Archive for William Morrison

Close Up: Mel Oliver and Space Rover on Mars

Posted in 1954, Close Up with tags , , on February 22, 2012 by Aaron

closeupWilliam Morrison
1954

It’s been about eight months since the last Close Up, and I just completed the review a couple of days ago so this is timely.  I have quite a few books on the Gnome Press Flickr site that are still waiting to be delivered here, and this is one.  This is one of those books that isn’t that expensive, but notoriously difficult to get a decent copy of.  Mel Oliver and Space Rover on Mars is one of the few genuine GP juvenile (or YA) novels and I’m guessing that the reason why it’s hard to get a decent copy is that they tended to fall into the hands of libraries where books get a hard time, and also into the clutches of said young people who themselves are not known for their upstanding book care practices.  I sure know I wasn’t when I was young.  Do I have a nice copy?  I think so, so let’s check it out.

Looks super, the cover art by the great Ed Emsh is still nice and bright, thought there is some slight rubbing around the title area.  The bluish stripe down the leading edge is an artifact of reflected light and not present on the jacket.  You can see at the base of the spine that this is proclaimed as ‘A Mel Oliver Adventure’, implying that there have been, or would be others.  Sadly, this wasn’t the case and we saw no more of Mel and Rover.  A shame.

Nice binding.  I like the Mel and Rover impression there.  Again, my lighting lets me down a little here.  The upper left area looks a bit dark.  It’s actually a slight shadow.  Let’s crack it open and have a peek inside.

Nice white pages and the images of our heroes are repeated here.  Nice touch, I like it.


The only issue in these views is the small tear to the top edge of the jacket visible just to the right of the ‘M’.  More prominent in the photo below, along with some slight wear and tear on the jacket at the head of the spine.


The base of the spine looks beautiful, but we finish on a slight downer with the back of the jacket with some obvious rubbing and soiling here.

Year: 1954
Paid: $15
Art: Ed Emshwiller
Copies: 4000 (Eshbach, wikipedia)
Binding: Yellow boards with red lettering on spine and red Mel & Rover design on front.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated
Chalker & Owings: MEL OLIVER AND SPACE ROVER ON MARS, by William Morrison (pseud. Joseph Samachson), 1954, pp.191, $2.50. 4000 copies printed. Jacket by Ric Binkley.
Currey: absent
Comments: Chalker & Owings have stated the jacket is by Ric Binkley.  Quite obviously Ed Emsh has his name on the cover.  It’s quite uncommon to see this title in this condition, and I’m very happy to have it.  15 bucks was a great deal.
Expand Upon: wikipedia.com, Internet Speculative Fiction Database

condition

Review: Mel Oliver and Space Rover on Mars

Posted in 1954, 4:Stellar!, Review with tags , , on February 16, 2012 by Aaron

William Morrison
1954

This book achieves the distinction of being the first of my collection that I’ve read for review without actually reading the book itself – it was read through the Kindle app on my iPhone.  I talked a bit about that in a recent post.  I have two more books to get through in this way Invaders from the Infinite and The Vortex Blaster, and I’m looking forward to it.  Three actually if you count Highways in Hiding when I re-launch into that.  The whole Kindle experience has re-inspired and reinvigorated my reading.  There is also the not-insignificant benefit of eliminating the chance of accidental damage to my precious books!!  Another advantage of reading on the iPhone is that it’s very easy for me to make notes for the review.  I can bookmark pages or highlight text for reference later using Kindle, or pop out of the app and make short text or audio memos using the Evernote app that will sync with my MacBook the next time I connect to the ‘net.  This is awesome.

I’ve occasionally mentioned in this blog about my formative reading years, checking Mr. Heinlein and Hugh Walters out of the Napier Public Library.  This was a time around 1980 just before I became a teenager.  I used to love going to the library after school.  My mum (that’s British English. For those who use inferior versions of the language, translate that as ‘mom’) , took me there and let me go for an hour or so while I grazed along the shelves, sampling the fare on offer.

