August 01, 2005

World Science Fiction Convention Roundup (plus trivia)

by Alan Beatts

It's nice to have time to write this column again.  The last few months have been even more hectic than usual and getting this newsletter out has been a very late night project.  As kind as all our customers are, I didn't want to inflict the kind of writing that I do at three in the morning on you.  Hence, no column.

But right now it's five in the evening and my desk is completely lacking piles of papers that have to be dealt with RIGHT NOW.  So, I'm going to write a nice column for this issue.  It's a bit of a grab bag of topics that have been on my mind in recent months.

World Con -

Probably the most exciting thing that's happened recently was the World Science Fiction Convention, which was located in exotic Glasgow, Scotland at the beginning of this month.  Attending and selling books there incorporated a number of firsts for me -- first time in Glasgow (which is quite a nice city), first overseas convention (I thought that jet lag was bad at east coast cons . . . yikes), first World Con where it was just me and one other person working the table (I know, I'm spoiled but it's hard work with only two people), and the first time I was tempted to throw a fistful of money in the air at a bank with the express purpose of causing a riot (I'll get to that story a bit later).

Without going into a long "con report", suffice it to say that it was a great convention.  There were lots of familiar faces and many new friends.  I found a number of independent publishers who's books you should see appearing in the store over the next few months.  The kindness and hospitality of the convention staff, the facility staff and the populace of Glasgow in general was unusual in its plenitude and sincerity.  And, last but far from least, the dealers' room staff were the best (and most reasonable) of any World Con in my experience.  Best of all, load in and out went more smoothly that _any_ convention, regardless of size, that I've attended.

I just wish they had warned us about the money.

The Mythical and Suspicious Scottish Note -

It seems that Scotland has started printing their own currency which is distinct from the notes printed by the Bank of England.  Two Scottish banks (The Royal Bank of Scotland and The Clydesdale Bank) print notes which are, in their five, ten and twenty pound forms, the common currency from Glasgow northwards.  The feeling on the part of some English attendees that I spoke with was that this practice was "illegal", "silly" and "vaguely precious".  My own feelings were that I didn't give a damn as long as I could exchange the notes for English ones when I left (it is critical to note that Scottish notes are not recognized as currency by American banks and therefore cannot be exchanged for US dollars in the states.  Further, based on research before I left, I was going to get a better exchange rate from my bank in the US than I would get in Britain).  Since the progress reports from the convention had reassured me that I would be able to exchange Scottish notes for English at any bank, I was unconcerned.  To be honest, I was slightly pleased by the whole thing -- no doubt due to attitudes about Scottish independence I inherited from my immigrant father.  Besides, the picture of Robert the Bruce on the 20 pound note was pretty spiffy, in a fierce sort of way.

But then I went to the bank to change the notes and was informed that they kept their supply of English notes for their depositors and were unwilling to change my notes.  At one bank the clerk said she could change 160 pounds.  When I asked her if she had any suggestions as to where I could change a (significantly) larger sum, she suggested that I try some of the bigger banks closer to the city center.  Which I did.  The first bank was willing to change a maximum of 500 pounds.  Things were looking up, despite the clerk explaining that it was against bank policy to change large sums for non-depositors.  She then sent me along to the next bank (one of the largest in Glasgow and, if I remember correctly, my sixth bank of the day).  When I finally reached the clerk at this bank she sweetly informed me that she could change 50 pounds.  I asked her if she could suggest anywhere that could change the rest of my notes.  She told me that 50 pounds was the usual limit for a non-depositor and that I would just have to continue to visit banks.  I pointed out that at the rate of 50 pounds per bank I would have to spend the entire remainder of the day going to banks.

"That's unfortunate but there's really nothing I can do."

I should point out that this particular bank was a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland.  The same bank that had printed the notes in the first place.

As I stood there, in a mild state of shock and considering the prospect of spending the entire day standing in line at bank after bank, I started considering what would happen if I pointed out (loudly) that they had printed waste paper even more worthless at an international level than a handful of sea shells.  Then I thought about the riot that I could probably cause by following this rant with a fistfuls of currency thrown in the air.

But, I'm a businessman first and a pain in the ass second so I stalked out of there and fumed.  After a bit of fuming, I decided to head back to my hotel and take a break.  Along the way I passed an American Express office and saw, to my great relief, that they were offering an exchange rate that was actually a bit better than what I had expected from my bank.  With a mix of hope and trepidation, I went in and asked if they could change my Scottish notes for US dollars.  Problem solved.

