Sunday, January 14, 2018

Dispatches from the Border, January 2018

Events and News From Borderlands Books
January 2018

Borderlands 2018 Sponsorships are Available

At the beginning of 2015 Borderlands was getting ready to close.  San Francisco voters had passed an increase in the minimum wage that was going to end the financial viability of the store, probably by the middle of July that year.  If not at that point, then the second increase scheduled for July of this year was certainly going to do the job.  Although I and the rest of the staff strongly support minimum wage laws in general and we suspected that San Francisco's local increase would be generally positive for the city as a whole, we were trapped by the idiosyncrasy of the book business.  Unlike most products, books have a price printed on them. That makes the usual business solution of increasing prices to cover higher expenses impossible for us.  Rather than ride the business down into the grave, I and the rest of the staff decided it was better to close quickly, at the time of our choosing and at the top of our game.

Our customers were very much opposed to this and, out of their comments & suggestions and in consultation with the staff, we decided to try an experiment.  We would ask that a minimum of 300 people sponsor the store for $100 each.  If that many people were willing, it would offset the added expense of the wage increases that were scheduled to raise the wage to $15 per hour by the middle of the following year.  Since that increased expense would be on-going, a basic assumption was that the sponsorship would need to recur each year.

2018 will be our fourth year operating as a sponsored business.  Thus far, it has been a huge success.  Not only have more than double the required number of people sponsored us for the past two years but, with the support of our sponsors, customers, and fellow professionals in our field, we were able to raise the funds to purchase a building on Haight Street to be our permanent location.  2018, our 20th year in business, is going to be a momentous one marked by our relocation to our new home.  We will no longer be subject to the greatest threat to the survival of any small business -- a massive and unmanageable increase in rent.

As exciting as this year will be, it's not going to be easy.  We are still under the wage pressure that caused us to start the sponsorship program in the first place.  In time, our new building will ease some of that pressure, once the costs of moving and the finances stabilize, but for now the finances of the building are only self-supporting and they do not benefit the bookstore.  In fact, the building finances are only self-supporting once the bookstore is paying the rent that currently goes to our landlord into the building's coffers instead.  Added to that pressure, Alan will be doing a great deal of work to get the building is shape to house the store, which means that there will be even more work than usual for the rest of the bookstore and cafe staff.

If you have never been a sponsor or if you were in the past but stopped, this year will be a watershed moment for your support.  If you'd like to sign up, you can do so on-line at, or you can call 888 893-4008, email or come into the store in person.  Though there are quite a few benefits to sponsorship (you'll find a full list here - the greatest thing that your sponsorship will accomplish is helping us move forward and make our transition to our new space.

If you're interested in more details about how the sponsorship program came to be, you'll find the story here

In closing we'd like to thank everyone who has been a sponsor in the past.  Without you, we wouldn't be here.  

Upcoming Events

Chad Stroup, SECRETS OF THE WEIRD (Grey Matter Press, Trade Paperback, $13.95) Sunday, January 21st at 3:00 pm

Na'amen Gobert Tilahun, THE TREE (NightShade Books, Trade Paperback, $14.99) Sunday, January 28th at 2:00 pm 

SF in SF with authors Cecelia Holland and Kim Stanley Robinson (at the American Bookbinders' Museum, 355 Clementina, San Francisco) Sunday, January 28th at 6:30 pm

David Fitzgerald and Dana Fredsti, TIME SHARDS (Titan Books, Trade Paperback, $14.95) Saturday, February 3rd at 3:00 pm

NEVERTHELESS, SHE PERSISTED (Book View Cafe, Trade Paperback, $19.99) with authors Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Marie Brennan, Nancy Jane Moore, Deborah Ross and Dave Smeds Saturday, February 10th at 3:00 pm

Writers With Drinks with authors Steph Burt, Ellen Klages, C.B. Lee, Angela Pneuman, and Molly Sauter  (at the Make-Out Room, Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St, San Francisco, CA) Saturday, February 10th at 7:30 pm

(for more information check the end of this newsletter)

* Overheard in the Store:

"My astrological chart makes it really difficult. . . I desperately want to save the world, but I can't find my keys."

"There's a 'Game of Thrones' coloring book?  Does it only come with red crayons?"

