Tuesday, 17 October 2017

2017: Science Fiction Odyssey Three

I suppose really this post should be titled '2017: Science Fiction Odyssey Six' or something, given that besides two prior similarly-titled posts on my continuing science fiction book collecting odyssey, '2017: A Science Fiction Odyssey' and '2017: Odyssey to... Bookshops in Worthing, Leigh-on-Sea and Tunbridge Wells', I've done SF-book-collecting-odyssey posts centring on the Isle of WightBrighton and the Lewes Book Fair. But Arthur C. Clarke only wrote four books in his series – I've been riffing on the titles of Clarke's 'Space Odyssey' novels, you see – and I'd already ballsed up the numbering by not making the Isle of Wight post the second part of the odyssey, so '2017: Science Fiction Odyssey Three' it is.


And the odyssey this time takes in Littlehampton, Worthing (again), Brighton (again), Tonbridge and Sydenham, all of which I've trekked to in search of secondhand SF over the past month or so. A warning: anyone expecting picturesque (unlikely in the cases of Worthing and Sydenham I know, but anyway) shots of those far-flung locales is likely to be sorely disappointed; as in previous odyssey posts, this one will largely consist of photographs of my hand holding books outside – and mostly obscuring, helpfully – secondhand bookshops, so depending on your mileage for partially obscured secondhand bookshops/books/hands, you may want to stop reading now.


My first stop on this leg of the odyssey was the coastal town of Littlehampton, about an hour from Lewes (where I live) by car or indeed by train, which was how I travelled on this occasion. I ventured there drawn by the Fireside Bookshop, which relocated to Littlehampton from the Lake District a couple of years ago and which I'd been meaning to visit ever since I learned of that relocation. Situated in a small arcade at the far end of the high street from the train station, it's an attractive shop with a diverse stock arranged around one large and one smaller room, but though its (largely paperback) fiction section in the main room stretches the length of its front windows, when I visited there wasn't much in the way of science fiction on offer. However, the owner had just bought in an SF collection, and although he hadn't yet catalogued it all, he did have a few bits behind the counter. After a look through the two small proffered piles I selected this:


A pristine first edition of Greg Bear's alien invasion/end of the world epic The Forge of God, published in hardback by Gollancz in 1987, dust jacket illustration by John Harris. That'll do nicely.


Heading back towards Lewes I stopped off at Worthing in order to have another look for SF in Badger's Books. The box of SF paperbacks I found before was still there, and this time I plucked from it three paperback firsts of early novels by Ian WatsonThe Martian Inca (Granada/Panther, 1978, cover illustration by Peter Gudynas), Alien Embassy (Granada/Panther, 1979) and Miracle Visitors (Granada/Panther, 1980) – and two paperback firsts of novels by Bob Shaw: Ground Zero Man (Corgi, 1976) and The Ceres Solution (Granada, 1983). However, as I was paying for those, I spied in the shelf of signed books running high up along one wall in the first room a Peter F. Hamilton book, which on closer inspection turned out to be this:


A copy of the signed, limited, numbered, slipcased edition of The Temporal Void, published by Macmillan in 2008, dust jacket and box illustration by Jim Burns. The second in Hamilton's Void Trilogy, it's the sequel to 2007's The Dreaming Void, a first edition of which I'd found in the Lewes Book Centre not long before. Splendid.


Living in Lewes as I do, it's not unusual for me to buy books in nearby Brighton; but it is unusual for me to take a picture of whichever books I've bought outside whichever bookshop I've bought them in – which is precisely what I did one sunny Saturday early in September (when I was ostensibly in Brighton for my friend – and Brit comics/dinosaur art superstar – Steve White's stag do) at Colin Page Antiquarian Books (which, sadly, will be closing down quite soon, passing trade apparently not being enough to justify the cost of keeping a shop in the centre of Brighton) after buying some SF paperbacks from the table outside the shop, so I figured I might as well include that picture in this post. On the top is a 1982 New English Library first paperback edition of Search for the Sun!, the first novel in Colin Kapp's Cageworld series, cover illustration by Gerald Grace; then a 1979 Hamlyn paperback first of Healer, the debut novel by F. Paul Wilson (who recently wrote the foreword to a book I project edited, The Art of the Pulps); and a 1969 Coronet paperback first of SF anthology Seven Trips Through Time and Space, edited by Groff Conklin and featuring stories by among others Larry Niven and Cordwainer Smith.


