– by Joe Coluccio, President Parsec
Turns out you can’t go home again. At least, not often. Kinda like stepping into the same river twice. So, when I revisit books that have been on my shelves for years, I believe it is not an act of nostalgia but a deepening of my life experience. Sometimes the magic does not happen.
From 1950 to 1961 Herbert L. Gold, editor of Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine started a series of forty-one digest sized novels of science fiction. Some of them not too shabby. Many of them abridged. C.L. Moore’s “Shambleau”, L. Sprague de Camp’s “Lest Darkness Fall,” Hal Clement’s “Mission of Gravity,” Eric Frank Russell’s “Sinister Barrier,” Arthur C. Clarke’s “Prelude to Space,” and on the list goes. A complete index is available online – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galaxy_Science_Fiction_Novels.
The one I thought was the most romantic, the most astonishing, was Malcolm Jameson’s “Tarnished Utopia (1956).”
I read it to shreds. Planned whole series of dreams based on it. You all know how well that works out. My psyche was as unreliable then as it is now. I picked up a copy of old Galaxy #27 at a thrift store some years ago and rushed home to read it. Began to have serious doubts about my twelve-year-old sense of the aesthetic. As I read, I became convinced that some foul being, perhaps from a parallel universe, placed a substitute copy of the pulp pages within the thin paperback cover, I so innocently scooped up. A copy that had none of the virtue of the original. The pages fell from my eyes, each one a dolorous tear rolling toward the floor.
This spring I have been liberating the tumbling stacks of books that fill the basement. To the thrift stores, they shall return. I really don’t know what to do with the cuneiform tablets of Gilgamesh crumbling at the far edge of the garage. Selecting which volume will stay and which must leave is much like trying to decide which property you have to sell off to your odious money bags competition to remain whole in a game of monopoly. “The Handbook of Casaba Mellon Facial Art” was a particular trial.
Utopia, Tarnished or not, and the rest of the Galaxy group, I have managed to acquire, remain under a stack of SF Mags I should set free. I stopped mid morning from my book wrangling and began to read. A period of thirty or more years, more than the time between my twelve-year-old and my thirty-something disillusioned encounter, has wiped all affection and memory of the Jameson novel. The story of two somnambulists, Allan Winchester, and Cynthia Schnachelbauer escape into a bomb shelter during a Munich bombing, WWII. They eat, so it seems, the perfect food that will sustain a body for centuries. The unfortunate side effect is they also must sleep for a concomitant thousand years and awake to a land in the thrall of a regime as repulsive as the Third Reich. I am on Chapter Three and contemplating swallowing some of the perfect Mad German Scientist Gelatin that surely must exist along with unlabelled can goods on one back metal shelf above the Radial Arm Saw at the rear of the garage. The machine and circular saw dado blade set will require a powerful oil and clean when I beat back the surrounding paperback avalanche. After my delicious repast and Van Winkle nap, all my books will have crumbled to dust and with an application of the 31st Century version of the Roomba, I can quickly clean the entire lower level.