In these latter days of August of 1999 I am, for the nonce, ensconced in my mothers house in South Dakota, said house being one mile south of the town of Highmore, said town being the highest point between Chicago and the Missouri river, that being perhaps the only claim to fame and renown that the town merits. In my youth the town had some 1100 residents (I make no claim as to the number of souls) and no less than eleven churches. The pattering course of local history has not been kind to would be civic boosters; the current population is about 850. I have not essayed a census of the number of churches but I suspect that their numbers, too, have declined. On the other hand the town has a bowling alley wherein they vend spirits. In my youth there was no such thing; there was a rather nice bakery instead. So it is that in these times of decay and decline sin replaces good bread.
Being temporarily resident in the metropolis of my youth I have assumed the casual attitude of the natives towards traveling long distances to partake of almost anything which is why the notion of driving from Highmore to Minneapolis to go a book signing did not strike me as an absurd idea but rather, instead, as a perfectly reasonable and sensible notion. Mind you, the distance between the ridiculous and the sublime in this instance is some 380 miles, a trip which takes upwards of six hours at the modest driving pace which I permit myself. (I leave it to the reader to decide which of the two metropoli constitutes the ridiculous and which is the sublime.)
The book signing was at the Dreamhaven bookstore in Minneapolis. The author was Lois McMasters Bujold. The work was A Civil Campaign. The time was six in the evening on a Saturday. I arrived some ten minutes before the scheduled signing; one doesn’t want to be fashionably late for these events – there is too great a danger of missing them entirely. Conversely there is no reason to be overly early. Driving 380 miles to arrive ten minutes beforehand strikes me as admirable precision in timing.
The Dreamhaven book store deals in science fiction, fantasy, comic books and assorted paraphanalia. It is a nice little store. It definitely lacks the pizazz of a superstore; many of the shelves bear evidence of being hand made or at least being quite inexpensive. There is no coffee bar IIRC. On the other hand they did have champagne, very nice chocolates, dip, and dip chips for the signing. I am partial to champagne and fine chocolates so I rather approved of this touch.
Lois Bujold is the author of a series of award winning novels and short stories set on a world named Barrayar and its immediate galactic neighbourhood. Most of these works revolve around the rather remarkable Vorkosigan family. They are notable for interesting characters, interesting technobabble, and delightful wit. The present work, A Civil Campaign, is a comedy of manners and biology, owing much to Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and Dorothy Sayers. It is vastly funny although some may draw the line at the food fight.
Bujold’s publisher, Baen Books, published chapters of the book on the web, one chapter every few weeks, timing it so that ten of the nineteen chapters had appeared by the date of shipping. This sparked a great deal of interest and upwards of a thousand postings on rec.arts.sf.written discussing the book. One appreciates keenly the sensations that readers of Dickens must have felt as his novels appeared in weekly installments.
Having obtained my copy, having drunk my champagne, having inhaled some chocolates, having listened to Bujold expound on her writing projects(she is a quite charming woman by the way), and having read some more chapters of the book I showed immense amounts of character by not finishing it on the spot and instead went on to my next social engagement of the weekend.
Heather Henderson, noted rabbinista, had kindly offered to put me up for the evening. Heather lives in St. Paul. I am informed that the residents of St. Paul acknowledge the existence of Minneapolis rather grudgingly as though Minneapolis were on the far side of the Pacific ocean rather than being on the other side of the river. Minneapolis returns the favor, the two being rather like Siamese twins who have not spoken to each other for thirty years.
She dwells there with her husband Victor (who was out of town for the weekend), a parrot named Bill, two cats named Martin and Boxhead, and a dog named Boswell. The dwelling place is half of a side by side two family Victorian. I am informed that there is a considable amount of scandal about the previous tenants, scandal that I shall not relate in order that I might preserve my reputation for propriety.
Heather and I talked almost endlessly on diverse matters; on the whole we were quite restrained in cutting up characters. I cannot say that we agreed on anything, precisely, but we covered a good deal of ground.
I had high hopes that the parrot would have a large and scatological vocabulary. Alas, the poor bird babbles a lot but never says anything comprehensible, being rather like a victim of one of those dreadful degenerative mental diseases. Heather assured me that her previous parrot was coherent and satisfyingly racy. I really do feel that if a hostess is presenting her guests with a parrot it should, at a minimum, have a vocabulary that brings the blush of shame to a maiden’s cheek.
Boswell is a moderately large dog not long out of puppyhood. If I am not mistaken he is half rotweiler and half retriever; if this is not quite right it is close enough; he is that sort of dog. He has, in Caesar’s words, received the unkindest cut of all. It should go without saying that queries about Boswell’s Johnson are quite out of order; this Johnson writes not although it is quite serviceable for marking territories
Boswell took a shine to me; with all of the perspicacity of the young he immediately recognized me as a soft touch who could be imposed upon to play, to toss chewed upon slippers for fetching, to scratch behind ears, and, in general, to serve as a source of canine delight. It is a source of satisfaction to me to reflect that I probably have a place reserved for me in canine heaven.
Since rabble, as far as I can tell, never actually discuss books even though they read large numbers of them I shall not discuss her library except to say that she does indeed have quantities of books littering the house – some of them rather odd indeed.
We talked, we walked over to a local Japanese restaurant to eat, we returned, we talked, I disappeared into slumberland upon a futon, I arose, Heater quite kindly prepared breakfast, Boswell took advantage of my consciousness, and we talked.
Heather, BTW, is a pleasant woman with vigorously expressed, decided opinions. I naturally explained to her the errors in her opinions and she quite wisely put no stock in my explanations. She is, as advertised, a baseball nut and is an excellent cook who is fearless in using butter.
Eventually I departed and was blessed during my trip back by passing through a thoroughly satisfying prarie thunderstorm; I got to watch nature’s light show done on the grand scale. Altogether it was a excellent ending to a satisfying weekend.
This page was last updated September 12, 1999.