Friday, 7 July 2017

Some Science Fiction Books Bought Near Brighton Station

Just outside Brighton Station, round and down and through the tunnel at the top of Trafalgar Street, there is, on days when the weather is clement, a pavement book stall. I walk past it every fortnight or so (having got the train over from Lewes), usually on a Wednesday on my way to Dave's Comics on Sydney Street. It's rare that I don't take at least a cursory glance at the books on its three or four tables – a mixture of mostly recognisable fiction and non-fiction, for the most part paperbacks, some hardbacks, along with kids' annuals and picture books (and even some DVDs) – but in all the years I've been trotting past I can't recall ever having actually bought anything. Until last month, when I spotted a small box full of science fiction – mainly paperbacks, one or two hardbacks. Given my Damascene rediscovery of SF earlier in the year, I reasoned it would be remiss of me not to stop and have a proper rummage, and after a few minutes came up with four paperbacks I liked the look of. Then the guy manning the stall – not the regular guy, it should be noted – advised me that it was three books for a fiver, so naturally I added a couple more, to wind up with this little lot – largely space opera, all first printings, one a hardback:

Top row, left to right: Born Under Mars by John Brunner, published by Ace (US) in 1967, cover by John Schoenherr; The Infinitive of Go, also by John Brunner, published by Magnum in 1981, cover by Chris Moore; Finches of Mars by Brian Aldiss, published in hardback by The Friday Project in 2013, cover design by Ifan Bates. Bottom row, left to right: Titan by John Varley, published by Futura/Orbit in 1979, cover by Peter Andrew Jones (with interior illustrations by Freff); Kinsman by Ben Bova, published by Future/Orbit in 1979, cover by Colin Hay; Capella's Golden Eyes by Christopher Evans, published by Granada in 1982, cover by Peter Gudynas.

I was especially pleased with the Varley and the Evans – Varley is an author I'm very interested in right now, while Evans is a name I'm unfamiliar with but who comes recommended by Christopher Priest – but they all look promising, and together constitute quite a nice little score, all the more so for being so unexpected. The temporary stall-holder told me the books were his rather than the regular proprietor's and that he had more science fiction in storage, which he would dig out and bring along on a day I would be likely to be passing, if the weather was clement. I've been by the stall a couple of times since – on clement days – but as yet no luck. I live in hope.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Secondhand Bookshops of the Isle of Wight, or, Wot I Did on My Summer Holidays

It's been a few years since I last did a 'secondhand bookshops wot I visited on holiday and the books wot I bought' post, for the simple reason that it's been a few years since I've been on a holiday where visiting secondhand bookshops and buying books was any kind of prospect. Happily, last week's week-long excursion to the Isle of Wight presented a number of opportunities for browsing in bookshops, and knowing how much my largely imaginary audience has enjoyed previous accounts of my ridiculous holidays, I decided I'd document the books-related bits of this one too. You're very welcome, my nonexistent readership.

Before we got the ferry over to the Isle of Wight I established (via Inprint's Bookshop Guide) that there are eight secondhand bookshops dotted about the island. Given that this was supposed to be a holiday and not merely a flimsy excuse for my seeking out secondhand bookshops, I thought it unlikely I'd get to visit more than a couple, but in the end, to my surprise, I managed to make it to half. (It would've been more but Babushka Books in Shanklin was inexplicably shut when I visited. Or maybe not so inexplicably, considering the vagaries of secondhand bookshop opening times.) However, by far the biggest haul of books came from a comic shop.

First port of call was the Mother Goose Bookshop on the village green in St. Helens, on the east side of the island. I only had a limited amount of time to investigate as we were on our way to the seaside town of Ryde, a little further up the coast, but it was a sizeable shop with an extensive stock of modern firsts (and plenty of non-fiction too). After a survey of the shelves I located in the crime and thriller section a first edition of The Double Agent (Gollancz, 1966), the first spy novel by ex-spy (and reportedly the inspiration for George Smiley) John Bingham – a book I've had on my list for quite some time.

