whether or not I’m actually glued to it, or if I start putting it down and trying to get on with things like housework, or checking my phone. It’s awful – the more I love something, the more I’ll try to avoid it. Yet if it’s the plot I want out of a book, and the writing isn’t doing much for me, I’ll belt through it, desperate to tie up loose ends, to get the full picture, to find out whodunnit and why.

In a sense, ASOIAF is the worst kind of series for me – I love the plot, and dearly wanted to know where it was going, but I was also actively enjoying the reading of it, and trying to pay proper proper attention to everything and everyone so I can talk authoritatively about it with anyone and everyone who wants to discuss it (which does appear to include absolutely everyone I know). I didn’t want it to be over, but I also really wanted to have read it. I didn’t want to read it to the exclusion of everything else, because that’s not really how I read anything, but it was also going on for a Very Long Time. It’s been difficult! Hear my cries!

But it has also been great. And surely, surely, I don’t have to wait that much longer for The Winds of Winter? (sidenote: The Crow and I met GRRM nearly two years ago at a Thing in Bath and he read us a Tyrion chapter that isn’t either of the released ones so far, so that was exciting).

I should be celebrating having finished these extensive reads by reading something short and punchy and exciting, but since I’ve been talking a lot about ‘Buzz Aldrin, Whatever Happened…?’ I’ve been thinking I’d really like to revisit that. Perhaps, as it is now finally available on Kindle, we’ll make it our June Book Club read. This June we are dearly intending to get our GoodReads and our Book Club shifting up a gear! You can find us here on the site – do add us, and look out for more! And why not treat yourself to a copy of this most beautifully unusual book? It’s one of the very few I feel I could comfortably recommend to just about anyone.

We’ve been very good and getting ahead of ourselves this month – we’ve allocated some most exciting books for our current subscribers! And if you ever feel like updating your preferences with us, do remember that you can revisit your questionnaire and add info to it any time you like, or simply drop us a line through our contact page on our site.

Finally! Here’s a lovely little review of one of our May boxes, for which we’re most grateful 🙂 at Left Right Lost.

Happy May to you all!

 

Cats and Wizards oh my!

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The joint #1 loves of our subscribers, that is, and that makes us ever so happy. Also, thrillingly, during one our busiest signup day ever last week (who knows why? We’re just so glad you’re all here!) we had TWO instances of my favourite thing – two apparently unconnected people signing up one after the other, one stating Book X as their favourite book, and the next subscriber choosing that very same book, out of all the books in the world, as their least favourite! The joy of the perfect coincidence? I can’t imagine it’s anything else, but it’s such a satisfactory amusement to me!

A well-filled-out questionnaire does help us considerably with the selection process, and, whilst the whole thing is very much the Secret Ingredient situation one might find with a famous, delicious fast-food company, most of it is simply Prudence and the Crow sitting there wielding one book or another, shouting things like “THIS HAS THE BEST CAT IN IT THOUGH” and the other countering with “THE PLOT OF THIS ONE IS SO MUCH MORE EXCITING THOUGH”, and mostly we have a really awesome time fighting that situation out, over and over again. Obviously, there are a great number of subscriptions where, either we’re super fortunate and able to fulfil a request directly, or there’s such a clear choice that we both chorus a title, as we read the subscription email. Sometimes we’re not super certain, or the recipient seems genuinely to want something random, and that’s a diferent kettle of fish – occasionally Prudence does a bit of detective work and decides whether random might really mean ~random, and that’s when, say, with the sci-fi category, the super-weird stuff might come out, or we might go the other way and opt for a real classic that’s just so beautiful, no-one could be sad to have it!

