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Then and back again.


I put the book in the envelope. I put the mailing label on the envelope. I put the cash card in the self-serve machine and get the postage and put the postage on the envelope. I take the envelope and I, aw, hell.

—I mean this isn’t happening now. This is happening about five or six hours ago. (Twenty-seven or so as I edit.) (My first-pass edits, anyway.) —What I’m doing now is I’m typing. I mean I’m not typing now. Or maybe I am but not this. Right now what’s happening is you’re reading this. I have no idea how long from this now that now is, so I have no idea how long ago by now the now was when I did all that.

But: it had to be done. I’d made a promise. Deal’s a deal.

So I put the envelope in the mailbox and sent it back the way it came.


I took the book down off the shelf. Which one first, I’m not quite sure. —And I couldn’t tell you when it was I took it down. I’m pretty sure it was after I took War for the Oaks from the endcap display because mostly what I remember about the first time I saw War for the Oaks was the electric tingle sparking between fingertip and cover art as I reached for the damn thing; call it whatever the German portmanteau is for ohmygodwhatthefuckthislookscool. —Shock of the new, basically. Borderland. Which wouldn’t have been half as shocking had I already picked up Borderland and Bordertown, what with the elves and the motorcycles and the leather jackets and the rock ’n’ roll and all. —And while I remember the cover art for Borderland and Bordertown as a major factor in why I picked them up, I don’t remember that same spark; or not so potent, anyway. —But I could maybe have picked them up first. I was after all already a fan of the shared-world anthologies, Thieves’ World and Liavek and Wild Cards; here’s one more, with fæ punks; what’s not to love? —I think maybe I picked up Architect of Sleep after I picked up Borderland because Stephen R. Boyett, but I can’t be sure; I have a vague memory of being surprised that the one Borderland story (the postapocalyptic one, that feels like it’s in John M. Ford’s idea of the place instead of everybody else’s) was by the raccoon guy, but that’s a ghost of a wisp of a memory of a thought; untrustworthy. I could easily have picked up a book with a title like Architect of Sleep on a whim in those days. Bordertown. (Still would, actually. Wouldn’t you?) (Whatever became of the long-awaited sequel[s]?) (—Oh.)

I don’t even remember if it was before I was in Brigadoon, or after. —What I can tell you is I’m sure I bought Borderland and Bordertown at the same time.

Pretty sure, anyway. —This was all a very long time ago, okay? How long? Let’s just say the shelf in question was in a B. Dalton’s and leave it at that.

Somewhat earlier.

Oh I was sunk already. I mean Tolkien, yes, and Lewis, and Heinlein and Asimov and Clarke, Alexander, Norton, Donaldson even, all of them hard on the heels of a diet of Matthew Looneys and Lewis Barnavelts and Bob Fultons and Furious Flycycles and Fat Bear Spies and Davids and Phœnices, but the thing that took off the top of my head was when Mom all unlooked-for brought home The Grey King. Magic that’s happening here, and now? —I mean, “here” was Wales, but it was a farm in Wales, and I lived on a farm, and oh who cares, I could make the jump for those songs, and that language like a secret code, and above all for the hint that something that big and that important could be just around a corner that I might see myself? Something made all the more real by how implacably and righteously unfair it was—

The rest of the books were secured post-haste. —I couldn’t sleep the night I turned twelve. I was waiting for the Old Ones, see. Maybe they’d missed me on my eleventh birthday. We’d been moving a lot.

Since then.

I was in Brigadoon, if I hadn’t been already. I graduated from high school. I saw Rocky Horror. I ran away from home the socially sanctioned way, to college; I dumped my high school sweetheart over the phone. I got an email address. (It was a much bigger deal, in those days.) I spent a summer in the Weaponshop of Isher, whose walls were held together with scotch tape; I got drunk, on beer, on wine, on White Russians. I tried acid, since I couldn’t stand smoking. I started drinking coffee in a diner in New York after seeing Crimes and Misdemeanors. I started smoking clove cigarettes. I dressed in nothing but black for weeks at a time and lost my heart beyond recall to my best friend’s sister. I saw Shock Treatment. I saw Liquid Sky. I saw Rare Air take the roof off Oberlin’s Finney Chapel. Twice. I found a Boiled in Lead album on CD. (It was harder to do, in those days.) I dropped out of college and got a job washing dishes so I could afford an 80-dollar-a-month walk-in closet that was so small I had to roll up my futon so I had room for my books. I found my heart again and sold the bass guitar I never learned how to play so I could cover rent. I was living with game designers, cartoonists, a proofreader, a botanist, a classicist, a computer archeologist. (I don’t think that’s what he ever called himself. But he made a killing, come Y2K.) Ten of us, in a five-bedroom house on a cul de sac? Somebody played me a Waterboys CD. I started dating a Jersey girl and when she moved in we swore we’d maintain separate bedrooms even as I was stashing my clothes in her dresser. Waiting for a plane in an airport in the middle of the country one of us turned to the other and said, we should get married, and the other one said, yeah, sure, only neither of us can remember which was which. We moved across the country on a whim, almost all ten of us. We got married, just the two of us, and then just the two of us got our own place. We bought a house. I backed into a career that had nothing to do with the writing I was starting to get done. We had a kid. We named her Taran, from the Lloyd Alexander books. We started buying more bookshelves for all the damn books.

