green and purple

Magic is where you find it

I took the train into Berkeley this afternoon. I had several goals: Find the books I wanted from The Other Change of Hobbit, a local science fiction/fantasy bookstore, see The Prestige, and maybe get some pictures. I accomplished the first two goals, and two outta three ain't1 bad.

The crowd got younger and younger as I traveled farther from my home station. At the transfer point, at MacArthur Station, half of the young ones headed on into San Francisco, many with luggage, and the rest got on the Richmond train, with me, headed for Berkeley.

The stairs at my Berkeley station led up to the street only a half block or so from The Other Change of Hobbit. Inside the store, the aisles were narrow and crowded, both with books and people. Two women, one working the counter, were arguing with another customer about Robert Heinlein. The women insisted that they would not like living in Heinlein's worlds; that women only served two or three purposes in his books. The male customer was wise enough to shut up.

I found several books by Gene Wolfe, including three I hadn't read yet. When I took them to the counter, the woman employee who had been arguing Heinlein alerted me to a large hardcover omnibus edition of two more Gene Wolfe books for which I had been looking. On the counter was a small memorial to the bookstore cat, Shagrat, who had died in January. Requiescat in pace. I spent more money than I had intended, but I was happy to support such an excellent local business. Such things would never happen in a Barnes & Noble.

I ate just outside the west entrance to the university. Young students came and went along the curving path. Older men and women drove by, looking for parking spaces, in their BMW's and Mercedes'.

Among them all shuffled the homeless. A black man, his salt and pepper beard hanging off his face like spanish moss in an oak tree, his long hair matted terribly, walked slowly along the sidewalk, his dead eyes seeing nothing in this world. Haunted by other visions. On the corner, another man with long grey hair, wearing a green military jacket and a grey t-shirt over his pot belly, argued with, and jabbed at, the thin empty air. College age street people were lying on the sidewalk; young men and women with a brown furred dog and a long wooden didgeridoo, laughing and smoking cigarettes. Near them, a man did two handed yo-yo tricks.

The Shattuck Cinema, where I saw The Prestige, was built only 18 years ago, but made to look older, like one of the movie palaces of yesteryear. At first I was fooled. I found the film a disappointment as well. The filmmakers must have thought themselves more clever by half. I found the final reveal ridiculously out of place in such a film. An intimation that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, as Arthur C. Clarke said. I felt cheated.

After the film, I walked the short distance, and down the stairs, back into the BART station. In the cool quiet darkness of the platform, between the dusty metal rails of the tracks, a boy, wearing one of those tuxedo t-shirts and pink hair, was spinning poi. On his bicycle was a horn shaped like a blue dolphin which he honked as he got on the train, to the delight of one girl. There were more people with luggage, on their way to one airport or the other, no doubt, but the trains were mostly empty.

I opened one of my books and began reading, not hearing the squealing of the brakes or the whine of the electric motors. The driver caught my ear, though. He announced the approach of each station with heavy emphasis on the plosives — Oh-Rin-Da! WALnut CReeK! Con-CorD! As we pulled into each station he would repeat the names, starting at one octave and ending on the one below. He sounded like a magician, pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Chanting the stations into existence out of the darkness. The engineer, or driver, or whatever you call them, had the voice of someone entertaining himself out of boredom. The voice of someone who was much too smart to just run a train up and down tracks, but who probably enjoyed the job because it was easy and he could relax in his little cab, away from other people, and not be bothered.

As the pink haired poi spinning boy got off at his stop, he suddenly found two train tickets stuck in the seat. A gift from the Unseen for his performance in the station. Real magic. At my stop the engineer slid open his window, poked his head out, and looked at me walking through the circles of light from the lamp posts on the platform. I didn't wave, but should have.

1It doesn't feel right that a spellchecker should bother me about the word ain't.
  • Current Mood: wanting a train of my own
I'm going home in a couple days -- let's get together when I get back.

Gotta love Berkeley. Have you been to the Berkeley Bowl yet?
hm, of all the sci fi writers you could describe that way, I'm not sure Heinlein is the one I'd pick on. I mean, first of all, he HAS women in his books, which is a pretty good start. Secondly, they're often main characters. Thirdly, they typically have their own agency in a way few male writers give their female characters. Granted, they're all sex mad, but to see them as having only 2 or 3 functions? That makes no sense. I wonder if those chicks only read Stranger in a Strange Land or something.

I've read like 17 million Heinlein books, and I was a big huge fan when I was a prepubescent girl, so I'm a bit biased.
I read a few Heinlein books as a prepubescent and as a teen, as well, and I liked his female characters for their vitality and dynamic intelligence. In fact, I believe Heinlein is noted sometimes for his female characters. So, I don't know what the women in the bookstore were thinking of either.
Just wanted to say
(Anonymous)
It's amazing
well done
(Anonymous)
i am gonna show this to my friend, brother
well done
(Anonymous)
i am gonna show this to my friend, man