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Dispatches from the Border


*Overheard in the store:

"He's hardly some Svengali. I don't think he could mesmerize a Pet Rock."

"When I sit down to read a Terry Pratchett novel, I know that nothing can hurt me until after I'm done."

(Small Child, to stranger): "You look like a witch!"
(Guardian of Small Child, shocked): "[child's name], why would you say that? That's really not a nice thing to say!" (To Stranger) "I'm very sorry."
(Small Child, totally confused): "It IS a nice thing! Witches are pretty!"

#1: "Oh my gosh -- it's a wall of Tolkien!"
#2: "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
#1: "YES!"

* This was a tough month for literature lovers:

RIP Norton Juster:

Larry McMurtry passed away at age 84:

And we lost beloved "Ramona Quimby" author Beverly Cleary at age 104:

* Photosynthesis without sun!

* This was completely amazing; the real life (and much better!) "Lord of the Flies" -- what actually happened when six schoolboys were shipwrecked for 15 months:

* Have you ever wondered how they did the special effects in that particularly gross scene in John Carpenter's movie "The Thing"?

* We're all thrilled that brilliant fantasy author Peter S. Beagle has regained control of the rights to his work following a lengthy court battle with his criminal former manager Conor Cochran!  Read the press release here, and if you'd like to follow him on Twitter (@Peterbeaglever1) or Facebook (, please use the official links listed:

* Esteemed science fiction author John Varley is recovering well from recent heart surgery, but could really use some financial help.  Varley is a favorite writer of the staff not to mention being an all around lovely person.  A Gofundme campaign has been started by Spider Robinson and Steph Herman --

* Sure, this isn't creepy AT ALL -- "Dark Watchers" in the Santa Lucia mountains:

* The hyperreal life of Chen Qiufan:

* 13 times science fiction accurately predicted future tech:

* NASA hopes pirates don't steal the new space telescope:

* We thought this was fascinating -- "Spiders appear to offload cognitive tasks to their webs, making them one of a number of species with a mind that isn't fully confined within the head.":

* Seven (sailing) ships that disappeared without a trace:

* High school student Dasia Taylor invented sutures that change color to detect infection:

* "Today I am monumentally fed up with the idea of writing." "Writing can be good. You attack it, don?t let it attack you." Douglas Adams' 'General Note to Myself' (& other thoughts) on the writing process:

* Well, THIS is a fun headline -- "Uranus is belching X-rays and is weirder than we ever thought":

* Growing better lettuce -- in space:

* The Guardian (UK) talks with physicist Michio Kaku:

* A few things about WorldCon this year -- it will take place in person (!), the hotel has changed, and it's been moved to December (!):

* A 30-year-old Soviet adaptation of "The Fellowship of the Ring", for your viewing. . . pleasure? (Also, while you're at it, breathe deeply over the fact that 1991 was THIRTY YEARS AGO):

From The Office

Hearing about John Varley's current health and associated financial difficulties (see the news section above or read about it here - this month and also hearing the very, very good news that Peter Beagle has finally and conclusively beaten his scumbag former manager in court . . . .  

It got me thinking.  Booksellers, as a group, have pretty poor retirement paths.  But, there are a few professions that have even worse ones.  A friend once outlined the usual retirement for a fencing coach; "Work 'til your knees give out and then live poor in a hovel for your remaining years.  If you're lucky."  That's pretty bad.  But, the retirement of a full-time mid-list author isn't much better.  

If you're reasonably successful, your books will stay in print and so you'll have constant royalties coming from your backlist. But, royalties are based on sales and, unless something happens that makes your books suddenly notable (i.e. a movie or a TV show, a topic you wrote about being in the news in a big way, someone famous talking about your work, and so on), the royalties drop over time as fewer and fewer people buy your work.  

Of course, if you're not lucky, then your books go out of print.  And you get nothing.  That does mean you can sell your out-of-print books again but, first, someone has to be interested in reprinting them and, second, the payment and royalties are usually not as good as they were the first time.

So, really, the only way to keep your income in-coming is to keep writing new books and selling them.

Meanwhile, if you live in the United States, your medical coverage is expensive and, probably, not very good (unless you're lucky enough to have a spouse with a "real" job that gives you benefits).  So, when the inevitable health problems come up, it's really expensive.  And, those same health problems often make it damn hard to write, which creates an even bigger financial pinch.

It's a pretty crappy situation, all around.  And it happens more often that most people realize.  I see it because I have a lot of friends who are writers and, though I'm just a baby bookseller (in booksellers' years, 22 is right around kindergarten age or, maybe, grade-school), I've been around long enough to be friends with writers who are getting old now.

So, think of a writer you adore, whose work changed your world, and who you figure must be doing great financially (because, after all, they're a brilliant writer -- that's why you love their work so much).  Now consider that at some point in the past, present, or future they might be in financial straights so harsh that they are having to decide what bills to forgo paying and wondering how they are going to buy groceries.

Awful, isn't it?

There isn't really a fix for it.  At least there isn't a simple one.  At Borderlands we try to help by spreading the word when an author is trying to raise money, like John is now and like Spider Robinson did when his partner was sick.  

You can help too.  That author I asked you to think of?  Are you on their mailing list?  Or do you follow them on Facebook?  If you don't, there's a chance you won't find out if they get in a jam.  So, here's what I'd like you to do.  First, pick three authors that you absolutely love (only living ones please, the dead ones are past all trouble).  Second, go sign up for their mailing list or blog or whatever damn thing they have -- almost everyone has some sort of "social media presence" now.

(You so know what's coming next.)

Third, if they get in a jam, help them out.  Send some cash.  Some good wishes too but, the cash is the important part.  It's a tiny, fractional payment for all the happiness and pleasure they've given you.

Until next time, stay safe, be kind, and I hope to see you around the shop sometime.

Alan Beatts

Best Sellers
Borderlands Best-Selling Titles for March, 2021

1. A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine
2. The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
3. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
4. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
5. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
6. Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson
7. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
8. Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire
9. The Burning God by R.F. Kuang
10. Persephone Station by Stina Leicht

Trade Paperbacks
1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
2. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
3. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
4. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
5. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow
6. The Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
7. Memory of Empire by Arkady Martine
8. Agency by William Gibson
9. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
10. Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Mass Market Paperbacks
1. Dune by Frank Herbert
2. Calculated Risks by Seanan McGuire
3. Neuromancer by William Gibson
4. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
5. Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
6. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
7. Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
8. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
9. The Thousand Names by Django Wexler
10. False Value by Ben Aaronovitch

Book Club Information

The QSF&F Book Club will meet virtually on Sunday, April 11th, at 5 pm to discuss Network Effect: A Murderbot Novel by Martha Wells.  Please contact the group leader, Christopher Rodriguez, at, for more information.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club will meet virtually on Sunday, April 18th, at 6 pm to discuss The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey.  Please contact for more information.

This newsletter is distributed monthly free of charge and may be distributed without charge so long all the following information is included.

Dispatches from the Border
Editor - Jude Feldman
Assistant Editor - Alan Beatts

All contents unless otherwise noted are the property of Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia St.
San Francisco CA 94110
415 824-8203
Comments and suggestions should be directed to

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