Collect Them All!

As of Wednesday of last week, I have now visited all fifty U.S. states. Here’s the complete list with the occasion for visiting that I best remember. It may not be the first visit, or the most recent; it’s just the one that comes to mind when I think of that state:

Alabama: Guest at SF convention in Huntsville.
Alaska: Cruise vacation in 2010.
Arizona: Vacationed in Scottsdale to attend several Spring Training baseball games.
Arkansas: Vacationed in Horseshoe Bend when Julie’s job was being really stressful and we needed somewhere quiet.
California: Attended the San Diego ComiCon a couple of times, among many other visits.
Colorado: World Science Fiction Convention in Denver.
Connecticut: Lived in New Haven one summer as a kid, when my father was on sabbatical and doing research at Yale.
Delaware: Day trips to Rehoboth Beach.
Florida: Disney World, Key West, other vacation destinations.
Georgia: Multiple conventions in Atlanta.
Hawaii: Two-week vacation celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary in 2017.
Idaho: Drove through it last week on the way to Seattle. Stopped in Coeur d’Alene for fuel and snacks.
Illinois: Chicago World Science Fiction Conventions, 1982, 1991, and 2000.
Indiana: Drove through it repeatedly on the way to Iowa or Illinois or Wisconsin; ate meals, bought gas, and I think I spent a night in a motel there once.
Iowa: Our daughter went to Drake University, so we visited Des Moines for orientation, graduation, etc.
Kansas: Was hired to speak to the librarians of Johnson County as part of their annual training session.
Kentucky: Lived there for nine years, in Fayette and Clark counties.
Louisiana: World Science Fiction Convention in New Orleans, 1988.
Maine: Honeymooned there in 1977.
Maryland: Lived there, 1986-2018.
Massachusetts: Born and raised there.
Michigan: Writer guest at a gaming convention.
Minnesota: Drove through it last week. Made a stop or two.
Mississippi: Guest at an SF convention in Biloxi.
Missouri: Vacationed in Branson.
Montana: Drove through it last week; stayed the night in Billings.
Nebraska: Drove almost the full length of the state delivering Julian to grad school in Boulder, CO. Ate lunch in Lincoln.
Nevada: Las Vegas, 2018.
New Hampshire: Many drives and vacations with family.
New Jersey: Attended Princeton University.
New Mexico: Day trip to Santa Fe when we were vacationing in Pagosa Springs, CO.
New York: The World’s Fair, 1965.
North Carolina: Owned a timeshare on the beach in Duck.
North Dakota: Rode the Empire Builder through, made a couple of brief stops.
Ohio: Watched the Cincinnati Reds play at Riverfront Stadium.
Oklahoma: Guest at an SF convention in Tulsa.
Oregon: Visited Portland to see friends and consider it as a retirement possibility.
Pennsylvania: Lived in Pittsburgh, 1974-1977.
Rhode Island: Toured Newport’s “cottages” on a brief vacation.
South Carolina: Port call in Charleston on a cruise in 1998.
South Dakota: Drove through it last week with stops at Wall Drug and Mount Rushmore.
Tennessee: Knoxville World’s Fair, 1982; Nashville vacation, 2017.
Texas: Visited Julie’s retired parents in Weslaco.
Utah: Visited Zion National Park on vacation.
Vermont: Summer camp, 1965.
Virginia: Vacationed at Colonial Williamsburg.
Washington: Visited Seattle in 2010 and 2016.
West Virginia: Went camping there. Also guest of honor at Munchcon, a convention at Marshall University.
Wisconsin: Visited Milwaukee a couple of times, once for a vacation and once as a convention guest.
Wyoming: Drove through it last week, admiring the scenery.

Divide and Conquer

Many years ago I got tired of dealing with ordinary comic book storage boxes, especially after some minor flooding in the room where I stored a lot of mine. I built myself a great big waterproof box that held a significant portion of my collections, as seen in the picture here, and set it up on some shelving: The Comic Book Box

(That picture was taken when I was in the middle of emptying it. Notice that it even had a Masonite lid I could set on top — that’s what’s behind it, against the wall, in the picture.)