"Frequently when I'm traveling it ends up being 'Hm, books or pants?'"

"She's so beautiful. . . it's like if Disney had made a Goth princess."

"Well, yeah -- [Book Title] is totally atrocious trash, but it's SO MUCH fun to read!"

"You've got to grab life by the cookies."

"My brain is like, 'I know it's 3 am & you were just about to doze off, but you don't actually know what "emulsify" means! You should look it up IMMEDIATELY!'"

"I may have reached 'peak San Francisco'.  Girlfriend has 'Instant pot' on her Christmas list, and I have no idea whether that is a cooking thing, or a medical marijuana delivery service, like InstaCart for joints."

* Overheard at Writers With Drinks:

"Alyssa Cole understands that the most heroic thing an intergalactic hero can do is fall in love."

"I don't know what a BitCoin is, but it seems like the kind of thing you'd get when you sell your soul."

"Bookstores are like a magical petting zoo for stories!"

"It's not like 'Oh, I can't watch that anymore because. . . hyperspace."

* Our friends at Comix Experience <> will be hosting a signing with the fabulous Saladin Ahmed on January 19th at 6:00 pm!  He'll be signing BLACK BOLT.  For more information, see

* Distinguished local author Nick Mamatas is teaching another Fabulist Fiction course at WeWork Golden Gate (25 Taylor St., San Francisco).  The class will run for six sessions (Saturday, 2:00 - 5:00 pm), February 10th - March 17, 2018.  For more information, and to sign up, see:

* R.I.P. Susan Grafton, celebrated author of the popular Kinsey Millhone mystery series.  Her daughter has stated that there will be no ghostwriter to finish off the series and it will stay lettered from A to Y.

* We're sorry to hear of the death of Bruce McCandless, the first astronaut to fly untethered in space. 

* Katherine Cross writes about when fans and fandom cross the line into abusive behavior, and why we have to take such things seriously (particularly in regards to the recent "Call of Duty" swatting death).  Find it at The Verge:

* has republished Seanan McGuire's excellent piece on learning from "My Little Pony" to make her violence fluffy and covered with glitter to make it fly under the radar.   If you haven't read it already you should read it now:

* Ada Palmer talks about the places that science fiction meets social science, and why those are the points on which her fiction focuses.

* The Verge recommends an interesting short science fiction film, "SENTiNEL," in which a man is being hunted down by a drone.  Although short, it hints at a larger world that begs for a longer film to explore it.

* Though the webseries "Miss 2059" has been going for two years, it was just brought to our attention.  A beauty queen from the future is accidentally transported to a deadly intergalactic tournament instead of her more militaristic sister.

* Tor gives us a list of all the new fantasy coming out in January -- prepare to open & empty your wallets!

* We love when non-science-fiction-focused publications write articles exploring science fiction from their perspective.  So in that tradition, here's "Food & Wine" talking about the prevalence of spice in science fiction works and their cultural relevance:

* About half of the movies on this "Great sci-fi movies you might have missed in 2017" list are actually great, and the other half. . .  well, why don't you decide?

* Meanwhile, here are some science fiction films coming in 2018 that have not yet proved themselves one way or another, so there's still hope:

* Syfy announces series pickup for "Nightflyers," based on the George R.R. Martin novella:

* They will be genetically modifying horses by 2019.  Please tell us we're going for unicorns!

* We have a love/hate relationship with the classic "Twilight Zone", because those stories were GREAT, but are also the root of several neuroses we deal with to this day.  All the same it's terrific to see Jordan Peele taking the helm to traumatize a brand new generation:

* An interview with action-adventure novelist James Rollins, who also writes fantasy under the name James Clemens:

* Over at SyfyWire, there's an interesting article about genre parodies and how they helped us become more genre aware:

* There have been a lot of critical reviews of the Netflix "blockbuster" "Bright," and many are hilarious -- but IndieWire hits the perfect balance of legitimate criticisms and side-swipes at the film that are usual commentary as well as funny:

* This review from Birth Movies Death, however, takes a long view and talks about "Bright" as the culmination of an unfortunate undercurrent that's been in fantasy literature all along:

* This article gives advice and goes through the options for those who are thinking of going the self-publishing route:

