Friday, 25 August 2017

Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space Universe

If I ever get the chance to meet Alastair Reynolds, I've a lot to thank him for. Not only have his books helped fuel the science fiction reading and collecting odyssey I embarked on six months ago, but his afterword in his 2006 short story collection Galactic North – a first edition of which I picked up in Oxfam Books in Brighton for a couple of quid – has informed and shaped it too: acting as a guide through the kind of modern hard/operatic SF in which I've become interested, introducing me to SF authors of whom I was previously unaware – John Varley, Gregory Benford, Paul McAuley, others besides – and opening my eyes to a handful I was, such as Larry Niven, Samuel R. Delany, M. John Harrison, Stephen Baxter, Bruce Sterling and Iain M. Banks.

Perhaps the biggest revelation – if you'll excuse the pun – has been Reynolds' own Revelation Space universe, a future history comprising five novels and twelve novellas and short stories (to date; there's another novel due next year) – Galactic North being a collection of most of the latter. Sprawling yet tightly choreographed – at least it seems so to me; Reynolds himself has confessed that he's unconcerned with inconsistencies from book to book – the stories span tens of thousands of years (although the bulk concentrate on the 25th–27th centuries), depicting a technologically advanced but plausible future of sub-light interstellar travel (with its attendant – and to me fascinating – suspended animation – "reefersleep" to use the vernacular – and time dilation), planetary colonisation, warfare and plague, populated by a splintered humanity comprising various conflicting factions (hive-minded Conjoiners, cybernetic spacefaring Ultranauts, etc.) and haunted by long-dead but still influential alien races (arguably the least plausible aspect of the stories, but hey – who's to say?). To date I've only really skimmed the surface – I've read the first-published novel, 2000's Revelation Space, plus a good number of the short stories and novellas, and I'm partway through the second-published novel, 2001's Chasm City – but even so I've become mildly obsessed.

Accordingly, I've been picking up here and there Gollancz first editions of Revelation Space universe books, with their distinctive Richard Carr-designed/Chris Moore-illustrated dust jackets and covers (and in most cases distinctive dimensions: a whopping 10" x 6.5" – roughly royal octavo – rather than the standard 9" x 6", or octavo). Partly out of necessity (I am, as I've noted previously, a man of slender means), partly as a challenge, I've restricted myself to relatively cheap copies. Aside from the aforementioned Galactic North, in Camilla's Bookshop in Eastbourne I dug out from the teetering piles of SF a 2002 first trade paperback printing of Redemption Ark (the third-published Revelation Space universe novel, and a direct sequel to Revelation Space), priced at £3.50, and a 2003 hardback first of the two-novella collection Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days, priced at £2.50. But my best scores have been made online, notably a hardback first edition of Revelation Space itself, which, according to some sources, only had a print run of around a thousand copies – it was, after all, a debut novel by a relatively unknown writer – and which as a consequence has become quite scarce and pricey; I managed to secure a nice copy for a tenner.

Naturally, me being me, I've acquired some signed books as well: a 2000 first trade paperback printing of Revelation Space, bought for the princely sum of one pence (plus postage); a 2001 first paperback printing of the same novel, bought for £7.25 (if you're wondering at this point what on earth possessed me to buy another two copies – albeit signed ones – of a novel I already owned in hardback first, you evidently haven't read Existential Ennui before); a pristine 2001 hardback first edition of Chasm City – at £20 my most expensive Revelation Space universe purchase, but still, I reckon, something of a bargain.

Although maybe not as much of a bargain as my most recent Revelation Space universe acquisition – a 2001 PS Publishing hardback first of the novella Diamond Dogs, dust jacket by David A. Hardy: limited to just 400 copies (in hardback; there were also 500 paperbacks) and signed by both Reynolds and Stephen Baxter – who provides an introduction – it set me back a fiver. Though I've a good many Revelation Space universe stories still to read (and a number of first editions still to collect), I suspect Diamond Dogs – a brilliant and disturbing tale of obsession that really got its hooks into me – will remain a firm – if not overall – favourite, for reasons I'll expand on in a subsequent post.

NB: Linked in this Friday's Forgotten Books round-up.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Science Fiction from the Lewes Book Fair: Poul Anderson, Keith Laumer, Ursula Le Guin et al

It was back in March at the Lewes Book Fair, where I bought a first edition of Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, that I embarked on the science fiction book collecting odyssey which has proved such an enjoyable diversion over the past six months – for me if not for my illusory readership – and the Lewes Book Fair has continued to provide, with a bunch of cheap SF paperbacks at the May fair and a haul of cheap SF hardbacks – plus a couple more paperbacks – at the most recent one at the start of August.