That find paled in comparison to the riches Ryde itself offered up. I'd intended to head straight to the Ryde Bookshop, a fair way up the hilly high street, but on the way I noticed a comic shop, the splendidly named Fantastic Store, and decided to pop in. On first inspection it seemed to stock mostly back issues, graphic novels and collectables, as one would expect of a comic shop, but a further survey revealed a few shelves of hardback and paperback fiction. This turned out to be largely science fiction, a fair amount of it first editions (albeit ex-library in some cases – those keenly priced, mind, at two quid a pop) – just the sort of thing I was hoping to stumble upon given my recently reignited enthusiasm for SF. Accordingly, I went a little crazy. Besides the 1971 Science Fiction Book Club edition of Murray Leinster's The Listeners seen above, I also came away with nine other books, most of them space opera of one sort or another:

Top row left to right: a US first edition of Gregory Benford's Great Sky River (Bantam/Spectra 1987, jacket by Roger Bergendorf), the third novel in Benford's Galactic Centre Saga – the first being In the Ocean of the Night, which I bought online few weeks ago; a first edition of Wulfsyarn by Phillip Mann (Gollancz, 1990, jacket by John Brettoner); a first edition of The Brooch of Azure Midnight by Anne Gay (Orbit, 1991, jacket by Fred Gambino); and a first edition of Eternal Light by Paul J. McAuley (Gollancz, 1991, jacket by John Brettoner again), the third and final novel in McAuley's Four Hundred Billion Stars Series – the first being Four Hundred Billion Stars itself, which again I bought online a few weeks ago. Bottom row left to right: A. E. Van Vogt's Children of Tomorrow (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1972); James Blish's Midsummer Century (Faber, 1973); Clifford D. Simak's Cemetery World (Sidgwick, 1975); John Wyndham's Exiles on Asperus (Severn House, 1979), and Paul J. McAuley's short story collection The King of the Hill (Gollancz, 1991).

Phew. After all that excitement, Ryde Bookshop initially looked somewhat unpromising, its stock comprising remainder and newish books. However, an easily overlooked – not least because it was closed – door in the back room opened onto the secondhand bookshop proper. Slightly labyrinthine in nature and arranged over a few floors and staircases, it was overflowing with books, a lot of them either the kind of hardback fiction one sees littering charity shops, or not terribly interesting paperbacks. But there was a sizeable SF section, and some decent books secreted therein. I came away with these:

A first edition/printing of Alastair Reynolds' Terminal World (Gollancz, 2010); a first paperback edition of John Varley's debut novel The Ophiuchi Hotline (Orbit/Futura, 1978; I already had a Sidgwick & Jackson hardback first, but I couldn't resist that Chris Foss cover); a 1997 Vista paperback of Paul J. McAuley's Secret Harmonies (originally 1989, and the second in the Four Hundred Billion Stars Series), and a first paperback edition of Alastair Reynolds' Century Rain (Gollancz, 2005).

The next day I made it to one of the two secondhand bookshops situated in Freshwater, near the Needles on the west coast of the island. The charming and inviting Mrs. Middleton's Shop had a small selection of fiction but specialised more in local authors and books about the Isle of Wight (while I was there another customer asked after a particular Isle of Wight book and was immediately rewarded). Nevertheless, I came away with a 1969 New English Library paperback of A. E. Van Vogt's The Weapon Shops of Isher (cover by Bruce Pennington), plucked from the bijou shop's equally bijou shelf of science fiction paperbacks. When I asked Mrs. Middleton – I presume it was she – if the other Freshwater bookshop, Cameron House Books down near Freshwater Bay, had a bigger selection of modern firsts she confirmed that it did, but advised that the owner tended to close at four – earlier if custom was slow. This was at just after three, so I reckoned I was in with a shot. Alas, by the time we got there... was shut. Curses. Fortunately we were able to make a return visit the next day, and even more fortunately this time it was open!

Just as bijou as Mrs. Middleton's but boasting a much bigger selection of modern firsts, Cameron House Books is housed in Dimbola Lodge, once the home of Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and now a gallery devoted to her work and that of other photographers (it's well worth a visit if you're ever in the area, if only for the excellent lemon drizzle cake served in the cafe). The bookshop comprises just two smallish rooms, but I must've spent a good half hour browsing its wares, at the end of which I'd ferreted out five science fiction first (and other) editions (again some ex-library – evidently the Isle of Wight County Library's loss was the local bookshops' gain – but again keenly priced):

Top row left to right: Dark Constellation by Alex Random (Robert Hale, 1975); The Omega Worm by Douglas R. Mason (Hale, 1976), and Another Eden by W. D. Pereira (Hale, 1976). Bottom row: Threads of Time (Millington, 1975), edited and introduced by Robert Silverberg and containing novellas by Gregory Benford (Threads of Time), Clifford D. Simak (The Marathon Photograph) and Norman Spinrad (Riding the Torch); and Yesteday's Children by David Gerrold (Readers Union, 1975).

Not a bad haul. And not a bad holiday either. (And the non-books bits weren't bad neither.)

Friday, 2 June 2017

2017: A Science Fiction Odyssey

It's all The Forever War's fault.

