Bequest

I’ve been out of the fantasy and science fiction — and quite frankly, the entire book — industry for quite a while now, so I’d missed the death last month of fantasy author and fellow Reed alum David Eddings. A story in today’s Oregonian notes that he left $18 million — about two-thirds of his estate — to the college, endowing an English professorship, an English department scholarship, and maintenance of his archives at the college, as well as “supporting students and faculty studying languages and literature.” It’s a goal that I hope to emulate one day. Of course, first I have to get something written that will make me a few million dollars. Mine would be the Darrel Plant Anti-Poetry Endowment.

I remember that Eddings got his start in fantasy in the early 1980s while I was still working in a genre bookstore. Looking back at his biography and chronology gives me some hope; Pawn of Prophecy and Queen of Sorcery, the initial two books in his Belgariad series were published in 1982, when he was about 50 years old. That still gives me a couple of years yet to get off my ass.

Live From the Era of Letraset Type

Flyer for the 1983 EUCON science fiction convention in Eugene, Oregon

It’s May, which means that spring cleaning is well underway. It also means that it’s the anniversary of my first venture into entrepreneurship, which was a science fiction convention in Eugene at the then-new Hilton Hotel (I made the arrangements while the hotel was still under construction).

My title for the conference was “Sgt. Preston of the Eucon,” and I rented a Mountie costume for the weekend. We flew in (at considerable expense for those days) Spider Robinson, to continue with a sort of Canadian theme (although that wasn’t the reason; he was one of my favorites at the time and he hadn’t made a lot of appearances on the West Coast; he just happened to be living in Nova Scotia at the time). The brother-in-law of a friend did the illustration of a guy in a spacesuit driving a team of spacesuited dogs, and we were off (Marcel would later do the artwork for my equally successful play-by-mail game venture: GANGLORD. Par for my course, the business plan stank but the artwork was great.)

I don’t remember much about that weekend myself. I do know we (rather, I) ended up severely in hock and had to get my folks to bail me out. The amount wasn’t large by today’s standards, but considering that this was the depth of the Reagan Recession (how’s that for perfect timing on my part?) and that I was laid off from my meagrely-paid bookselling job about that time, it seemed insurmountable. Then, of course, naivete and inexperience at planning for security led to someone walking away with a few pieces of art from the art show one night. That’s what I remember.

Eucon for me only ran for one year. One of the local bookstore owners made a go of it a few years later, the name was also used by a game convention in Eugene, and I really hadn’t thought about it until I ran across the flyer, which I’d apparently used as scrap paper and stuffed in a box sometime before I moved to Portland in 1987.

Still, I got a thrill when I looked online for any mention of the convention and found this at Antiqbook: Europe’s Premier Antiquarian Booksite:

Booknumber: 004249
(ROBINSON, SPIDER [GUEST OF HONOR], JOHN VARLEY, KATE WILHELM, DAMON KNIGHT [GUESTS]) – (Program Book for) Eucon 1 (One), 1983, Eugene, or (Riddle Night at Callahan’s Place)

Eugene, OR: Willamette Science Fiction Productions. 1983, 1st Edition, 1st Printing. Booklet. 11 pages, stapled, oversize booklet with interesting stuff about this short-lived convention. Includes a riddle game by Spider Robinson (see title above). I got it new at the convention in 1983; nearly as new with just a little back cover wrinkling, one tiny corner crease. NO stamps or alien writing. Near Fine. Near Fine.
USD 20.00 [Appr.: EURO 15.5 | £UK 13.75 | JP¥ 1961]

I’m pretty sure I produced all of the printed material for the conference myself. There wasn’t exactly a staff with the capability to do layout and print prep; it was just me, Valery King, and a few other folks. A “riddle game by Spider Robinson”? I don’t remember that at all.

April Is the Cruelest Nerd Month

Via Jeff LaMarche (co-author of Beginning iPhone Development) I heard of the death of Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons.

It’s been a long, long time since I played D&D but news like that really takes me back in a way that’s difficult to describe. This month also means it’s been thirty years since my first-ever professional publication, in The Dragon, the official D&D magazine. That’s a lot of nerd-years.

Romance Revolution

I’ve been doing a tiny bit of voice work for one of Phillip Kerman’s projects, and it’s reminded me of how much I really enjoyed reading things out loud.

Back in the mid-’80s, I did a brief volunteer stint as a night-time DJ at KRVM, an FM station owned by the 4J school district in Eugene, something that I wasn’t able to capitalize on once I’d moved to Portland. A vocal habit I did manage to bring with me, though, was something I’d started doing while unpacking boxes for Himber’s Books, though, which was reading the overheated prose from cover blurbs of romance novels for the entertainment (I hope) of some of my co-workers.

