Ursula K. LeGuin
As I load the wooden bookshelf into the back of the car I am thinking not about my attainment of a convenient storage area for my vintage sci fi pocket book collection, but everything I am losing. I am losing a part-time job, a tradition, a hobby and most importantly a very precious piece of human culture. It is the final day this used book store is in business. The store was special to me not only because the owner is a friend of mine, but I came upon the store and him the old-fashioned way: by being a regular customer. Once the shelf is strapped into the trunk of the car, I go back inside to collect my pile of books that had been gathering dust for months behind the counter. I look at all the people with piles of books in their arms who were lured in by the “ALL BOOKS $1” sign in the window. “This is what a normal Saturday used to look like” grumbles Tim, the owner.
There are the customers who care. The ones who give their condolences and agree with how terrifying a future we have coming for us. These small exchanges of grief inspired me to look into the phenomenon of closing bookstores across America. Of course some of the blame can be placed on things like Amazon, the Kindle and the iPad, but I believe there is something else going on. I sifted through articles and blogs dedicated to the apocalyptic images under titles like “Depressing photos of closed bookstores”. I finally come across an article from The Telegraph UK simply titled “50 Shades of Grey is best-selling book of all time”. Coincidence? Definitely not.
The recovering conspiracy theorist in me is pushing the “the government is injecting ‘dumb’ through preservatives in our food and sprinkling ‘dumb dust’ into our air through the chem trails in the sky" -thoughts deep into the recess of my mind because, well no. NO! I laugh at my next thought that the apocalypse really is set for 2012 after all; it’s an apocalypse on our minds! I’ve been reading too much science fiction. Even in those stories this stuff doesn’t go down for at least another 60 years. I calm myself, turn on Coast to Coast AM, allow George Noory’s deep soothing voice to carry me to sleep.
The next morning I get on the subway to go to my other job. This job is in the opposite end of the city and I enjoy my morning subway ride for reading. I am reading Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. The story takes place in 2075 and people have colonized the Moon. “Pft, big deal”, I think. “The Netherlands is already planning a colonization of Mars…" Suddenly things like mind-control and "dumb dust" don’t seem so far-fetched. I rest Heinlein on my lap and look around at my fellow homo sapiens. One grown woman is reading a book in the "Twilight" series, another reading "The Hunger Games" (Ok, I’ll admit that I saw the movie and enjoyed it). I look away and an advertisement for "The hottest new steamy vampire series" catches my eye. WHY ARE ADULTS ALL READING BOOKS WRITTEN FOR TWEENS? The fear is growing inside me. "Is that person drooling on himself?" I imagine my fellow underground travelers as half-wit alien-zombies all staring at me drooling over my "bwaaaainz". The train stops at a station and I notice a poster for TLC (I’ll remind you that stands for "The Learning Channel") advertising their new fall line-up of programs like "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" and "Extreme Couponing". I think about how that colony on Mars doesn’t seem like such a bad option. My children could be "Martians"!
The next day there is a robot on Mars. I watch the computerized re-inactment of the landing. At least there are still bwaaaainz who can come up with that. That shit is crazy! It’s only most of us humans who have infected brains. Enough to put used bookstores out of business, enough to keep “50 Shades of Grey” at the top of the best seller list, enough to have fights over the rights to turn it into a film trilogy or a television series. Because the books aren’t enough; books are never enough anymore.
I am not trying to brag about how smart I am and how dumb everyone else is. I am not that smart. That’s what scares me. I smoked a bit too much weed in high school (which may or may not have a lot to do with my paranoia), I have the memory of a slug. I am a university drop-out with an overactive imagination. Or is it? Am I drawn to science fiction and fantasy because I can so easily relate it to the world around me, or am I drawn to it for the same reason I loved smoking pot in high school or the “dumb dusters” are drawn to poorly written young adult fiction: because it’s a simple escape from reality? I believe it is a bit of both. That is where people with bwaaaainz enough are set apart from the rest: by the ability to compare these stories with the world around them and realize that Katniss Everdeen’s dystopian life is a lot more realistic than it seems, and also to understand that it’s not an original story in the first place (see Koushun Takami’s “Battle Royale”). The zombies are in power and they are raging war on our brains. It’s time to put our flame throwers, ray guns, arrows and light sabers together and fight them.
Guys, I’m the worst. I haven’t done anything here in months. My pile of paperbacks to scan is most literally out of this world. In the meantime, I did make some sexy sci-fi collages.
I splurged a little bit yesterday at the bookstore I work for on this beautiful 1st DAW printing of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. Dick, drugs and Bob Pepper! How could I not?
Richard Powers was an artist to really make a shift in the SF cover art world in the early 1950’s by introducing a more surrealist look to the genre. Previously, the representation of spacecraft/spacemen/monsters on book covers was pulpy and very literal. Powers’ work isn’t necessarily always recognizable. During his extensive career (ranging from the 1950’s to the 1990’s) he played with many different styles including collage, comic illustration, woodcut, and watercolor. Powers reigned as Ballantine’s SF Art Director during the 1950’s and 60’s with total control of everything from spacing to wording on both front and back covers.
The TIFF Lightbox Theatre in Toronto is currently holding a retrospective on Soviet Sci-Fi films from the Cold War era. Some friends and I took a day to attend Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) and later, Stalker (1979). The retrospective is going on until April. I highly recommend you check it out if you’re in the Toronto area. If not, go rent Stalker.
David Pelham is one of the most instantly recognizable S.F. artists out there. He spent several years as Art Director for Harper’s Bazaar before carrying the same title to Penguin in 1968 for over a decade. On this move, he is quoted as saying “The fashion collections in Paris became very boring”. His iconic A Clockwork Orange cover (this version from 1982, revised from his original 1972 version) is probably his most famous piece.