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Alex Crow has the biggest SF bookshop in Europe

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Beautiful Barcelona now has the biggest and most beautiful SFF bookshop in Europe, right up there with all the Gaudí architecture, the Picasso Museum, and the Boqueria food market as must-visits, for SFF fans certainly—with almost 2 kilometres of elegant and ingenious wooden shelving, including several hundred metres of books in English. Move over, London’s Forbidden Planet!

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Gigamesh bookshop in Carrer de Báilen street is the dream made reality of Alejo Cuervo (“Alec Crow”). At school Alejo was convinced of the power of SF when three bullies menaced him while he was reading Asimov’s Foundation; he quoted the wisdom of the Mayor of Terminus City at them—”Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”—and the bullies turned away, defeated or bemused.
Starting by selling secondhand SF from a street market stall, Alejo presently moved to share a shop with his mother’s ceramics. As SF adviser to publisher Martínez Roca, recommending only what he personally liked, Alejo spotted George Martin‘s Dying of the Light right away (as well as Windhaven by GRRM and Lisa Tuttle). Fast forward a bit, and Alejo himself was publishing GRRM through his own Gigamesh imprint—the name an allusion to Lem‘s A Perfect Vacuum, reviews of nonexistent books.
Move on twenty years and, even before the HBO televisation, successive volumes of Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (translated by my beloved Cristina) became so popular in Spain that 10% of all books by GRRM in all languages including English were being sold on the Spanish mainland. And then the TV series happened… Between one year and the next, Gigamesh (publisher and bookshop) leapt from being classified as a “small business” to being a “big business” just like Iberia Airlines.
Gigamesh is a perfectionist publisher which employs not only top-notch translators but professional correctors too, a role which I wasn’t aware of before I came to Spain. No translation is printed without extreme textual scrutiny (including by Alejo) and this continues as aftercare even once a book is published. Just for example, if a dwarf rides upon a pig in Vol 1, and in Vol 4 many years later GRRM reveals the animal to be female, reprints of Vol 1 will change cerdo, male, to cerda, female.
28th and 29th March saw the Grand Opening of new Gigamesh into which Alejo has lovingly poured lots of his own money, with mass signings, masses of journalists, masses of fans, and masses of Cava and tapas. Alejo’s hair and beard are white; his eyes are bright blue, as if he has taken Spice. For the occasion he dressed as a cardinal, a prince of the church of SFF, more colourful than a white or creamy pope, so “masses” is the best word.

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The altarpiece is a cinemascopic mural by genius Enrique Corominas who does the cover art for the GRRM volumes, and whose recent illustrated hardback adaptation of Oscar Wilde‘s A Portrait of Dorian Gray is a gorgeous book well worth buying even if you can’t read either the Spanish original or the French translation.

Unlike London’s Forbidden Planet, where you’re principally confronted by toys and merchandising, its SFF literature banished to the big basement, BOOKS is the major impact of Librería Gigamesh. Games and their manuals, models, Magic: The Gathering cards, and comics are also on hand in abundance, but BOOKS are what greet you, and mainly accompany you around the shop. Different areas are named in honour of great Spanish SF editors past and present. There’s also a fun poster-size guide to all akin shops in this smallish area of rather elegant boulevards—near the Arc de Triomf just beyond the medieval Gothic Quarter—known to fans as the Friqui Triangle, since Friquis (=Nerds, also spelled Frikis) is what Spanish SFF fans like to call themselves. Alejo is perfectly happy to display a guide to rival shops, united by Friquidom. Be not afraid to be a Freak in Barcelona.

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On hand were Lisa Tuttle and Colin Murray as well as a host of Spanish authors. Many were the munchy bibulous meals, the highlight being the Calçotada Friki on the Sunday, organised by Pep Burillo and his crew.  Mathematics whiz Pep Burillo, who lived in Salt Lake City for 5 years and 3 years in Boston, and who is a group theorist (co-author of such papers as “On Groups Whose Geodesic Growth is Polynomial”) will chair the bid for a Eurocon in Barcelona in 2016, more news about which soon, to be voted on at the Dublin Eurocon this August 2014, so here he is:

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Calçots are giant sweet spring onions (no resemblance to shallots), cooked barbecue-style and traditionally served on a tile. Wearing a big bib, you peel off the carbonised outer leaves, dip into a sauce made of peppers, tomato, garlic, olive oil, and almonds, then lower the long calçot into a mouth best held horizontally. After half a dozen of these to warm up (or easily fill up), giant plates of meats appear, grilled chops, sausages, thighs.

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A surprise gift from Cristina was a bastón of Cthulhu—the Spanish word bastón sounds so much better than walking stick—which glows in the dark with potent invocations of the Elder One. This is number one of a series being made by Pabblo Villar Indignado, assisted by Elena Garcia Martínez , all hand-finished with variations.

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A restaurant recommendation for Barcelona: the Flamant (Calle Enric Granados, 23), in the Eixample district, has a cheap (10 Euros) lunch menu very nicely cuisined and presented amidst a very elegant surroundings of mirrors and glass so extensive that you couldn’t fail to get a table.
Cristina and I were staying in a flat just beyond the Rambla, so, to get to Gigamesh and back, I walked the length of the Gothic Quarter about four times a day, varying my routes till I think I can navigate that towering labyrinth of ancient narrow streets.  While in Barcelona, we visited a couple of publishers, picking up good tips on the Young Adult novel series we’re writing, such as the need to write two and a half of the novels before submitting.

Scarcely had we flown back from Barcelona to Gijón, in fact the very next morning, I drove us in a rented VW Golf through the dramatic Asturian mountains and across the very wide plains to Segovia. In future I will, honest Injun, I always will, obey Google Maps on Cristina’s iPad rather than choosing my own route from a mapbook! Maybe it was interesting, in a way, for a while, to drive across a huge stretch of nowhere on a scarcely used road; we seemed to be caught up in some interminable American road movie. Scarcely used, but sweet to drive on—most Spanish roads, even minor ones, have such smooth and well-maintained surfaces. Germany disapproved of the Spanish state lavishing Euro-money on its roads, but sucks to Merkel.

To be continued in next blog…!