Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Backroads Bookscouting: Red Planet Edmonds

This outing was almost accidental, to be honest. Originally we were just going to attend the play Red Planet Blue (as recounted here last week) but Edmonds is so pleasant that we decided to stay the entire weekend as a present to ourselves. It’s about an hour’s drive north from where we live, more if there’s traffic; so that’s how we justified it.

That, and we found an amazing place to stay at a ridiculously low price. I guess you’d call Villa Rivarola a bed-and-breakfast– that’s the only comparison I can think of, though there’s no breakfast– but what it really is, is Pedro Rivarola and his wife opening their home to guests.

And it is a stunning home.

It’s in a very quiet and pleasant neighborhood, on the hill overlooking the strait leading to the San Juan islands. Here’s the view from the deck.

Plus the Rivarolas are book people; there are interesting volumes everywhere.

The table in the front room is almost a library in itself.

Bonus for us, it was about three blocks from the Driftwood Players theater. Of course, Edmonds itself is not terribly large– the entire downtown area is maybe fifteen square blocks and that includes the ferry dock. But that’s part of the charm of the place; everything is close to everything.

Pedro himself was on hand to greet us and made us feel like he’d been waiting his whole life for the pleasure of meeting us. After showing us to our room and explaining where we should park, he excused himself to return to the Skype session we’d walked in on and gave custody of us to his wife, who was even more effusive. Considering all the Real Life stuff Julie and I have been dealing with lately, this warm welcome was a balm to the spirit.

They both wanted to know how we had found them and what our trip was about. We explained that we had mostly come for the play and that led to explaining about how we knew Kris and Hello Earth and all the rest of it. Both the Rivarolas were fascinated by this, and were amazed that all of it was taking place in the theater just down the hill from their home; they’d never set foot in the place. (“I drive by there all the time and always wonder,” Mrs. Rivarola admitted sheepishly.)

Once we had our luggage in our room and Pedro had given us the gate remote so we could get in and out as we pleased, we went in search of something to eat. We’d skipped lunch in anticipation of hitting our favorite burger joint in Edmonds: Bop-N-Burger, a place we’d found when Kris had appeared in Driftwood’s production of Baskerville in 2017. To our horror, we found it was closed on the weekends. (Yeah, I don’t get it either, especially in a town that’s fully of kitschy tourist traps for the San Juans ferry trade.)

So we decided to try the Mexican place, El Puerto.

It was excellent. Our waiter was a wryly funny fellow who wished us a good day, and when Julie told him she hoped he was having one too, he shrugged and said, “Well, I have to work, so…”

Julie loves Mexican food, so really any good Mexican restaurant is her happy place.

After our late lunch-early dinner-whatever, we still had time to kill before the play began. The bookstores were all closed, and what we remembered as an antique mall was now a veterinary hospital. But the Goodwill was still open, so we figured we would check it out.

It was tidy and well-kept, but the book section was otherwise hugely disappointing. Junk, mostly. Lots of Mary Higgins Clark, a half-dozen copies of The DaVinci Code, and a ridiculously high number of self-help and diet books. Nothing of interest at all.

The DVDs were a little better. They had The Professionals there for a dollar and ninety-nine cents, so I scooped that up.

I came to the Western rather late in life, so I’ve missed out on a lot of the classics, and as such, this one was new to me. It’s based on a novel by Frank O’Rourke called A Mule For The Marquesa, though it was re-issued in paperback as The Professionals to coincide with the movie. We liked the movie a lot– it’s essentially a mashup of The Magnificent Seven and Mission: Impossible in the way it’s built, and it’s kind of a bridge between the John Wayne old-school oaters and the nihilism of a spaghetti western in its tone. The book, in any edition, is something of a collector’s item today.

Julie was still looking at clothes, so I moved on to the CD shelf. I almost never bother with these, but we can always use more road-trip music for the car, and I am too lazy and tech-inefficient to burn our own CDs or rig an iPod to plug into the car stereo. So I figured what the hell.

You rarely find real albums at Goodwill. What you DO find are lots of oddball things like those boomer Starbucks anthologies or spoken-word aerobics workout accompaniments or discarded Time/Life mail-order collections of classical music. But sometimes those oddball things can be fun. Like this one:

I was curious to see what Pottery Barn considered “Cool,” so I picked it up.

Well, that certainly passed the road-trip test, since we didn’t have most of these and I saw at least four Julie would sing along to. And at two bucks, it was a deal. By this time Julie was done and we made our purchases, returned to the car, and I opened up Cool Grooves to put into the stereo… and the case was empty.

I assumed it was one of those things where you had to get the actual CD from behind the counter, the way you often do at record stores. But no, the clerk told me when I went back in that it must have been stolen, because they didn’t do the behind-the-counter thing and no staffer would shelve an empty case. She offered me a refund if I went and got the receipt (I’d left it in the car, along with Julie.)