It was useful. I overflowed it almost immediately, of course, but it definitely helped keep everything in order and manageable.

In 2009 we moved from Gaithersburg to Takoma Park, and I sold off 12,000 of my 14,000 comics, and once again the box could hold most (but not all) of my collection. It was equivalent, I eventually figured out, to about nine standard long boxes.

Then this year, 2018, we started preparing to move again, but this time we’re going across the continent instead of across Montgomery County, and we expect to wind up in a much smaller home. So I had to prune the collection again, and sold off four long boxes, and trashed a few that were seriously damaged.

That actually got us to the point where I could fit all my comic books in the box and even have a little space left (maybe half a slot).

But it also brought up the question of what to do with the box. Taking it with us didn’t seem very practical. Julie didn’t even want to consider keeping it, and I had to admit she had a point.

So I started talking to people I thought might be able to use it. My local comics shop didn’t want it; they already had enough storage. They asked a few customers, but no one was interested. We talked to some neighbors, but got no takers. It was just too big and awkward for most comic collectors.

But I had an inspiration. If I stood it on end, it could be a bookcase!

The only problem was that it would be eight feet tall, and since most people have eight-foot ceilings, or less, that was an issue.

But then I had what I think was a really clever idea.

I cut it in half, and had two four-foot bookcases, with shelves exactly the right height for paperbacks. See?


Of course, they’re kind of deep, but that just means you can shelve books two rows deep and still have a little room in front for knicknacks. One End

Now that it’s a pair of fairly normal bookcases, it’s much easier to re-home. If we don’t find anyone who wants them, we can just donate them as if they were ordinary furniture.

Problem solved! And my comics are (at least for now) back in standard boxes, ready to be shipped to the west coast.

Meet the Authors!

I don’t know whether anyone actually reads this; that last post, about audiobooks, got absolutely zero reaction. But I’ll go on posting, if only for my own amusement.

I’m cleaning my office to get it tidy enough to be seen by prospective buyers, and this has meant turning up lots of long-forgotten memorabilia. (Yes, I recognize the inherent conflict in “forgotten memorabilia.”) Some of these items resulted in a rush of nostalgia, a flood of fond memories.Meet the Authors!

Other items brought me to say, “What the heck was that about?”

In this latter category is a flyer for a “Meet the Authors!” event at the Winchester Public Library some long-ago April. Winchester is the county seat of Clark County, Kentucky, where we lived from 1983 to 1986, so presumably this event occurred in that time period.

I don’t remember it at all.

There were three authors scheduled to appear, quite likely the only three who lived in Clark County: R. Gerald Alvey, author of Dulcimer Maker: The Craft of Homer Ledford; A. Goff Bedford, author of The Proud Land: A History of Clark County, Kentucky; and me, author of, it says here, several fantasy novels.

Also in attendance: Homer Ledford, the subject of Mr. Alvey’s book, playing dulcimer.

I have attended many local book fairs of one sort or another, but honestly, I don’t know why; they’re never my natural audience. Whether it’s as small-scale as the Takoma Park book fair held every year in a church basement, or as large as the Kentucky State Book Fair that took over the armory in Frankfort one year, I’m always out of place at such events, wasting my time by participating.

Local book fairs don’t attract people interested in books; those folks go to bookstores. They attract people interested in the place holding the event. Messrs. Alvey and Bedford and Ledford presumably drew crowds who wanted to learn more about their own little corner of the world: Clark County, home to a famous dulcimer-maker. Someone writing about fantasy worlds, wizards, and dragons was utterly out of place.

At the Kentucky State Book Fair the writers who had brought illustrated volumes about Kentucky’s landscapes or Kentucky’s horses or Kentucky’s role in the War Between the States drew enthusiastic crowds, while I sat there bored and ignored, chatting in a desultory fashion with the almost equally bored poet in the next seat. No one knew what to make of us; we lived in Kentucky, but our books weren’t about Kentucky.