* A wonderful article about how the stories that we tell about the future are how we survive the current reality:

* The editor doesn't need any convincing that "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" was ahead of its time and is still one of the best Star Trek series, but if you do need convincing, check out this piece:

* Was it a big bang?  Or a big suck?  A new theory put forth is that a black hole from a previous universe is what gave birth to our universe:
* Cultress gives us a list of 20 women who are masters of science fiction, whom you should read if you haven't already:

* Finding yourself in fiction, fantasy or not, is very important.  A woman talks about how Black speculative fiction changed her life:

Award News

* The judges for the 2018 World Fantasy Awards have been announced.  See here for the list of names, as well as addresses to send materials:

* The winners of the 2017 Parsec Awards were announced, many of which could be of interest to fans of speculative fiction:

* E. Lily Yu has won the 2017 LaSalle Artist Trust Storyteller Award, which comes with a $10,000 grant. Listen to an interview with her here:

Editor's Note

Because the "From the Office" section of this newsletter is likely to be substantially longer than usual for the next few months as we deluge you with building news, we have moved it to the end of the newsletter.  

Best Sellers
Borderlands Best-Selling Titles for December, 2017


1) Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey
2) La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
3) Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
4) Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
5) Artemis by Andy Weir
6) Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders
7) Well of Ascension Special Leatherbound Edition by Brandon Sanderson
8) A War in Crimson Embers by Alex Marshall
9) The Power by Naomi Alderman
10) The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer

Trade Paperbacks

1) The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, trans by Ken Liu
2) Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
3) The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
4) All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
5) Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
6) The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
7) The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
8) A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
9) Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
10) A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

Mass Market Paperbacks

1) Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
2) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
3) The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
4) Old Man's War by John Scalzi
5) Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
6) Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
7) Who Fears Death? by Nnedi Okorafor
8) The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt
9) American Gods by Neil Gaiman
10) Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Book Club Information

The QSF&F Book Club will meet on Sunday, January 14th, at 5 pm to discuss ABADDON'S GATE by James S.A. Corey.  The book for the following month will be NEVERWHERE by Neil Gaiman.  Please contact the group leader, Christopher Rodriguez, at, for more information.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club will meet on Sunday, January 21st, at 6 pm to discuss THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE by Meg Elison.  The author will be present to participate in the discussion.  Please contact for more information.

Upcoming Event Details 

Chad Stroup, SECRETS OF THE WEIRD (Grey Matter Press, Trade Paperback, $13.95) Sunday, January 21st at 3:00 pm - From the book description: "The fulfillment of your every desire . . . . That's the enticing yet dangerous promise of Sweet Candy, the new designer drug making the rounds through the community of club kids, neo-Nazis, drag queens, prostitutes and punks who populate the mean streets of Sweetville.  With its chewable hearts and candied lips threatening to forever transform the delicate social balance and the very lives of each and every member of the city's underground, Sweet Candy is poised to ignite the tenuous powder keg that is life, love and lust in Sweetville.  But could the enigmatic back-alley surgeon Julius Kast and his partnership with a peculiar cult be the spark that lights the fuse once and for all?  And how will their actions affect the life of a young woman named Trixie who is seeking salvation through transformation?  Take a remarkable journey that's equal parts irreverent social commentary, revisionist dystopia, dark fantasy and horrifying reality when you travel to the unforgettable world of Sweetville's counterculture where a host of sometimes dangerous, often deviant and always dark secrets are waiting to be revealed.  Such secrets refuse to be confined to Sweetville. But instead will come home to live with you. Changing everything. Forever." Join us to meet Chad Stroup and check out this awesome new novel! If you do the Facebook thing, RSVP here::

