Hugo-award winning finalist Alvaro Zinos-Amaro debuts his first novel released by Colorado’s independent publishing house Hex Publishers. “A cleverly Borgesian, reality-distorting premise enlivens this tribute to Silver Age SF,” (Kirkus Reviews) — EQUIMEDIAN is available this month.
Jason Velez lives a mundane existence installing EmuX virtual reality machines — scraping together just enough money to pay for his increasingly unsustainable science fiction collection — when he begins having strange dreams. He knows he has to make some personal changes if he hopes to get his life in order.
Except change is exactly what’s happening to those around him. His roommate’s personality suddenly shifts. Jill, his closest single friend, retroactively has a long-term partner. And why doesn’t anyone remember what a wristplex is?
Disoriented by these alterations, and suffering from panic attacks and lapses in memory, Jason tries to convince his friends that something is off, and it might have to do with the enigmatic Progress Pilgrims — a mysterious order who can travel microseconds into the future. But if that wasn’t enough, a flyer labeled only EQUIMEDIAN leads Jason to a meditative self-improvement service that seems to know a little too much about Jason for comfort.
With his walls closing in and nowhere else to turn, Jason must decide where and how to finally make a stand. If he does, he might just change the world — if the world doesn’t change him first.
[Excerpt from EQUIMEDIAN: ]
SATURDAY MORNING I wake up feeling weirdly hung over, not from alcohol, but from my trapdoor nightmares.
I leave the apartment in a hurry, making my way to a Brooklyn dump called Jackson’s in search of literary bargains. They have none. From there I visit an antique shop that sometimes carries old magazines, and I score three issues of Vertex. One of these has a rubber-stamped address of another shop I’ve never heard of. Something about the address — 106a Court — calls out to me, and the name of the store, The Curio, immediately appeals, so I decide to venture forth and explore.
As I head over, I wonder if the place is still in business; the magazine with the stamped address is over ten years old. My speculative excitement grows with each step, and I recall a plethora of “magic shop” stories I read as a teen. When I reach the address, I find that the place still very much exists. I’m both underwhelmed and completely satisfied by its dingy exterior. Dirty storefront glass reveals the diffuse glow of a faint bulb inside, and the building itself, drab and gray, suggests decrepitude. Herein may lie wonders, I think.
A surprisingly young man behind a makeshift counter formed by columns of books watches me approach. To get to him I have to navigate a long, narrow passage between walls crammed from floor to ceiling with books.
As I draw near, he sets down a green, jacketless hard-cover with a faded title on its cracked spine, and his gaunt face regards me coolly. “What’re you looking for?”
He’s probably fifteen years younger than me. How ridiculous that he should have at his command this vast emporium. “Excuse me,” I say, “are you the proprietor?”
“I’m his son.” He scowls. “What do you need?”
I’m reassured by his response. Nepotism is one of several satisfying explanations for life’s inimical unfairness and requires no further thought. “Do you carry science fiction?”
“Upstairs.” He points in the direction of a rickety staircase and resumes his reading.
“Would you mind holding on to these?”
I place a bag on the counter, containing my purchases from earlier in the day. “Receipt is inside,” I point out.
Wordlessly he takes the bag, which disappears behind the counter.
Up I go, emerging on an even dustier second level over-stuffed with books and coin cases and mismatched plates and decorative tiles and incomplete silverware sets and what appear to be broken lamps. After a few valiant heartbeats I study the bookcases, organized in no apparent order. Deep inside this crammed, dusky labyrinth, between stamp-collecting catalogs and railway manuals, I hit the mother lode: three bookcases sagging under the weight of obscure science fiction magazines and paperbacks, again in no decipherable order. I roll up my sleeves and begin the treasure hunt.
Within minutes, I claim two issues of Odyssey.
Until now, I’d never even heard of this magazine, but these two specimens, the first with its bright golden Kelly Freas cover, the second with its seductive magenta backdrop and stylized ships, steal my breath the moment I spy them on one of this bookstore’s endless shelves. And now that I’ve scanned their contents, my fear of glossy-but-calorically-empty product has been allayed.
The nonfiction has its hooks in me. The first issue, dated Spring 1976, includes “Charlie Brown’s Fan Scene,” as well as book reviews by Ted Sturgeon and Bob Silverberg — and there’s even an interview with Zenna Henderson. The second issue, from Summer 1976, has more reviews by Silverberg, another fan piece by Charlie Brown, and essays by Ackerman, Pohl and Goldin. Looking at the fiction listings, the only author who grabs my attention is Thomas N. Scortia, whose collection a few years back, Caution! Inflammable!, won me over with its Aztec-infused tale “The Goddess of the Cats.” Senora Martin and that mermaid mural — sigh. Those two exclamation marks pack a punch, too. Take that, feeble single-exclamation-mark Dorsai! and Cryptozoic!!