In Gaithersburg or Takoma Park the crowds (such as there were) weren’t quite so parochial; since both cities are in the suburban portions of Greater Washington, books about politics or American history in general were greeted with some enthusiasm. Even a murder mystery or historical novel might garner some attention. But fantasy? No.

Even when I tried to focus heavily on One-Eyed Jack, a horror/dark fantasy novel whose protagonist lives in on Maple Avenue in Takoma Park, at a Takoma Park Book Fair, no one was interested. Too weird.

So I no longer do book fairs, or bookstore signings. Why waste everyone’s time?

And this flyer for the Winchester event is going in the recycling bin, not moving on to our next home with us.

Dark Universe (not the old Daniel Galouye novel)

I was reading an article about how the recent “The Mummy” movie was intended to be the start of a “Dark Universe” franchise at Universal, reimagining all their classic horror icons from the 1930s. Only “The Mummy” was neither good nor successful, which put a crimp in their plans.

I started thinking about what they’d done wrong (a lot), and telling my wife how I’d have launched a “Dark Universe” series of movies if I ran Universal.

And I couldn’t stop thinking about it; I worked out the supporting cast for my remake of “Frankenstein,” the family histories for the new “Dracula,” etc.

And then I realized that while Universal owns their versions, all these properties are actually in the public domain, so I could write my Frankenstein story if I wanted, or my Dracula story, or my mummy or wolfman. As novels, since I don’t have a movie studio at my beck and call.

But the last thing I want right now is another open-ended writing project.

If anyone’s interested, though, I could post some of what I had worked out.

Trailer Park Again

Went to see Thor: Ragnarok, which was big and loud and lots of fun; Cate Blanchett makes a great death goddess, and the art department was respectfully faithful to Kirby’s visuals. The friend I went with pronounced it “the stupidest movie I ever saw,” which demonstrates two things: You can’t please everyone, and he hasn’t seen many movies. It wasn’t particularly dumb. (It was his first Marvel movie. His kids had dragged him to it.)

However, this post isn’t about the feature, but about the seven trailers that accompanied it. (Yes, seven seems to be the new standard.)

First, let me remark that all seven were annoyingly loud. If the feature had been that loud I might have walked out, but fortunately it wasn’t even close. And I’m old enough that (a) my hearing isn’t as sensitive as it used to be, and (b) I spent part of my youth listening to really loud music. (b. may be partly responsible for a. Particularly a Jefferson Airplane concert in 1969; it took days before I could hear clearly with my right ear after that.)

So, the trailers: First up was Black Panther, which, like Ragnarok, looks big and loud and visually stunning. The trailer was very choppy, edited into virtual incomprehensibility, just coherent enough to convey, “There’s this young king and lots of high tech and big cities and African imagery.” Since I’m familiar with the history of T’Challa, king of Wakanda, from the comic books I could make sense of a lot of it, but if I weren’t already a Marvel fan I think I’d have found it more off-putting than appealing. I hope to see the film when it hits the theaters because at this point Marvel’s track record is really impressive.

I’d already seen the latest trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi online, but it was cool to see it on the big screen. Of course I want to see it.

The New Mutants looks as if they’re remaking X-Men as a horror film, with a bunch of young mutants trapped in a haunted house/hospital. I hope that’s misleading.

Pacific Rim: Uprising was covered in my previous blog post, though I think this might have been a different trailer. Or not; I’m not sure. If so, it wasn’t all that different. I did notice this time that there seem to be robot-on-robot battles as well as kaiju vs. robot fights, which leaves me wondering about the storyline.

The trailer for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was the first time I’ve seen anything about the film that communicated more of the premise than, “It’s a sequel to ‘Jumanji’!” It seems that the board game from the previous movie has mutated into a video game, and four people get sucked into it, into the game’s four player-characters — which do not correspond all that well to their real-world selves. It’s a different premise than the game intruding into the real world, but it looks as if it could be fun, and it’s well-cast, so I’m tempted. We’ll see what the buzz is once it’s released.