We have some stock favourites that we’ll send any time we get the chance and feel they’re a good match, and those are the ones that are often the most ‘loved’ books we’ll post out…to me, a pristine book is a gorgeous thing, of course it is, but we love the books that have been thoroughly enjoyed too, the ones with the notes and creases and folds and scuffs, the ones that you could drop in the bath but that you’d promptly scoop out and take emergency measures with. Although – rest assured – we wouldn’t send any that had actually been dropped in the bath, not even if they were the best! It’s mostly that there are some reads we’d bet anyone would want to read over, and over, and over, and how lovely to be able to give someone that handbag copy, the one you can slip into a suitcase for a beach holiday ‘just in case’, or the one you’ll take for a long tube journey because you can bend the pages around without fear, and grasp it in a grimy London paw without fearing for the smearing, or the one you’ll have on a bedside table and read, squinting by the light of a streetlamp sneaking through the curtains, when you can’t sleep and are wondering whether or not those little noises are the sound of a tiny mouse…

…you get the picture! So, thanks for all your many questionnaires, and remember that you’re always welcome to update your answers as your subscription continues – if you’ve lost the link, just pop by our ‘Contact Us’ form at http://www.prudenceandthecrow.com and use the email you signed up with, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can!

And for the record, the current #1 Favourite Book of Prudence and the Crow subscribers is Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (about which we’re thrilled, for it’s a favourite for us both, too – especially the magnificent audiobook edition), and the most mentioned requests are, as I say, ‘cats’ and ‘wizards’ – although ‘wizards’ are also one of the most mentioned dislikes, surpassed only by ‘romance’ 🙂

We’re thrilled to have you all on board, whatever you enjoy, and hope April has ticked along pleasantly for you! Roll on May, though, for these boxes are shaping up even more beautifully than ever thus far!

Spring Has Sprung! And Recoiled.

Phew, yes, well, apologies for the slight gap in communications – Prudence has been experience some serious wisdom flourishing in the tooth area, which has caused a lot of pain and stomping about, and left little time for wise words and thoughtful posts! But with the pain subsiding (liberal consumption of coconut oil and chewing aloe vera right off the plant, both these things are highly recommended!) normal service ought shortly to be resuming!

First up, do allow me to link you to a couple of lovely, lovely blog posts about our March boxes from two of our fine subscribers: this fine review from Mundane Sundays, and, from GirlInTheNerdShop this lovely review. Thank you so – we really appreciate your words and thoughts, and indeed all the pictures, emails and feedback we’ve had from all of you! If you’re Stateside or further abroad and haven’t received/have only just got your box, fear not – we’ll love to hear your thoughts as and when you receive it!

Secondly – you’ll note we’re shipping on the 12th this month, rather than our usual 13th, and that, simply, is because the 13th is a Sunday. Don’t want the boxes hanging about sadly overnight, so we’ll have them winging their way to you earlier instead (although it probably won’t alter the delivery time all that much XD).

Thirdly! We’ve got a couple of really lovely goodies lined up for the next few boxes – it’s such a joy to discover, one by one, wonderful craftspeople working in the UK we can commission things from that we weren’t sure still existed! And, of course, there’s so much we make and do ourselves, but this means that we extra-appreciate being able to support fellow small businesses nearby.

Spring has decided to mock our plans to spend the weekend relaxing in the garden and running like lambs in the sunshine by bringing up further bouts of hail and icy winds that make us want to retreat right back to the tatty old armchair with every mug we own filled with a different tea, and every blanket that can be found heaped up atop us whilst we read our way through everything we’re about to send around the world…ah well, we can but dream! We’ve a visitor from Sweden this weekend who informs us that they’re ankle deep in snow and minus temperatures, so, best to be grateful, I suppose, for it…not being that!

