I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land
by Connie Willis
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
The title is slightly altered from the first line of Shelley's poem "Ozymandias." He met a traveler from an antique land, who spoke of a damaged statue in a desert. In Connie Willis' novella, a blogger visiting New York to discuss the possibilites of publishing a book, meets a beautiful woman in the mysterious Ozymandias Bookstore. It's a rainy day in early winter, he has ducked into the store just for shelter, waiting for the rain to stop so he can get a taxi and make a meeting at a publishing house. At first he thinks it's just like any other old, dusty used book store, the kind that are quickly becoming extinct in the world of Amazon and e-books. His book pitch is about that very thing, how digitizing books has made print obsolete and unnecessary. He's about to be proven wrong.
I can summarize this in a paragraph, which would probably satisfy most people's curiosity and preclude the need to read it themselves. The man is puzzled when the pretty woman comes up to the front of the store and asks the clerk when Jude will be there, they are busy in the back and desperately need help. How busy could they be? It's just an old store, one guy at a desk up front, and he's the only customer, and he's not even a customer, he just wanted to stay dry. Of course, it's not just an ordinary bookstore, as he discovers when he follows the woman into the back storage area. It's more like in the TV show Warehouse 13, except instead of magical artifacts, the collections include the last known copy of many, many books, some so insignificant he can't understand why they'd bother, but also some of historic interest, such as a long-lost Shakespeare play he had never heard of. He gets a short tour of the vast storage facility, which goes down many floors below street level, but when he has to cut the tour short to make his interview, he is sent up an elevator and he comes out in another building. Not being familiar with New York, and it's still raining heavily, during the taxi ride to his interview he is not able to determine exactly which street and block the store was on. He had gotten turned around before-hand, didn't know where he was, how far he had walked from his previous interview, not even which street and block he was on. He cannot find the store later, not by walking block by block, marking them off a map, nor can he find any mentiton of the store, either at a library or any online archive. Did he just imagine it, or was it magical and not always in the same place?
I received a free e-book (ironic, I know) of this title from Net Galley. At the time I requested it I only knew it was by Willis, who rarely disappoints, assuming it was a novel. I wasn't aware that it had already appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Asimov's, which I later borrowed from my brother-in-law when I was reading as many shorts as I could before the Hugo nominating deadline. The freebie came about because of promotion for a special hardcover edition from Subterranean Press, due at the end of this month (April 30, 2018). Then I thought the book might be an expanded version of the story, but it's not, at least the e-book isn't. What was only 30 pages in Asimov's will be 88 pages in hardcover, so there may be illustrations, I'm not sure, or either just large print and margins. The story is just okay, not great, and I don't think a $40 price tag is justified. I might pay that much if it was that lost Shakespeare play, but not this. I assume this will eventually be available for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and other e-readers. If it at all sounds interesting to you, just wait for that, or track down that issue of Asimov's. Save that $40 for better books.
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