The thought of waiting in line for a two-dollar refund was not an attractive one, especially since it was considerably longer now. Seeing my consternation, the clerk offered to let me just trade for a different CD, and so I went back to the shelf and looked again. Ended up with this one.

Another themed boomer anthology.

Not nearly as much fun as Cool Grooves, but what the hell. As it turns out it had a slightly higher number of Julie sing-alongs so I am taking the win.

By this time we were ready for the theater.

Our camera was acting up so I am afraid none of the theater shots I got turned out. (Taking pictures of the play itself is strictly forbidden, but I thought I could at least get some of the cast before and after.) We saw several familiar faces from Hello Earth out in the audience. Joy deLyria came bounding up to say hi and I was pleased to hear that her novel was going well. She was the one who told us that we did too know the playwright; James Lyle had played Threepio in last summer’s Wars Outdoors.

I felt like an idiot. I had sort of recognized the name but the truth is we always thought of him as “Threepio.” The embarrassing fact is that this is how we recognize most of the folks we met volunteering. (A typical aside from me to Julie at Hello Earth events is something like “Oh hey, there’s the girl that played the Lieutenant in ‘Space Seed,’ did you get her name?” Shamed pause before the reply. “No…” Then we look at each other with chagrin; after all, we’ve been to cast parties with these folks. We are bad at names– well, to be brutally honest, we are bad at socializing, period.)

The play itself was terrific. Ostensibly it’s a murder mystery, a locked-room-in-space Ten Little Indians riff. But it was so much more than that; it starts off as this sort of Campbell-esque hard SF thing with social satire like Heinlein used to play with (and the dialogue is the same kind of snappy banter you used to get from Heinlein, too) but then the second act spirals out into a poetic meditation on humanity’s place in the universe that’s reminiscent of early Ray Bradbury. Moreover, the staging really sells it– you can easily believe that you are in an enclosed environmental station and then a newly-terraformed planet– one scene is even underwater. All of it done with just clever lighting effects and a few simple movable prop consoles and doorways. The station AI, Everett, never is on stage at all, but is only seen on a giant monitor. At the end of the show we realized that the actor (Justin Tinsley) had passed away not long ago, but because his performance was pre-recorded he still got to be in the play. He was apparently a beloved figure in the local theater scene, because the two little old ladies seated next to us were distraught when the In Loving Memory of… dedication appeared on the screen at the final curtain call. Later I looked him up and found this article, which explains how the production accommodated him in his illness.

When the lights came up we managed to get a minute to say hello to Kris. She and Joy were both a little befuddled at first, hearing about us deciding to stay the night… but when we described how charmed we had been by Villa Rivarola and explained our mission to goof off scrounging for cool old books, they were instantly on board. Kris told us we HAD to go find OtherWorlds, a funky little steampunk-themed books and games place next to the cheesemonger’s on Fifth. (“Yes, there’s a cheesemonger in Edmonds,” she added as an aside.)

Joy introduced us to James and he very graciously appeared to remember us from Wars Outdoors, though I suspect he was just being polite. I told him that the piece seemed very much like early Bradbury in its tone, which pleased him. When I asked him what next, he spread his hands. “I don’t know. Certainly I’d like to see it continue. I have it submitted to a few places. I guess we’ll see.”

We wished him luck and said our goodbyes to everyone, and with that, it was back to the Villa for us.


I said earlier that Villa Rivarola was not truly a B-and-B because there was no breakfast, and this is true. However, Pedro had asked us if we wanted coffee or tea in the morning, and I had replied, “Coffee.”

Upon rising, we found a huge array of coffee and tea preparations laid out for us in the kitchen, everything from exotic imported stuff to Nescafe instant. I was too bleary to do anything other than stare at it for a moment, when Pedro appeared at my elbow, expressed delight again upon seeing me, and inquired if there was anything I might need. He explained that there wasn’t a coffeepot as such but he had a French press. I admitted I had never used one and he brightened. “Ah, it is so easy, I show you. You like it strong? That is the only concern, it is too strong for some people.”

I assured him that nothing was too strong for me but Julie liked hers a little weaker. It turned out that by “show you” he meant do it for me completely, all the while peppering me with questions about our evening, our plans, offering suggestions for the day, and so on. I told him we were probably going to be on our way soon but that we would certainly be back. (We will, too, though I have no idea when. Next play, I guess. But really we could spend a week up there just lazing around and reading.) By this time Julie had joined us and he presented her with a coffee of her own (slightly weaker; he remembered EVERYTHING about our needs, all weekend long.) The conversation turned to current events and he expressed dismay at the xenophobia so often on display in the news. “I have been to forty-six countries,” he told us, “and everywhere, the people, they are just people. There is no need for such hatred.”