I don’t know what happened to the Thieves’ World volumes. Whatever’s left might be in the attic of the house in Rock Hill? Along with that long-lost Dune Encyclopedia. The Wild Cards I’m pretty sure all got sold off. Liavek? A short while back I found another copy of the first one at Powell’s and I picked it up. The only Asimov in the house at this point is his Guide to Shakespeare which I really ought to give back to Dylan one of these days. The only Heinlein left is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. I should go get a copy of the White Hart tales; make a note of that. The original Coopers are long since lost, which is a damn shame; the old skool art direction kicked the ass of everything that’s come since; but I’ve got them on the shelves of course, along with Tolkien and Lewis and Alexander.

War for the Oaks? Bordertown? —Those books, the very ones I pulled off those B. Dalton’s shelves, tattered and worn, beat to hell, really—travel-stained, as it were—they’re up on the shelf above me as I write this. —Borderland ganged agley at some point in all that, but two out of three ain’t bad, right?

I should maybe see about replacing it.

A couple of weeks ago.

I was checking LiveJournal between Russian DDoS attacks (like you do) when I saw that Userinfo.janni had just posted the following:

If you’d like to borrow Welcome to Bordertown, and you’re willing to commit to both reading it in about a week and to them talking about it somewhere online, leave a comment below. I’ll mail you my copy, and then when you’re done, you’ll mail it back to me, and I’ll send it on to the next person on the list. (ETA: And will keep doing so until the book itself goes on sale at the end of May, however many people that turns out to be, and at that point see whether it’s still in good enough shape to keep sending around.)

And you know Stumptown was coming up and the Spouse was trying to get her presentation done and her covers drawn and her book off to the printer which doubles me up on toddler duty and I still had about 4,000 words to write as it turned out and only that upcoming week to do it and yet—I didn’t hesitate at all. “For this,” I said, “I could make the time.”

Three days later.

I got one of those big Priority Mail envelopes dropped on my desk. —Good lord, this one’s a biggun.

So the first thing I did—I’d like to say the first thing I did was read Janni Lee Simner’s story, because one should be gracious to gracious hosts, Welcome to Bordertown. but the first thing I did (after I stuck a bookmark in where Simner’s story began) was read “Fair Trade,” by Sara Ryan and Dylan Meconis, because good friends had made it to the Border, and because, y’know, comics, but mostly because I had to see the Dicebox poster hanging on the wall in the Dancing Ferret. And there it is, and there’s Farrel Din, and Alberta’s Last Thursday art-walk fits right in on Carmine Street; how weird, to find a bit of where I am now in a place I haven’t been back to in years. —And then it’s on to Janni’s piece, “Crossings,” which plays a mean little game with Team Edward, and Team Jacob, and the neatly deflatory resolution of Team Jacob is one of those things you can only do in a shared world like this: borrowing somebody else’s character whose hard set-up and expository work has already been done elsewhere in that somebody else’s story, so all you have to do is use ’em, make your point, and let ’em go back about their other elsewhere business. —So then it’s on to Will Shetterly’s story, “The Sages of Elsewhere,” because Wolfboy, because you have to check in with the folks you used to know back in the day, see what they’re up to, and he’s running a damn bookstore now. —Somebody’s getting older.

And that’s another thing you only get with shared worlds, with proprietary, persistent, large-scale popular fictions, and it’s a blessing and a curse: virtual world journalism: “I don’t know, it’s kind of like reading a newspaper. It’s not like the newspaper is inspiring, but you need to read it to see what happens.” —It’s hard sometimes to see the story qua story because you’re looking around in it, through it, past it for the bits and scraps of the larger, shared world beyond, and if something like Bordertown isn’t nearly so proprietary as the Marvel or DC multiverses, allowing individual stories the leeway they need to stand on their own merits, and voice, well—it isn’t nearly so persistent, neither: five collections of a few dozen stories, three novels, thirteen years between appearances: you’re hungrier, is the thing, for those scraps and bits.