When I moved to Portland and went to work at Powell’s, I started off restocking the Popular Fiction section, which was basically the fiction bestsellers that you’d find in your local grocery or Fred Meyer: thrillers, suspense, and romance. Tom Clancy, Ken Follett, Danielle Steel, Barbara Taylor Bradford: that was my stuff. It wasn’t a section that got a lot of respect from most of the other employees, but despite it’s relatively small size compared to the Literature section, it moved stock.

Apparently, other people thought it was a good idea, because before a year was out, Diana Tuttle — who ran the Gold Room (pop fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, mysteries) and was my immediate supervisor — had collaborated with Anne Hughes in the Coffee Room to organize a Valentine’s romance reading. There was a drawing for a romantic weekend at the coast, chocolates on the chairs, and we ended up with a couple hundred spectators as Diana, Anne, local actress Vana O’Brien, and others read blurbs and sections of romances that they’d done an amazing amount of research to find, including one about a woman cross-dressing as a Union soldier who gets captured. All I remember is that when I was reading, with all the people crammed into the Coffee Room, it felt like the glass windows got awfully steamy and the air was moist and heavy.

This a picture from 1988, with me, Anne Hughes standing next to me, Vana O’Brien next to her, and Diana Tuttle second from the right.

Powell's Books/Anne Hughes Coffee Shop Velentine's Romance Reading, 15 February 1988

The book I’m holding is a history of the romance novel: The Romance Revolution: Erotic Novels and the Quest for a New Sexual Identity by Carol Thurston.

Tidbits

The little things you realize when you’re reading. Just an aside in a New York Review of Books look at several recent volumes on George Orwell:

Given that he died at the age of forty-six, it’s scary to imagine the crustiness that might have set in had he reached pensionable age.

I’m already forty-seven, a year older than crusty old George Orwell was when he was dead.

The Dark Place

I enjoyed the film adaptation of Sergei Lukyanenko’s decade-old Russian fantasy novel Night Watch (Дневной дозор) last evening. Some great visual effects and a pretty good English-language dub (for people who don’t like to read subtitles), although the storyline’s a little disjointed. An intriguing take on the typical vampires-in-modern-times kind of story, as it’s set in Moscow.

But I really got a kick out of this excerpt from the original book’s review by Ron Charles of The Washington Post:

In each of the novel’s three sections, Anton struggles through a torturous crisis of faith that leads up to a climactic confrontation with the forces of Evil, only to realize in the final paragraphs that his boss, a Great Magician of the Light, has planned the whole thing as a decoy to distract everyone (including us) from some secret plan off-stage. The trick ending of the first section was fairly clever; the trick ending of the second section was a little annoying; and by the end of the third, I wanted to shove somebody’s magic wand up the Dark Place.

Write, Baby, Write!

Governor Sarah Palin may be getting $7 million for her presumably forthcoming book, but I hope the eventual publisher has set aside a chunk for whoever’s going to have to edit that baby.

“We realize that more and more Americans are starting to see the light there and understand the contrast. And we talk a lot about, OK, we’re confident that we’re going to win on Tuesday, so from there, the first 100 days, how are we going to kick in the plan that will get this economy back on the right track and really shore up the strategies that we need over in Iraq and Iran to win these wars?”

Sarah Palin, suggesting we are at war with Iran,
FOX News interview, Nov. 1, 2008

Crichton

I remember being enthralled by The Andromeda Strain when I first saw the movie as a kid. It’s one of those stories that hit me at an impressionable time, and in such a way that I remember it far better than other movies from the same era.

Despite being a big sci-fi fan though, I never read much of Michael Crichton‘s stuff. I watched the big movies like Jurassic Park, even picked up a used copy of his early Muslim warrior gone a-viking novel Eaters of the Dead: The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan Relating His Experiences with the Northmen in A.D. 922 (and laughed at Antonia Banderas’s performance as the title character in the movie adaptation: The 13th Warrior).

His later stuff, however, seemed to go off the rails. Just “wack” as the kids say. Like 2004’s State of Fear, in which “eco-terrorists” plan to break off a piece of the Antarctic ice shelf with explosives in order to create environmental crises that will enable them to keep raising funds on climate change. Enough explosives to break off huge chunks of ice? You could sell that stuff on the market to raise funds if you had it.

Still, sorry to hear of his death, for old times’ sake.