While Brighton is for me a frequent destination, Tonbridge, in Kent, about an hour's drive north from Lewes, isn't (I've probably been there a handful of times, one of which I only have a dim recollection of as it involved drunken boating on the Medway with my friend Mike). But on a whim I motored there in order to have a mooch around the excellently-named Mr. Books, which I'd been meaning to check out for a while, and especially so since it reopened under new management in August. A bijou one-room split-level affair, the shop's hardback fiction section up the back didn't hold anything of interest for me, but the paperback fiction section down the front, with its shelf of film tie-ins, was another matter entirely:


On the top there is a first edition/first printing of Michael Crichton's original Westworld screenplay, published straight to paperback by Bantam in 1974. Quite a rare book – especially so in the UK – it includes 32 pages of stills and behind-the-scenes shots and an enlightening essay by Crichton about the tribulations of making the film, worth the price of admission alone – which in my case was three quid, significantly less than first printings usually go for.

Underneath that is a 1947 first Penguin paperback edition of Graham Greene's travelogue The Lawless Roads (I do still buy non-SF books, y'know); a 1978 Paradise Press paperback first of Bob Balaban's making-of memoir Close Encounters of the Third Kind Diary – another rare book, later reissued by Titan as Spielberg, Truffaut and Me (which is the edition I read it in when I worked at Titan); a 1950 Cherry Tree Books paperback first of Edward Woodward's Dead Man's Plaything – an incredibly rare book (there's not a single copy for sale online) which I bought because I wondered whether the author might be the Edward Woodward, who would have been 20 when it was published; a 1970 Pan first paperback edition of Kingsley 'Robert Markham' Amis' Bond novel Colonel Sun; a 2004 Gollancz first paperback printing of Alastair Reynolds' Absolution Gap, the final part of his central Revelation Space universe trilogy and, weirdly, the one book I was hoping I might find when I decided to make the journey to Tonbridge (and lo and behold, serendipitously, there it was, hidden behind some other SF paperbacks, almost as if it was waiting for me...); and a 1993 HarperCollins first paperback printing of Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars.


Not a bad haul. But Tonbridge wasn't done with me yet, because on the way back to the car I had a look in the local Oxfam Books and emerged with a 1980 Orbit/Futura paperback first of Larry Niven's short story collection Convergent Series, cover illustration by Peter Jones; a 2008 Gollancz paperback of Greg Egan's Diaspora; and a 2002 US Baen hardback first edition/fist printing of Andre Norton's Warlock, which collects the three Forerunner novels Storm over Warlock (1960), Ordeal in Otherwhere (1964) and Forerunner Foray (1973).


Lastly on this leg of the odyssey, Sydenham, and the Kirkdale Bookshop, which I swung by one Sunday when I was up at my folks' for the weekend (they live in nearby Beckenham). A browse through the first edition bookcases and (mostly paperback) SF section in the secondhand basement produced a 1962 Corgi paperback first of Planet of the Dreamers (alias Wine of the Dreamers), the first SF novel by crime writer John D. MacDonald, cover art by Josh Kirby; a 1976 Orbit paperback of Larry Niven's Protector; a 1981 Orbit paperback of Jerry Pournelle's Future History; and a 1967 Hodder hardback first of Edmund Cooper's A Far Sunset – a scarce edition that one, especially so in its jacket.

The odyssey, inevitably, continues...

Monday, 9 October 2017

J.G. Ballard's The Drowned World and Other eBay Delights

I've got a bunch of new eBay auctions up and running, including something quite special:


Volume 4 No. 24 of Science Fiction Adventures, published in January 1962. What's so darn special about it? Well it features the first appearance of J.G. Ballard's dystopian classic The Drowned World, which debuted in this issue of Science Fiction Adventures months before it was published in hardback by Gollancz – making this effectively the true first edition. (See this post for more.) It's a pretty scarce publication, with lovely Brian Lewis cover art illustrating Ballard's tale, and it's got a low starting price, so someone could potentially nab a bargain.


All of my latest eBay offerings can be found here:

Existential Ennui on eBay

Or by clicking on each picture for the individual auctions...

Among them a 1964 first edition (later printing) of The Man Who Sold Death by James Munro (alias Callan creator James Mitchell)...