And the long-unmentioned Book Club! With everything heaping up about us, Prudence never did get to finishing Kate Atkinson’s Human Croquet again (okay, okay, and she’s also caught up with a Game of Thrones reread but who isn’t?!) but the Crow did, and she pronounced it “heavier going than I’d anticipated, with dislikeable characters…swathes of clever stuff, but more stuff that seemed which would be cleverer than it was…isolated passages of beautiful text which didn’t have anywhere to go…very strange and spattered with pitfalls…I can see how it might be someone’s cup of tea, but it wasn’t exactly mine. It’s not long since I finished it, and I’m struggling to remember what happened…” Prudence, meanwhile, remembers that she enjoyed it considerably more than that, and is going to do some doubletime to finish that alongside this month’s read which is…

Tom’s Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce! It’s the Crow’s choice. We’ve both read it before. Prudence recalls reading it a lot as a child and being quite in love with it, writing-wise, but then always rather emotionally ruined by something else about it, and then of course there was the BBC adaptation that neither of us quite remember either, but Prudence knows she cried during it (not unusual – she cries during virtually anything).

It’s always strange, rereading books you loved as a child, some twenty years later. Prudence recalls reading the series about the Blossom family – The Blossoms and the Green Phantom, The Not-Just-Anybody Family, those…and as a child, she loved them; America seemed virtually alien and the entire setup was utterly exotic and fascinating to her, as an only child in London. Coming back as an adult, she was a bit…confused by the memory of that love, for the books, sure, have their sweetish and amusingish moments, but in other places, they’re rather bleak and difficult and just…what inspired such love? What was it?! The sheer idea of having siblings? The dog? The dusty, odd world of rodeo and coyotes and strange hats? Perhaps. It’s truly odd to be left cold by something you know you used to find warmth in. Here’s hoping that’s not the Tom’s Midnight Garden experience!

Reading anything good this month? Fancy picking up Tom’s Midnight Garden along with us? Any further tips for grinning and bearing the arrival of the wisdom teeth?

As ever, if you’d like to sign up for a one-off box, fixed period subscription or continuous subscription to the Prudence and the Crow Vintage Subscription Box Service, do head over to Prudence and the Crow and we’ll see you there!

 

 

The March Box: Last Orders, Please!

 

ImageYep, it’s your last chance to get yourself a March subscription box! You’ve until midnight in your applicable country to sign up to receive a box containing a vintage paperback book chosen just for you*, and several other excellent surprises! Hop over to www.prudenceandthecrow.com to subscribe – genres include YA, sci-fi and children’s, or select ‘random’ to request something different, and we’ll do our best 🙂

It’s been a fantastically exciting month over here at PatC HQ. We’re thrilled to welcome so many new like-minded and excited subscribers – thank you all so much for your lovely messages and contributions! We’ve a Merit page in the works to collect all your excellent reviews and blog posts, and, and, so exciting, we’re going to be awarding actual physical Merits of gratitude and wonder! More details on that to follow, but know that, for now, we’re super appreciative of all your sharing and reviewing.

We’re a most bespoke and caring two-person business here, and if we’ve learnt anything over our years online, it’s that nothing is so valuable as the feeling your customers have about you. With this being the sort of thing where we hope to have a closer relationship with customers as subscribers, obviously, the better the relationship we can have…and the more we can kindle that feeling we’re going for, the aforementioned post-based 1980s kids’ club! Or, the beautifully-made membership pack, or the ultimate fan bundle…there’s nothing Prudence loves so much as a bundle, and she’s pretty sure she’s not alone in that! So! We’re most excited to see all your unpacking videos and blogs, and look forward to providing a page to share and reward all such efforts.

In other news – the rain has finally ceased! We were fearful of being washed away, every last page, but fortunately the sun’s out, and the books are as grateful as the garden! Not least as they get to accompany us out there for afternoon tea, their little pages happily soaking up the sun as they’re fervently turned in the chase for the story. We’ve had some gorgeous acquisitions this month, many of which were chosen especially for the March boxes, and we’ve loved hosting them in this period between buying and packing. It’s always the best part of what we do, sending them on their merry way, and we hope you get all the pleasure from them that anyone might get from a book!

