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Pulp Culture
'Sandman' author gives lesson in writing about nothing

June 17, 2004
By Franklin Harris

Neil Gaiman is a clever fellow. I mean, he is just so stunningly clever at times. Seriously. He is the kind of clever that makes other writers — like yours truly — bitterly jealous. He makes it all look so easy. After all, he's the one who wrote "American Gods" and 75 flawless issues of "Sandman."

At least I think it was 75. Ah, yes. Here it is listed in my copy of the "Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide." Seventy-five. Just as I thought.

But I'm not even thinking of Gaiman's novels and comic books. I'm thinking of a little review he wrote for Punch magazine, back when Punch was still good. He reviewed a book titled "Gumshoe." Or, rather, he tried to review it. Honest. You see, he could never locate the book, which became lost when he tidied up his office. (Nothing good ever came of tidying up, I always say.)

Anyway, Gaiman had to write the review from memory, but all he could recall in detail were the book's title, that the author was a philosophy professor who gave up teaching to become a private detective and that the book's dust jacket was gold.

He wrote the whole "review" in a deadpan pastiche of Dashiell Hammett, mostly describing his futile search for the lost book.

The result is hilarious, and it actually does make you want to read "Gumshoe" for yourself. If only you knew the name of the author. How many books titled "Gumshoe" are there, anyway?

Well, according to Amazon.com, there is only one, and it's by Josiah Thompson. Says he was a Haverford professor who gave up teaching to ... Yep. He's our man.

Yes, the Internet is a marvelous thing. Gaiman didn't have it at his disposal when he was trying to remember who wrote "Gumshoe." But years later, I can type a few keystrokes and have an answer in a matter of seconds.

At least I can now that I have my computer up and running again. I spent most of the afternoon installing a network card so that I could plug in a broadband modem. Now, whenever I boot up my computer, I get warning messages telling me that three files I didn't know existed in the first place have vanished. Of course, the computer seems to be working fine without them, but rebooting is a bit of a pain as long as these warning messages keep popping up.

I've done a lot of rebooting. My guess is that it took me about five hours to do a job that should have taken only half an hour. I didn't even need the stupid network card. My modem decided it could connect to my computer through a USB port instead. How helpful of it.

So, instead of writing about the anime DVDs I'd planned to review this week, I'm writing the column you are reading now. (You are still reading it, aren't you?) Because, instead of watching the aforementioned videos this afternoon, I was arguing with a huge paperweight full of silicon chips.

Let this be a lesson to you: Never try to upgrade a computer on deadline.

Now, where was I?

Gaiman's "Gumshoe" review is reprinted in his collection "Angels and Visitations," my copy of which is, fortunately, not lost amid tidiness. Unfortunately, when I retrieved it to write this column, I found that it was attracting mold. The humidity in my office is appalling. (Does humidity damage DVDs? I'm sure they say to keep DVDs in cool, dry places. But this is Alabama. There are no cool, dry places, except maybe in October.) Most of the short stories in "Angles and Visitations" are reprinted in Gaiman's other collection, "Smoke and Mirrors," but his "Gumshoe" review is not.

Next week, maybe I'll get around to those anime DVDs.

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