Actually, way back when the Earth was young (or at least it sometimes feels that far back), it's probably fairer to say it was the fault of Doctor Who novelisations and Ray Bradbury collections and Glenn Chandler's short story "Bobo's Star" (an alarming tale with a mind-blowingly bleak ending which properly shat me up when I read it in the 1979 anthology Space 5, alongside Bradbury's equally unnerving "A Sound of Thunder"), all of which got me hooked on science fiction as a kid (most of those books borrowed from Beckenham Library). But in the here(ish) and now(ish) it was reading Joe Haldeman's 1974 novel that got me back into science fiction in a major way.

Not that I'd completely stopped reading (and collecting) SF, although in recent years my forays into the genre have either been at the more dystopian end of the scale – J. G. Ballard's High-RiseEmily St. John Mandell's Station Eleven and Justin Cronin's The City of Mirrors spring to mind – or taken the form of comics like Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta's East of West or Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko's Invisible Republic. It was more that, for the most part, SF had taken a back seat to crime fiction, spy fiction and, increasingly over the last year or so, comics and graphic novels (constant companions, but ones that have been drawing more of my attention in recent years).

Then, in March of this year, I bought a British first edition of The Forever War at the Lewes Book Fair, and read it, and loved it, and found that I'd rediscovered my fervour for SF. I set about looking for books similar to The Forever War, a quest which led me to the kind of contemporary hard (well 'ard mate) SF that has its roots in the work of Arthur C. Clarke (a writer I was already more than familiar with) and the new form of space opera that came to prominence from the late 1970s. In charity shops and secondhand bookshops in Lewes and Brighton and Chichester and Eastbourne I turned up a stack of science fiction first (and other) editions (notably a ten-book haul from Camilla's in Eastbourne, ferretted out from that shop's precarious multi-layered piles) by Alastair Reynolds, Gregory Benford, Bruce Sterling, M. John Harrison, Stephen Baxter and Clarke himself, while explorations online turned up key works by Reynolds, Benford, Paul J. McAuley and John Varley.

My guide through all of this, often as not, has been the afterword in Alastair Reynolds' collection of short stories Galactic North (a first edition of which I found in Brighton's Oxfam Books), which details the inspiration for the Revelation Space universe stories Galactic North is a part of – a future history I'll be further investigating (I snagged a scarce hardback first edition of Revelation Space itself online for less than a tenner – an absolute steal) alongside Reynolds' other work (I've already read his recent novella Slow Bullets, his 2016 novel Revenger and his and Stephen Baxter's The Medusa Chronicles – all three in signed first editions).

Then there are the many vintage SF paperbacks I've been picking up here, there and everywhere – at April's Paperback and Pulp Bookfair in London, in Kim's in Chichester, in Revive-All in the Needlemakers in Lewes and in Ubu Books in Brighton's Open Market – books by Clifford D. Simak, Samuel R. Delany, Gavin Lyall (of all people), Robert A. Heinlein, Keith Roberts, Christopher Priest, Louis Trimble, Edmund Cooper, Colin Kapp, Joe Haldeman (him again), Gordon R. Dickson and Barrington J. Bayley, sporting fabulous cover art by the likes of John Schoenherr, Ed Valigursky, Jerome Podwil, Jack Gaughan, Bob Haberfield, Chris Foss, Frank Kelly Freas, Tony Roberts, Josh Kirby and Peter Elson.

Add to those another stack of more modern space opera by David Brin, Greg Bear, Kim Stanley Robinson and Peter F. Hamilton, acquired at the most recent Lewes Book Fair, plus a couple more Hamiltons bought from Brighton's Savery Books, and it seems I have quite a bit of reading ahead of me, about which I'm quite excited. Which is good because, to be frank, prior to reading The Forever War I'd pretty much lost all enthusiasm for prose fiction; I think I only managed to read six novels last year – and most of those in the first month or two – and this year was looking like it was heading in a similar direction until Haldeman, Harrison (whose Light – a 2002 first edition of which I bought ages ago – I also recently read and loved), Reynolds and the rest hoved into view. So hooray for them, and for space opera, and for science fiction... and for me too. My 2017 SF odyssey... continues.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy: The Ultimate Guide to the Cosmic Outlaws and Ultimate Sticker Collection by... Me!