Finally finally – happy World Book Day! We’ve done our bit dressing up – Prudence was George from the Famous Five, and the Crow was her infamous alter ego, the Mymble’s Daughter! Whilst out and about on errands earlier, it was wonderful to see all the local kids dressed as such a tremendous cross-section of the literary population…although I seriously hope some of the Joffreyalikes I noted were, in fact, say…Peter from the Narnia books, or, indeed, anyone else…very scary! It’s incredible to see how many kids are captured by books at such a young age – as someone who also was, I wholeheartedly think it’s the best way to be.

So, without further ado, that’s all aboard the March box, with love from www.prudenceandthecrow.com and we’ll see you in the next blog for a post with just a touch more content than this 😉 Meanwhile, get out there and get that Vitamin D, kids!

*provided you fill out the handy questionnaire at signup! Feel free not to, of course, but obviously with so much less to go on, you’ll be the happy recipient of something a touch more random – but still in your chosen genre, of course!

Sci-Fi For Beginners: Where to Start?!

Greetings, Earthlings! Prudence here. We’re surrounded by books for your March boxes, and a good double handful more that wrangled their way through the door of our little bookcrammed home in the name of ‘research’, and it’s a beautiful way to be.

Today, it’s Prudence and the Crow and sci-fi, or, why we’re offering a sci-fi genre-specific subscription box. There are as many reasons as humans, of course, and whyever you’d want to subscribe to our box is more than perfect to us, but there are two gaps we wanted to fill: the sci-fi newbie, and the bundle-loving geek girl. I say this as someone who’s been both in their lives, probably from about age three. I’m 31 now, and sometimes I still feel like the former, and I hope never to stop being the latter. Is there anything better than glorious packages constructed around something you really want? But back to the former, for today’s piece!

There are few things I love so much as the vast and glorious collection of vintage sci-fi paperbacks I’ve accumulated ever the years. Even before you get to their content, there’s no book cover quite like the 1950s-1980s science fiction paperback book cover. Spanning the illustrative junket from pulp to technical drawing, there’s every permutation of rocket, desert, monster, lurid technicolour fontery, hero, fail!hero, damsel in distress, moon, space doll and imagined surface of Venus/Mars/Thalassa, etc. If you’ve not had the pleasure, or, indeed, if you have and want more of it, I heartily recommend this excellent blog packed with scans, analysis, and excellent info on all manner of such book covers: Science Fiction Ruminations – Cover Art. If you’re taken by the aesthetic, do feel free to specify as much as you like about such covers in your PatC box questionnaire – I’ll be sure to keep my beady eyes peeled for extra ridiculous/awesome/geometric/terrifying works!

But the aesthetic, the cover, all that is just the beginning of the world of sci-fi. One of the things the Crow and I discussed at length when beginning our little subscription box service was how difficult it was to ‘unlock’ the world of science fiction, if you haven’t had the joy and privilege of growing up in a household full of it. Everyone might be easily able to find the names and works of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, or have worked with H.G. Wells or Jules Verne at school (if you’re lucky enough to have that kind of curriculum – I was over the moon to legitimately dissect The Invisible Man at GCSE-level), but in the land of such vintage paperbacks, misleading covers, hyperbolic blurbs and drastically inconsistent quality of writing amongst many popular and prolific authors can mean anything from picking up a book that seems like it’ll be about a beautiful unicorn, only to find that it’s actually the exceptionally distressing account of the end of Earth with no survivors, to assuming you’re about to sit down with some masterful, hardline techy masters of the universe…and finding you hold in your hands a rambly slew of stream-of-consciousness nonsense, populated by the most hateable, irredeemable characters of all-time.

It’s easy to be put off sci-fi by experiences like this; put off the whole concept of picking up these strange and beautiful novels, novellas, collections. One bad experience can tar the genre, or stick you with some really icky thoughts that you can’t quite shake.

