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Wednesday, November 28, 2012


MY TRIP DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE

You never know, do you?

It’s that way in stories, of course.  Dorothy never knew she was going to Oz.  Alice never dreamed that a fall would take her to Wonderland.  Even adventurers like Ulysses and Jason of the Argo don’t really know what waits on the far side of the world, what perils, what wonders.

I was in my thirties at the time.  Spending my days building up my portfolio in sculpting and effects makeup for a (hoped for) career in special effects makeup.  My first wife was supporting us, but it was tight, and we needed to supplement her income. 

So, I went into a local bookstore, one within walking distance of our apartment on Coldwater Canyon near the freeway.  Ventura Boulevard, near Woodman, in the city of Sherman Oaks.

The store was DANGEROUS VISIONS BOOKSTORE.

I had been there a few times.  Founded in 1981, it carried mostly science fiction, horror and fantasy.  New, used and rare books.  Unlike the big chains, DV also carried more than just the “flavor of the month.” It seemed everyone in those genres was represented, usually with multiple titles and editions.

 
A near mint copy of the Ace
printing of CITY by Simak,
one of my favorite books, and
just one of the treasures I found
 at Dangerous Visions
 
I walked in, and talked to the fellow behind the counter.  As luck would have it, he was leaving and needed to find a replacement.  It was the easiest time I ever had landing a job.

I thought I would be surrounded by books, and that would be enough.

It was so much more.

It was my DREAM JOB.

The owner, Lydia Marano, loved books, and science fiction in particular. She loved the genres and their history, the art that went into the writing , the covers, the leaps of imagination into worlds filled with both wonder and terror.  Her husband, Arthur Byron Cover (himself an author) seemed to know everything about the creators and craft of science fiction, horror, fantasy and comics.

They were brilliant, funny and kind.

If that were all, meeting these two amazing and passionate people, that would have been more than I bargained for.

But Dangerous Visions was a destination.  For fans… and for writers.

It was no coincidence or risky act of appropriation that the store was named for one of the most groundbreaking series of anthologies in the field of speculative fiction.  Harlan Ellison was good friends with both Lydia and Art, and a frequent visitor to the store.

Do you know what it’s like to love science fiction, and to have Harlan Ellison walk into your job?  To find out that he wasn’t the fire-breathing, invective spewing troll he’s often portrayed as, but a kind, erudite, funny and quite reasonable human being?  Harlan probably doesn’t remember me, but I won’t forget those times he would come in and browse, comment on works in the new books case or the news of the day. 

And I got to know local authors, people just starting on their careers who have gone on to be well established.  People like David Schow, Richard Christian Matheson and Steven Barnes.

Unlike many bookstores, all the bookcases in DV were made by hand, most (if not all) by Lydia and installed by friends.  The place was a treasure trove of pulps, old books, rare books, art objects, memorabilia and strange, funny and cryptic signs and notices.  The bathroom, tiny but serviceable, was paper with cartoons and quotes from fandom and pro-dom.  

Some days were slow, and I would stock shelves, comb the coming titles from Ingram Book Distributors and listen to music. I could dress as casually as I wanted, and no one was breathing down my neck - that was a first. Other days were filled with regulars, some merely coming to hang out and engage in lively discussions about books, film and whatever was going on.

And then there were the autograph parties.  In my short time I met several authors I idolized including Robert Sheckley, Robert Bloch and Harry Harrison.  There were dozens more, many before my time and some after.

I never dreaded going to work.  I loved it.  The people I worked for, the regulars, the writers, the very world… I was never so steeped in the world of science fiction as I was then, and I was happy.

I don't have any pics of my own of my time there.  Back then, cameras weren't as ubiquitous as they are now, and though many autograph parties were documented, I don't have copies or rights to the photos.  You can find them online though, and there are even some of the many, many illuminaries who visited, signed books, and helped to make it a special place.

Sadly, Dangerous Visions didn’t last.  Big chains and Amazon provided too much competition, and a brick and mortar store became untenable. It’s still online (under readsf.com), but that’s not quite the same, is it?  That smell of book dust, the feel of a new (or old) book in your hand, perhaps finding (as I did several times) a near mint version of a book from your childhood.
 
Where DV used to be...

I was very lucky that time and circumstance brought me to Dangerous Visions Bookstore.  If I didn’t love writing so much, I pine for it.  As it is, I miss it, and the world Lydia and Art created within its walls.

I guess every adventurer has to go home sometime.  Dorothy to Kansas, Alice out of the rabbit hole, Ulysses to Ithaca and Jason to Greece. 

But we remember our great adventure, and we tell the stories.

 

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