I have a favorite new author – Connie Willis, who writes SF books, mostly on the soft side of SF. She’s been publishing since the late 1970s, but I barely started reading her books last March. Although it causes me chagrin, it doesn’t really surprise me: I am frequently a bit en retarde when it comes to trying good things. For instance, I didn’t even start watching The X-Files until after season 5.
So, last March I finished reading Doomsday Book. It's about a young historian who goes back in time to the era of the Black Death. Willis compares human traits and responses to disastrous circumstances in the past with those in the "future".
Then it took me about four months to find another one of her books. I don’t like to buy books new unless they actually are new, and even then not in paperback. I might be forced by circumstances to pay $4.49 for a gallon of gas, but I draw the line at paying $6.99 or more for a paperback book. So I had to wait until another one of her books and I came into close proximity. This happened in July when, since we happened to be in
That’s the thing about Connie Willis: either she’s so popular that everyone hoards their copies of her books instead of taking them to the used bookstores to trade or sell, or she’s not very popular so there are very small printings of her books. I really believe it’s the former case. But either way, I'm finding her books difficult to locate. Until we went to Powell’s. They had on their shelves three titles by Willis. One of them was Doomsday Book, which I had already read. Much to my delight, one of the remaining two was To Say Nothing of the Dog, which was what I was really hoping to find. It was $4.99, which to me is like paying $3.89 for gas: it only looks good in comparison to what you have been paying. So I made
To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of the most delightful books I’ve ever read. It's another time travel book, this time dealing with chaos theory and the effectiveness or lack thereof of human effort in making a difference. It's also hilarious. It immediately took its place in my Top Favorites. Of course, the next step after declaring it one my Favorites was to acquire a hardcover first edition copy. In some ways, that’s a little easier than just trying to find any old copy at a used bookstore, especially when humongous used bookstores are going out of business left and right (except Powell’s), because you just go to e-Bay. Of course, going to e-Bay also takes all the fun out of the search. If I had many months or even a year to find the book I wanted, I would avoid e-Bay and extend my search to other towns and other states. But now I was on a schedule . . . for Connie Willis was going to be appearing at Comic-Con in
If you know anything about comic book conventions, you know they are usually extremely crowded with extremely oddly dressed and sometimes scary people milling about. But I was willing to brave that and more in order to get Connie Willis’ signature on my books.
Buying a hardcover first edition of a popular and award-winning title that was originally published ten years ago means you kind of have to ignore the prices at the pump. It also makes you wish you had been paying more attention to the world around you and not waited until season 7 to start watching Stargate SG-1.
But better late than never, I guess, because I lovingly placed the dust jackets of both Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog in Brodart covers (they look really nice, by the way) and, on the appointed day, bought my train ticket for San Diego.
I decided to go by train instead of by car for three reasons: 1) I knew traffic would be horrendous around the Convention Center. As it turned out, traffic was also horrendous at times on the freeways. I know of one panelist who barely made it in time for his panel after spending seven hours trying to get to
Taking the train also gives one an opportunity for meeting people and passing the time in pleasant conversation. Well, if you know anything about me, you know that’s usually a massive joke, but I have been known to engage in pleasant conversation when my co-conversationalist is on the garrulous side. I went to the Con on Thursday and Friday, and both times I met interesting people. On the way down on Thursday, I sat next to a young Marine from
On the way back home on Friday night, I sat across the aisle from a fellow convention attendee. He asked if I’d had a good Con. I told him yes, that I had been able to do everything I wanted. This wasn’t exactly true, because I had missed or had to skip a number of things, but I had achieved my major goals. He asked what it was I had done. I told him I had checked up on the latest in Science Fiction publications. This wasn’t exactly true either, because I had done other things, but that was the last thing I’d done. He said, “Oh, so you go for the scifi books.” “Yes,” I responded. That wasn’t exactly true. I had gone to have Connie Willis sign my copies of Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, and I had also attended a couple of Silver Age Comic Book panels and the panel for Amanda Tapping’s new show Sanctuary. Plus, I had stood in line for a very long time to get Lindsay Wagner’s autograph, only to be disconcerted by how quiet and uncommunicative she was, which I was not expecting and which I thought was a little strange for a celebrity in a public venue. Not that her taciturnity reminded me of myself.
“So,” I said, feeling that it was my turn to help the conversation along, “what did you go for?”
“Oh, I go for the artwork,” he said. “Fantasy artwork.” And he spent the next fifteen minutes showing me all the artwork he had purchased. They were mostly 11”x14” or larger color prints of very toned and muscular and heavily endowed warrior women wearing next to nothing and swinging dangerous looking weapons while small stars or some other combustible entities explode behind them. I’ve always wondered why women like that are willing to engage in combat with such sharp instruments of death and yet wear no protective clothing. It perplexes me.
One item that was different from the others in his collection was a portrait of a head that was half warrior woman and half lion. He asked me if I liked it. I got the feeling he was going to make a gift of it, so I said, “I think it’s weird.” That was exactly true. I think my honesty bothered him, though, because he got really silent after that, and five minutes later was talking to someone behind him. I traveled in silence the rest of the way.
But the main event for me was Connie Willis. She participated in two panels, one with four or five other authors on why SF writers who write about time (either time travel or alternate realities) make the choices they do. I thought the panel was silly. Well, what I mean is I thought the moderator was silly, and I wasn’t really interested in what half of the panelists had to say. One guy, who had written a time travel novel involving William Shakespeare and some pot-smoking college dropout, started off by saying something like, “We don’t know much about Shakespeare except that he was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, that he was forced into a shotgun wedding when he was 18, and that he showed up in London ten years later as an established playwright.” I wanted to say, “We know nothing of the kind!” meaning the nonsense about it being a “shotgun” wedding. And we know a bit more than that, by the way. Anyhow, he just annoyed me.
The second panel was just Connie Willis.
She talked a bit about herself and her work, why she chose some of the topics that she did, and what she had forthcoming. She was very funny and it was very interesting. She went on a bit about her belief of what happens to us when we die (someone had asked a question about her book Passage, which is about a couple of doctors trying to find out the causes of near-death experiences).
I wish I could’ve asked her a few clarifying questions about that, because I think I totally disagree with her, but it would have led to tangents unwelcome to the rest of the audience.
She also did a book signing, so I stood in line for a very long time to get my two books signed. The wait gave me ample time to plan what I was going to say. I wasn’t going to lose my wits and my nerve like I have in the past. When I finally got up to the signing table, I told her, in a very articulate manner, that I didn’t know what had taken me so long but that I had recently started reading her books and was really enjoying them. She responded by saying thank you and then telling me I had to turn my ID badge around so that she’d know what my name was to put on the books. I told her that didn’t matter. She didn’t argue with me. It was very refreshing.
While she signed the books, she talked a bit about how exciting it is to find a new author. She mentioned that she had recently started reading E F Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books and tried to pace herself (there are six of them), but ended up reading right through them. All in all, she made me feel very much at ease, which I really appreciated. I hate feeling like a fan, even though I am one.
Not long after the convention, we went to
While I'm in
I also went to Deseret Industries, one of my favorite places for book shopping. I was scanning the shelves, thinking to myself that, as usual, I wouldn’t find any Connie Willis books, when I stopped suddenly and backtracked a few titles to see Passage! Oh what rapture filled my bosom. So I read that most of the time I was in
Babies and books and Connie Willis.
It’s been a lovely summer.