Na'amen Gobert Tilahun, THE TREE (NightShade Books, Trade Paperback, $14.99) Sunday, January 28th at 2:00 pm - We're thrilled to welcome Na'amen Tilahun back to Borderlands! "[THE TREE is the] sequel to THE ROOT, a compelling urban fantasy series set between modern-day San Francisco and an alternate dimension filled with gods and worlds of dark magic.  In Corpiliu, an alternate dimension to our own, a darkness grows, devouring whole cities as it spreads.  Robbed of her greatest power, separated from her siblings and thrown among people she does not trust, Lil, a 'dant from the city Zebub, must find a way to turn everything around, to trust in a power she knows nothing about.  Erik travels from San Francisco to Zebub, haunted by the ghost of his ex, still coming to terms with his true identity as a descendant of the gods, and unsure how to fight what seems to have no weakness.  Pushing back against taboos meant to keep the true history of Corpiliu secret, he gains many enemies and few allies, and strange visions will make him question his own sanity.  Between Earth and Corpiliu, a war is developing on two fronts, one that might well mean the end of both dimensions. In THE TREE, the dynamic follow-up to the exciting fantasy debut THE ROOT, long-held secrets will be revealed, and long-trusted loyalties will be put to the test."

SF in SF with authors Cecelia Holland and Kim Stanley Robinson (at the American Bookbinders' Museum, 355 Clementina, San Francisco) Sunday, January 28th at 6:30 pm - (Suggested donation $10, no one turned away for lack of funds.)  Doors and bar at 6:00 pm, event begins at 6:30 pm.  We're so happy to participate in the Science Fiction in San Francisco reading series! The authors will read a selection from their work, followed by Q&A from the audience moderated by author Terry Bisson.  The authors will schmooze & sign books after.  Books available for sale courtesy of Borderlands Books.  Seating is limited, so first come, first seated.  Bar proceeds benefit the American Bookbinders Museum. Questions?  Email

David Fitzgerald and Dana Fredsti, TIME SHARDS (Titan Books, Trade Paperback, $14.95) Saturday, February 3rd at 3:00 pm - We're happy to welcome local authors and sponsors David and Dana back to Borderlands!  From the book description: "It's called 'The Event,' an unimaginable cataclysm that shatters 600 million years of the Earth's timeline.  Our world is gone, instantly replaced by a new one made of scattered remnants of the past, present, and future, dropped alongside one another in a patchwork of 'shards'.  Monsters from Jurassic prehistory, ancient armies, and high-tech robots all coexist in this deadly post-apocalyptic landscape.  A desperate group of survivors sets out to locate the source of the disaster.  They include 21st century Californian Amber Richardson, Cam, a young Celtic warrior from Roman Britannia, Alex Brice, a policewoman from 1985, and Blake, a British soldier from World War II.  With other refugees from across time, they must learn the truth behind the Event, if they are to survive."  We hope you'll join us for this very entertaining event!

NEVERTHELESS, SHE PERSISTED (Book View Cafe, Trade Paperback, $19.99) with authors Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Marie Brennan, Nancy Jane Moore, Deborah Ross and Dave Smeds Saturday, February 10th at 3:00 pm - We are delighted to welcome 5 local authors, all contributors to the anthology NEVERTHELESS, SHE PERSISTED.  Their stories celebrate women "who persist through tales of triumph --in the past, present, future, and other worlds. . . From the halls of Ancient Greece to the vast space between stars, each story illustrates tenacity as women overcome challenges -- from society, from beloved family and friends, and even from their own fears.  These strong heroines explore the humor and tragedy of persistence in stories that range from romance to historical fiction, from fantasy to science fiction.  From tale to tale, every woman stands firm: a light against the darkness."  We hope you'll join us for an inspiring reading and signing!

Writers With Drinks with authors Steph Burt, Ellen Klages, C.B. Lee, Angela Pneuman, and Molly Sauter  (at the Make-Out Room, Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St, San Francisco, CA) Saturday, February 10th at 7:30 pm - Writers With Drinks is the most awesome spoken-word variety show in the world, hosted by Charlie Jane Anders, and we're always happy to participate! The amazing lineup this month includes authors Steph Burt, Ellen Klages, C.B. Lee, Angela Pneuman, and Molly Sauter. Cost: $5 to $20, no-one turned away for lack of funds.  All proceeds benefit local non-profits. Doors open at 6:30 and Borderlands will be on hand to sell books.  Cost: $5 to $20, no-one turned away for lack of funds.  All proceeds benefit local non-profits. Doors open at 6:30 and Borderlands will be on hand to sell books.