Well, me and a bunch of editors and designers and picture researchers at DK and Amazing15, not to mention the writers, artists and editors at Marvel – among them Arnold Drake, Gene Colan, Jim Starlin, Bill Mantlo, Steve Englehart, Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier, Andy Schmidt, Bill Rosemann and Brian Michael Bendis – who had a hand in creating and expanding upon the Guardians of the Galaxy in comics. But anyway; Guardians of the Galaxy: The Ultimate Guide to the Cosmic Outlaws and Guardians of the Galaxy: Ultimate Sticker Collection have now been published by DK in the UK and US, and since I wrote both of them, and copies turned up in the post yesterday, I figured they deserved a blog post.

Of the two, I guess I'm proudest of The Ultimate Guide, if only because I put so much into it – a period of five or six months over summer of last year establishing the structure and running order, doing the research (which essentially entailed reading or in some cases rereading a bunch of old comics), selecting images (which again essentially entailed reading or in some cases rereading a bunch of old comics) and writing. (My abiding memory of this period is of pacing round the garden trying to get my brain cells sparking in between feverish bouts at the keyboard.) But it's also the thing of having written a book – not cowritten, as in The Mysterious World of Doctor Strange, or written a bit of, as in my essays in the first volume of Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future and last year's Murder in the Closet or an entry or two in The DC Comics Encyclopaedia, or edited, as in the countless books and graphic novels I've, well, edited; but written. Actually written.

Obviously it's not a peerless work of literary genius or owt, but it's a pretty good read, I think, with hopefully a compelling structure which I strived to make not only chronological – as is traditional in these DK comics guides – but narrative as well, tracing the wider Marvel cosmic events that brought the disparate Guardians of the Galaxy together (about a quarter of the book concentrates on matters to do with Annihilation and Annihilation: Conquest, which took place before Star-Lord, Rocket, Gamora, Groot and Drax were even a team), buffeted them and then blew them apart, and taking care on each character spread to only detail those events that had happened to that character up to the point they entered the wider narrative (if that makes sense). Whether anyone will notice or even care about my efforts to make the book something you can satisfyingly read front to back almost as a story as well as dip in and out of – especially the kids the book is aimed at – is open to debate, but I'm pleased my structure made it through the process intact.

As for the Ultimate Sticker Collection, that for me was an exercise in brevity (not something that comes naturally to me, as anyone who's read Existential Ennui can attest), as I tried to squeeze info about the Guardians and their allies, enemies and worlds into 25-word captions in an entertaining fashion. I didn't get as involved in choosing images as I did on The Ultimate Guide – not least because The Ultimate Guide was taking up so much of my time (I was writing both books concurrently) – but I gave what directions I was able to, and the end result is a lot of fun (my three-year-old daughter can't wait to get sticking).

So there you have it. The books exist. You can buy them right now (for instance here and here). And if you're unfamiliar with the Guardians of the comics – not just the Star-Lord-led team but the original 31st-century Vance Astro-led team too – and fancy finding out about them ahead of the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie (which opens in a few weeks), perhaps you'll consider doing just that.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman: A First Edition from the Lewes Book Fair

Last Saturday's Lewes Book Fair proved something of a books bonanza, both for me and for my three- (nearly four- by gum) year-old daughter. For Edie I bought a stack of vintage 1970s/80s/90s picture books by, among others, Brian Wildsmith, Shirley Hughes, Spike Milligan and W. Somerset Maugham (I might do a separate post on those at some point), while I came away with a signed first of Posy Simmonds' Gemma Bovery (Cape, 1999), a Ron Goulart-edited anthology of pulp crime fiction, The Hardboiled Dicks (Boardman, 1967) and paperback firsts of Peter George's Dr. Strangelove novelisation (Corgi, 1963) and Samuel R. Delany's The Einstein Intersection (Ace, 1967, with terrific cover art by Jack Gaugham). Best of all, just as I was leaving after a couple of hours browsing I spied this on the shelves belonging to the fair's organiser John Beck (himself a book dealer):

A British first edition of Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, published in hardback by Weidenfeld & Nicholson in 1975 (the year after the US St. Martin's first) with a spectacular dust jacket design by Nick Sutton (much better, I reckon, than the American one). It's a book I've wanted to get my hands on for a while – indeed I saw this very copy on John's shelves at the Lewes Book Fair a good four or five years ago. At the time it was priced a little too prohibitively for me, but for this return outing John had reduced the price to a fraction of what a British first in this condition (near-fine) usually fetches (at least £100), and since it's my birthday this coming Saturday I figured fuck it, I'm gonna treat myself.