But I still do have a slight feeling of regret that I didn't try the riot route.  It would have made such a better story.

SF Residents Take Note -

For years I've been a customer at Greystone, a liquor store in Noe Valley at the corner of 24th and Castro.  What first brought me there was their excellent selection of whiskies.  That same selection and their pleasant, unassuming staff kept me coming back year after year.  So I was upset yesterday when I stopped by and discovered that they were closing shop.  It was the all too familiar reason - the landlord had raised the rent beyond their ability to pay and still make a living.  This particular increase was at the truly mad level of 33%.  So, we loose yet another local business.

But, there is a bright side to all of this.  My reason for mentioning it here is that, for the next ten days or so, they'll be selling off all their stock at a discount.  Though I'm by no means implying that our customers are heavy drinkers, I do know of quite a few who share my love of a nice whisky or glass of wine and I suspect that there are even more of you than I know.  So I thought that it might be nice to help out a fellow small business owner during one of the hardest times that one can face as well as save some of you a bit of cash (which you can then spend on books).  As of this writing wines are 25% off and other stock is 20% off.  And in all cases, the owner is covering the sales tax.  Not often that you find things like 16 year old Glenlivet and 25 year old McCallan on sale, is it?  So, stop by, tell them Alan from Borderlands sent you, buy a bottle and go home to have a toast to small businesses.

But stay away from that bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label on the shelf.  It's mine (they just don't know it yet).

Recent Great Reads -

There have been a few books recently that have just knocked my socks off.  That's not to say that the books are recent.  Most bookseller that I know are in the same boat as me -- we're either reading something that came out months ago but we haven't had a chance to get to or we're reading an advance copy of something that won't be out for months.

MARKET FORCES by Richard Morgan.  So far one of my favorite books of the year.  It's a stand-alone, near future story of an up and coming executive.  But in this future, you win contracts by being the only one who survives the drive to the meeting as your competitors try everything short of gunfire to make sure you don't make it.  But the best thing about the book is the way that, without being preachy or lecturing, it made me really consider where some of the current trends of corporate expansion and globalization could take our society.  Truly an example of near future SF at its best.

Y - THE LAST MAN by Brian K. Vaughn.  This comic has been collected in five volumes thus far and is one of the best graphic novels I've read since Sandman.  The basic premise is that a plague kills every mammal with a Y chromosome on Earth.  With the exception of one young man and his monkey.  But before you start imagining all the typical scenarios that come to mind, consider that the protagonist is a slightly insecure and truly nice person.  And, he's deeply in love with his fiancee -- who happens to be in Australia on vacation when things fall apart.  I found it totally engrossing and just a flat out great read.

The Rachel Morgan books by Kim Harrison (DEAD WITCH WALKING, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UNDEAD, and EVERY WHICH WAY BUT DEAD) - I just finished reading all three of these and I surprised myself by really enjoying them.  I tend to be hyper-critical of the whole new crop of "supernatural investigators" and haven't enjoyed many of the ones that I've read.  The typical problem that I have is the lack of a clear and consistent rational for social structures and, if you will, the "pseudoscientific" basis for magic in a modern world that incorporates the supernatural.  It may be that I'm too much a SF reader, but if those elements are weak it destroys my "suspension of disbelief" and throws me right out of the story.

However, Harrison's work, though sometimes lacking in consistent and well reasoned underpinnings, is so engaging that I found that I stayed in the story.  The most endearing quality of the books are the conflicted and complex characters.  Without mincing words, the protagonist is a bit of a mess.  She's constantly getting herself in jams because she too impulsive and additionally she has a very hard time deciding what she wants.  By themselves this combination would be tiring but with the addition of a remarkable strength of personality and a heroic unwillingness to be pushed around the product is pretty irresistible.  Throw in Harrison's intense pacing and development of suspense and you've a set of books that kept me up too late reading on a number of occasions.

I think I've run on long enough so it's time for me to get out of the way and let you get on with the rest of this newsletter.  I'll hope to see all you locals at the store and you out of towners at the next big convention, World Fantasy in October . . . in Wisconsin.  It gets cold there, doesn't it?  Ick.

No comments:

Post a Comment