....a 1989 first edition of Quiller KGB by Adam Hall...

and a 2016 omnibus of Avengers: Time Runs Out, which collects the climax to Jonathan Hickman's brilliant Avengers run. Quite a mix of books, then, plus there are some others I've offered before  – some of them signed – but which now have lower starting prices. Have at it.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Infinite Stars, Space Opera, Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space: Night Passage, and Cordwainer Smith's The Rediscovery of Man

I seldom request advance review copies of books – I get offered them quite a lot but my blogging is so intermittent these days and I've such a backlog of old books (and comics) to blog about that the thought of having to do a timely post on a new book as well is almost too much to bear – but when Titan Books (where – full disclosure – long ago I ran the graphic novels department) sent out an email about this:


Infinite Stars, an anthology of space opera and military science fiction to be published on 24 October (jacket illustration by Luca Oleastri), I couldn't resist nabbing a copy. Put together by writer and editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt, the near-700-page hardback collects short – and not-so-short – SF stories both new and vintage by authors both neophyte and veteran, among the latter Robert Silverberg, Anne McCaffrey, Poul Anderson, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Silverberg also provides a fantastically entertaining introduction explicating the origins of space opera – the phrase and the form – concentrating especially on the exuberance of its early–mid twentieth century pulp-magazine incarnation; stories in the words of one critic of "incredible heroes, unbelievable weapons, insurmountable obstacles, inconceivable science, omnipotent villains, and unimaginable cataclysms" – or as Wilson Tucker, who in 1941 coined the term space opera as a pejorative, put it: "the hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn space-ship yarn".


All of which might by itself have been enough, given my recently rediscovered fervour for SF, for me to want a copy. However, my real reason for getting the anthology was that it contains a brand new Revelation Space universe story by Alastair Reynolds. Titled "Night Passage", it's set 200 years before the events of Revelation Space (2000) and details humanity's first encounter with a mysterious region of altered spacetime – which will become known as a Shroud – and a potentially cataclysmic rupturing of trust between the command crew of an interstellar spaceship, the Equinoctial, and a contingent of their Conjoiner (a hive-minded human faction) passengers. It's a fine tale, told in the first person by the ship's captain, Rauma Bernsdottir, and exploring notions of shame and forgiveness and how false assumptions can lead to catastrophe.


Of the twenty-three other stories in the anthology I've only read a handful thus far, but of those, one I really liked was a beautifully written vintage story by Cordwainer Smith, "The Game of Rat and Dragon". First published in 1955 (in Galaxy Science Fiction), it's a far-future tale of the conflict between a force piloted by telepathic "pinlighters" and their feline partners – the cats' lightning-swift instincts having been found to complement the humans' intellects – and ferocious alien Dragons, and forms part of Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind series. I was drawn to it in particular because a couple of months ago in Leigh Gallery Books in Essex I picked up this:


A 1988 Gollancz first edition of The Rediscovery of Man (jacket illustration by John Avon). Originally published in the States in 1975 as The Best of Cordwainer Smith, it includes "The Game of Rat and Dragon" alongside eleven other stories from Smith's Instrumentality universe – led off by the first story set in that future history, 1950's "Scanners Live in Vain" – and an insightful introduction by John J. Pierce (who also provides brief intros to each of the tales). The portrait that Pierce paints of Smith, alias Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger, is an intriguing one. Godson of Sun Yat Sen, founder of the Chinese Republic, the Milwaukee-born Smith was a colonel in US Army Intelligence, advisor to the British forces in Malaya and the US Eighth Army in Korea, Professor of Asiatic politics at Johns Hopkins University, and author of Psychological Warfare, "still regarded as the most authoritative text in the field".


But as fascinating as all this is, it's Smith's fiction that's arguably the most extraordinary thing about him, especially those stories set in his Instrumentality universe. "In Cordwainer Smith's epic of the future," writes Pierce, "the Instrumentality of Mankind has the hallmarks of both a political elite and a priesthood. Its hegemony is that, not of the galactic empire so typical of less imaginative SF, but of something far more subtle and pervasive – at once political and spiritual. Its lords see themselves not as mere governors or bureaucrats or politicians, but as instruments of human destiny itself." Highlighting "the spontaneity of his work", the "elusive... allusions in his stories" and "the strong sense of vocation expressed by the scanners, sailors, pinlighters, Go-captains and the lords themselves", Pierce notes that "Smith was a mythmaker in science fiction", stating in closing: "The work of Cordwainer Smith will always retain its enigmas. But that is part of its appeal. In reading his stories, we are caught up in experiences as real as life itself – and just as mysterious."

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The Quantum Science Fiction Programme (1977–1981): Isaac Asimov, Ben Bova, John Varley, Gregory Benford et al

In 1977, a self-described "international publishing venture" was launched. Selected and edited by authors Isaac Asimov and Ben Bova (ostensibly; as Todd Mason notes in the comments, the real editor was D. R. Bensen) and published in the first instance by the Dial Press in the US, the Quantum Science Fiction programme proclaimed on the cover of its first book that it would be "presenting the best in modern science fiction". Over a five-year period nine books would be published under the Quantum umbrella – two per year, then one in the final year of the programme – penned by some of the brightest new talents in SF (plus a couple of older hands, including one of the editors). It was a Quantum project for the quantum age... and yet these days it barely merits a footnote in the history of SF.


