Monday, September 2, 2013

Price Partum

Labor Day weekend tends to put me in a nostalgic mood. Something about the dying heat of the summer and memories of preparing for the new school year makes me want to retreat to a comfortable place and read pulp.

This year I went up to Lansing to visit some friends. They introduced me to a great bookstore called Curious Books. It's one of those shops you invariably find in the better college towns, dusty, with crowded shelves piled high with oddments of all sorts. The staff's friendly, the people you see wandering about look like the sorts you could find there just about every week. You walk in, take a deep breath and just settle into it, like a well-worn pair of jeans. I lost a happy hour just browsing through their stock. My friend's wife, who is NOT a bookworm, was about fit to murder us all by the time we managed to escape.

It's one of the cooler bookstores I've been to lately. It reminds me of my favorite place, Snowbound Books* up in Marquette, but it's well out of my beaten path and I don't get a chance to visit there nearly as much as I like. I really need to make more of an effort to explore local book stores, because I'm positive there are places all over, hidden in nooks and crannies all over town, that I've overlooked. I can think of two off the top of my head in Kalamazoo that I occasionally feel sharp pangs of guilt about not visiting as much as I should.

* Holy moly, just found out Snowbound's having a signing for one of my college professors who transitioned over to novel writing as I was taking his class. I think he quit teaching right after I got my report card. Small world--cool to find out he's still around and doing good. Great guy, too, probably one of the most entertaining classes I'd ever had.

What was I talking about? Oh, right. Nostalgia.

One of the great things about Curious Books, is that, besides having a ridiculously large selection of classic pulp paperbacks, they had a huge collection of Ace Doubles.  Doubles were a bit of an odd thing. They'd take two shorter novellas, bundle them back-to-back, often with a glossy advertisement for something like Marlboros separating the two books. Each story would be printed in opposite vertical orientation--you'd get two stories for the price of one, each with their own front cover on either side of the book. Read the book sunny-side up, you've got cowboys on Mars. Read it sunny-side down, you've got a ragtag group of space commandos fighting the Mongol Hordes of the Mega-Khan of Fargas VIII.

I'd often forget I was reading a double, until I finished the first story--You'd finish one, read about how cowboys love smokes, then flip the page and find the ending of the next story upside down. It was great stuff.

One of the things I love about them is how they tended to "showcase" (i.e. they were cheap to obtain and less risky for the publisher) new writers. You'd get stories from people you've never heard of before. They tended to be more over the top, gaudier, unabashedly pulp. People who thought Heinlein in his sillier years was far too restrained. Prose occasionally crossed from purple to ultraviolet. And, because of the limitations of the format--the author only had half of a 250 pg paperback to finish their story, after all--the stories never overstayed their welcome.

Are these stories literary classics? No. Are they great fun? Hell, yes. I mean, really, look at the covers of one of the ones I just picked up:

(Images courtesy of, who seem to be pretty cool, but a little spendy.)

THEY DROVE THEIR CHARIOTS THROUGH THE DIMENSIONS OF DEATH. Pretty much says everything about my taste in science fiction which needs to be said.

So, yeah. I was in a nostalgic mood when I sat down to write The Right Price.

I've been wanting to write about cryogenics lately, particularly of the frozen-Walt-Disney-head variety (no, this is a different Walt, although I'm tempted a bit to revise his DoD and his memories to fit). I've also been reading about cargo cults and the various odd things which happen when they dissolve. Yes, random, I know.

My tour through pulp-paradise made me think of those old generation ship stories, the ones which were played out already half a century ago. I played around with the idea of telling a story from another viewpoint. Perhaps the shipboard cult had a god of some sort. Maybe the god was more of a horrified bystander than an active would it play out to witness a thing like that, with no context at all?

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