Just to digress a little here, I hardly ever write in British English anymore (I think it’s referred to as International English these days..), I almost always use American English.  The reason for this is that in Korea here, where I’ve spent the last 8+ years living and teaching, the education system uses American English – a legacy of the American participation and occupation since the Korean War.  If I slip up and spell a word on the black/whiteboard the way I was taught in school, the kids pull me up about it.  “Teacher!!  Wrong spelling!!”  So I’ve adopted ‘color’ instead of ‘colour’ and ‘theater’ as opposed to ‘theatre’ to name a couple of examples.  The students find it quite interesting when I explain some of the differences between the two versions of the language.  Some foreign English teachers here are quite militant one way or the other, but it doesn’t worry me too much.  Just so long as the kids understand that neither is right or wrong, they’re just different.

Anyway… the Napier Public Library.  It’s not there anymore.  At least, not the one I enjoyed going to.  It was bulldozed and rebuilt nearby.  Rebuilt as a big, bright, airy and soulless structure in the late ’80s I think.  Actually, if I’m objective about it, it needed to be.  It had become way too small for Napier’s growing population and a new facility was badly needed.  I’m just bemoaning the fact that it’s gone, the place that I loved so much.  The place where books like Starman Jones and Journey to Jupiter became touchstones of my lifelong love of science fiction literature.

I’ve gotten (more British English, got, for you AE speakers..) quite a bit off track here.  Why have I spent some space rambling about stuff not related to Mel & Rover?  Books like this and those I’ve mentioned bring back treasured reading memories.  Despite my younger brother turning 40 in September last year, I still just love well written juvenile SF, and this particular book falls into that category for me.  There is a real skill writing in this style.  Heinlein was an absolute master at it.  To be able to connect to the young reader, to make you feel as a youngster that this really could be you.  The protagonist in these tales thinks and reacts to fantastic situations in ways that you yourself could imagine or relate to, or aspire to from the point of view of the young reader looking up to teenage maturity.  It’s a skill I fear is disappearing, or at least, no longer viable as the young reader these days (are there any?) is so much more sophisticated and cannot relate to a time when the telephone for example, was a household fixture in the same way as refrigerators or toilets are.  Of course, there’s a tried and true formula for writing YA novels which I’ll touch on later, but I can’t really think of any decent modern YA or juvenile SF around at the moment.  Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker is probably the best example I’ve read recently.  The Hunger Games also springs to mind.  But they’re just not the same.  Or maybe I’m somewhat blinded because I’m older now and fall prey to nostalgia.  I’m getting off track again…

What this reinforces to me, and the reason I give this a Stellar! rating, is that if you enjoy YA SF then you’ll enjoy this.

But what about the author William Morrison?  Joseph Samachson (William Morrison was a pseudonym) was a biochemist and besides writing in that capacity, of interest to us he wrote for comics and magazines, and this was apparently his one and only novel.  A pity.  You can learn more about him on wikipedia or check out his bibliography on the ISFDB.

Finally I might start talking about this book now!! Mel is a teenager whom we meet while he’s stowed away about a thousand miles above Earth’s surface, accelerating into a journey to Mars.  He ventures forth, meets fellow stowaway Rover, gets in (and out) trouble, joins the circus and all the while is uncovering a murderous plot against him.  That’s it!!  In true YA fashion the story is as straight as an arrow.  I would just like to elaborate on some aspects of the book.

First, the science, or aspects of the science.  Mr Morrison tries to keep everything grounded in reality, but of course this is the reality of the 1950s, so many ideas are of course dated.  One example is when Mel & Rover are in transit between Earth and Mars.  Mel sends a message ahead to his father’s business partner, Mr Armstrong.  When no reply is forthcoming, it’s assumed that Mr Armstrong is traveling and won’t get the message until he returns home.  Reasonable assumption 60-odd years ago, but today I can get email or messages on my iPhone from anywhere worldwide instantly wherever I might be.  Mel’s human race are a part of a system-wide civilization, inter-planetary travel is routine, yet they can’t receive messages because they aren’t home??  Hmmm…  But, being the die-hard golden-age scientific fiction aficionados we are, we accept these things.

