Novelist Michael Chabon Digitally Re-Creates the Science Fiction & Fantasy Section of His Favorite 1970s Bookstore

Michael Chabon was born in 1963, which placed him well to be influ­enced by the unpre­dictable, indis­crim­i­nate, and often lurid cul­tur­al cross-cur­rents of the nine­teen-sev­en­ties. He seemed to have received much of that influ­ence at Page One, the local book­store in his home­town of Colum­bia, Mary­land — and it was to Page One that his imag­i­na­tion drift­ed dur­ing the long days of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic spent in his per­son­al library. “As I sat around com­muning with my tat­tered old friends,” he writes, “I dis­cov­ered that I retained a sharp rec­ol­lec­tion — title, author, cov­er design — of what felt like every sin­gle book that had ever appeared on those tall shelves along the left wall of Page One, toward the back, between 1972 and 1980.”

That was the store’s “Sci­ence Fic­tion & Fan­ta­sy” sec­tion, which in that peri­od was well-stocked with titles by such stars of those gen­res as Ray Brad­bury, Ursu­la K. LeGuin, Arthur C. Clarke, J. G. Bal­lard, C. J. Cher­ryh, Michael Moor­cock, and Philip K. Dick.

Or at least it did if Chabon’s dig­i­tal re-cre­ation “The Shelves of Time” is any­thing to go by. Down­load­able here in “small” (96 MB), “large” (283 MB) and “very large” (950 MB) for­mats, the lav­ish image func­tions as what Chabon calls a “time tele­scope,” offer­ing “a look back at the visu­als that embod­ied and accom­pa­nied my ear­ly aspi­ra­tions as a writer, and at the mass-mar­ket splen­dor of paper­back sf and fan­ta­sy in those days.”

“I’m the same age as Chabon, and I was also a book­store rat, star­ing at these exact same cov­ers and ago­niz­ing over which one I’d lay down my $1.25 for,” writes Ruben Bolling at Boing Boing. “Just look at those beau­ti­ful John Carter of Mars cov­ers. I col­lect­ed and cher­ished these, and the Tarzan series.” Bolling also high­lights the adap­ta­tions Chabon includes on these re-imag­ined shelves: there’s “the James Blish Star Trek series, just as I remem­ber it,” and also the nov­el­iza­tion of Star Wars, which he read before the open­ing of the film itself.  “So instead of expe­ri­enc­ing the movie as it should have been — as campy movie fun — I expe­ri­enced it as an adap­ta­tion of a lit­er­ary work.”

Despite being a cou­ple of decades younger, I, too, remem­ber these cov­ers vivid­ly. My own sci-fi-and-fan­ta­sy peri­od occurred in the late nineties, by which time these very same mass-mar­ket paper­backs from the sev­en­ties were turn­ing up in quan­ti­ty at used book­stores. For me, few images from these gen­res of that era could trig­ger read­ing mem­o­ries as rich as those Bal­lan­tine cov­ers of The Sheep Look Up, The Shock­wave Rid­er, and Stand on Zanz­ibar by John Brun­ner, a British spe­cial­ist in social and envi­ron­men­tal cat­a­stro­phe. Like many read­ers, I put this sort of thing aside after a few years, but Chabon has proven infi­nite­ly more ded­i­cat­ed: half a cen­tu­ry after his days haunt­ing Page One, his mis­sion to “drag the decay­ing corpse of genre fic­tion out of the shal­low grave where writ­ers of seri­ous lit­er­a­ture aban­doned it,” as crit­ic Ruth Franklin once described it, con­tin­ues apace.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Art of Sci-Fi Book Cov­ers: From the Fan­tas­ti­cal 1920s to the Psy­che­del­ic 1960s & Beyond

Nov­el­ist Michael Chabon Sang in a Punk Band Dur­ing the ’80s: New­ly Released Audio Gives Proof

600+ Cov­ers of Philip K. Dick Nov­els from Around the World: Greece, Japan, Poland & Beyond

The Dune Ency­clo­pe­dia: The Con­tro­ver­sial, Defin­i­tive Guide to the World of Frank Herbert’s Sci-Fi Mas­ter­piece (1984)

The Amaz­ing Adven­tures of Kava­lier and Clay: Ani­ma­tion Con­cepts

The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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