There’s a new audience coming to a lot of old sci-fi, a thing which joys and thrills me beyond all experiences I have and hear of the world of books and reading. The dystopian YA successes of recent years have opened the door to reading magnificent world-building amidst great and terrible technological innovation. The sheer length, credibility and complexity of popular series means a generation has the stomach to read stuff that wouldn’t necessarily have floated to the top of the must-read category in anyone’s personal library. Then, on top of that, oh joyful confluence, the space films, the Marvel films, and then the actual progress that is the stuff of science fact – the astronauts tweeting from real life in space…the appetites are all there, loud and clear, for the stories we told each other over the last century, whilst we waited for the genre to come back from niche to mainstream again.

For me, the important things in literally learning to love this kind of sci-fi were a) the grounding in the best stuff, the aforementioned authors of note, seeing the greatest possibilities of  and b) reading all the non-fiction about it, the biographies and the articles, the wonderful hive of such reasonably factual content that was a hefty slice of the early internet (very much my teenage playground). Understanding the publishers, the demand, the audience of the time, the strange variety of cult authors, popular authors, teams of editor-author-artist-publisher, of one-off books of a lifetime which were either never followed up at all, or, worse, were followed by book after book of unspeakable tripe, all this was important to me. It helped me see how drivel led to greatness, and vice versa, how trends came and went in the genre, how some writers wrote to a ‘formula’, and others told the same story over and over with different names.

These things don’t have to be important to everyone. It’s fine to pick something up, read it, or stop after a couple of pages, and then move on. But there’s a point at which the back catalogue is so vast, so epic and so capable of being massively disappointing, that it can get a bit to the point where you might as well not bother, or you might give up and go back to whatever’s out this year, which is also fine. (let it always be known that both I and the Crow fully believe that any and all reading is fine, always, there is no superior reading, no ‘better’ book, and nothing, come to that, wrong with reading the back of a cereal packet of a morning instead of the newspaper…you might just find more facts in it…but I digress…) But the point, my point, our Prudence and the Crow point is: if you’ve found yourself wondering about the older stuff, the vintage stuff, the strange stuff, the infinite worlds of weird and wonderful and awful writing that shaped the both the world we live in, and the worlds we read about, it’d be nice, wouldn’t it, if there was someone to choose a book from the entire history of the stuff for you, to place said book in your hand, tell you the key things about it and why they’d chosen it for you, to give you a way in, an opportunity, a chance to see for yourself what you think. And then, the next month, they’ll do the same thing again, but with something else, or, if you like, more of the same. And then after that, and after that. And before you know if, you’ve a library of thoughts, content, and context and, you’ve become a user of, we hope, a genuine and human service that enables discovery and enjoyment.

And if you came here genuinely hoping to know where to start in sci-fi, and are feeling none the wiser at the end of this, why, of course I’d love you to sign up for a Prudence and the Crow box of your very own, but in the meantime, here are my five most generic recommendations from the vintage world for those just starting out at looking back! I’d love to know any more of your favourite recs, or, indeed, any of your thoughts!

  • The New Accelerator, by H. G. Wells. Available here as an MP3 reading, along with many other choice Wells short stories. This story occupies a huge space inside my head. I’d love to see it as a film.
  • Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke. A great way into Clarke’s brilliance; I love that the man himself considered this one of his favourites. A strong story that’s hardly aged, about the flip from Utopia to dystopia and the power of children.
  • The Last Question, by Isaac Asimov I love the Multivac-verse, centred as it is around a magnificent computer, and this simple, effective short story is nothing but a masterclass in every aspect of sci-fi, and, indeed, the form of the short story itself. Link is to an excellent YouTube reading.
  • The Moon Voyage, by Jules Verne. A composite of From the Earth to the Moon, and Around the Moon, two of my favourite early sci-fi reads. The perfect ‘men in a rocket’ read, made better still, as Three Men in a Boat was a few decades later, by the addition of a dog.
  • Chocky, by John Wyndham. Perfect perspective writing: a father observes his son’s interactions with his imaginary friend, which grow more and more disturbing. Link is to the classic 1967 dramatisation. A small novella, brilliantly executed.