I'm halfway through reading it and thus far I love it. Originally serialised in Analog and widely acclaimed as the best science fiction war novel ever written, it's narrated by William Mandella, a conscript in the United Nations Exploratory Force who undergoes military training and conditioning before being dispatched to deep space to fight the alien Taurans from the distant Aldebaran system. The human characters are barely sketched in – still less the aliens, although in their case its obviously intentional, their obfuscation serving the narrative – but that doesn't matter: where the novel comes into its own is in its depiction of the methods and tactics of space warfare, and how relativity plays havoc with the combatants. For example, in their second encounter with the Taurans, Mandella and his compatriots learn that while for them only eight months have passed since the first battle, for the Taurans, almost a decade has elapsed – the effect of time dilation, the humans having lost nine years manoeuvring between collapsars (black holes) in their ship, the Anniversary. As a consequence, Tauran weapons systems have advanced dramatically, putting the humans at a distinct tactical disadvantage. In effect, the Tauran vessel the crew of the Anniversary encounters comes from their future.

This "future shock" becomes more pronounced when Mandella returns to Earth, where twenty-six years have passed to his two and society has changed beyond recognition – even more so seeing as the Earth he started out on was already markedly different to our own. I've peeked ahead in the book and the years stated at the start of each section advance from 2024 to 2389 to 2458 to 3143, so I suspect there's wilder stuff to come. If the second half of the novel lives up to the first, I may well investigate the sequel, Forever Free (1999), and maybe some of the other thematically linked novels and stories in the Forever War series, or perhaps later editions of the original novel, which apparently include material that was left out of the first edition. Either way, it's reignited a long-dormant desire for some more science fiction, a hankering that could perhaps be sated by some of the other SF books on my shelves (which I recently rearranged slightly following an office move... from the front of the house to the back).

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Terrorists, alias Double, Double: a Calder and Behrens Story by Michael Gilbert

Among the 185 short stories that British crime and mystery author Michael Gilbert wrote over the course of his 50-year career are 24 spy stories starring Daniel Calder and Samuel Behrens, malevolent late middle-aged operatives of the External Branch of the Joint Services Standing Intelligence Committee. Originally published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in the US and Argosy in the UK, almost all of the Calder and Behrens stories were collected in two Gilbert anthologies – the sublime Game Without Rules (1967) and the almost as brilliant Mr. Calder & Mr. Behrens (1982). (Gilbert also wrote 16 radio plays featuring his ageing secret agents, which I discussed last month.) But there is one Calder and Behrens story which doesn't feature in either of those books. It first appeared in 1967 under the title "The Terrorists" in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and "Double, Double" in Argosy, before being collected in this anthology:

Ellery Queen's Mystery Parade, published by Gollancz in 1969 under one of that publisher's iconic yellow typographic dust jackets. Being a UK edition of a US collection – the book was originally published by New American Library in the States in 1968 – the title of "The Terrorists" was retained; it wasn't until 2007 that the story was published in book form under its British title of "Double, Double", when it was included in the posthumous Michael Gilbert collection Even Murderers Take Holidays.

I'm not sure why it wasn't collected in the 1982 Calder and Behrens anthology (it appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Argosy too late to have been included in Game Without Rules) but I can hazard a guess or two. In Argosy, it was published under the overarching series title of "Agents in Action" in the April 1967 issue. Part one of that series, "Upon the King", was published in the March issue and collected in Game Without Rules, while part three, "Twilight of the Gods", was published in the May issue and collected in Mr. Calder & Mr. Behrens, so perhaps "The Terrorists" fell between two stools. Or it could be that it was simply overlooked; on first inspection, Calder and Behrens barely seem to feature at all in the story, merely getting a couple of mentions towards the end.

In fact for the unsuspecting Calder/Behrens enthusiast only a passing reference to Fortescue – Calder and Behrens' boss – at the start of the tale gives the game (without rules) away that "The Terrorists" is a part of their canon. The pair do appear throughout, but under assumed names and identities, both of them operating undercover as a means of unpicking a plot by a middle-eastern terrorist cell to set off a bomb in London (there's a nice, explicitly acknowledged, bit of misdirection as to which of the terrorists Calder and/or Behrens is). It's a good story, well worth the effort, I would say – at least for those aforementioned Calder/Behrens enthusiasts – of tracking it down – something that shouldn't prove too difficult for anyone so inclined; while the Gollancz edition is pretty scarce and the New American Library edition not much more common, there are at least half a dozen copies of the 1969 Signet paperback edition available online as I type, and fairly cheaply too.

For my part, having now collected and read "The Terrorists", Game Without Rules and Mr. Calder & Mr. Behrens (and the two published radio plays in The Murder of Diana Devon), I'm left in the sorry situation of having no more Calder and Behrens stories to track down. At least, that I'm aware of...

Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 10/4/17.