The magazines are dusty but are otherwise in acceptable condition, their covers mostly uncreased. They possess the scent of unrealized potential, and they bear the eccentric touch of Roger Elwood, a loony and obsessive editor. He pumped out fifty-five anthologies from 1972 to 1978. I once heard it said that Elwood showed up at a convention where a fan was seeking signatures for his copy of Clute’s Encyclopedia — “The Book” — and when Elwood, who’d never heard of the volume, saw that it contained an entry about him, he proceeded to use the convention hotel’s staff-only photocopier to make himself a copy. Apparently he also once threw cellophane-wrapped sandwiches at the audience of a Lunacon in an attempt to get folks to attend one of his talks. Still, some of Elwood’s misconceived, thoroughly warped projects, like Androids, Time Machines and Blue Giraffes, which Elwood edited with TV publicist Vic Ghidalia, have a certain charm. All of which is to say that despite Elwood being more blemish than medallion, I have a soft spot for him and his work, and it inclines me to like these two magazine issues bearing his imprimatur.
The issues’ greatest virtue is probably that they don’t take up much room. I have to think of this now, because once I walk out of here and head back to the apartment, I’m going to be confronted by the reality of my upcoming downsizing. If nothing else, though, I should buy them as a memento of this experience.
I finish rifling through the current shelf, but the rest of it turns out to be pretty mundane. I keep going.
Time passes in a kind of fugue. Titles start to blur together. Three shelves yield nothing, and I feel my energy wane. But there’s a shot of pick-me-up on the very next shelf, Kenneth Bulmer’s On the Symb-Socket Circuit, which I started reading two years ago, loaned out at a Mayflies gathering, and never received back. Less intriguing but also coming home with me will be Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia, Geoffrey Simmons’ The Adam Experiment and David R. Bunch’s Moderan. I examine them as best I can in the weak light. Is my treacherous right eye acting up again? Two of these paperbacks have hole-punched covers, but are otherwise intact, and the third looks unread. I set them aside along with the magazines.
Again, the shelves after this are mostly junk, and the pendulum swings back toward exhaustion. I need fuel. I advise the young man behind the register that I’ll be back shortly to continue scouring the place for more manna. “Knock yourself out,” he says.
On my walk I pass a Hardee’s, a Perkins Pancakes and a Bob Evans eatery. I opt for the latter, order one of their “farm-sized” chicken and noodles dishes and leave half the food on my plate. My wristplex tells me about half an hour has passed since I left the Curio, and I hustle back.
I receive a surly nod from the cashier and head back to the literary ossuary, now as before, deserted. I’ve barely resumed my efforts when I make out three hardcovers by William Kotzwinkle — isn’t he the writer with whom that Custodian was so enamored? I’ll admit that this trifecta tempts me. Hermes 3000, an unusual Pantheon hardcover, has a pristine jacket, and though Fata Morgana and Herr Nightingale and the Satin Woman, both issued by Knopf, are ex-lib, their worn jacket sleeves can be peeled off without difficulty, as can their spine stamps. The presence of this Pantheon edition puts me on high alert for more British goodies, and this attentiveness pays off when I find a pile of New Worlds Quarterly’s. Anthology number 8 in this series, edited by one Hilary Bailey, has two stories — “The Broken Field” and “Black Hole” — by Nigel Francis, a writer I like, and also two tales by Robert Meadley, whose titles — “Conversations at Ma Maia Metron” and “Love at Lost Sight” — immediately captivate me.
And so it continues, until the clerk downstairs calls out, “Fifteen minutes to closing time!”
“Be right down,” I yell back.
I kick into hyper-mode, assessing and re-assessing my stack of intended purchases with frenetic diligence. I feel guilty about spending any money at all on this stuff, but the store owner clearly has no idea what some of this is worth. Leaving the principle of the thing aside, the books and magazines are in superb condition, and their combined expense won’t make a dent on anything except my grocery money. Besides, if I’m going to reduce my collection to its absolute essentials and sell off most of it, I should allow myself these last additions, which will no doubt enhance the collection’s overall resale value.
I sweep the over-stuffed shelves one last time, and as I turn around I notice a flyer sticking out from the middle of the last bookcase.
The flyer’s color and sheen distinguish it from its surroundings. Printed on a glossy sheet in deep azure, and neatly inserted atop the book row, it looks brand new.
“Closing time,” the clerk hollers.
I pull the flyer out and glimpse a word printed in a sleek, minimalist, white font: EQUIMEDIAN. Beneath it is a phone number. I fold it in four and stuff it in my pocket. I wend my way down the creaky staircase, both arms loaded, clutching the goods tightly to my chest to keep them from toppling over.
As he rings me up, I take another look at the flyer. The word “Equimedian” sounds familiar. Where have I heard it before?
