SF in SF Reading: Blumlein and Cadnum

From the Borderlands Books newsletter: “SF in SF is a monthly science fiction author reading series curated by Adam Cornford, Karen Williams and Terry Bisson”.

The theme for July 18th was ‘genre benders’ and featured Michael Blumlein, MD and Michael Cadnum, both local authors (SF and Albany respectively) whose work I was previously unfamiliar with.

We arrived fannishly late and spent another couple of minutes trying to find our way around since no one was at the New College of California‘s front desk nor anywhere that we could see. After a couple of forays down empty hallways we found a room with people in it and the sure sign that we’d found it: someone at the door to take our $4.

About twenty people were milling about, the event running a little late as well. Some of the usual suspects like Jeremy Lassen and Jacob Weisman were there, but sadly the seats were barely a fifth full. The venue seems designed for dance or music performances, with a large hardwood floor and curtains lining the back wall. Nevertheless it suited our needs well enough and I rather liked it, except some disconcertingly glaring lights hanging from the ceiling. Next time I think I’ll bring a baseball cap. The location is smack dab in the middle of the increasingly interesting stretch of Valencia Street that includes Borderlands and 826 Valencia one block up and is at the heart of LitQuake. In addition there are almost too many good places to eat and drink, including our pit stop for the night, Ramblas.

Michael Cadnum started off the evening with a retelling of the Greek myth of Medusa from his new collection Can’t Catch Me published by local small press Tachyon Publications. His roots as a poet shine through in his prose and I was reminded a little of Peter Beagle, who is of course also a local author with books published by Tachyon. Lovely though it was, the story seemed to fall pretty squarely in the Fantasy genre despite being a ‘reimagining’, so I’ll have to check out the author’s collection to see if some of his other stories fit the bill more closely.

For his own part Blumlein treated us to some excerpts from a decidedly harder to categorize novel The Healer, published by the much acclaimed new SF imprint Pyr. The book is set in a society divided into humans and ‘grotesques’. Within the grotesques there is a subcategory of healers who have a specialized organ in their abdomen that can extract illnesses. Miners and gamblers were featured in the excerpts we heard, lending them a frontier flair; whether that is frontier-planet or frontier-Earth (and which Earth) is the question.

Terry Bisson, who of course is a worthy local author himself as well as a teacher at the New College, moderated a question-and-answer session after the readings that was as lively and interesting as any convention panel Iíve been to. Blumlein confessed himself at a loss as to what he was writing (SF/Fantasy/Other) and Cadnum waxed poetic about mythology and writing.

The Q&A started off appropriately with someone saying how Blumlein’s setup description of “a world which humans share with another race called Grotesques” had led him to assume the genre was obvious, to which Bisson of course replied, “Yes, but obviously what?” From there the discussion wandered to theories of writing and elsewhere, at least once careening dangerously close to becoming an iteration on the ‘what is science fiction’ trope fans love to circle back to whenever allowed. Thankfully, the detour was brief.

I will definitely be picking up The Healer and if I had the money on me, I would probably have purchased it right there from the table oh-so-thoughtfully set up by Borderlands and manned by the erudite and always charming Jude Feldman.

Next in the series should be on August 8 at 7:00 p.m., with Richard Lupoff and Carter Scholz. However, I can’t find any information on previous or upcoming SF in SF readings on the New College website.

~España Sheriff

SF/SF Issue #27, August 26, 2006