The Captain sings.
A long time ago — a long, long time ago: I can’t have been more than thirteen, maybe younger — I got an accidental book.
It was in John Smith’s in Glasgow: St Vincent Street’s glory. I thought it was now long gone, but apparently not. I was there, probably with my Mum — no, undoubtedly, as I didn’t go to Glasgow on my own till I was about sixteen — I’m guessing in about January, to spend Christmas money (often given in the form of Book Tokens in those days, of course).
I bought a stack of books. I don’t now recall what any of them were, but they were almost certainly mostly or entirely SF.
As was the freebie that I got by accident. If memory serves I paid at the checkout and gathered up my books, or more likely the assistant put them in a bag for me, and then when I got on to the train back to Balloch, I took them out to have a look.
And found I had more than I’d bargained for. Worse, more than I’d paid for. There was an extra book in my bag. One that I had never seen before, that I hadn’t chosen. One with an interesting title.
Again, Dangerous Visions, Book 2, edited by Harlan Ellison.
My immediate feeling was guilt. I had, effectively, stolen a book. I was a good Catholic boy, and would never have stolen anything.
Then surprise: how had it got there? Presumably the assistant had mixed it up with the purchases of the person before me. There was probably someone sitting on a train right at that moment, realising that one of their books was missing. Poor them.
Poor them, but lucky me. I don’t think I told my Mum it had happened. Or if I did, she must have said not to worry, it was too late to do anything; and that doesn’t sound like her. One way or another, we made no attempt to return it.
But I think among the confusion and excitement of it all, I must have been slightly annoyed that it was the second volume: not much use without that first. And that “Again”: did that mean that the whole thing was some kind of follow-on?
Obviously I know now that it did. When I went to university a few years later and met a community of fans, when they mentioned the famous Dangerous Visions (non-) trilogy, I had some idea of what they were talking about.
I’d like to say that it was some kind of formative experience. That reading those legendary short stories changed my approach to the genre, or my understanding of fiction, or what have you. But I can’t really say that it did.
I eventually read the stories. Not having the earlier volumes of an anthology doesn’t cause any problem. Though I think I took the original, Dangerous Visions out of the library. Some of them were great, but I don’t recall finding any of them particularly memorable (though you never know: some things burrow deep). But one of the titles stuck with me, and is why I started writing this today.
That was “A Mouse in the Walls of the Global Village,” by Dean Koontz. Though I couldn’t have told you who it was by, and I’m quite surprised to find that it’s Koontz, who I think of as a horror author.
It came to mind because of something my beloved was saying about this interview between George Osborne and Yuval Noah Harari. She mentioned the “global village” idea, and my mind jumped back to the story and the cascade of memories that go with that book. I downloaded the Kindle version of the book (and the first one) and started writing this.
As I recall, that global village involved telepathy, and is very much not the one we are living in. But that doesn’t matter. It’s time to reacquaint myself with some old New Wave SF.
The Damned on stage.
That’s Penetration on stage at Brixton Academy, supporting the Damned.