I learned of the Quantum Science Fiction programme recently having become interested in the work of SF authors John Varley and Gregory Benford, who both had early novels issued under Quantum's imprimatur. Though the programme seems to have been a Dial Press (where Asimov was an editorial board member) initiative – aside from an isfdb list of series titles (which neglects to include Orson Scott Card's Songmaster) there's next to no information about it online – most of the books included (bar Card's two entries) were also published by Sidgwick & Jackson in the UK, and it's in those editions that I bought Varley's debut novel, The Ophiuchi Hotline, and Benford's fourth, In the Ocean of Night. With the books in my hands it was hard to miss the Quantum connection: where in the US they were issued with illustrated wrappers utilising a border design that deployed the Quantum identification discreetly, in the UK Sidgwick & Jackson used the Quantum 'Q' logo as the key element in their near-uniform typographic gold dust jacket designs.


The authors and books published in the Quantum Science Fiction Programme were as follows:

1. John Varley, The Ophiuchi Hotline (1977)
2. Gregory Benford, In the Ocean of Night (1977)
3. Gordon R. Dickson, The Far Call (1978)
4. John Varley, The Persistence of Vision (alias In the Hall of the Martian Kings) (1978)
5. Spider and Jeanne Robinson, Stardance (1979)
6. Ben Bova, Kinsman (1979)
7. Orson Scott Card, Songmaster (1980)
8. Joan D. Vinge, The Snow Queen (1980)
9. Orson Scott Card, Unaccompanied Sonata and Other Stories (1981)

I've no idea how well received the programme was at the time – the scant information available online suggests it's at least not terribly well remembered – but it certainly started strongly. Varley and Benford were I guess back then the (relatively speaking) 'hip young gunslingers' of science fiction, The Ophiuchi Hotline and In the Ocean of Night the opening shots in their respective Eight Worlds and Galactic Centre sagas: distinctive, exciting SF offering fresh perspectives on space opera. Thereafter, while the fourth Quantum offering, Varley's first short story collection, The Persistence of Vision – UK title In the Hall of the Martian Kings – was and is highly regarded, the third one, veteran Gordon R. Dickson's The Far Call, was and is perhaps less so – witness this withering contemporaneous Kirkus review and this scathing 2015 one (although this review from 2000 is kinder) – while the inclusion of fellow veteran Ben Bova's own Kinsman smacks slightly of favouritism.


In any case, the Quantum brand clearly propagated further than the Dial Press and Sidgwick & Jackson first editions. Subsequent paperback editions of some of the Quantum books also carried the 'Q' logo and the "international publishing venture" legend, while Sidgwick & Jackson seemingly did their best to extract as much capital as possible out of the brand by publishing three Quantum Specials – omnibuses which paired the initial six books in the series (counterparts to the publisher's long-running Science Fiction Special series), as follows:

Quantum Special 1 (1979): The Ophiuchi Hotline and In the Ocean of the Night
Quantum Special 2 (1981): The Far Call and In the Hall of the Martian Kings
Quantum Special 3 (1981): Stardance and Kinsman

Despite all this, by 1981 the Dial Press had dropped any mention of Quantum from the jacket (front or back) of the final book in the programme, Orson Scott Card's Unaccompanied Sonata and Other Stories (although it still carried the Quantum logo and the legend "A Quantum Book" on its title page). And that was pretty much it for Quantum Science Fiction – and pretty much as much as I've been able to find out about it. Still, at least in the unlikely event that anyone else goes looking for information about the programme – and I'm still wondering what on earth possessed me not only to do so myself, but to then write a fairly lengthy blog post about it – there's a bit more readily available now. And if anyone can shed any more light on Quantum, please do leave a comment.


Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 29/9/17.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Donald E. Westlake, Richard Stark, James Mitchell, Victor Canning, Anthony Price, Cornell Woolrich and Harry Carmichael on eBay


What do Donald E. Westlake, Richard Stark, James Mitchell, Victor Canning, Anthony Price, Cornell Woolrich and Harry Carmichael all have in common? Aside from the fact that they're all blokes... and all crime/thriller writers of one sort or another... and indeed all wrote spy fiction at one time or another... and doubtless there are other commonalities besides, but the one that concerns us here is that presently I have eBay auctions running for books by all six of them (Westlake and Stark of course being the same person).

