Sci-Fi Saturday

Last Saturday (6/13/15) was Sci-Fi Saturday at The York Emporium. This is an annual event that we’ve done for the past 6 or 7 years. It’s a fun day.

We typically will show a movie (this year: Forbidden Plant) and play some games. There was a tournament, with prizes, on our original and vintage “Space Invaders” arcade game (2200 was the high score this year), play trivia and generally let our inner geeks come out to play.invader

We also have guests who come to play with us.

This year we had six currently working science fiction authors join us: Peter David, Robert Greenberger, Michael Jan Friedman, Aaron Rosenberg, Glenn Hauman, and Russ Colchamiro. These are very talented guys. Editors for DC and Marvel comics; authors who have produced movie tie-in novelizations. And Star Trek novels.

One of the things they have in common is that they have ALL written Star Trek novels. (Another thing they all have in common is that they have all signed my copies of their various novels.)

There have been upwards of 150 novels involving the characters of the various Star Trek television programs that includings TOS (The Original Series), TNG (The Next Generation), DS9 (Deep Space 9), VOY (Voyager) and ENT (Enterprise). The movies have also been novelized. There have also been series of novels of close spin-offs (such as Starfleet Academy and Starfleet Engineering Corps).

authors01We have a pretty good collection in the shop. Maybe not all; but certainly most of them.

Perhaps the best part of Sci-Fi Saturday, at least as far as I was concerned, happened on Friday night when I took three of the guys to dinner at the White Rose.

Peter David was there. He is probably the biggest name we’ve ever hosted. Not only has he written Star Trek novels, but he worked with James Doohan (“Scotty” from TOS) on his autobiography. He’s written the tie-in novels for several movies (i.e., Batman Returns). And he authored some 12 years’ worth of The Incredible Hulk for Marvel. Michael Jan Friedman was also there. He was actually the subject of one of our trivia questions (“How many novels has Michael Jan Friedman published?” The answer is 73.)

Also at the table was my P,LSB*.   That pretty much made it the best part of the weekend because not only did I get to enjoy her company, but I was able to enjoy her company without the rolling-of-the-eyes that usually accompanies my forays into the ways of geekdom.

We were able to swap Star Trek trivia (“What was Yeoman Rand’s cabin number on the Enterprise?” “ In how many episodes did Spock smile?”). I was with the masters and was actually able to (almost) hold my own.

But, yeah, the rolling-of-the-eyes came out in the car on the way home. I just smiled at her and suggested she live long and prosper…or words to that effect.

 

*P,LSB = Poor, Long-Suffering Bride

Chuck Miller

York lost one of its literary luminaries over the Memorial Day weekend. Charles F. “Chuck” Miller died following a brief illness. He was just 62.

Chuck was born and raised in Columbia, PA and spent the bulk of his professional life in Lancaster, only having moved to Springettsbury township about 10 years ago.

Starting in the 70s, he produced a series of science fiction-themed conventions. These weren’t the conventions that are popping up today, as they were geared toward readers and serious science fiction types (although, truth be told, they were still populated by the nerds of the day).

He moved on from that to form a publishing company geared toward the horror and science fiction genres. As a publisher he worked with a stable of writers and artists that included Stephen King, Gene Wolfe and Jack Vance (pretty big names at the time). He was nominated for a Hugo Award (which is still a VERY big deal). And he was presented with the World Fantasy Award (which is a bona fide HUGE deal).

The publishing world changed and Chuck changed, too. This time, he opened a comic book shop, Big Planet Comics, based in Lancaster. He split his time between his shop and setting up at conventions–science fiction, pulp magazine and horror–up and down the East Coast, where he peddled his books and magazines in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington…and back again.

It was the early years of the new millennium that Chuck took the plunge and moved all the way to this side of the river. He still traveled to the conventions, mostly, but not exclusively, in Hunt Valley, MD. He’d be at Renningers Antique Market in Adamstown most Sunday mornings (early, early…as in 5:30 AM; done and packed up by 9:30 or 10). He’d haunt the book sales of the local libraries. But most often your best chance of catching him was wandering around the stacks at The York Emporium, shelving books or, in his own way, growling at the customers.

chuck We called him “grumpy cat.” He’d sit on the sofa, drinking coffee, and opine about the state of current science fiction or horror (nothing, in his opinion, was quite as good as was the movie Gorgo). And we loved it.

When I first came to The York Emporium, just about 10 years ago now, I was pretty hungry to get dealers to come in and rent space. I had set my sites on Chuck almost from the start, thinking (rightly, as it turned out) that Chuck would give the shop an air of legitimacy. I asked him, about 3 months into my tenure, if he would. He looked at me straight in the eye, shook his head and said, simply: No.

We weren’t ready for him yet.

It took a little more than a year, but he did finally come in. And he did add a touch of class to the joint.

He was my mentor. I flattered myself to think he was my friend. And I miss him.

