Friday, August 04, 2006

SMALL TALK COLUMN By John A. Small

Today we have a "guest blog: from my pal John Small:

SMALL TALK COLUMN
For August 3, 2006

By John A. Small
News Editor
Johnston County Capital-Democrat


A WELCOME BREAK FROM REALITY

For a lifelong, self-admitted übergeek like Yours Truly, it was an experience that can only be described as being just slightly this side of nirvana...

Some of you may recall (there's absolutely no reason in the world why you should, but then again stranger things have happened) that last year I was one of several writers whose essays appeared in an anthology entitled Myths For The Modern Age. The book was something of a tribute to famed science fiction author Philip José Farmer – like my wife, a native of Peoria, Ill. – whose works include what I have come to call the Wold Newton Mythos: a series of novels, short stories, essays and other works in which Farmer combines some of fiction's best known stories and characters into a single unified mythology.

To make a long story short: over the years a number of writers have expounded on Farmer's ideas with their own essays, several of which were collected by editor Win Scott Eckert into Myths For The Modern Age. I was fortunate enough to be among those whose efforts are included in the book; my contribution is an admittedly minor one – a mere 14 pages of a 400-plus page tome – but it was a kick to be invited to participate in the project on two levels.

First, it offered me the opportunity to exercise a little more creative writing than my day job (much as I love it) usually allows; second, it was a chance to pay tribute to a writer whose works had helped fuel a youthful enthusiasm for the science fiction/fantasy genre that continues to this day.

The book came out last November to almost universal praise from critics and fans alike, and for a small town newspaper reporter from rural Oklahoma it's been a pretty heady experience which, frankly, has been a little difficult to explain to those who ordinarily might not be all that interested in such things. (To use a metaphor that our sports editor Gerry Ratliff might appreciate, I suppose it's a little like a lifelong baseball fan being invited out of the stands to throw a couple of pitches to the likes of Ernie Banks or Hank Aaron at an old-timers' game.)

The personal thrill of being involved in the project was compounded not long afterwards when I was invited to help promote the book by taking part in a panel discussion and book signing at this year's ComicCon International in San Diego, Calif. Although it's promoted as a comic book convention – the largest in America, in fact – ComicCon International has grown in its 30-plus year history into more a celebration of pop culture in general. Movie studios and video game manufacturers use the week-long event to preview their upcoming releases, while motion picture and television actors turn out to sign autographs and promote their latest works and/or whatever social cause they happen to be pursuing that particular week.

Over in another corner of the convention center, famed science fiction and fantasy authors hold question-and-answer sessions with fans and press alike, while companies that specialize in the manufacture of Hollywood props or costumes sell replicas of their work; from what I could tell, it cost more for fans to buy the replicas than it did for the company to build the originals. Meanwhile, fans parade around the convention floor in homemade costumes from "Star Trek," "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings" or "The Matrix," as used book dealers sell hard-to-find paperback and hardcover editions of everything from Edgar Rice Burroughs or Robert E. Howard first editions to the collected works of Charles M. Schulz and Dr. Suess.

Somewhere amidst all the madness, your friendly neighborhood news editor briefly held court before an audience of comic book and pulp fiction fans who learned about the connection between an ally of Zorro's named Lady Rawhide and a popular comic book heroine of the 1970s named Vampirella. Pretty silly stuff, I suppose, and obviously not all that important in the grand scheme of reality.

To some extent, however, that was the point... for me, at any rate. Although I've never let it become quite the all-encompassing fanaticism that it is for your
stereotypical fanboy nerd types (the kind of people who go to the grocery store wearing rubber Spock ears or respond to daily crises by quoting Yoda, for example), my fondness for science fiction and fantasy in general has always provided a sort of release from the day-to-day realities that make up all of our lives. It's not meant to be taken seriously, but it's fun to turn one’s back on reality every now and then and escape into a fantasy world of superheroes and intergalactic adventurers.

And on a professional level it afforded me an opportunity I would never have had otherwise: to not only share the room with such luminaries as famed author Ray Bradbury, legendary comic book creator Stan Lee or special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, but to be viewed by fellow fans in attendance – by virtue of my mere 14 pages in a 400-plus page tome – as being a peer to these storytellers whose works I have enjoyed all my life.

Even better was the opportunity to finally meet some of my fellow contributors to said book – media scholars like Win Eckert, Brad Mengel, Dennis Power, Henry Covert, Chris Carey, Dr. Pete Coogan, and the lovably lunatic “Savage Chuck” Loridans (brother in spirit, if not by blood) – and to bask in the glow of newfound friendship.

Somewhere inside this world-weary journalist, there beats the heart of a six-year-old who still remembers how his imagination soared the first time he saw Superman flying faster than a speeding bullet, King Kong carrying Fay Wray to the top of the Empire State Building and Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star. It's nice every now and then to let that six-year-old back out to play for just a little while. It's even better to be able to share the experience with those who aren't afraid to let their own internal six-year-olds out onto the same playground.

Yeah, I know. It's all so terribly silly. Childish, even. Grow up already, Small. Act like an adult, for crying out loud!

But it was all just so dog-gone cool...

(Copyright © 2006 by John A. Small)
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