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Friday, February 26, 2021

Comic Cuts — 26 February 2021

We had a bad week for British comics recently with the passing of Gerald Lipman, Bill Titcombe and Si Spencer and I began last week's column on a rather sad / exasperated note. So this week I thought I'd take a moment to just say that there are also positive things to celebrate and life isn't all unremitting bleakness.

I began reading science fiction seriously at the age of 12 and have never given it up, although I do read other things (mostly crime novels and thrillers). Between roughly 1974-1989 I read science fiction to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. At that time there were a vast number of SF novels and collections coming out in paperback, and I was a voracious reader. There was a second-hand book stall at Chelmsford market which fed my reading habit for not too much money — the books were 10p each for the most part. I began a part time job in 1978 which meant I could buy my books new at Clarke's when a paperback was still under a pound.

In the Seventies I was also reading SF magazines, picked up at the W.H. Smith's at Chelmsford railway station where, one day in the summer of 1976, I discovered they stocked The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Asimov's and others. I started picking them up regularly, and added to my collection with trips up to London — to Dark They Were and Golden Eyed and Heroes — where I found other magazines like Galileo and Cosmos. And we had our own magazines in the UK, like Science Fiction Monthly (the big poster-sized mag), Vortex and Extro.

In my usual roundabout way, I'm trying to say that there were a number of writers I grew up with as my SF horizons expanded. My favourites included John Varley, George R. R. Martin, Joe Haldeman and William Gibson. Of the three, Varley was my favourite and remains so to this day. There aren't many of his books that I haven't read and not many of his short stories that I haven't read and re-read.

I've reached an age where people whose work I loved as a kid are passing on. Last year Neal Peart, the drummer/lyricist of Rush, died and it had a far more profound effect on me than the death of other musicians I recognised. And on Monday, John Varley went into hospital for what was described as "extremely needful" quadruple bypass surgery.

Again, considering that I've never met the man, my anxiety about the outcome was probably out of all proportion, but the stray thought that there might be no more short stories of books from Varley's pen floored me. I later heard the operation went well and, although he's still hospitalised as I write this, he was said to be doing well. Good news.

My cousin, recently diagnosed with Covid, is doing fine. So more good news. Someone else I know was recently hospitalised after a nasty reaction to an injection, but he, too, is now back home and doing fine.

On a very different note, but also good news, one of my Bear Alley Books got a mention recently in the Sunday Times. Thanks to my ongoing battle with technology, I couldn't check my e-mail until Monday morning and there was a dozen orders waiting for me. All promptly processed, as were a bunch of orders for my Countdown book, so I'm guessing that, too, got a positive mention somewhere over the weekend.

My war with technology continues unabated. On Saturday morning, the fan in my computer was rattling badly and I decided to reboot the machine to see if that sorted it out. While it was rebooting, the lights flickered and the power cut out for a few seconds, shutting the machine down. I tried again and, again while the computer powered up, we had a full blown power cut that took out the whole block for almost an hour.

Nervously, I ran a diagnostic programme on the drives to make sure they were OK... which they were. The fan was still rattling, but I gave everything a good clean, cranked up the music, and managed to catch up on some e-mail. When I rebooted the computer after lunch, the fan came on with its usual whisper and hasn't caused any problems since.

On Tuesday, a programme I've used without any problems since May 2020 suddenly wouldn't work. I thought maybe it was the most recent update, but as there has been no mention of problems on related boards, I spent a chunk of this evening deleting and reinstalling the programme. Whether it works properly I've yet to check, but it seemed to be OK.

I thought I'd end with this photo, taken this (Thursday) evening as we were walking home. The sky was on fire behind all the houses as we took our evening exercise. I waited until I could get a clearer shot and I'm glad I did.

(* The column header is an extract from a page by Glyn Protheroe, who is the subject of one of a series of articles I'm writing. All will be revealed shortly.)

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