We are all going to die. Everyone you have ever met, everyone you have ever cared about, and you yourself are all going to die. Sooner or later, we must each come to that realization and deal with it. How we deal with it and how we allow death to affect life – I think – matters. Robert Reginald is a man who has wrestled with, and come to terms with, these issues, particularly his own mortality. TRILOBITE DREAMS, OR, THE AUTODIDACT’S TALE: A ROMANCE OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY is an autobiographical account, not just of Reginald’s near-fatal heart attack, but also his life as an editor, publisher, writer of genre fiction, librarian, and academic.
Like most people, I suspect, I have never personally faced a life-threatening health crisis. I’ve almost died on a handful of occasions, but those were each spontaneous, catastrophic events that came close to ending my life but just as quickly passed without doing so. There was no time to reflect, ponder, or worry, except afterwards, when it was all too easy to dismiss the possibility of near-death. Not so Reginald. In 2003, and on a couple occasions after that, he came perilously close to dying. As his health crises were happening, he was conscious of exactly what was going on, and how close he was to dying. That has to change a person. His recovery was long and painful, offering more than enough time for reflection, and physically he’s probably not quite the same man he was a decade ago. I don’t think he’s the same psychologically either – he’s seen too much, experienced too much, and has had to deal with painful truths, the kind that inevitably change people.
Having said all that, none of us wants a life that is defined by death, and Reginald has not written a mopey, morbid account of his health woes and crises. Chapters about his brushes with death are interspersed with chapters about the rest of his life. Before going any further, in case you’re unfamiliar with Robert Reginald, I should briefly try to summarize his life in very broad terms. Reginald, with his wife Mary, founded and ran the Borgo Press, a prolific and long-running small press publisher of a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction that ran from 1975-1998. Eventually the company got to be more trouble than it was worth, so the Borgo Press folded. Fortunately for the rest of us, John Betancourt of Wildside Books eventually acquired the remnants of the Borgo Press – and Reginald’s services – so it still operates as an imprint of Wildside. While running Borgo, until his retirement in 2010, Reginald also served as an academic librarian and university official at California State University, San Bernardino for decades. That doesn’t begin to do his life justice, but hey, you should read the autobiography not just my summary of it!
There’s a great deal of interest here on the history of the science fiction and fantasy genres, the trials and tribulations of being both the owner/operator of a publishing venture and an author, and the politics and petty-mindedness of life as an academic. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I know Robert Reginald and consider him a friend. I was interested in reading his thoughts on life, death, and everything in between. Your mileage will necessarily vary. But I think that Reginald has a lot to say that’s of value for a general audience, and writers specifically. TRILOBITE DREAMS is a quick read, and one I found riveting. I recommend it for readers interested in the story of someone who has come close to dying, but survived to tell us about it. It is also a fascinating account of a man who spent decades not only as an academic librarian and university official but also as a prolific editor and founder of a small publishing imprint and writer of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery novels.
Review copyright © 2013 J. Andrew Byers