Ah yes, Keshawn Lee. In the Custodians meeting he mentioned researching it at the Columbia University library. I deposit the flyer on the desk. “Do you know what this is?”
“What?” asks the clerk. “No rebates or coupons, if that’s what you’re after.”
“I found this among the stacks,” I say.
“Looks brand new.”
He continues with his arithmetic.
“It wasn’t in the science fiction section when I went out for food. I would have noticed it. But it was there when I came back.”
“You’re a regular Jules de Grandin.”
“My point is that someone left this flyer here during the short time I was away.”
“You do realize you’re not the only customer who’s been in here today, right?” His tone wordlessly adds “Thank God for that.”
“Do you happen to remember who went upstairs when I was gone? I was away for maybe thirty-five minutes.”
“No clue,” he says.
“I just did.”
I wave at the cash register. “I’ll pay you twice whatever you were going to charge me if you try harder.”
His forehead stiffens. “Sorry.”
Defeated, I refold and repocket the flyer.
He bags up my purchases, in a manner more haphazard than I’d like, and I pay and leave.
Two subway lines later I’m back at the apartment. When I walk in Leon is standing at the edge of the kitchen. “Hey,” he says.
“Wow.” He points at the bags. “And that is?”
I stop. “None of your business.”
He jeers and juts forward. “More books, isn’t it?”
“Don’t worry about it,” I say.
“Jason, I really don’t care what you read or how you spend your time,” he says. “But I am seriously concerned about the clutter. And the hygiene.”
“I’ll have your rent on time,” I say. “What I do in my room is my concern.”
I walk to my bedroom, set the bags down and close the door. I sit on my bed and catch my breath.
I’m surprised by the apartment’s stillness.
It’s gloomy. Invasive.
The silence is loud.
The trapdoor dreams float up to my consciousness and swim around in my thoughts.
To avoid them, I start unpacking my haul. The very first book I pick out of the bag has a gash in the cover that I could have sworn wasn’t there when I bought it. The next two paperbacks have obnoxious lime-colored price-stickers that I hadn’t noticed on the rear covers, which, as I find out by clawing at them, won’t come off without peeling away part of the book. The next stack of magazines is mostly okay, though they appear older and more frail than they looked under the Curio’s dim lights. I lay everything out on the bed and do a quick count: seventy-two paperbacks, six hardcovers, and forty-three back issues of rare magazines. I should be shivering with pleasure, with a sense of accomplishment, but as I take a cold, hard look at the display, I mumble, “This looks like a pile of trash.”
What was I thinking?
I grab a couple of items at random and hold them up to the light. The artwork hues and the aged tint of the pages seem to change before my eyes. I squint and look only through my good eye, the left one.
My breath catches in my throat.
The world looks slightly blurry. Recently I’ve been seeing these web-like “floaters” and there are more than the last time I checked. Holding the books up much closer, they finally resolve themselves into detail and texture. My eyesight appears to have worsened — a lot.
Each thud of my heart tolls disappointment and self-chastisement. I feel myself slouch.
I have barely enough willpower to slide all this junk off the bed and toss it into the bags in which I dragged it up here. I sit for a while, hearing things I don’t want to hear, whispers from the relentless demon of self-doubt.
I turn off the lights and lie down, fully clothed, and something brushes against my right leg. I reach down and pull out a flyer from my pocket.
Its surface shimmers.
The letters on the flyer spelling out EQUIMEDIAN emit a faint light. The letters become bioluminescent creatures, roaming through the coral sea of my bed, swimming towards the island that is my life. The creatures lodge themselves in my mind. The phone number right below the word occupies me.
Without turning on the light, I reach toward the phone on my night table.
I dial the number.
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro is a Hugo- and Locus-award finalist who has published over fifty stories, as well as over a hundred essays, reviews, and interviews, in a variety of professional magazines and anthologies. These venues include Analog, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Galaxy’s Edge, Nature, Vastarien: A Literary Journal, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Locus, Tor.com/Reactor, Strange Horizons, The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, Cyber World, This Way to the End Times, The Unquiet Dreamer, Nox Pareidolia, The Book of Extraordinary Femme Fatale Stories, Multiverses: An Anthology of Alternate Realities, and many others. Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg was published in 2016 to critical acclaim. Being Michael Swanwick, Alvaro’s second book of interviews, appeared in 2023. Equimedian is Alvaro’s debut novel.
Hex Publishers is Colorado’s independent publishing house proudly specializing in genre fiction: horror, science fiction, crime, dark fantasy, comics, and any other form that explores the imagination. Founded by writers, Hex values both the author and the reader, with an emphasis on quality, diversity, and voices often overlooked by the mainstream.
Head to our Explore section to see more excerpts, short stories, interviews and other works by Hex Publishers.