I asked him what work took him to so many places and he said, “Removing stem cells from umbilical cords, blood work.”

Huge needle-scratch moment of reassessment. I’m not sure what answer I was expecting but cutting-edge stem-cell research wasn’t even on the list. Suddenly I realized that the Skype calls we’d seen him on earlier were likely consultations. He went on to tell us of his travels and his experiences with different health care systems around the world, and his continuing incredulity that ours is such a patchwork, crippled thing. Considering what we’ve been through with Julie’s medical stuff the last few years, we could only agree. He had many wonderful stories and it was with real regret that we excused ourselves to check out.

We loaded up the car and went in search of breakfast and books, in that order. When we travel we generally regard it as license to cheat on our usually austere diet, and we’d spotted a likely breakfast spot the night before.

The Pancake Haus had a really long line, but it was moving okay, and if the place was that popular it was probably a good sign. So we decided we’d go ahead and wait it out.

I mention this mostly because after we had finished a perfectly fine breakfast, we went to pay the check and saw a local senior citizen berating the hostess at the register. “I’ve NEVER had to wait that long to be seated and then it was another half an hour before I was served. I just want you to know….” And so on. It was a rant and it just kept going.

The hostess was a cute blonde girl that looked barely out of her teens. She kept trying to interject that this was an unprecedented crowd for them, they were moving as fast as they were able (something a BLIND person could have seen, the waitstaff were all moving at a speed that looked almost supernatural to old folks like Julie and me) and the more she apologized, the madder the old battleaxe got. A line was forming behind Julie and me by this point. I was just about to lean in and tell this madwoman that she had held US up for about fifteen minutes, punishing us with the same kind of delay that had so angered her in the first place, when the blonde hostess finally said, “Again, I’m sorry you had a bad experience, I have to help these other people now,” and motioned me forward. Whereupon the hag huffed off in a huff.

I looked at the blonde girl and said in a very austere voice, “Young lady, I would also like to register a complaint that you couldn’t change the laws of physics to meet my breakfast needs.”

I know. I’m a bad person, but it was irresistible. As I started to speak her eyes got as big as saucers, then she realized what I’d said as Julie and the other customers broke up. “RIGHT??” she said. “I don’t know what she expected me to do.”

“I’m sure she wanted you to let her have her breakfast for free. Don’t let her poison your day. We didn’t mind the wait. Of course, we’re on vacation.”

Satisfied that our hostess would recover, we were off to OtherWorlds.

It was every bit as magnificent as Kris had said. Julie was instantly smitten with all the handicrafts.

All sorts of handmade jewelry and stationery, and all of it nerd-themed in one way or another. Mostly Tolkien and Dr. Who and Game of Thrones, but superheroes made a fair showing too.

The books were mostly new, heavy on the gaming side of things, and of course lots of weird-western and steampunk stuff. I was tempted by a trilogy of paperbacks about a pair of magical detectives in Victorian London, the Bannon and Clare series.

But they each retailed for around fifteen dollars and I couldn’t see dropping that much money at once, not when I knew I’d be able to find them used for far less.

But we did not leave emptyhanded. I had much better luck with the used books. There were two old SF Book Club hardcovers and I scooped up both of them. The first was The Dark Design, third in the Riverworld series.

I loved these books in high school and a few months ago I decided I would see if I could find them in the original Book Club hardcover. I’d managed the first two and here was the third. Clearly it was a sign.

The other was The Far Call, by Gordon R. Dickson.

I knew nothing about Dickson except the vague awareness of him being the Dorsai guy, but this is very much hard SF. Written in 1973, it’s the story of the first international manned mission to Mars, and all the political intrigue surrounding it. So far I’m liking it a lot.

And finally, there was this: the Bram Stoker’s Dracula movie book.

Now, longtime readers know that I am ALL ABOUT Dracula. I first encountered him in the Nestor Redondo comics adaptation in junior high, and shortly after I found Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula. That led me to Stoker’s actual novel and I adored all of them. For years I had a cherished little oddity called The Illustrated Dracula that I bought with lawn-mowing money when I was fourteen; I somehow lost it in a move, probably when I left for college. I still keep an eye out for the possibility of replacing it, even though I have AT LEAST a dozen different editions and adaptations here already, in prose, comics, and DVD.

That’s not even counting continuations and pastiches.

I like Dracula stories is what I’m saying.

But even a diehard like me never warmed to the Coppola version. For one thing, it’s not really Stoker, despite the title. (The closest anyone got on film to the book is the Louis Jourdan one done for the BBC. That’s still the one to beat.)