In terms of the hard science that keeps the book grounded (excuse the pun, you’ll see why in a moment..), Mr Morrison employs gravity in several different ways.  There are several examples throughout the book, in fact, I felt he could (or should) have found other devices to showcase his skills in illustrating his grasp of literary hard science. Before I mention a couple of gravitational examples, one non-gravitational example he did use (also on more than one occasion..) was the thin Martian atmosphere – distance didn’t significantly diminish clarity.

With regards to gravity, he used a couple of very interesting examples.  One was when Mel and his circus employer/friend, Bolam the strongman were in a taxi.  Mel becomes frustrated at the lack of speed.  When they hit a low or high spot in the road, the cab’s wheels left the ground to spin uselessly.  Bolam comments that there are some advantages to higher gravity such as that on Earth.  Mel wonders why not just make the vehicles heavier to simulate a higher G?  Bolam responds that it would be a waste of precious materials and power.  They also encounter the necessity to remove a lot of speed to negotiate corners.  Bolam explains that due to the low gravity that applying hard braking easily capsizes the vehicle going around the corner or leads to spinning out. “Accidents of that kind are fifty times as frequent here as on Earth, although it’s true they’re less serious when they do happen.”

Mars has apparently just the right gravity for circus-style acrobatics.  The Moon allows prodigious leaps, but everything is performed much too slowly to engage the audience.  Earth’s gravity allows for fast and exciting routines, but the higher gravity raises the risks of injury.  Mars in comparison offers the large leaps yet the one third G means that the potential for injury is greatly reduced while still providing an engaging performance for the punters.

As I mentioned earlier, the plot is crystal clear and there are no side issues or significant deviations.  We’re with Mel the whole way.  It’s well paced and the book maintained my interest consistently by keeping the action up.   These things are typical (and important) for a juvenile novel, and there’s still a bit of a twist at the end to keep things interesting.  If I had one gripe about the story it’s that we never get a satisfactory resolution for Rover.  Why was he stowing away en route to Mars?  He was the number two character in the book after all… I felt there was a story there to be told.  Perhaps William Morrison planned to explore Rover a bit further in a subsequent volume.

This is clean, innocent fun, and any fan of golden age YA fare will absolutely enjoy this.  I really wish that Mr Morrison took Mel and Rover on further escapades around the solar system.  An interplanetary circus would have been the perfect vehicle for some simple adventure.

Mel Oliver and Space Rover Online…

Posted in eBooks, New Arrivals with tags , , , , on February 11, 2012 by Aaron

Seetee Ship arrived about a week ago.  No problems, looks as I expected it to, which is quite good value for what I paid.  After my recent disappointments, that makes me feel good.

To what the subject of this post is about, I found another GP title – William Morrison’s Mel Oliver and Space Rover on Mars – online.  Online in several places actually.  I added a link to the Scribd version on the Gnome Press Books Online for FREE page.  Get it while you still can as I’m not sure that it’s a title that should be in the public domain…  I downloaded a copy and converted it to a .mobi file to read on my iPhone via the Kindle for iPhone app.  This leads me to talk about the Kindle.  I have never liked reading digitally.  Whether its on the computer screen or on my iPhone, I just can’t seem to concentrate well and it gives me a headache.  I’d never been enthused about the Kindle or other eReaders for those reasons despite never even having seen, let alone tried to read anything on one.  I have heard people I know talk about, and of course I’ve read a lot online about how good the Kindle is and how it recreates the ‘real’ reading experience quite well.  So I thought I’d give it a go – I got Kindle app for my iPhone and gave it a whirl and see what people are talking about.  The iPhone is no Kindle obviously, the screen is like, really small for a start, so I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, but I was very surprised.  Despite the limitations of the iPhone as an eReader, I seemed to have no problems reading at all.  No headache, no loss of concentration, it was great.  I purchased a copy of Big by Lloyd Pye over on Smashwords (just to give Lloyd a plug, he does some great work trying to get the Starchild Skull resolved..) and the reading experience for the entire novel was a breeze!!  I can only imagine on a dedicated eReader, or something like the iPad, it would only be better – bigger screen, bigger words etc.  So for my current iPhone/Kindle endeavor, I’ve started to read Mel and Space Rover.  Actually, I just spent an hour this evening wandering around E-Mart (a big Korean supermarket/homeware chain) doing the groceries with the GF, her brother and his GF (I’m the trolley pusher, which suits me fine), reading the book.  No problems.