Those hardbacks came courtesy of that book dealer's book dealer Jamie Sturgeon, who, knowing that I was on a science fiction kick, brought along what little SF he could find in his stock (he largely deals in crime fiction) – much of it space opera of one sort or another, which was just what I was looking for. He'd actually brought some SF to the previous Lewes Book Fair too, but that was for another collector – I know nothing about this person; for the sake of argument let's call them The Adversary – who was also keen on SF. On that occasion, by the time I got to Jamie's table whatever SF he'd had was gone – to be fair, he'd brought it along especially for The Adversary – but this time I was there early doors. I left one or two things for The Adversary, but I must admit I took the lion's share. Sorry, The Adversary, but as I'm sure you understand, when it comes to book collecting, you win some, you lose some.

And what I won – or rather purchased, for around a couple of quid each – on this occasion were: a first edition (ex-library but complete, with no pages removed) of Louis Charbonneau's Antic Earth (alias Down to Earth) (Herbert Jenkins, 1967), which I quite like the sound of despite its terrible online reviews; first editions of Ray Bradbury's short story collections The Day It Rained Forever (an ex-library – but again complete – 1962 second impression of the 1959 Hart-Davis edition), jacket by Joe Mugnaini, and Long After Midnight (1976 US Knopf), jacket typography by Ray Cruz, painting by Fuseli; a first hardback edition of Damon Knight's 1959 second novel A for Anything (alias The People Maker) (White Lion, 1974); a first of Hal Clement's second short story collection Small Changes (Robert Hale, 1969), jacket by Brian Netscher; a first of Robert Silverberg's short story collection Sundance and Other Science Fiction Stories (Abelard-Schuman, 1975); a first of Poul Anderson's Trader to the Stars (Gollancz, 1965); and a first of Keith Laumer's Bolo: The Annals of the Dinochrome Brigade (Millington, 1977), jacket by Lorie Epstein, photography by Graham Tucker.

I think I'm most pleased with the Anderson, which collects three of the author's Nicholas van Rijn stories – part of Anderson's wider Technic Civilisation future history – and which isn't terribly common in its Gollancz edition, and certainly not in this nice a condition; the Laumer, which is the first collection of the author's Bolo (futuristic tanks) military SF stories – the first of which, "The Night of the Trolls", I've read and rather enjoyed – and which is extremely scarce in this, its only British edition; and the Clement, which is another of those curious Hale SF books I've been picking up here and there.

The two paperbacks came from another dealer at the Lewes Book Fair (possibly the guy who runs Ubu Books in Brighton's Open Market) and are the British first editions of Ursula Le Guin's first and second novels, Rocannon's World and Planet of Exile, both published in the UK by Tandem in 1972 (both originally published in the US by Ace in 1966). I'd planned on reading some of Le Guin's science fiction at some point, so coming across these editions of the first two novels in her Hainish Cycle, with their fantastically gothic Peter Goodfellow covers, was serendipitous. For me, anyway; less so for The Adversary.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

2017: Odyssey to... Bookshops in Worthing, Leigh-on-Sea and Tunbridge Wells

The science fiction (primarily hard SF and space opera) book collecting odyssey begun in March of this year – in Lewes and thereafter pursued with vigour variously in London, Eastbourne, Chichester, the Isle of Wight and Brighton – has proceeded apace, with additional stops in, among other places, Worthing, Leigh-on-Sea, Tunbridge Wells and, naturally, Lewes and Brighton – those last two being my 'manor', so to speak.

The Worthing excursion, which took place in June and was combined with a mooch around a handful of seafront gaffs with my mum, Rachel and Edie to look at paintings and sculptures and photography and suchlike on the annual Worthing Artists Open Houses trail, was to the reliable Badger's Books (where I once purchased a signed Victor Canning first edition), the bijou science fiction section of which produced literally a handful of books. Clutched in my filthy paw there I have a 1976 New English Library paperback of Christopher Priest's first short story collection Real-Time World (with a cover by, I believe, Bruce Pennington); a 1987 Futura paperback of Kim Stanley Robinson's early novel The Memory of Whiteness; a 1980 New English Library paperback of Bruce Sterling's debut novel Involution Ocean; a 1975 Eyre Methuen first edition of Alfred Bester's Extro, alias The Computer Connection; a 1977 Heinemann first of Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle's The Incandescent Ones, and 1979 Millington firsts of Piers Anthony's Vicinity Cluster and Kirlian Quest, books one and three in the author's Cluster series.