Borderlands event policy - all events are free of charge.  You are welcome to bring copies of an author's books purchased elsewhere to be autographed (but we do appreciate it if you purchase something while at the event).  For most events you are welcome to bring as many books as you wish for autographs.  If you are unable to attend the event we will be happy to have a copy of any of the author's available books signed or inscribed for you.  We can then either hold the book(s) until you can come in to pick them up or we can ship to you.  Just give us a call or drop us an email.  If you live out of town, you can also ship us books from your collection to be signed for a nominal fee.  Call or email for details.

Featured Upcoming Titles
(These titles have not arrived yet.  You may pre-order any of these books by calling or emailing us.  Prices may be subject to change.  Of course, we have many more titles arriving each week . . . call or email us if you're curious about a particular upcoming title not listed here.)

Andrews, Scott K. * New World * (Hodder, tpb)
Bacigalupi, Paolo, & Tobias S. Buckell * The Tangled Lands * (Simon & Schuster/Saga Press, hc)
Blumlein, Michael * All I Ever Dreamed * (Valancourt Books, cln, hc)
Elliott, Kate * The Dead Empire * (Little, Brown UK/Orbit, tpb)
Kessel, John * Pride and Prometheus * (Simon & Schuster/Saga Press, hc)
Le Guin, Ursula K. * Dreams Must Explain Themselves and Other Essays 1972-2004 * (Orion/Gollancz, nf, tpb)
Moon, Elizabeth * Into the Fire * (Penguin Random House/Del Rey, hc)
Sagara, Michelle * Cast in Deception * (Harlequin/Mira, tpb)
Salvatore, R. A. * Child of a Mad God * (Tor, hc)
Silverberg, Robert * Living in the Future: Robert Silverberg on Science Fiction * (NESFA Press, nf, hc)
Walton, Jo * Poor Relations * (Tor, hc)
Watson, Angus * The Land You Never Leave * (Little, Brown UK/Orbit, tpb)
Wooding, Chris * The Ember Blade * (Orion/Gollancz, hc)

Abbreviations indicate --
hc=hardcover; tpb=trade paperback; otherwise mass-market pb, or we're not sure
cln=collection; om=omnibus; anth=anthology; nva=novella; otherwise novel
h=horror; nf=nonfiction; a=associational [non-sffh]; otherwise sf/fantasy
1st US editions (+) are books previously published in the UK or other countries; otherwise US and UK books listed as originals are 1st English language editions.

From The Office

Hi Everyone and Happy New Year,

I hope that 2018 is treating you well thus far.  For me it started with a horrible cold and it's gotten steadily better from there (not a hard trick to accomplish).  Of course, it's been crazy busy and I'm still way behind on my email, but it would be unreasonable to think that it would be any other way given the events of the past few months.

The biggest one, our purchase of the building on Haight Street (Borderlands West, if you will), has been working out mostly quite well with only a few hiccups so far.  The process of getting the building in shape for us to move is mostly what I'm going to be writing about in this newsletter over the next few months.  Those posts are liable to be pretty long (like this one), which is why we've moved them to the end of the newsletter.

Before I get into all the news and plans about the building, I wanted to let you all know that I'll be having an open-house there this month.  This Saturday, January the 20th, I'll be around from noon until six in the evening.  Feel free to stop by any time in that window and I'll give you the nickel-tour of the place as well as answering any questions you have about our plans.  If you can make it, you really should -- the place is probably just about as torn up as it'll ever be and I think it will be fun in a few years to talk about how you remember back when it was a construction site.

But, if you can't make it to the open house, I've finally got some pictures up -  It's not the best forum for pictures but it was easy to do and easy is a feature much in demand for me, right now.  I should have more pictures up in a bit.

The Building, In General
Buying a new building has a whole list of things that come up after the sale is done.  All the utilities have to be changed over, you need to get insurance (fast), and there are always little surprises that come up.  When you add residential tenants into the mix, things get more interesting.

Overall that change-over process has worked out quite well.  The existing tenants in the two apartments upstairs are very nice folks and seem to be very happy with us as the new owners.  They've been paying the rent on time (such a big relief) and I think we're going to get along really well.

