Shelf Life by Greg Ketter (ed)
|DreamHaven Books of Minneapolis, MN is perhaps the worlds finest brick and mortar speculative fiction specialty store. Founded by Greg Ketter in 1977, DreamHaven is just what it's name espouses -- a haven of science fictional, fantastical, and horrific literature, comic books, collectibles, and various other delightful treasures.|
At some point, Ketter decided to publish certain special works of wonder, and in the years since DreamHaven's inception has published marvels such as Angels and Visitations by Neil Gaiman and (I believe) The Chronicles of Master Li and The Number Ten Ox limited edition by Barry Hughart.
On the 25th anniversary of DreamHaven Books, Ketter published a collection of science fiction, horror, and fantasy in which books and book stores themselves play a major role. He called it Shelf Life: Fantastic Stories Celebrating Bookstores, and it featured a foreword by Neil Gaiman and a luxurious and stunning cover from one John Picacio. The contributors are no slouches either -- Shelf Life features shorts from the likes of Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison, Ramsey Campbell, Jack Williamson, Charles De Lint, and John J. Miller.
I'm a bit impassioned over my bibliophilism, and so are the authors, characters, and everyone else involved with this collection. Selling this book to me was a no-brainer, but why should you read it?
Gene Wolfe begins the collection with a haunting tale entitled From The Cradle. It's a story, like most of Wolfe's work, that can not be easily defined by any genre. It's a futuristic tale of a boy who grows up loving books and working in a bookstore. As a young boy, he watches an old woman put a particularly interesting book up for consignment, awaiting the correct buyer. As he works his life away at this particular bookstore, he finds a few distinct opportunities to read certain passages, which never fail to haunt his dreams and change his outlook. One day a strange and familiar young woman comes into the store and truly changes the course of his life.
This story caused me to set down Shelf Life and consider it for a few days. It's Wolfe at his shining best, and worth the price of the book by itself. But one story is not all you will get from this collection.
Other strong stories include works from P.D. Cacek who weaves a fable of books being the manner in which Jews were saved from the holocaust and by David Bischoff who spins a yarn in which a man ends up in heaven but believes himself in hell. (He's in a book store with first editions of every landmark novel imaginable -- all for a pittance -- but he doesn't like to read.)
Ramsey Campbell's One Copy Only tells the tale of a room in the attic of a bookstore where imagined but non-existing books do truly reside. Untold novels from H.P. Lovecraft, The Last Dangerous Visions from Harlan Ellison, and all sorts of magical tomes that ought to exist, but don't anywhere else.
John J. Miller's Lost Books is a tale of regret; the man responsible for the burning of the great library at Alexandria in the fifth century endures to recollect, share, and protect all great literature. Charles De Lint's Pixel Pixies introduces us to a helpful hobgoblin who cares for a used bookstore after the proprietor goes to bed for the night, and how he tries to defend the store from the terrifying onslaught of Tinkerbell's evil cousins. (Any out-of-work Hob's want to come help with my collection?)
All told, Shelf Life is a very fine collection; one that speaks to me personally, and most like all of you as well, if you're reading this musty corner of the internet.
This is a very collectible book, especially the limited edition version, available here from DreamHaven and Ketter himself. I am off to purchase one of the limiteds myself, right now.
Wolfe, Ellison, Gaiman, early Picacio, De Lint, Campbell........ How can it not be a collector's item?