Monday 6 August 2012

We Alien Seed by J. A. Wood (Robert Hale, 1979): Signed and Dedicated First Edition (a Lewes Book Bargain)

It's back to the signed editions again, following a Beautiful British Book Jackets detour and a Westlake Score-and-review. And this next signed book is a real curiosity: an obscure science fiction novel by an author who seemingly only had the one book published...

J. A. Wood's We Alien Seed was published in hardback in the UK by Robert Hale in 1979, under a rather nice dust jacket designed by the painter Helen Hale (any relation...?). Despite much feverish googling I've not been able to find out much about the elusive Wood; there's a single listing for the author on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (for We Alien Seed), but other than that I've drawn a blank. Perhaps, like another science fiction author I blogged about a couple of years ago, the now not-so-mysterious Michael Vyse, this post will prompt a comment from someone who either knows the whereabouts of J. A. Wood, or can provide further information on the author, or who might even be able to shed light on who "Pam" and "Alan" are:

Evidently they were/are friends of Wood, and since I found this copy of We Alien Seed in the Lewes Castle bookshop (of all places; its stock mostly consists of history and local interest tomes), it's reasonable to assume that either they or Wood have some kind of connection with the Lewes area.

The Hale edition of We Alien Seed was the novel's only printing; there are only four copies listed on AbeBooks, three of those ex-library (and none of them signed). It's certainly something of an oddity, a comedy SF tale (much like another one-off novel I wrote about last year, Bernard MacLaren's Day of Misjudgment, which I also bought in Lewes) about a writer for Sci-Fi-Fact magazine who has a close encounter with an alien species in Wales (!) – the "Fathers", who "used their knowledge to seed this planet and its crude native inhabitants with genealogical traits similar to their own", and thus "influenced the course of evolution... directing the dominant strain towards a reproduction of themselves". Which makes me wonder if J. A. Wood was inspired by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and if in turn Ridley Scott's Prometheus was inspired by We Alien Seed.

Probably not, eh?

Moving on, and later in the week I'll have a signed edition by a thriller writer I've featured on Existential Ennui a fair few times already, featuring a dust jacket which is already in the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery. Before that, though: a review of another early Donald E. Westlake crime novel...

1 comment:

  1. More likely influenced by "Quatermass and the Pit" by Nigel Kneale, the original 1958-'59 BBC version of which well predates "2001: A Space Odyssey", though not the original 1948 Arthur C. Clarke short story "The Sentinel", which doesn't contain the 'space seed' idea. Clarke wrote the screenplay for 2001 with Kubrick years later, and produced the novel to coincide with the movie's release, so that may not work as part of your "Novels that became more famous movies" series, since it was a movie first.

    Kneale, a native of the Isle of Man, was one of the true innovators in terms of science fiction on television, though he professed a disdain for the genre in interviews, mainly because he thought of it in terms of stuff like Buck Rogers, and doesn't seem to have kept up with it (though pretty much everything he wrote that we remember today would have to be slotted as 'SciFi/Horror'). He essentially wrote ghost stories with a scientific basis, citing M.R. James as a major influence.

    He also got ripped off a lot. The 1998 X-Files movie, "Fight the Future", is at points a shot-for-shot remake. And an exceptionally bad one.

    There's no way an Englishman of Scott's generation did NOT see "Quatermass and the Pit" when it aired live on BBC during the Christmas hols (it was a sensation), and he probably saw the 1967 Hammer film version as well, and I'd say that was his primary influence. People have been retelling that story ever since Kneale got to it, and they've improved one hell of a lot on the special effects, but never came close to equaling Kneale's facility for storytelling.

    As to who first had that general idea, it was probably some writer for the pulps who got paid a penny a word--just like every other idea that ever got turned into a mega-budgeted 'scifi' epic.

    I knew my science fiction roots would come in handy eventually.