But I’m not a purist about that. My gripe with Coppola’s is mostly the actors. Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves don’t seem to know what movie they’re in, and Gary Oldman… he just couldn’t sell it. Even Michael Nouri’s lame version (which, yes, we have on the shelf as part of the Cliffhangers! set) was more menacing.

But this was something to read, so I thought maybe I’d like it better. It’s basically the screenplay with lots of notes and commentary from the cast and crew, and sidebar informational articles and of course, many photographs. That made it worth risking a couple of bucks.

Julie had found some magnets and cards she liked, as well. With that, we were done. The proprietor excused himself from the board game he was running in the back area to ring us up. I apologized for interrupting him and he laughed and said, “It’s not my turn.”

The Edmonds bookshop was just up the street, so we decided we would walk.

It’s a charming and quiet little place, and like OtherWorlds, another one split between new and used. The used books were nearly as pristine as the new ones, and there was only one shelf of them.

I fell for a nice trade edition of A Study In Charlotte, which is described in the video below much better than anything I could tell you.

I don’t have anything to add to that except to tell you I found it terrifically engaging. There are three more in the series so far and I am definitely going to keep an eye out.

By now it was early afternoon, and, satisfied we had exhausted the possibilities of downtown Edmonds, we headed for home.


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Back next week with something cool.


  1. Jeff Nettleton

    Man, these book scouting columns make me so jealous; Central Illinois is not a haven for interesting bookstores. Just north of Decatur (in Forsyth) there is the Old Book Barn, which is an old auction barn, with themed rooms for specific genres and non-fiction focus. I’ve found cool stuff, there, over the years, like a nice Robert Benchley volume (Groucho Marx turned me on to Benchley and Perelman), an older edition of The Grapes of Wrath, nice old hardcover editions of All Quiet on the Western Front and Remarque’s A Time To Live, A Time to Die, Otto Binder’s Avengers: Earthwrecker, Captain America: The Great Gold Steal, Irving Lazar’s bio of Jack Benny, and a really cool Zorro retrospective, from back in the days of the Duncan Regehr series.

    When the place first opened, back in my late high school days, my dad and I went out to look around (my dad gave me my love of books). I only found the Lancer edition of The Dreaming City, from Michael Moorcock; but, he found some Ernest Gann books (Fate is the Hunter), which he loved, as a lifelong aviation buff (and veteran of the Korean War era Air Force, with SAC). The rest of what I saw, then, was mostly old National Geographics, tons of romance books, and some scattered paperbacks. It took time; but, it became a great place.

    The only other decent one in the immediate area is long gone; Acres of Books, in Urbana, IL. It was right off campus, when I went to the Univ. of Illinois, in the mid-late 80s. they had a terrific sci-fi section and that is where I found Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes, a nice illustrated history of Weird Tales (ton of Margaret Brundage covers and some other classics). I also got my early Fritz Leiber Fafhrd and Gray Mouser collections there, and Daniel Carney’s novel of the film The Wild Geese (with Richard Burton, Richard Harris & Roger Moore). Carney had written the manuscript and sold film rights, but, the book wasn’t published until the film came out (at least, in the US). It had an additional character and some other material not in the film and the plot played out in a slightly different manner.

  2. Edo Bosnar

    Oh, man, re: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. My problem wasn’t just with the actors (although you’re right, none of the major characters was portrayed very well, and only Tom Waits nailed it as a rather minor character, Renfield), it was with the story as well. Stoker’s name is in the friggin’ movie’s title, dammit, but that’s so *not* Stoker’s story!

    O.k. enough with the geek venting. As usual, I loved the latest installment in your Adventures in Bookscouting. You scored some great stuff, too. I particularly love the covers on the Farmer and Dickson books, but I’m such a sucker for SF cover art from the ’60s through the ’80s…
    And I know the Charlotte Holmes video was just made to promote the books (which do indeed sound like they’re a lot of fun), but damn, I’d watch the hell out of that movie or TV show (if it ever got made).

  3. “The embarrassing fact is that this is how we recognize most of the folks we met volunteering.” When I walk the dogs I remember the names of the dogs we meet much better than their owners.
    We have some good used bookstores here in Durham but I can’t read faster than I already do, so I don’t use them much.
    I just finished A Study in Charlotte, review was on my blog: https://frasersherman.com/2019/01/16/a-whole-lot-of-watsons-and-holmeses-a-study-in-charlotte/
    I lost interest in Bram Stoker’s Dracula when they have that weird shadow of Dracula pulling a Ralph Dibney and elongating his arms to put Keanu Reaves in the coach.
    I loved the Riverworld books but I don’t seem to enjoy Farmer as much as I used to when I reread his work (and his sexism annoys me more). But I have them all so I can try it some time. Except Gods of Riverworld, which was horrible.

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