So next it’s on to Emma Bull’s “Incunabulum,” because it’s not just characters and neighborhoods you want to catch up on, and damned if it doesn’t seem to me at least like she’s riffing a little Delany in the mix, with her declarative paragraphs, her blank Page inscribed by his wanderings about the city. —Then Nalo Hopkinson in “Ours is the Prettiest” goes and drops a whole new neighborhood (to me, at least): Little Tooth, and the Café Cubana, and Screaming Lord Neville, and the swirling madhouse stomp of the Jamboree suddenly never has not been a part of the Bordertown, even as she’s asking some pointed questions about whose magic exactly it is that gets reified by the world as it’s been in these books; and in “Shannon’s LawCory Doctorow brings the goddamn internet to the Border, or at least an internet, and the way it’s cobbled together foregrounds the sheer joy of the basic, simple idea which has nothing to do with computers when you get right down to it—though it’s a joy that’s tempered by the melancholy inherent in the story of a kid running away to live out the story of the hardscrabble internet pioneer, a story that’s long since dead and gone out here in the real. —And somewhere in and among all that I read the lyrics to Jane Yolen’s “Soulja Grrrl,” which gets performed in the background in “Crossings,” and the “Borderland Jump-Rope Rhyme” (and is it only me who thinks of Louis Untermeyer when confronted with folklorist L. Durocher? Probably) and also Neil Gaiman’s “Song of the Song” and Delia Sherman’s “The Wall” and Steven Brust’s “Run Back to the Border” (because Steven Brust) but my favorite of the songs I think has got to be Amal El-Mohtar’s “Stairs in her Hair,” which spawns or was spawned by a metaphor in Catherynne M. Valente’s bracingly chilly “Voice like a Hole”—

—which, that move right there, that’s not something particular to a shared-world book, like borrowing a character or a setting somebody else has set up; that’s just the way art gets made, you know, the usual game of inspiration and allusion and homage, only with something like a shared world, a collective enterprise like this, you get to see it happen a little more quickly, a little more clearly, you get that giddy sense of play and camaraderie that Holly Black talks about in her introduction, of a bunch of writers sitting around writing and reading and one-upping each other, that idealized circus that any bookish youth with half a hankering to write themselves would want to run away to join, to finally hear, like Jimmy Fix-It does, heading into Danceland with the rest of Widdershins in “Welcome to Bordertown,” by Terri Windling and Ellen Kushner, that you’re with the goddamn band—


The book itself drops in exactly a month; 30 days from now (as I write this, yes), Tuesday, the 24th of May. —I was gonna tell you about the contests various contributors are running, to win their advanced reading copies of the book, in case you couldn’t wait, but I took too damn long and the ones that haven’t ended already are ending today. —Still: Emma Bull was asking for ways to get there, and Nalo Hopkinson is yet soliciting menus for a king-hell meal to be cooked once you make it; go and read the entries already posted, because damn. (Oh wait there’s hope; there’s always hope; new contests keep being announced—)

It’s grand, it’s giddy, it’s gloriously stupid, it’s too earnest by half like all the best things you remember from then, it was terribly important to a great many people and I’ve no doubt at all that it will be again. In the thirteen years it Brigadooned itself away the phantastick ate up the world in a way it never has before, and the n00bs have been dreaming of rings and swords and elves in technicolors we never had back then; and it’s so much easier now with the internets and all to tell each other how to get there and what to do when you’ve made it. —If you’ve been before, you can go back. If you’ve never gone, then what the heck are you waiting for? Go! Go!

  1. Terri Windling    Apr 25, 02:00 AM    #

    Thank you for this terrific review. “It’s grand, it’s giddy, it’s gloriously stupid, it’s too earnest by half” — that’s exactly how I think of Bordertown. And it’s nice to know there are fellow Rare Air fans out there. Their concerts were absolutely awesome; I’ll never forget them.

  2. Nalo Hopkinson    Apr 25, 02:43 AM    #

    I’d blanked on the existence of the neighbourhood of Little Tooth. It’s been in the Bordertown books for awhile. Maybe it didn’t register b/c it hadn’t been explored much? I can’t say for sure. Bad memory. But when it came time to write a Bordertown story, I did remember Cafe Cubana and Screaming Lord Neville, who was originally created by Ellen Kushner. I just messed with him a little, much to Ellen’s apparent glee.

  3. Kip Manley    Apr 25, 07:40 AM    #

    There’s never enough damn time, or space; even with all this there’s all the stuff I left out, like the critical theory and suchlike; like how adding yet another way we can all be split into this, or that, helps weirdly bring out all the other already ways: how it’s the numinous color of her hair, the momentary mention of the silvery nap on Gladstone’s burly frame that suddenly, sharply, if only for a breath, helps you see that much more clearly all the other edges she’s balanced on, or tipping over. —Or how hilariously charming it is that it’s Honest Ed’s transformation into Snappin’ Wizard’s that keys Damiana into her step over the Border, since I only know Honest Ed’s from Scott Pilgrim; it’s already a magical place to me…

    And Rare Air, yeah: I might even still have that one vinyl album? Must be up in the same damn attic somewhere. —Thanks again, everybody.

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