Sorry I haven’t been posting in a while, folks. Things have been hectic at the office and I was away on business a week-and-a-half ago. Afterwards, my wife and I took a brief vacation on Vancouver Island (home of Neo-Opsis Magazine) where, incidentally, SF was never far from my mind (well, okay, let’s face it, SF is never far from my mind anyway, so who am I kidding? It just made itself a part of this vacation, that’s all.)
We started the trip in Victoria. Great city. Home of Munro’s Books – a great independent bookstore. It’s the kind of place with creaky wooden floors in a classy old stone building with lots of great books and staff who actually know the merchandise. I make a b-line there every time we’re in the capital. And, not surprisingly, I came away this time with a good find: Charles Dickens’ “Best Ghost Stories”. I’ve been looking for this one for a while but hadn’t been able to track it down until now. Trust Munro’s to have it. The main reason for wanting this book was for its closing short story “The Signalman”, which I read about in another book (and I can’t remember the title or author) or maybe heard mention of on TV or in a flick. After buying it, I was poking around the store some more, waiting for my wife, when I noticed something odd on the “classics” shelf – Penguin Classics is reprinting a bunch of H. P. Lovecraft stories. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lovecraft collections on the horror or speculative fiction shelves, but the classics? Not that I’m objecting, rather, I’m just surprised these books made it past the literary snobs at the publisher and at the store (which is not to imply that the staff are literary snobs, rather, that it’s a tendency one sees in general in book stores and thus a possibility for consideration here). I mean, the Victorians like Wells or Stoker or Verne or Stevenson or a little earlier with Shelley, those have always been considered authors who belong in the classics (although grudgingly by some stuck-up academics like a certain Victorian Lit prof I once had who refused to acknowledge them at all – but that’s a rant for another time), but Lovecraft getting his due? Will we see Clarke and Asimov or Bradbury lining the classics shelves in a few years? I certainly wouldn’t object, it merely points to a surprising new maturity in the minds of publishers and stores.
Anyhow, Dickens in hand (sorry, I just couldn’t resist), we hit the road and headed up to Courtenay, in the Comox Valley part of northern Vancouver Island. We worked there for a while a number of years ago and fell in love with the place and it was great to get back for a short vacation. 5th Street, in downtown Courtenay, looks, in many ways, like a piece of 1950’s small town North America frozen in time. Lots of old buildings that haven’t changed in years, populated by little local stores that also haven’t changed in years (like Leung’s grocery store – complete with original soda fountain counter). I hit The Laughing Oyster Book Shop, just up the street from Beyond the Kitchen Door (a kitchen shop with a green door – I wonder how many of the locals and tourists get that naughty little joke), and picked up a recent reprint of A.E. van Vogt’s “Slan” – a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while but just haven’t gotten around to. After that I popped into ABC Books & Inner Sanctum (sorry, couldn’t find a url to hyperlink here) – a combination used bookstore and comic shop (also selling cheap tourist trinkets) for a quick browse. I can’t say that I spent a lot of time in ABC/Inner Sanctum when I lived there (not a lot of extra cash in those days), but the store has a solid selection of used SF with a couple of potentially good finds like a good-condition hardcover of “Rendezvous with Rama” (with its astronaut and disco-light-background cover). Didn’t buy anything there this time, but it’s certainly worth a look if you’re in the area.
Just across the street though was a mighty disturbing sight – a big frackin’ hole in the ground where the old Palace movie theatre had stood. This was one of the classic small town cinemas of yesteryear with the big façade out front and a single screen inside – none of the multiplex cookie-cutter stuff like we’ve got now. It was a great little cinema, made even better by the fact that when I worked on the north Island, everyone at the station got in for free – all we had to do was hand over a business card. I saw some great SF movies there like “Deep Impact”, as well as some real crap like “Mission to Mars”, but sitting in an authentic small town theatre was an experience unto itself – it was almost Bradburian to take in a show on a warm summer’s night, then come out afterwards and amble down the quiet old town main street under the stars after all the stores had closed. To put it another way, walking past the Palace of an evening, I could almost hear that soft harmonica and piano bit from “Field of Dreams” when Costner sees Doc “Moonlight” Graham for the first time. Since coming home I’ve done a little research. Turns out the Palace was closed for renovations when a fire broke out last July and it was then shut down permanently. Now it’s dust and a wonderful piece of Courtenay’s history is gone. It’s a damn shame.
And so, after resting and relaxing on the Island, we came home to the Lower Mainland. There and back again, as Mr. Baggins once wrote.