Saturday, June 29, 2013

Magnificent Bastard

It's been a rough week.

My stepfather Terry went into the hospital midweek. He was having a number of problems all related to his sense of smell getting messed up. Everything smelt, and eventually tasted, terrible. He didn't much eat or drink as a result, and he wasn't by any stretch a young man. All the stresses added up, and before a couple of days had passed, his body gave out. He died very early on Thursday morning, when the sky was just getting light and raindrops were on his hospital room window. It was a peaceful death--what a little mercy that is, as if it makes up for dying.

I had a good number of fathers and father figures over the years, and Terry was by any measure the best of them. My stepfather for a decade and a half, he was a profane, foul mouthed, dyed in the wool union man (the ILWU: International Longshore and Warehouse Union). He never had much time for (or liking of) reading, but he was proud that I was a writer. Mostly he fooled around with his Mustang (the longest love of his life, at more than 40 years) and fussed with his house, and both loved and annoyed my mother, as a good partner should. One of the first times I met him, when we had a moment alone, he shared a painfully funny story that is perhaps too dirty for common audiences, and so I'll leave it be except to say it was probably not the sort of thing you should tell your lady-friend's son on the second occasion of meeting him. (It didn't involve my mother at all, but rather an entirely different woman decades earlier.) It set the tone of our entire relationship, and it was wonderful.

The last couple of years, he was getting old. Actually old, not just in numbers. He was on a lot of different pills for this and that; he'd had a stroke; both of his shoulders were shot from years of hard work. He was, sad as it is to say, less than he had been. We all expected that he would continue on in his slightly cranky, slightly bemused way for a good number more years. That wasn't to be.

No matter what had happened, he still loved me fiercely, much more, I think, than my actual father ever did. And I loved him very much. He was a magnificent bastard, and I will miss him.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Rereads: Elric of Melnibone

When I was a youth, 99% of what I read was fantasy and science fiction. We didn't have the most money, so any such book that came into the house, I'd read over and over for years. In this occasional series, I take up some of those old and treasured titles and give them a read after fifteen or twenty years to see how I feel about them now.

Michael Moorcock is a British author, a bit of a strange fellow I gather, whose primary works are a great huge cluster of interconnected novels lumped together as The Eternal Champion series. The most famous set of them are the Elric novels, six books (later seven, and later even more,and now broken up into collections of stories, curiously) telling the story of an anti-hero, the non-human Emperor Elric who makes a bargain with an evil god in order to save the woman he loves that ends up costing him everything he ever cared about, and eventually his life. I read the original six book series so many times (in two volumes from the Science Fiction Book Club, if memory serves me right) probably eight or ten times, maybe more.

It's a slim little volume, clocking in at 180 pages (and all the rest roughly the same) which is why it came in omnibus editions at the time. The language is a mix of pulpy and baroque (is that a mix, or are they the same?) It's a surprisingly long and disjointed story for how short it is, with all sorts of curious action happening sometimes with good reasons and sometimes not. The story is thick with lurid descriptions and place names that have a lot of apostrophes. There's exactly one female character with any lines of dialogue, who is a clearer thinker than anyone else in the book, and yet is so helpless and hapless that it doesn't matter. Fearing that her brother (Elric's rival) will get up to shenannigans if he's left in charge for a while, she still refuses to take up the regency although she's obviously the best suited for it, and this only happens because she's a woman, and it's a pulp novel from the sixties, and so certainly she can't be in charge. Weird adventures happen only to be weird, not to further the plot. Everything is described as sardonic. Ancient histories are mentioned but make no sense. All in all, it's a bit of a mess on every level.

And yet, I still quite liked it. There's nostalgia in that, of course; but quite often we turn to something we loved as a young person and find it dreadful, so that's not all. Some parts of the book I remembered as clearly as if I'd read them only a year ago, instead of twenty years; other parts were surprising, and often in good ways. The writing, disjointed and overwrought as it is, still has quickness and fluidity; one couldn't stick as much plot as happens in a tiny little book if that wasn't the case. It's very easy to see how it influenced a generation of writers; the Targaryens from A Song of Ice and Fire owe considerable debt to the Melniboneans, for one thing, and a host of ideas I've had and worked on, and sometimes loved dearly, are clearly developed out of Moorcock's Elric saga.

