Today begins the 25th Readercon
, an always very interesting and occasionally horrifyingly doctrinaire science fiction convention. For those who don't know, science fiction conventions have guests of honor and program books, and generally there are a few appreciations of the guests of honor, written by friends, acquaintances, or fans.
Here is my piece, for guest of honor Kit Reed.
There are few writers one can fruitfully read throughout one’s entire life. I don't mean that one can return to an author’s book and continue to enjoy it, the way an older person might do with The Lord of the Rings
. Kit Reed isn’t about middle-aged nostalgia for a sticky day of summer reading between grades three and four, she is a writer who simply writes and publishes very widely. As a child, as a teen, as an adult, when climbing the hill of middle age, you’ll find her.
I knew her books, but paid no attention to the byline, as a child. As a kid I loved The Ballad of T.Rantula
, though I was tricked into having my mother buy it for me. It wasn’t about kids teaming up with a superhero-wrestler after all, despite the cover. The whole thing wasn’t even science fiction; it was just about a boy whose folks were divorcing. It was perhaps the first “real book”—as I called non-speculative material back then—that I ever voluntarily read.
The first book I ever bought with my own money—a few bucks made helping out in my uncle’s lunch counter when I was nine years old—was Other Stories and ...The Attack of the Giant Baby
. The cover looked funny, and the title story was funny. But Reed’s collection also contained stories that were simply over my head, this despite having somehow gotten Naked Lunch out of the library the year prior. What was I supposed to make of “Winter”, the book’s first story? I skipped ahead to “Attack of the Giant Baby” and literally years later thumbed back to “Winter” when I was ready for it.
As a young man I wandered away from the greasy kid stuff that is the mainstream of science fiction and fantasy, and immersed myself in what was called “downtown” writing, at least in downtown Manhattan, where I was living. Dennis Cooper, Eileen Myles, that sort of thing. And that led me to contemporary innovative/avant-garde/transgressive American fiction generally, and who was there waiting for me? Kit Reed, with her slim novel from Black Ice Books—a defunct and missed, by me anyway, imprint of Fiction Collective 2—Little Sisters of the Apocalypse
. The innovative tradition in the US is not known for sentiment, but Reed managed to create something that was both gonzo and emotionally mature, with a gag title.
I still had no idea that Kit Reed was the same author of the half-forgotten books I’d read as a child.
I first got what we used to call net.access in 1989, when I managed to find my way to a TinyMUD via a raw telnet connection. There I was told that I needed an email address, because there were “dozens of machines out there” and I couldn’t just have messages sent to me without knowing that I belonged to sunysb.edu. And Kit Reed was exploring similar worlds at around the same time. When the Web finally got up and running and became useful enough to search phrases like “book about giant baby” or “tarantula ballad divorce”, I finally realized that I was a Kit Reed fan. And Kit Reed had anticipated me with her novel @Expectations
. Again, this was not science fiction so much as it was basically a novel about my own 20s, which had been spent almost entirely online.
Then, finally I was hooked. Kit Reed. Don’t just look for books with wacky titles, look for Kit Reed. Was I living with a woman with an eating disorder? Yes, and Kit Reed wrote Thinner Than Thou
. In my thirties, did I start getting very anxious about starting a family? Of course, and Kit Reed wrote The Baby Merchant
. When I had young cousins to buy presents for, Kit Reed was there again, The Night Children
, a novel about that pretty common daydream kids have about spending all night in a shopping mall—it was a daydream I always had. (Naturally, I read the book before making a gift of it.) And only after reading The Night Children
did I find her broadly similar 1980 title Magic Time
, on a blanket set up on the sidewalk by a street peddler, and inhaled it. Kit knew I’d be an adult looking for an adult version of her twenty-first century YA novel back when I’d picked up my first of her titles as a child.
Now I’m middle-aged, with a baby and a day job. I’m as surprised as you are. I work in a slum zone that is rapidly being gentrified thanks to the fascist handclasp of transnational venture capital and supposedly “progressive” local government. The homeless outside my office don’t even have it sufficiently together to sell old Kit Reed paperbacks on blankets; it’s all bloody meth scabs and ranting into traffic. They live under the shadows of high-rise apartment buildings being put up on either side of my workplace—an old concrete slab where fancy social media companies relocate to get tax breaks. Those apartments are renting for $3500 a month for a studio. One-bedrooms are $4500 a month. Having a family? Living more than two minutes away from the cubicle where you already put in a twelve-hour workday? That's so random—let’s disrupt life-as-we-know it!
And just now, as I type these words, a new-to-me Kit Reed novel has arrived in the mail. Fort Privilege
, about the wealthy ascending skyscrapers to avoid the rampaging poor, from back in 1986. She saw all of this, every major episode of my life, coming decades before I did.
I’ll be reading Kit Reed till I die. I have to find out what happens next.