Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Dark Carnival

According to the news here and here, the Berkeley SF and fantasy store Dark Carnival (named for Ray Bradbury's first book) is shutting down.

Sorry to hear it, though I confess I hadn't been there often in recent years. My sf/f fiction buying has dwindled, and the store is 50 miles away and a bit off my usual beaten paths. But I have gone there occasionally, because it's a gloriously cluttered store full of tiny nooks, odd balconies, and miscellaneous contents, in particular books of non-mass-market origins, the kind I most want and that are hardest to find. For years its alphabetical shelves featured large stocks of hard to get books like Philip K. Dick's Nick and the Glimmung or the Newcastle edition of Dunsany's 51 Stories because nobody bought them out. I was last there in search of a copy of Mervyn Peake's collected Nonsense Poems. I was sure they'd have it. They did.

But I remember Dark Carnival from its earliest days. It was the first sf specialty store in the Bay Area, long before Borderlands or Future Fantasy and even a bit before The Other Change of Hobbit or Fantasy Etc. (Of these, only Borderlands is still with us, and it had a scare not long ago.) I found it down on the south stretch of Telegraph, the first of its three locations, when I returned to UC in the fall of 1976. It was very small then, mostly a large semicircle of paperbacks, but there wasn't a lot to stock in those days. Jack Rems, owner ever since, was usually there, as was his first clerk, a young woman named Lisa Goldstein, who'd occasionally mention she was working on a novel. It was published several years later and led her on the path to becoming the renowned fantasy author she is today, but then she was a bookstore clerk. D. and I would hang out down there and indulge in a lot of chatter with Jack and Lisa, but we'd also buy books.

I remember author readings by the likes of Peter Beagle and Patricia McKillip, the first occasions I met either, but the occasion I most remember is walking in a few months after opening to find Jack holding out an ARC (cardboard-bound pre-publication Advance Reading Copy) from Ballantine Books that had just come in. It had a letter printed on the cover from the editor, Lester Del Rey, saying that he had something really special here: for everyone who had loved The Lord of the Rings, this was the new book they were waiting for. Lester was proud to offer us this epochal reading experience.

Remember that this was early 1977 and nothing else like The Lord of the Rings had yet seen print. We were curious and hopeful. But it took only a few minutes of flipping through the ARC to discover clumsy hack writing, carbon-copy ripoffs, and generally pervasive badness of a kind we'd not seen before in books that were supposed to be good. (We've seen it a lot since, though.)

You're ahead of me. The book was The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. Didn't buy a copy of that one.

No comments:

Post a Comment