The SEX Column

by David Langford

Cover image

Publisher: Cosmos
Copyright: 1995-2005
Printing: 2005
ISBN: 1-930997-78-7
Format: Mass market
Pages: 240

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The SEX Column and other misprints is a collection of all of David Langford's monthly columns in SFX, a British glossy science fiction magazine that mostly covers film and TV but tries to reserve some space for books. The title comes from SFX's habit of covering the bottom of the title F with the head of some attractive person. Langford, for those not already familiar with the name, is an SF news reporter, encyclopedist, and writer about SF par excellence with enough Hugos to sink a ship. He doesn't have quite the critical insight of a Gary K. Wolfe or John Clute, but he more than makes up for that in approachability, a knack for phrasing, and an excellent sense of humor.

This collection starts with Langford's first column in June 1995 and goes to March 2005, with usually 13 columns per year; as you can tell from that and the length of this book, each column isn't long. My guess from the length is that they tend to run one or two pages in the magazine. That means this collection notably lacks some of the depth and all of the long surveys or rambles found in other Langford collections. It's also mostly devoid of book reviews; there isn't a lot of space to do a book review justice. Instead, this is a wide-ranging collection of very short essays on whatever general topic came to mind that month. There are lots of observations on SF fandom, some articles on general trends, bits of Langford's famous selections of confusing passages from books or quotes from people with laughable understandings of what SF is, random esoterica, and lots of obituaries.

Langford is almost always amusing and always worth reading, but as collections go, this was the least satisfying of his that I've read. The unremittingly short length means that The SEX Column really isn't designed to be read at a longer sitting. Read too many of the short columns and they all blur together and lose their amusing punch. This is bathroom reading, good for when you can pick the book up, read one or two self-contained essays, and then put it down again.

Also, as much as I like supporting Langford by buying his books, I do have to point out that you can get almost the entire contents of this book on-line from his web site. Langford republishes all of his SFX columns on his web site after a delay of a few months, including the ones more recent than collected here, and the only ones held back are some from 1995, 1996, and 1997. This means you can get an excellent feel for the book by reading some of the essays on-line; it also means that unless you much prefer reading on paper (I do), there isn't much point in purchasing the book except to support the author or to get the twenty-five essays that aren't on-line.

My favorite parts of Langford's writing are his reviews, and in particular his surveys of the works of particular authors (often mystery writers rather than SF authors). When he has space and time to ramble about a topic of particular interest, he reaches a level of depth and involvement in his topic that his short humor doesn't have. Langford has a great dry wit and a way with words, and I would still recommend this book for pick-up reading between other things, but for an introduction I'd recommend one of his other collections (The Silence of the Langford would be an excellent choice).

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-06-05

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