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."