Downsizing looks a bit weird. It’s science fiction comedy — or science fantasy, if you want to get picky. In the not-too-distant future a way of permanently and irreversibly shrinking people is developed, and “downsized” people are able to live very cheaply because they require far fewer resources — less food, less space, etc. People volunteer so they can live in relative luxury in downsized communities. Our protagonist and his wife sign up — and then our guy wakes up five inches tall, only to find his wife chickened out at the last minute. This trailer was the first I’d heard of it, but it looks decent. Comedy is so idiosyncratic, though.

12 Strong is the only one of the seven that’s not fantasy of some sort — except that it’s a Jerry Bruckheimer film. It claims to be a true story, and my companion remarked that “‘Jerry Bruckheimer’ and ‘true story’ do not belong in the same sentence.” So it may be fantasy in that sense. Mostly, though, it’s about twelve Americans sent to fight in Afghanistan in September 2001, before the U.S. had time to mount a serious war effort. It’s very hard to judge how good it is; about all you can say is, “It’s a war movie.” I’m not fond of war movies, so I’ll pass. It doesn’t look terrible, though.

You know, there are so many new SF/fantasy/superhero movies coming out these days I can’t keep up. It’s overwhelming. I remember when one big-budget SF movie was a good year! Nowadays my only complaint is that I don’t get to half of them.

And this batch of seven — I definitely want to see two, and four more look promising, which is a much better average than usual. Good stuff is coming!

Trailer Park

We went to see Blade Runner 2049 (which we liked, but I can see how not everyone would), and saw seven trailers (and a Coke ad) before the feature:

Ready Player One does not interest me. I liked playing 1980s video games, but I don’t look back on them with nostalgia, and the dystopic future doesn’t look interesting or believable to me, so… not for me, unless the word of mouth is amazing.

I’m not especially fond of disaster films of the subcategory “weather run wild,” but at least Geostorm seems to have an interesting backstory for its storms, in the form of saboteurs/hackers/hostile powers subverting a weather control system, rather than just saying Mother Nature’s gone mad (or humanity has ignored warning signs and brought an ice age/superstorm/earthquake/volcano about). I’ll still probably pass unless our friends love it.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is the third film in a series where I didn’t see the first two, so I won’t be paying to see it. Julian tells me the first one’s pretty good, the second not so much, so I wouldn’t expect too much of the third.

Pacific Rim: Uprising I might actually want to see. I enjoyed the first one — giant robots fighting monsters with some drama among the robot operators, what’s not to like? It wasn’t exactly brilliant cinematic art, but I had fun watching it, and if this sequel has any decent buzz I’d like to check it out.

Why did they remake Death Wish? Who thought that was a good idea in today’s political and social climate? Admittedly, getting Bruce Willis for the Charles Bronson role was a very good choice, but I still have severe reservations about the whole concept. I confess I never saw the original, and I don’t go to a lot of crime movies these days, so I probably won’t see this one, either.

I had never heard of Annihilation before, but it looks interesting. The trailer showed us some very surreal, dreamlike landscapes with cool stuff happening in them. Natalie Portman stars. This is one I’ll keep an eye on.

And… I don’t remember the seventh (I always keep count, but don’t note titles), which is not a good sign.

You will notice that this list is all dark stuff, mostly dystopian futures. I don’t suppose they thought people coming to see Blade Runner were likely to be interested in romantic comedies, but there was a certain unappealing sameness to this string.

[Flashback] I’m an expert?

Okay, I think this really is the last one. It’s from January 7, 2006:

I hate being cited as an authority.

I love passing on odd bits of information, but it creeps me out when I see them turn up in reference works without any real authentication.

What brings this to mind is the Wikipedia entry on Lester del Rey, which gives his real name as Leonard Knapp.

Mind you, I honestly and sincerely think it was Leonard Knapp, but I would not state that as a fact, without qualification, if I were writing the Wikipedia entry. And yes, I’m apparently the source for that datum, as someone e-mailed me to verify it.

Note: Someone has since verified it through his sister, invalidating my complaint, but in 2006 they hadn’t done that yet.

But the verification was just, “How sure are you of that?” and my reply was, “Pretty sure.” No attempt to contact any of Lester’s old friends or legal contacts.

