We came up unknowingly on the same plain where Howard had set down Conan. One Spring, my mother read me White with the screens open. Nights, my father read me The Lord of the Rings, Foundation, and Dune while smoking a cigar. On a cloudy day we would go out, the small band of us, maybe hunt rabbits or maybe just to shoot our fiberglass bows and Bear brand arrows. But when then the sun came out and stayed all bets were off. You went back to the library spinner.
The thing about the spinner rack, unlike the juvenile shelf, you couldn’t quite get to the end of it. Nor did it fit neatly into the Dewey system. Simply put, it threw off mysterious books I had to read. Every week there was something I hadn’t seen. Alan Dean Foster. Jerry Pournelle, Philip José Farmer, Fritz Leiber, the extended run of Heinlein. Every young reader must enjoy a similar period where everything he reads seems written exclusively for him. Zelazny! His name served as my interjection for discovery. Lovecraft was something else altogether but also of piece with the rest.
Lots of energies were at play across the land in those days: The 700 Club, Cheap Trick, the Strategic Air Command. The Spielbergian nukes had gone off. We had felt both blast waves but were yet to feel the weakening effects of their fallout. The merchandising, the figures, the masks, the promise of yet more. My parents gave me Holmes Basic D&D out of the blue. There must have been some coordination as most of my friends received a similar gift about the same time. This was before Blackleaf died, so even the Christian kids were along for the ride. We got quickly beyond the box, broke out of Skull Mountain implanted as we were with false memories of Melniboné, Lankhmar, and parts west. Our dice went off louder than bombs. “Appendix N” as a list of books we had already taken in explicitly or in groups. Such a list wasn’t news; it was communion. I’m not going to belabor it. If you walked between similar planes, you already know.
What did I steal off the spinner rack? What remains in my pocket today? The worst oppressor is the policeman in one’s head. That those cops could be rumbled from cover simply by rolling three six-sided dice, six times, in sequence. That one’s identity and circumstances are only so important. The self is violable, voluble. That it doesn’t take that much to get along in the world and you’re not all that special. Since those days, the spinner rack has lost momentum and cheap books at small chain stores went away. (There is a glorious past available at half price, if you know where to look.) A lathe passed through publishing and only the rentiers survived and somehow we settled into the posy inertia of selling character portraits which look for all the world like social realist ideals replete with ponderous and final certitude. Behold my paddle sword!
Nowadays, the truly savage action takes place in what passes for criticism. Regrettably, it rarely happens on the page. When I go back to reading science fiction and fantasy, it is to old titles. Call me whatever you must. If it matters that much to you, ask yourself why. But perhaps we can get past the static action-figure poses, get back to the kinetic and speed things up a bit, invoke physics some, slam some stuff into other stuff. With luck, dark gods might hear the clash, stir, and the rack might slowly begin to spin again.