Sunday, February 25, 2024

By Grabthar's hammer: Sci-fi in New Mexico.


Lynne Cantwell 2024
The New Mexico state legislature has wrapped up its annual session, so I've finally had a chance to learn the answer to a question that's been bugging me for several weeks: Why does Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham have an R2-D2 in her office?

See, our office is on the same floor in the Roundhouse as the governor's. There's a small gallery behind her reception desk that I pass on my way in to work, and you can see that R2 unit from the hallway.

It turns out that it's part of an exhibit on science fiction and New Mexico's connection to it. Now Albuquerque is the place for Breaking Bad fans (just check out the plethora of merchandise for sale in any tourist trap there), but a whole lot of movies have been filmed all or partly in the Land of Enchantment. Not any of the Star Wars movies, alas, according to this list on Wikipedia, even though there was some talk about Episode VII being shot here while the production crew was scouting locations.

Nor was Galaxy Quest filmed here. Nevertheless, the governor's office has on display a costume worn by Alan Rickman in that movie (and happy belated birthday to Alan). 

Lynne Cantwell 2024
Apparently the only connection between these props and this state is that they're on loan from the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamagordo. That's the closest town to White Sands Missile Range, the site of the world's first nuclear explosion, in 1945. (Oppenheimer was actually shot in New Mexico, although not at the Trinity site.) 

The exhibit in the governor's gallery also features info with a much less tenuous connection to the state: sci-fi authors from New Mexico. 

Lynne Cantwell 2024
Some, but not all, of the books in the display case were written by New Mexican authors. And I've gotta say that they missed a whole bunch of folks, including but not limited to George R.R. Martin, Walter Jon Williams, Robert Vardeman, and -- the most glaring omission, to my mind -- Stephen R. Donaldson. (I mean, Stephen McCranie? Who the heck is he? Maybe the exhibit's creators should have asked fans of the genre for input.)

The exhibit is up until April 29th, and admission is free. In fact, the Roundhouse has an extensive collection of work by New Mexican artists, and you can see all that for free, too. I know most tourists don't include state capitals on their itineraries, but ours is worth a stop if you're going to be in Santa Fe anyway.

We missed visiting the space history museum when we were in Alamogordo last fall. Now I'm wondering whether to go back. I have a few other things I want to see in the state first, though.


These moments of speculative blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, February 18, 2024

What Jimmy Mender did.

I had a great blog post idea teed up for tonight, but it can wait. I'd rather talk about a good friend who I've never met in person who died this week. 

I've been trying to remember how I met Leland Dirks. I think it must have been at Indies Unlimited. He wasn't on the staff with us, but he was a regular at the site, and he had a story in at least one of our flash fiction anthologies.

The indie author revolution has been both good and bad. The good: Today, anybody can become a published author. When Amazon and other digital publishers opened their doors, traditional gatekeepers, in the form of agents and publishing houses, became irrelevant; good writers could develop a readership by publishing their words themselves. 

The bad: Anybody can become a published author. Even terrible writers. 

And I admit that I have been a snob. Indie authors are encouraged to support each other by talking up one another's books, the theory being that your readers could cross over to the writers you talk about, and vice versa. I've always been a little leery about this blanket promote-everybody approach. What if the other author is a lousy writer? I don't want my readers thinking I recommend crappy books. (Note to my author friends: If I've ever passed along info on one of your books, rest assured that I do not think you write crap.)

Longtime hearth/myth readers may remember that I ran a book review blog called Rursday Reads for several years. In that period of time, I reviewed several of Leland's books -- some "co-authored" by his Border collie, Angelo. So believe me when I say that he did not write crap. Far from it. He wrote with sensitivity and heart. And he almost always included a dog or two.

Not only was Leland a wonderful author, but he was also a gifted photographer. He lived in southeastern Colorado in a house he built himself, and every day he would post photos and videos on social media of his canine companions, the local wildlife (the magpies and coyotes gobbling Maggie's stale kibble were always good for a laugh), and the mountains around his home. I got to know that landscape better than the view around my own home.

But back to the books: My favorite -- the one I thought of immediately upon hearing of his death -- is Jimmy Mender and His Miracle Dog

I reviewed it for Rursday Reads, but my review really doesn't do the book justice. The main character is Paul Young, a gay writer who lives in San Francisco. He meets a former cowboy and ex-Marine named Jimmy Mender. Paul is immediately smitten, but Jimmy is not sure whether he swings that way. They have a lovely week together, and then Jimmy just up and leaves town. Paul is devastated. Then by a twist of fate, he's offered a job as the anonymous author of an advice column, which he agrees to take on one condition: the column must be renamed "What Would Jimmy Mender Do?"

Some years later, Paul receives a package from Alaska. It contains several notebooks -- journals that Jimmy kept after he left San Francisco. They're accompanied by a note saying that Jimmy has died, that he wanted Paul to have the journals, and that Jimmy left a couple of other things to Paul if he'd like to come to Alaska and collect them. So Paul journeys north, using Jimmy's notebooks as a guide, and learns not only about Jimmy but about himself, too. And of course, there's a dog.

I'm rereading the book now, and I'd like to share with you the dedication that Leland wrote:

This book is dedicated to all the real life Jimmy Menders out there. Some of them are teachers, some of them are moms or dads or brothers or sisters or uncles or aunts or friends. All of them practice the most powerful yet simplest form of magic: Love.

Leland himself was a real-life Jimmy Mender. Since his passing, many people have come forward on social media to talk about how kind and helpful he was, and how much they're going to miss him. 

I hope he's in a place where he can hear how much he meant to people -- how many lives he touched, all over the world. And I very much hope that wherever he is, he's been reunited with his beloved Angelo and Suki.

Rest in peace, my friend.


These moments of bloggy remembrance have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe, y'all.