The apartments are in good repair, given the givens, but there are a few things to sort out.  One surprise was a leak in one of the kitchens the first time it rained.  After talking with the tenant it turns out that this has been a recurring problem over the years.  I went up to check the roof (which we know needs to be replaced) and I found the problem pretty quickly -- a low spot that looked like it had been patched about a million times.  I tore off the layers of old, bad patch and did it again on the clean, base surface.  That seems to have sorted out the problem.  And, since it only needs to last 'til spring when we'll replace the whole roof, I think it won't be a issue.

Other than the water department getting the wrong address for the bills (and, as a result, threatening to turn off the water for non-payment) there haven't been any other surprises.  Oh, except it seems that there are some mice getting into the water heater closet in the lower apartment.  That one that will be an easy fix with some sheet metal and steel wool.

The circuit breaker panels in both apartments need to be replaced (I'll say more about that in a moment) but that's not going to be too big or complicated a job since we're doing a bunch of electrical work downstairs.

The Bookstore Build Out
There are a bunch of pieces to the job of getting the place ready for us to move in.  Thankfully (and unlike the last big job I did -- building the cafe), most of the pieces are independent of each other and just require quite straightforward permits.  That means no long review process or plan checking.  We just go up, explain what were doing (with a few plans in some cases), pay our fee, and away we go.  And, some of the work doesn't require building permits at all.

The way that the process will work is first we'll focus on the "rough-in" work followed by the "final" work and then the "finish" work.  For example, building the new (accessible) bathroom will first consist of framing the walls, putting in the plumbing pipes and electrical wiring -- that's the "rough-in" work.  Then, after inspections, we put the drywall up, tape and finish it, plus connect the toilet, sink, as well as the outlets and ceiling light.  After another inspection, that completes the "final" work.  Once that's done, we paint the place, put on outlet covers, and so on.  That's the finish work.  There may be times when one part of the job is moving ahead of another part (for example, putting drywall on one wall while still doing the rough plumbing in the bathroom) but generally all the parts of the job will move forward in step.

Before all that happens though, we need to do the demolition work.  That's the process of taking out every thing that's broken, worn out, poor quality, or undesirable so that we can start putting in the stuff that we want. Thanks to a bunch of help from a great team of volunteers, most of the demolition work was finished just before New Years.  There still some cleaning to do (my goodness but the place is dusty) and there are some semi-delicate demolition jobs that I still want to do, but the broad strokes are finished.

Last Thursday I met with our architect, Kevin, and the structural engineer that we're going to be working with (Matthew Tropp of Ashley & Vance Engineering:  It was a really great meeting and I feel very confident and happy with Matthew.  His job is, in essence, to tell Kevin and I the requirements, from a strength and safety standpoint, of the work that we want to do.  For example, I want to remove some of the posts in the basement that support the floor of the store.  Matthew will tell us which posts can be removed and which ones need to stay (short answer to that -- we don't need all of them but we do need more of them than I thought).  He's also giving us some excellent advice about simple things that we can do to improve the seismic stability of the whole building.  For some parts of the job he'll be doing extensive plans and drawings (like the work on the lightwell; more about that in a bit) while on some others he'll just be giving written guidance.

Overall where the job stands right now is that there are still big-picture questions that I need to get answers to before I can really start planning a specific schedule of work (and, perhaps, come up with a move-in date that isn't complete fantasy).  Most big projects start like that.  I start with a goal and a set of general ideas and then I get specifics about whether the ideas are possible and affordable (both in terms of time and money).  The remaining "big-picture" items are what we're doing about the electrical service and the front exterior / entry.

The Electrical Service -- Right now the electrical meters and main shut-off switches are located in a closet on the ground floor, pretty much right in front of the entry door.  The breaker panel for the store is in the same spot. It's a really awkward set up and I'd like to move all the electrical down into the basement.  Once we do that, the whole weird little wall can go away, which'll open up the entry area a bunch.

In addition, the whole building uses circuit breakers made by a company called Federal Pacific Electric.  That company (now long defunct) is legendary in the business for making really shoddy products.  So much so that people joke that "FPE" actually stands for "fire protection is extra".  Given that circuit breakers exist to prevent fires, that's not . . . good.  So, I want to replace all that crappy gear with good stuff.  While doing all that work, it would be the best time to upgrade the total amount of electrical service that comes into the building.  In the 1970s, when the work was done, the amount of service was fine but, by current standards, it's about half what it should be (currently 200 amps versus the 400 amps that is current standard).