Did I still love it? Well, maybe not. The glow of nostalgia did make the reread delightful, and it held up pretty well. But it was never my favorite Moorcock in any case (that would be Corum, which I might get to in time), and so love maybe is overstated. It was good enough, however, that I'll probably end up searching out the rest of the volumes in used bookstores, seeing what I've gotten jumbled up, how much I've forgotten and how much I remember.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Risings

To the right, you will notice a bar with a progress meter in it. That's tied to my current WiP, a fantasy novel called The Risings about a rebellion in a conquered city. The word count goal is just an estimate; I have no idea if it will be that long, or even within 30000 words of it in either direction. It's got a lot of PoV characters, maybe too many, but we'll see who ends up being essential and who can slip away. Some will do that, I'm sure, as I'm sitting at about a dozen currently, and that's an unwieldy amount for one book, most often. Anyway, I mean to update the word count as it increases, as a way of tracking myself if nothing else.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bookstores Found and Lost

This weekend I went on a trip down to my old stomping grounds in West Seattle to see an old friend perform with her bell choir. I grew up there, in the seventies and eighties, when it was (even more than it is now) effectively a small town symbiotically attached to Seattle proper. My whole childhood was spent in that enclave across the river from the greater city, seldom coming over, and it was a world all its own. I have no idea if this was true, but to my recollection there was only one bookstore in West Seattle: Pegasus Book Exchange.
I'm not sure how old the store is. Certainly it was there the first time I walked by, when I was maybe ten or eleven years old, and bought something, assuredly. It was a couple miles from my house, in the Junction, which was the business district of West Seattle, and I recall it as a mostly new books bookstore, though now, it is an almost entirely used book store. I didn't expect to be passing by it, and I was on my way to the performance, and so I didn't really think I'd stop in.
Of course, I did. Not just because I had a few minutes extra time to spend, but because as far as I can recall it was my first bookstore, the first place I went to that was full of books, and where I spent money buying a book. Grocery stores, convenience stores, Frederick & Nelson downtown, I'd bought books those places, or so my questionable memory suggests, but Pegasus was the first pure bookstore I went to. I never went there very often--it was two miles from my house, as I mentioned, and I never learned to ride a bike so that was a decent distance--but I did go when the weather was nice (not often, it was Seattle) now and again, until we moved a few years later.
It's a nice little store. I browsed for a few minutes and bought a used copy of Elric of Melnibone, the first book of Michael Moorcock's Elric series. I read and devoured those books repeatedly when I was younger. I loved them so much. I haven't touched them in at least fifteen years, though, but the book leapt out at me as something I used to be so very fond of, so I bought it, stuck it in my back pocket, and moved on.
Today, walking around my current neighborhood, I sauntered past the now empty Capitol Hill branch of Half Price Books. I'm not a huge fan of Half Price, though I've shopped there (it's a bookstore, after all) but this was until two weeks ago the closest bookstore to my house, at three blocks distance. It was a huge old ramshackle building on a side street with parking lot that fronted a more major street but wasn't easily identified with the slightly offset store itself. So I think that's why it went away: too much rent for the big building and the parking lot, too little visibility.
I bought a few books there over the last couple years, the time I lived near it. Mostly bargain stuff from their big tables, because you could find some good stuff there, and I have little patience for searching through their endless shelves of used books to try to discover some hidden treasure. I know that's a joy for some people, but not something I've ever much loved; it was only in the last half dozen years I'd even look at a used book. Some of that hesitancy lingers with me still, and so I don't search through the shelves all that much.
It's a sad thing, a big empty store. They sold off their fixtures, too, so it's just a hollow space with a few scraps on the floor and one or two shelves waiting to be picked up. There were a couple or three dozen employees, and I wonder how many of them got shifted to other branches, and how many are just out of jobs. Some of them, I suppose, had to give up a life they loved, of selling books and buying them, of living surrounded by dusty tomes and stacks of last year's bestsellers and other people who were into the exact sorts of things they were.
While I was walking by, a car pulled up and the driver climbed out and leaned over to read one of the closed signs they'd left in the windows. He sighed and turned, got back in his car and drove off. Occasional customer, he must have been; they'd been very clear about the store closing for a couple of months before it did. Was he just coming by to look at the mysteries, maybe, or did he have a particular errand that he had to get taken of today? No way to know.
No one can say why a particular book store survives, or dies; why it lingers ever dwindling for two decades or goes out when it seemed to be doing fine. I can just say I was pretty happy to realize Pegasus was still there, when I'd not seen them more than a decade, and that I was only abstractly saddened by the loss of Half Price, even though I'd been there just a few weeks before they closed, and went even on the closing weekend, and sort of know a couple of employees. So maybe that has something to do with it, I guess.