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Portal to Other Worlds
by Jialin Luh on Aug 19, 2005
The onset of another San Franciscan summer brings back memories of summer reading programs and prompts vegging at the beach or in the park with a good book. For those who enjoy being transported into the vast avenues of imagination, a visit to Borderlands Books in the Mission district offers a portal to other worlds. Here, faeries, androids, goblins, warlocks, dragons, mercenaries from the future and characters of macabre and otherworldly persuasions dwell under one roof.
Borderlands offers an extensive collection of used and new books in the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres. Upon entering the store, new science fiction and fantasy line the left wall and horror lines the right. Used gems are found at the back with a comfortable sitting area, cozily adorned with sofas, chairs, and a friendly patch of sunlight. Don't be startled if Ripley, the store's friendly hairless cat of the sphynx variety, meows at you and holds you in her arresting stare. She could easily be a character out of one of the books.
Though Borderlands' selection of books covers very specific literary veins, there are no snobs here. "Staff picks" placards abound on the shelves, handmade by owner Alan Beatts, and provide numerous appealing options to the novice science fiction/fantasy/horror reader. Of course, staff members are also readily available and happy to offer recommendations or assistance in locating specific titles.
The website states that one of Borderlands' missions is to "be a social and professional center for readers, writers, publishers, reviewers, artists and other individuals with a strong interest in the fields of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Macabre Fiction." Author readings and signings, book clubs, and other events organized by Borderlands quite effectively execute this mission.
From first-time, local authors to established and much-published writers, Borderlands hosts an average of 50-60 authors per year at events where fans as well as other authors converge to socialize and build their professional networks. In addition, there are two yearly parties that draw crowds: the anniversary party for local publisher Tachyon, that specializes in short fiction collections of current and out-of-print classics, and the once-a-year launch party for Morbid Curiosity -- an annual journal published and edited by Loren Rhoads. This publication presents first-person, true accounts of unusual experiences and covers Japan's indie music scene.
Borderlands provides a physical means of cohesion for the community of science fiction, fantasy and horror readers, as a meeting place and social center for authors and readers. It hosts two book clubs: the Classic Science Fiction and Fantasy Group meets in the store every third Sunday at 6 pm and are open to any who wish to join. The Gay Men's Sci-Fi Book Club meets every second Sunday at 5 pm.
If you are interested in penning your own works or exploring the driving forces behind the literary delights, Borderlands' Biographies/On Writing section is the place to look. Here you will find boundless sources of inspiration and reference guides such as books on character development and publishing science fiction. Biographies on the intriguing authors whose books feed your wild imagination: C.S. Lewis, Philip K. Dick and (anarchist) Mike Farren to name a few–are close at hand.
In true San Francisco spirit, Borderlands has consistently supported independent publishers. Today it is recognized as having one of the best selections of small-press genre titles in the country. The store also offers numerous zines of varying sizes and subject matters, ranging for literary magazine types (poetry, short stories) to comics or short graphic novellas to nonfiction titles, like The Joy of Booking: Webster's Guide to Buying and Selling Used Science Fiction and Fantasy Books. From grassroots monochrome paper publications to glossy magazines like Other - Pop Culture and Politics for the New Outcasts, these works come from across the country and the globe.
Resting your eyes after a long reading session is easy here, and not just because of the intriguing furnishings (teddy bears reside with skull ashtrays and pewter dragon candle-stick holders). Manifesting the intention to actively support the professional and artistic community, Borderlands sells paintings and drawings and also runs a limited-edition bookmark series. The staff commissions works for display and sale. In the last year, there have been three limited edition bookmarks (2,500 of each), the latest by Chad Savage, who went from being a store customer to doing web design work for the store to getting his artwork published and publicized by the store. Love the jacket on the book you're reading? You might find a painting for your wall by the same artist here.
Borderlands has grown and evolved much since its beginnings as a used bookstore in Hayes Valley in 1997. In the spring of 2001 Borderlands moved into a larger space in the Mission District, doubling its size. Today it stocks almost 14,000 titles as opposed to 6,000. There is really something for everyone here. I myself avoid horror stories and macabre fiction after having vividly graphic nightmares, but the horror collection alone is admirable, ranging from Victorian era ghost stories to modern horror. H.P. Lovecraft fans will find a haven here. Splatterpunk -- the horror equivalent of cyberpunk, with a focus on extreme gruesomeness is also something you will find here -- a treat from the mid to late 80s.
Borderlands provides an inviting, attractive space with friendly and personable staff that will surely bring you back again and again. A wonderful escape from the everyday life resides in the wealth of pages and volumes at this shop that is a must for anyone who likes to read or appreciates art.
by Jialin Luh on Aug 19, 2005
Photo credit: Jialin Luh
Store founder Alan Beatts with sphynx Ripley
Read in comfort