The way this came about: I started corresponding with Lester del Rey in May 1979, when he accepted my first novel, and back in those pre-net days I was an obsessive letter-writer, so the correspondence covered a lot more than business. I met Lester and Judy-Lynn in 1982, hung out with them a few times before Judy-Lynn’s death in 1986, talked to them on the phone, but we weren’t close friends or anything.

A couple of months after Lester died in 1993 I got a phone call from someone who gave his identity as the lawyer representing Lester’s estate. I don’t remember his name, unfortunately. Anyway, he said he was trying to track down any potential heirs, and told me that Lester’s story about having been born Ramon Alvarez, which I already seriously doubted, was bullshit from the word “go,” that his birth name had been Leonard Knapp.

This struck me as entirely plausible, and I’ve repeated it as fact since then — but I don’t actually know it’s true. I don’t know the guy was really the estate’s lawyer; I took his word for it. I don’t know he wasn’t bullshitting me just as much as Lester always had. I have no proof, no evidence except one unrecorded phone call.

I’ve also been cited as an authority on comic-book artist William Ekgren’s background, but that’s entirely based on an e-mail I got from a Swedish woman wanting to know whether the comic book artist I’d mentioned in an article was the same guy as her uncle William, an artist who’d gone to New York for a few years in the late forties/early fifties to make his name in the art world, failed, and come home. I said I didn’t know, but the times matched and the styles matched, so it was probably him.

Now I find myself being cited as the expert who identified the comic book guy as the fine artist.

I was once cited on WPRB radio as having explained the way all of Jim Morrison’s songs fitted together into a single huge suite, the implication being that I had some sort of secret inside information, when actually I’d made the whole thing up while drunk and hadn’t realized this idiot disk jockey was listening and taking me seriously.

(Years later, Patricia Kenneally, the woman who claims to be Jim Morrison’s widow but couldn’t produce a marriage license and lost out to Morrison’s parents in court, told me I had part of it right but that it was mostly bullshit — Morrison was never that organized.)

I hate this. Haven’t any of these people ever heard of things like “corroboration,” “confirmation,” “fact-checking,” “documentation,” or even “evidence”?

At least the Wikipedia article doesn’t name me as the source.

[Flashback] Guy Stuff

Okay, I said I was finished with my old newsgroup, and I am, but I’ve found a few things from other defunct newsgroups I wanted to preserve here. This one is from a private newsgroup, originally posted September 30, 2012.

Back in July, right around my birthday, I started getting mysterious packages in the mail. Someone had signed me up for a cosmetics trial offer, the Book of the Month Club, the North American Hunting Club, and several magazine subscriptions.

The cosmetics I returned — the first two packages included return labels, and the other two I didn’t open, I marked them “Refused, return to sender.” The books — I contacted BOMC and explained the situation, and they said to just keep the books, it wasn’t worth the postage to ship ’em back. The hunting people have been a pain in the ass — they won’t cancel my membership or take anything back unless I provide a membership number, name and address isn’t sufficient, and the only package from them I opened (it didn’t say who it was from on the outside) didn’t have a membership number. It’s probably in one of the subsequent mailings, but I haven’t yet gotten around to looking.

The magazines started showing up at various times, starting in July but at least one didn’t show up until September — hell, there may be more yet to come. So far, I’m receiving Yachting, ESPN the Magazine, Chevy High Performance, and Forbes. Oh, and North American Hunter, which comes with the club membership — which is apparently a lifetime membership, if I read one as-yet-unopened envelope correctly.

I’m not going to bother cancelling the magazine subscriptions — even assuming it’s possible, why should I? It’s easy enough to just trash ’em if I don’t feel like reading them, and I’ve had fun glancing through some of them. Whoever signed me up probably used surplus airline miles or something; I haven’t gotten any bills.