There are auctions for ten books in total, all of which finish on Sunday, and only one of which, as I type, has a bid in. The books are a mix of British and American first editions, mostly hardbacks (and one paperback), some quite scarce, all plucked from my personal collection (most having appeared previously on this very blog), all listed with relatively low starting prices. They are as follows:

A 1974 American first edition of Donald E. Westlake's Jimmy the Kid, the Dortmunder novel that features  excerpts from the 'missing' Parker novel Child Heist.

A 1974 American first edition of Richard Stark's Butcher's Moon, the sixteenth Parker novel and the explosive finale to the original run of Parkers.

A 1977 American first edition of Donald E. Westlake's Nobody's Perfect, the fourth Dortmunder novel.

A 1971 British first edition of Donald E. Westlake's Adios Scheherazade, his fictionalised account of his time as a sleaze paperback writer.

A 1966 British first edition of Donald E. Westlake's The Fugitive Pigeon, his first 'nephew' caper, featuring a fab Denis McLoughlin dust jacket.

A 1974 British first edition of James Mitchell's Death and Bright Water, the third Callan spy novel.

A 1972 British first edition of Victor Canning's The Rainbird Pattern, second novel in the 'Birdcage' spy series and believed by many to be the author's best book.

A 1974 British first edition of Anthony Price's Other Paths to Glory, the fifth novel in his David Audley spy series.

A 1958 British first edition of Harry Carmichael's A Question of Time, with a great William Randell dust jacket.

And a 1946 first American paperback edition of Cornell Woolrich's classic noir thriller The Black Path of Fear.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Diamond Dogs and the Revelation Space Novellas and Stories of Alastair Reynolds


I've got a lot of time for novellas. Or rather, I only have a certain amount of time available to me for reading prose fiction, and novellas offer something approaching the substance of a novel with the practical brevity of a short story. This has been pertinent as I've been making my way through Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space universe, a hard-science-fiction-future-history which has become something of an obsession of mine over the past six months – a mild, manageable one, but still a persistent strain in the broader science fiction fever which has infected me. Five novels form the backbone of the series – Revelation Space (2000) and its two sequels, Redemption Ark (2002) and Absolution Gap (2003), plus Chasm City (2001) and The Prefect (2007; that last one will gain a sequel – Elysium Fire – and a new title, Aurora Rising, next year) – but around those are arranged five short stories and seven novellas, and these have played a not insignificant role in the development of my mild, manageable obsession. For while the Revelation Space universe novels for me represent a major investment of time – they're all around 500 to 600 pages long, which translates as probably a couple of months' worth of reading apiece – the short stories and novellas are quicker, less daunting reads.


They're also really, really good in their own right – stylistically and tonally varied, hard SF stories which sketch in some of the background to the Revelation Space universe – "Great Wall of Mars" and "Glacial" are particularly significant here – and/or afford glimpses into some of its murkier, more obscure corners. Most of the stories are collected in the 2006 collection Galactic North, but a handful aren't, notably two novellas which were published separately as limited editions in 2001 and 2002 by small press publishers and then brought together by Gollancz in 2003: Diamond Dogs and Turquoise Days. I found a first of the Gollancz edition for £2.50 in Camilla's Bookshop in Eastbourne in April and read it on holiday in June, and Diamond Dogs in particular really got its hooks into me: a queasily gripping, unsettling, gothic tale of obsession that for the most part takes place inside an alien artefact – the Blood Spire – on a planet, Golgotha, far from human-colonised space. It brought to my mind the 1997 film Cube – which is obliquely referenced in the story, along with Raiders of the Lost Ark (that film's opening sequence especially) and Algys Budrys' Rogue Moon, all of which should give some idea of the direction of travel – and, more obscurely, P. M. Hubbard's A Hive of Glass, at least in terms of its theme of the bloody extremes that people will go to to get what they desire, if not its scything body horror.


In fact, so affecting did I find the thing that I wound up buying a copy of the original 2001 standalone first, which was issued by PS Publishing in an edition of 500 numbered paperbacks and 400 numbered hardbacks, all signed by Alastair Reynolds. Taken with the evocative David A. Hardy cover art – and the fact that it was signed – I'd been idly looking at listings for the hardback on eBay, considering stumping up £30–£50 for a copy, when I spotted one on Amazon Marketplace for a fiver. I snapped it up, and discovered when it arrived that not only was it brand new and unread, but it had been signed by both Reynolds and fellow SF author Stephen Baxter, who wrote the illuminating introduction. A nice addition, then, to my growing Revelation Space universe collection.


Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 22/9/17.