Someday, if I am lucky enough to wind up where the all good little book peddlers go, I sincerely hope that he will be saving a place for me at the table.

 

 

Erotica

On the phone she sounded like a nice, older lady. Would we be interested, she wanted to know, in coming and taking a look at a collection of books she had. Seems they belonged to her husband, who was in a nursing home now. They were taking up space and it was time for them to find a new hone.

I told her that of course we’d be happy to take a look. I explained what we typically pay for paperbacks and hard covered books with dust jackets. She said that was fine.

“Just one thing,” she said. “They are erotica.”

Oh.

As a category, “erotica” covers a lot of ground. And not everyone shares the same definition. I wasn’t at all sure that my definition matched what this nice, grandmotherly-type lady was thinking.

She might be talking about some of the early “girlie” magazines of the 20s and 30s, for example. Those typically had lush cover illustrations showing lots of leg, or ladies in skirts that were split up to here with bust lines that went down to there. I could see how she would call these pulp magazines “erotica.”

Or maybe she was talking about some of those World War II-era pin-up babes. Most of those were fairly tame by today’s standards. Girls in bathing suits lounging by a pool, or dealing with a gust of wind while attempting to change a flat tire while wearing a too-tight outfit and heels. Yank magazine stuff.

Either of those options would have been fine with me, for both are highly collectible… particularly if they are in good shape.

As I hesitated a second, trying to find a delicate way to frame my next question, and she said, “Playboys.”

Ah. Well. That made it easier, at least.

I explained how the only real value in that title was in the editions dating from the 50s, and maybe the early 60s. You might find something of a little higher value here and there with a special issue, but that generally, I’d only pay, at most, no more than 50¢ per magazine for dates from the mid-60s through the mid- to late-70s, and that, honestly, I wasn’t even interested in any dates later than 1980 or so. Unless, again, it was a special 40th Anniversary issue or something of the kind.

That was fine, she said. They were all boxed and out in the garage. The dates started around 1967 and she was sure there were issues that I’d take. So…sure, I’d visit her and we could made a deal.

Honestly, I felt a little more comfortable now. Playboys. Not horrible. We were both adults, after all. A sly smile, perhaps, and a “boys will be boys” shrug. At least I wasn’t going to have to go into a deep, philosophic discussion of reading habits and censorship and relative levels of depravity and such with someone who was, if not old enough to be my grandmother, then certainly older than my parents. I could do this.

“Three boxes of books, too.”

Not a problem at all. Here, I was thinking Book-of-the-Month Club editions of popular novels; after all, that’s what I usually encounter on missions of this kind. We made the appointment and I went to visit her early in the week.

We went straight to the garage and I confirmed immediately that her definition of erotica and mine were, indeed, different. There were the Playboys, as advertised. Hundreds of them, actually. Pretty much every issue from 1967 through 2005; almost 40 years. And they were pristine. The later years looked like they’d never been out of the plastic mailing sleeves. A few other titles, too, but nothing too outrageous.

But she wasn’t talking about the magazines when she told me of erotica. She was talking about the books. And those didn’t quite fit my idea of erotica. In fact, they were pretty darn close to my idea of straight-out, no-holds-barred (literally) porn.

Mass market paperbacks, with and without pictures. Trade paperbacks, with and (primarily) without text. Hardcover books in dust jackets and plain, brown wrappers. The kind of stuff that, in an earlier day and age, would have drawn jail time if they were sent through the mails.

Yowza.

Publishing restrictions had tightened up quite a bit during the 1960s. The Supreme Court was wrestling with their own definitions of obscenity. “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”Nebulous lines in the sand regarding local standards. And statements of “redeeming social value.” Obviously, no one wanted to go to jail for publishing this stuff.erotica

Still, there was a market. So titles were presented as pseudo-sociological and pseudo-psychological treatises, and were invariably written by people who could string “M.A.” or “Ph.D.” after their nom de plumes in an attempt to give the material the stamp of respectability. And if it turned out that folks were reviewing the literature with aims other than pure scientific curiosity, well, that certainly was beyond the control of the publishers.

So, Oral Sex and the Law, and The Swappers, The Sexually Aggressive Male, along with others of their ilk, came into general circulation. All were emblazoned with “EDUCATIONAL MATERIAL FOR ADULTS ONLY• Sale to minors prohibited”, or words to that effect, on the covers. Perhaps that was a sop to the censors. Or perhaps that was a bit of added promotion, for those who just didn’t get it. Maybe a little of both.

In any case, I now had three boxes of it. Along with about 15 years of Playboys.

After I had finished loading it all into the car, I returned to the garage to finish the transaction. I wrote out the receipt, thanked her and said all the nice things.

But as I was driving away, it occurred to me that this “erotica” hadn’t necessarily belonged to her husband. I’m not quite sure how I got the idea that at least some of these books were actually hers.

Maybe it was because she winked at me.