Anyway, when this first started, I had no idea what was going on, and was worried that it was some sort of attack. I noticed that a couple of items said stuff had been charged to “my” American Express card, so I checked both my AmEx accounts. (I have a lot of credit cards — I’m perfectly willing to take sign-up bonuses, then just toss the card in a drawer and let it sit until they cancel my account for non-use. Except some of them never cancel, so I have some accounts I have literally never used since the original sign-up purchase that are still open after twenty years or more. Two of those are AmEx.) No charges. Then I noticed that the BOMC slip gave the last four digits of the AmEx card, and they don’t match any of mine.

I put an alert on my credit reports anyway, just in case.

But as time passed, and nothing bad happened, I began wondering whether this was someone’s idea of a surprise birthday present. I now think that’s the most likely explanation, as everything started arriving the week of my birthday.

If it was any of you guys, this would be a good time to ‘fess up.

Anyway, whoever it was turns out to have done a favor for Our Boys in Uniform. A friend’s son-in-law is currently commanding a small outpost in the ass end of nowhere in Afghanistan, and his mother-in-law is putting together care packages — non-perishable snacks (we donated a package of jerky and a bag of mixed nuts), and stuff to read. “Guy stuff,” she said.

So I donated the three issues of Chevy High Performance, an issue each of ESPN and N.A. Hunter (I’ve only received two of each so far and I’d already tossed one of each), and a random copy of Guitar Player Julie had picked up somewhere. I didn’t really think Yachting or Forbes would go over all that well with a dozen enlisted men, so I kept those.

I hope some of the guys will enjoy them.

Incidentally, I did glance through everything before disposing of it. You need to be a serious fan of Chevy muscle cars to care about anything in Chevy High Performance — it’s in the running for “most boring magazine I ever saw” — but maybe some of the guys are serious fans of Chevy muscle cars.

ESPN was surprising — I’m not a huge sports fan, but I like baseball, so I read some of that, and it’s very well-written stuff that never descends into hero worship or excessive stat-crunching. Beats the heck out of Sports Illustrated, which I’ve read in the dentist’s waiting room. The survey of baseball players’ wives was really pretty interesting — only 10% of them admit to worrying about their husbands indulging in groupies.

N.A. Hunter wasn’t quite as boring as Chevy, but it came close; the writing’s a bit better.

Forbes is bizarre — their stuff is all based on a worldview I consider reality-challenged. And for such a prominent magazine, some of the writing is astonishingly poor.

Yachting is almost surreal — do you know what those things cost? Even a fairly moderate boat will set you back half a million, and an actual yacht is seven or eight figures. Most of the magazine is ads selling boats — if you ever want to drop $23mil on a hole in the water, I can now hook you up.

And Guitar Player I only had the one issue, but my Lord, it’s technically oriented! They interview a rock star, and instead of asking him any of usual crap, they ask stuff like, “What was the signal chain on that track?” Meaning, “exactly what was the sequence of devices from the guitar string to the final recording?”

Weird. They’re all glimpses into these strange little jargonated subcultures.

Follow-up, 2017:

There were indeed more magazines that showed up later: Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness. I forget which was which, alas; one was good stuff, the other fairly trashy with a faint homoerotic tinge that did not appeal to me. I kept the good one until the sub ran out, and gave the other away by sending a change of address directing it to the intended recipient’s home.

I also redirected Forbes to one of Julian’s friends who was studying business. Can’t remember whether I was able to re-home any of the others.

All the subscriptions ran out years ago. I still look at Yachting and ESPN when I stumble across them, though — Yachting turns up in medical waiting rooms, for some reason, and there’s an empty house down the street with a subscription to ESPN that Julie sometimes steals when the mailbox there overflows. ESPN is still one of the best-written, best-edited magazines around, far better than it ought to be.

The Last of the Newsgroup

I got tired of doling them out roughly once a day, and just transferred the dozen or so remaining progress reports from my old SFF Net newsgroup to the Serial Box, my other blog.

If you look through that list, you’ll see that I’ll never need another story idea as long as I live. (I’ll undoubtedly generate lots of them anyway, though.) People who think ideas are really important for writers, take note: Ideas are cheap. Originality isn’t necessary, either.

My biggest problem is finding the time to write the damned things.

Anyway, this means that sff.people.lwe is really, truly gone for good. Sigh.