But there's a catch.  Moving electrical meters and increasing service can only be done by our utility company, PG&E.  And they do it on their own time.  This week I heard back from them about my request for a site-survey to see how much work would be needed.  They said it would take 18 to 20 . . . weeks!  And that's just to get someone to take a look at what needs to be done.

So, we're going to find another solution.  It's possible that we might be able to find an expediter who can speed the process up.  But, if that doesn't work, I'm going to have the main switches and breaker panel moved to the basement and trim down the weird little wall so that it'll just hold the meters.  It'll be odd but I'm pretty sure we can put some plants on top of it, some display shelves on the sides, and make into a feature instead of a bug.  We can get the meters moved later, if that seems necessary.

The Front Entry -- The exterior of the building isn't very well designed.  I know why (it's part of the same reason that the electrical service is right in the middle of the floor - however that's another story) but it would be really nice to improve it.  The windows that used to run across the top of the whole ground floor have been covered up, the door is crappy (and the frame around it is so far out of square that it makes me dizzy to look at it), and the brick work below the display windows is prime 1970s (i.e. ugly).  Also, we could change it up a bit and get about 60 square feet of extra floor space.

But, the building is historic and that means changing the exterior opens up a whole can of worms (despite there being nothing left on the ground floor in front that is original).  The problem isn't the possible cost (which is not bad) or the design requirements (which would probably be pretty nice).  The problem is that it would have to be reviewed by the historical commission and that takes time.  Possibly more time that we want to spend waiting around.

Kevin is looking into what changing the exterior will entail and we hope to know something in a week or so.  Until then, I'm not sure what we're going to do about the front.  It's serviceable now and I'm sure we can sneak a new door in without anyone flipping out so, if we need to leave it as is, we can.  But, it'll be a big pain to do the work later so if we're going to change it, the time is now.

The remaining work is all pretty clear, in a general sense.  It includes the rear wall, the garden, the new bathroom/lightwell, the basement, and changes to the stairway into the basement along with some repair / reinforcement work due to old fire damage.  I'll give you a quick idea of what's involved with each of those.

The rear wall of the building currently has two six-foot-wide sliding glass doors along with a window above one of the doors.  Since we don't really need two doors into the garden, I'm going to close one of them up.  There'll be several advantages to that.  First off, it'll give us someplace to put the gas fireplace that will be both decorative (who doesn't love a fireplace?) and also provide heating for the place.  Second, we'll be able to turn that section of wall into what's called a "sheer wall".  In essence, we'll cover half the wall with plywood 3/4" thick and nail it like a sombitch.  The plywood stretching across the lumber that frames the wall will create a box that won't move in an earthquake.  The result will make the whole building much more resilient when we get a big shake.  When we're done it will be invisible because the plywood will then be covered with drywall.  We'll take the glass doors on the other side out, make the doorway a bit smaller, and put in french doors instead.  The window above will probably be relocated upwards to make room for bookshelves above the doorway.

The backyard will be turned into a garden area with seating as well as room for authors to do public events (when the weather allows).  We're planning to visually divide the space up so that it will feel cosy and intimate. We're also planning a fountain and space for a BBQ.  All the ivy and built up soil has been removed and, while doing that, we discovered to our surprise that the whole rear yard is covered with concrete.  Tearing that out is one of the jobs that's coming up soon so that the soil can breathe and start getting back to something that plants will grow in.  We are also going to be replacing the fence all the way around the perimeter.  Since the ground level is much lower than the adjacent properties, that fence is a matter of safety as well as privacy.  I've already talked it over with two out of the three neighbors, and they're very pleased with the idea.

Since the existing bathroom is tiny in addition to being pretty squalid, we'll be completely tearing it out and building a larger one that conforms to ADA standards.  The bathroom is right next to a lightwell that, honestly, isn't really necessary.  Since the new bathroom will be bigger, it will intrude into the lightwell and that will require some pretty major reframing to support the upper floors of the building.  Since we need to do that work anyway, we'll be taking the opportunity to completely eliminate the lightwell and convert that space into some extra indoor store area.  That will be one of the biggest jobs and was one of the biggest things we needed to consult with Matthew, the engineer, about.  To do the job, we'll be putting in two big beams -- one to replace the support that the lightwell wall used to provide, and one to support the end of that first beam so we don't need to put a post down right in the middle of the store.

