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.