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Treasures from the Book Cellar

February 15, 2009

I had a noon dentist appointment last week, so I took the whole day off from school. It left me with a lot of spare time that morning, something my two-year-old strives to eliminate from my days. But she was at the sitter this morning and I went out for some breakfast and to visit the local used bookstore.

The used bookstore is the only bookstore in the “city” I work in. There is a Books-A-Million in the next little city, about half an hour away and just as close to my house. I am a bibliophile (mild case, not life threatening) and can’t resist wondering among the orderly shelves and tables of a proper bookstore, doing much more looking than buying.

Then there’s the used bookstore. Tens of thousands of books on mish-mashed shelves, crammed together in only the vaguest resemblance of alphabetical order, sectioned wherever there was space for the category. It’s beautiful. This trip I wound up purchasing five books and four magazines, spending under fifteen bucks. No too shabby.

Primarily I was looking for books and stories from the instructors at this year’s Clarion and Clarion West, also keeping an eye out for other names of note. I stumbled across (the only way to find anything there) Kim Stanley Robinson’s Green Mars in trade paperback for two dollars. That’s right, two. It was in very good shape, after all, I was looking for stuff to read, not display. Alas, I had not yet read Red Mars and didn’t want to try to absorb things out of order. But Robinson is teaching in San Diego (Clarion west’s new home — no more Michigan) so I held on to it. I’m glad I did since I found Red mars in standard paperback in another group of shelves, $3.50.

Among the hardcover SF books I found an old library copy of Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. Not renowned as his finest work, but I have heard the title pop up on occasion. Three quarters was all they asked for it. I just hope I can read it, the pages are brittle and falling out. If not, well I’m out the cost of a really bad cup of coffee. Heinlein is obviously not teaching any workshops this year, but he’s still Heinlein.

The most intriguing find was a book entitled Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision, copyrighted the year of my birth. It starts with a brief history of the genre in literature and a little from other mediums. Then it’s an overview of 1977 science, starting with the scientific method and touching on biology, astrophysics, etc. Next it looks into various areas sci-fi likes to visit that might not be quite so scientific: utopias, imaginary worlds, and the like. Finally it comments on ten representative novels. I have not read any more than the table of contents, but I am very curious about what the Oxford University Press had to say about these things over thirty years ago. I nothing else, there are story ideas hiding in these pages begging to be discovered.

The last book was one I actually sought out. My space opera story, “Leech Run,” just received honorable mention from Writers of the Future. A nice enough showing, but I wondered what winning stories looked like. So I sought out some WotF collections and found the book from 2005. I am currently reading one of the stories that won a quarter; I’m not terribly impressed yet. Maybe it has a strong ending.

My magazine purchases weren’t all that exciting. I sifted through a pile to find some recent issues of Analog, Asimov’s, and F&SF. It didn’t even occur to me to seek Clarion authors, but I still wound up with a story co-written by Rudy Rucker in an Asimov’s. I also lucked into a copy of Isaac Asimov’s classic story, “Nightfall” in an anniversary edition of the magazine he founded. It was a good haul on magazines I would love to be in but haven’t read in several years.

It is worth noting the overwhelming dominance of Star Trek novels at this store. Two full bookcases. I know some of them are well written, but I have no clue which ones. I am a fan of most of the different series, especially TNG, but I have never read a Trek novel. I may grab one next time if I can get an idea of a good one, but I’m a little weary at the thought of reading a book in such a thoroughly explored universe. I already know the characters for seven seasons and several movies. I just can’t get excited about reading stuff I am already full of.

This has not been a review of any of these books, really no more than an announcement of my purchase and the processes that led me to them. It was a good haul. I’ll need to wait another few months to let the store’s inventory change before returning. Fortunately, I think I have enough to read while I wait.

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