Friday, July 30, 2010

Short but Oh So Sweet

Has this ever happened to you?

You pick up a book on a whim. Maybe it was the interesting cover, or maybe the title struck you as interesting. Regardless, you buy the book. Upon reading it, you come to love the book, so much that you tell all your friends about this great book. Suddenly, POOF! You can no longer find that book at the store. Did you somehow reach into the aether and pull a book from a parallel universe, or did it just go out of print while you were reading it?

That happened to me about fifteen years ago, with a tome entitled Microcosmic Tales.


First published in 1980, Microcosmic Tales is a collection of 100 short science fiction stories. Very short stories. As I recall, the longest tale in this collection is about five pages long, while several tales don't even fill a single page.

I absolutely loved this book from the moment I sat down in Cafe Espresso and read the first several stories over a nice cappuccino. The brevity of these stories belies their creative nature. These stories, which range from Faustian bargains to an interesting take on time travel, are wonderfully succinct, and speak rather highly of the authors' skill.

Unfortunately, this book had been out of print for quite some time (or maybe it never really existed in this universe until I brought it over). I bought my copy some time around 1993, and haven't seen it for sale since (in retrospect, I probably bought the last copy to be sold at that particular store). As near as I can tell, the final printing was in 1991, which would mean that Microcosmic Tales has been out of print for nearly twenty years. It can still be found on the secondary market, usually for a fairly good price.

If the opportunity ever presents itself...maybe you're in a used bookstore, or at a flea market, and you see a copy for it. Trust me, you'll be doing yourself a favor.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In The Zone

Just a couple minutes ago, I came across this article about classic Twilight Zone episodes. I've only seen a few of them, although I'm familiar with nearly all of them. Such is the power of Twilight Zone - it's an integral piece of American culture.

One episode in particular really stood out for me. Time Enough at Last has been my favorite Twilight Zone episode ever since I first saw it some twenty plus years ago. I haven't seen it in a while, but I still remember quite clearly the effect that it had that first time. I'd say "Spoiler Alert," but this episode is over half a century old. The statute of limitations is long past.

I identified with the main character almost immediately. I've been a book lover for as long as I can remember. By the fourth grade I was regularly borrowing my dad's Star Trek novels, and soon thereafter, I began my own collection. This did not do anything to improve my social standing. As such, I immediately saw the story's beleaguered bookworm, one Henry Bemis, as a kindred spirit. The proverbial hook had caught me, and I was drawn into the story.

Henry, who works in a bank, retreats to the solace of the vault during his lunch break. There, he settles down to read in peace, far from the ridicule of his colleagues. I'm a little jealous at this point; there's no solace to be had in a middle school cafeteria.

As the story progresses, I'm right there with Henry. I feel his sadness when he realizes that he's completely alone. I share his elation upon discovering an intact library, full of books, with none of his former antagonists around (I may have exclaimed "Oh cool!" at this point, I'm not sure).

Then, just as everything was about to work out...Henry stumbles, dropping and shattering his thick glasses. Being new to The Twilight Zone, I had no idea that this was generally how things worked. As such, I was taken completely by surprise. This ending left me stunned; I found myself re-playing it in my mind, shocked at the horror of a man who, on the brink of suicide, finally finds something to live for, only to have it snatched away.

Pretty intense stuff for an eleven year old. Is it any wonder this is the one that sticks out for me?