By far the biggest haul of books came from the two bookcases of SF in Leigh Gallery Books in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, which I visited twice on successive July days during a weekend trip to Rachel's folks' place nearby (twice because after the first visit I couldn't stop thinking about a book I didn't buy, so I went back the next day and got it – and some others). (I spared Rachel and Edie the tedium of having to hang around a secondhand bookshop by abandoning them on the little beach at Old Leigh after we'd had fish and chips for lunch – in the Mayflower pub – with Strangehaven creator Gary Spencer Millidge, who lives locally.)

Those visits produced books by, among others, Gregory Benford and Larry Niven (a 2015 Titan paperback of Shipstar, the sequel to their Bowl of Heaven), John Brunner (a 1974 New English Library paperback of The Dramaturges of Yan), Joe Haldeman (a 1992 New English Library first edition of Worlds Enough and Time, the third book in his Worlds trilogy), Ken Macleod (2001 and 2002 Orbit paperbacks of Cosmonaut Keep and Dark Light, books one and two in his Engines of Light series), Paul McAuley (a 2015 Gollancz paperback collection of his Confluence trilogy), Loren J. McGregor (a 1987 US Ace paperback of The Net), Naomi Mitchison (a 1976 New English Library reissue of Memoirs of a Spacewoman), Richard Morgan (a 2007 Gollancz first edition of Black Man, which was the book I couldn't stop thinking about and went back for the next day), Keith Roberts (a 1972 Panther paperback of The Inner Wheel) and Kim Stanley Robinson (a 2012 Orbit first edition of 2312).

The 'among others' were probably the more interesting books of the haul; more interesting to me anyway – your mileage may vary – but in any case those were the ones I was more inclined to go to the trouble of photographing. Top row, left to right: a first edition of Piers Anthony's debut novel Chthon (MacDonald, 1967); a first (ex-library) of John Paget's (alias John Aiken) World Well Lost (Robert Hale, 1970), another of those intriguing Hale SF books I've been picking up here and there; a first hardback edition of John Brunner's Times Without Number (Elmfield Press, 1974), jacket by Josh Kirby; a first of Cordwainer Smith's The Rediscovery of Man (Gollancz, 1988), jacket by John Avon. Middle row, left to right: paperbacks of John Varley's short story collection The Barbie Murders (Futura reprint, 1986) – which contains some of his Eight Worlds tales – and novel Millennium (Sphere, 1985); a paperback first of Gregory Benford's Across the Sea of Suns (Orbit, 1985), second in Benford's Galactic Centre saga; a paperback first of Murasaki (Grafton, 1993), a shared world anthology edited by Robert Silverberg and written by Benford, Greg Bear, Poul Anderson and others. Bottom row, left to right: a paperback first of Christopher Priest's A Dream of Wessex (Pan, 1978), his fifth novel; and paperbacks of Brian Aldiss's Earthworks (Granada/Panther, 1979, cover by Peter Goodfellow) and Enemies of the System (Triad/Panther, 1980), both of which are signed.

Tubridge Wells I took the bus over to on a rainy day late in July having learned that Hall's Bookshop (which I wrote about a couple of years ago when it was taken over by Adrian Harrington) was having a summer half price sale. There wasn't a lot of science fiction on offer, but I did manage to find one or two – or three or four – intriguing items, namely...

A British first edition of John Brunner's Total Eclipse (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1975); a US first edition of Brunner's A Maze of Stars (Del Rey, 1991), jacket by John Berkey; a British first of Brunner's The Wrong End of Time (Eyre Methuen, 1975), and a US first of A. E. van Vogt's Rogue Ship (Doubleday, 1965), jacket by Peter Rauch.

Two of the Brunners, Total Eclipse and A Maze of Stars, are the late author's own copies, both bearing his 'ex libris' bookplate on their front pastedowns. (The Wrong End of Time may well be Brunner's own copy as well, but it doesn't have a bookplate.) The van Vogt, on the other hand, has on its front free endpaper a heartfelt 21st birthday inscription (non-authorial) to a Marty from his "understanding but confused friend and athletic foe, Barry," who also advises Marty to "keep cool".

As for the wares from Lewes and Brighton – and other such exotic locales – I think I'll save those for another post. This one's quite long enough as it is.