Our local charity shop is closing down, and I rescued a few reference books from oblivion. Chambers Biographical Dictionary is bound to come in handy some day ... "Are you looking for your own name in there?" my wife asked. "No, no," I lied, quickly paging on to Ursula K. Le Guin. Whose entry mentions the Earth Sea (not Earthsea) trilogy and morphs Planet of Exile into Plant of Exile. Again I remembered the bit in one of Robert Heinlein's SF novels where the young hero is shocked, shocked when his father casually scribbles corrections in a textbook.
You don't expect textbook standards from newspapers, not now they've fired all the researchers and fact-checkers. A recent Independent snippet broke the news that Morten Tyldum is to direct the film Pattern Recognition, "Based on the novel Neuromancer by William Gibson ..." A measure of sanity returned when the following thumbnail synopsis was in fact of Gibson's novel Pattern Recognition. The Indy obituary for BBC producer/director Michael Hayes credits him with early Doctor Who stories and, before that, the 1961 SF classic A for Andromeda – or as the headline put it, "the sci-fi series 'The Andromeda Strain'". Duh.
Another Gibson namecheck from a Sunday Herald piece on the Glasgow Science Festival: "The whole basis of the internet was famously inspired by William Gibson's book Neuromancer and Isaac Asimov, who recently died, 'invented' earth-orbiting satellites in one of his tales." Poor old Arthur C. Clarke, already forgotten.
The BBC website ran a story about that massive flop John Carter, "based on the books of Conan the Barbarian author Edgar Rice Burroughs". After the first 5,271,009 complaints, Conan magically became Tarzan.
Our most reliable sources of SF/fantasy disinformation are quiz shows, not covered here (with a nod to Private Eye's "Dumb Britain") for over fifty issues. Put on your tinfoil-lined thinking caps....
The Chase: "In what novel by H.G. Wells does an inventor travel into the future?" Contestant: "Great Expectations."
Cash Cab: "What plant is said to deter vampires?" Contestant (after a long pause): "Well, I was gonna say garlic but that's not a plant, is it?" Host: "You've just won ten pounds!"
Ejector Seat: "Which British author wrote The Jungle Book?" Contestant: "E.L. James."
The Weakest Link: "In astronomy, a nucleus, a coma and a tail are all parts of which celestial body?" Contestant: "A horse."
The Chase: "Which Irvine Welsh novel features a monologue by a tapeworm?" Contestant: "Wuthering Heights."
Two Tribes: "Who wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol after his incarceration there?" Contestant, surely with tongue in cheek: "Gary Glitter."
In It to Win It: "Dame Judi Dench played which character with a single-letter name in James Bond?" Contestant: "I'm thinking D or E. [Pause] D!"
Tipping Point: "In the famous equation E=mc², what does the letter E stand for?" Contestant: "Einstein."
While we're veering off into science, The Chase had this prophetic foreshadowing of climate change: "What Shakespeare play has the coldest season of the year in the title?" Contestant: "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
The Weakest Link: "The writer of the graphic novels Watchmen and V for Vendetta is Alan who?" Contestant: "Er ... Ginsberg."
Pointless: "Which G.O. wrote Animal Farm?" Contestant: "I've got George Osborne in my head." What a truly ghastly SF concept.
The Chase: "On what day of the week did Robinson Crusoe find his companion?" Contestant: "Tuesday."
The Weakest Link: "Which 'T' is the wife of Oberon and Queen of the Fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream?" Contestant, surely deserving half marks: "Tinkerbell."
My current all-time favourite is from, yet again, The Chase. Host: "The Nun's Priest's Tale is a story by which fourteenth-century English author?" Contestant: "J.K. Rowling."
David Langford is not the answer – he's part of the problem.