Brittle Innings Mass Market Paperback – 1 Feb 1995
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In 1943, with the country at war, seventeen-year-old shortstop Danny Boles joins a Class C baseball farm club and sets out on an odyssey into strange relationships, dramatic escapades, and lessons about life, dreams, desire, and growing up. Reprint.
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It's currently available as an eBook in the VGSF Gateway series, but it's only science fiction in the sense that Bishop works in that genre, and it's less unlike SF than it is anything else. It's a kind of sequel to what some people consider the first true SF novel (I'm trying to avoid spoilers, but it's the one by Mary Shelley), but that's about as close as it gets to standard genre devices.
It's the story of a fish-out-of-water teenager who has no real talent for anything but baseball and finds himself on a professional, but Little League, baseball team in the Deep South in the early days of World War II. More specifically, it's about his friendship with another player, a hulking, monstrously strong and hideously scarred batter with an emphatically 19th century way of speaking and a hidden past he doesn't talk about. Following that Mary Shelley reference, you're way ahead of me, aren't you?
From that unlikely premiss, Bishop tells a gripping and well-paced story about growing up, family, friendship and prejudice of all sorts. The tone is frequently light but he doesn't flinch from uncomfortable scenes and issues, and there's a tragic inevitability to the events of the narrative. The 1940s milieu is convincingly portrayed and the baseball scenes are presumably authentic, though, as a Brit with little interest in our own sports, let alone souped-up rounders, the details were largely lost on me. The novel as a whole is moving but rigorously unsentimental, a difficult balance which Bishop achieves with considerable flair.
SF has many "neglected classics" in its history, but lots of them don't really deserve the description, due to awkward writing, dated technological references and unconscious cultural assumptions. Brittle Innings avoids all that, partly because it's only tangentially SF in the first place, but it probably deserves to be considered a neglected classic of a novel, full stop, regardless of genre. This unusual and highly affecting book is unreservedly recommended.