That job is one of the only ones I don't plan to be working on.  When I say "big beams" I mean it -- think 20 feet long, 8 inches wide, and 14 inches thick.  I have a rule that I don't do things that require me plan how to lift things 13 feet in the air that will swat me like a bug if something goes wrong.  That's a job I'm going to leave to the full-time professionals, thank you very much!

While we're doing that, we'll extend the beam six or seven feet and use it to support the stairs that go up to the apartments.  That stairway was damaged in a fire, probably in the 70s, and though it's currently safe, it wouldn't hurt to give it some extra support.

Once the big beams are in place, then it's a relatively straightforward job of framing the new bathroom walls and building the new exterior wall.  That's all work I feel quite comfortable doing (with a bit of advice from my contractor friends).  There will also be some gas and water lines that will need to be relocated since the wall that they currently run in is going away.  Also easy work but it'll have to be done by a licensed plumber because that's what the city requires.  The plumber will be working on the job anyway since they'll need to do all the new plumbing for the bathroom.

As I've mentioned, we're going to move the office to the basement to conserve space for the actual bookstore.  Right now the basement is an absolute forest of posts, more than I've ever seen for a building like this (33 posts all together -- our current building, which is just as wide and 35% longer, has 10).  We'll be removing as many as we can, which may require reinforcing the beams they support as well as the joists that rest on those beams and support the actual floor.  It's all pretty straightforward work -- as long as you've got someone like Kevin and Matthew to make sure you don't take out the wrong post and drop something on your head.  (Something like part of the building.)  Once that work is done (along with whatever we're doing with the electrical), we'll cover the ceiling with drywall, put in some sort of floor treatment (wood or paint since the current concrete surface is in pretty good shape), and probably drywall on the walls to put a layer of "homey" over the current dungeon look.

The stairway down into the basement is a bit steep and a bit narrow.  It also doesn't have enough headroom where it passes through the floor to avoid me giving myself a concussion if I'm not paying attention.  So, we'll be making a few changes to the layout correcting those problems.  Specifically we'll take out a couple of joists and re-frame the opening which allows us to make the stairway longer and therefore less steep. 

The last bit of rough work is going to be putting some reinforcement at the very top, front of the place.  The big beam up there has some fire damage.  It was stabilized and braced pretty well but could use some help.  Also, as a result of time, the beam is also bowing so some overall support would be good too.  Gravity really is a killer, even for lovely old buildings.

Once all that's done, it's just a matter of putting in insulation and new drywall on the ceiling, repairing holes and damaged to the walls, painting and refinishing / repairing the floors.  And taking care of the thousands of things that will come up over the course of all this.

Whew, having written all that out I feel like a whisky and a nap.  Seriously, I'm reminded of something a friend told me a long time ago, "A clear path does not mean a short journey".  This is going to be a very big job and it's going to be really hard at times.  But I'm cheered by several things.  First, this is not the biggest or hardest construction job I've ever done.  That honor goes to Borderlands Cafe.  Second, unlike all the other big, hard jobs I've done in my life, this time I know that I have the support of hundreds of people all over the world who are cheering me on.  Third, I have the assistance of dozens of people here in San Francisco who have already showed up to tear out ivy, pull off old plaster, and haul literally tons of debris to the dump.

And, finally, this is my last big construction job for Borderlands.  After this, I won't need to do it again.  That makes me so happy I could do a little dance, right here and right now.

Warm Regards,

PS  In case you haven't gathered from the foregoing -- nope, I do not have a date for when we're going to move.  Ask me in a month or two and I'll have a much better idea.

This newsletter is distributed monthly free of charge and may be distributed without charge so long all the following information is included.

Dispatches from the Border
Editor - Na'amen Gobert Tilahun
Assistant Editor - Jude Feldman

All contents unless otherwise noted are the property of Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia St.
San Francisco CA 94110
415 824-8203
Comments and suggestions should be directed to

* * * * * * *