Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Alternate universes

The thing that I like about the urban fantasy genre is one of the same things I like about leading an alternate fitness-related life alongside my real regular one--it takes you to this secret other world that's mapped on top of the one you know, but has all sorts of hidden places and unexpected treasures (like the shabby but beautiful pool in the basement at Teacher's College, or the Central Park loop at dusk on a late fall evening). If you know Philadelphia at all, or even if you've just looked out of the windows on the train as you pass through the bleak North Philadelphia station en route to 30th Street Station, you will be familiar with that intriguing but deeply depressed cityscape of low-rise row-houses and urban blight; but there is a magical alternate life there of urban cowboys, chronicled in Fletcher Street, a rather lovely book of photographs by Martha Camarillo.

Here's the book's cover image, and there are a host of other equally good ones inside:

(Here's where I first heard about these riders--Mike Newall's Philadelphia Weekly article can be found here.)


  1. Before he died, exquisite prose stylist Andre Dubus wrote about traveling America via train (you may remember he lost his legs in an accident on the Mass. Pike and lived his last years in pain and wheelchair bound); he has an exquisite passage on that Amtrak ride through N. Phila. to 30th Street Station.

    Of course I've taken that ride a million times and it's a sad fact that most rail routes go through the worst parts of old towns. On the other hand, the view across the Schuykill River as the train rolls over it near the Art Museum, just before docking in 30 St., is a lovely view indeed.

    Didn't know about the pool in Teacher's College, though I ate a couple of times in their dining hall. But I do urge you to look carefully at the Children's Sculpture outside St. John the Divine. It is TRULY creepy in places.

  2. I love pictures and stories about animals in urban life and how they intervene in these spaces. There's something about horses in urbanscapes, though, that's always especially intriguing, they bring an uncanny majesty to every background, and that's also the way you feel when you're on them, getting a different view from above. If you think of it, they used to be the means of transport in every city, so photos like this bring an unfamiliar past into scene. It's good to know abou the book.

  3. Thank you for this post! The sense of alternate and unexpected realities compressed into the most familiar or ostensibly least inspiring places is amazing in this photo, and in what I've seen of the book so far.

    Where would we be without worldmaking? In every sense?

  4. The book that really drove it home for me was _Roofworld_ by Christopher Fowler. Really nothing to recommend the book aside from the hidden world overlaid upon ours, but I still gave out multiple copies one Christmas.

  5. Susan, thanks for the Dubus recommendation, I've only read a handful of pieces of his and don't know that one at all.

    Xopo: I will leave it for you in the office if you're interested!

    Marisa: Yes, worldmaking, very lovely...

    Brent: I am totally going to have to read that novel! It sounds dire but appealing--I'm a big fan of the mass-market horrorish PB though--I love those Weaveworld (Barker)/Neverwhere (Gaiman) kind of book. In fact I am vaguely planning on writing one myself, only I have one and a half other books I must write first. Have you read Iain Sinclair? It's rather magically amazing, got some of that mystical stuff but b/c he's insanely intelligent and also mostly writing non-fiction it kind of works better--the first book of his I read was "Lights Out for the Territory," I highly recommend that one.

  6. Gaiman over Fowler, hands down.

    Sure don't want to oversell _Roofworld_, but still have to confess that the setting/conceit is pretty something.

  7. Oh, I'm totally going to get Roofworld, I don't care if it's kind of bad, it sounds great!