So, where the Hell have I been? And doing what?

Posted in New Arrivals with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2011 by Aaron

It’s been a while.  I’m about to deliver a bunch of excuses, but they are reasonably valid.  First though, what’s been going on on the Gnome Press front??

I’ve been acquiring books steadily though at a slower pace than in the past.  Earthman’s Burden arrived, as did Mel Oliver and Space Rover on MarsEarthman’s Burden was a bit of a disappointment – not quite the condition I imagined, but Mel and Space Rover is great.  Very hard to get a good copy of that because it was, I suppose, a genuine juvenile title and subject to abuse by said juveniles and also popular for libraries.  I’m extremely happy with it.  I’ve also picked up some other titles since.  A reasonable copy of Northwest of Earth by C.L. Moore, a worn copy GP’s first title The Carnelian Cube by L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt, an NF replacement for the my disappointing copy of Arthur K. Barnes’ Interplanetary Hunter and also an excellent copy of one of Gnome’s flagship titles (and another proud feather in my collecting cap)  Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke.  I’m very, very pleased with it.  Click through for a bigger look.

The CD of Chalker and Owing’s The Science Fantasy Publishers is fantastic.  A veritable mine of information on, well, everything in book SF really.  It came with all the supplements as well.  It has a nice large info-rich section on Gnome Press that I might deliver here sometime.  I hope no-one will mind…

A few weeks ago I did a presentation on Gnome Press and my collection to a society who’s name escapes me at present.  They have presenters each week on many and varied subjects for the interest of their members.  It was an interesting and enjoyable experience delivering my passion to an audience of Koreans (I live in Seoul for those who aren’t aware..).  I learned a lot in the process and would be keen to do it again sometime.  I put together a PowerPoint presentation and spoke for an hour regarding a brief history of SF publishing up to the Golden Age and a little beyond, as well as talking about Gnome Press and their place in SF publishing history and my collection.  I had my entire collection there and handed a few of the more interesting titles around for closer inspection.  It was a bit nerve-wracking having my precious copies of Science Fiction Terror Tales and Against the Fall of Night passed around the group…  The PowerPoint is quite large, but I’ll figure out a way to make it available here somehow.  It is light on info so will be without context and as a result perhaps a little meaningless as I like to keep presentations to brief bullet points and do a lot of talking.  But I guess it’ll be of interest.

So what exactly is going on that prevents me from keeping you up to date??

Chief among the reasons is that I am occupied with two jobs until 10:30pm, Monday to Friday – I have no free time at all during a normal week.  On top of that, my business partner and I are getting a business off the ground here in Korea and when I’m not doing my day (and night) job, we are focused on that.  Time is at a premium.  Hence I have not read at all for about 6 months.  I’m starting to feel it.  My collection sits on the bookshelf staring at me reproachfully.  Photography, my other interest, has slipped as a result also.  I’ve given away the presidency of the Seoul Photo Club and dropped off that pastime significantly.  I just have to make some time somehow as I’ve slipped into a routine that’s not conducive to hobbies.

More later…

Purchases…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on December 12, 2010 by Aaron

Picked up a copy of Earthman’s Burden, a CD of Chalker and Owing’s The Science Fantasy Publishers and what looks to be a very nice copy of Mel Oliver and Space Rover on Mars over the past week.

Earthman’s Burden seems to be a reasonable copy, and I’m very happy with what seems to be a NF copy of Mel Oliver and Space Rover.  I’ve been searching for a CD of The Science Fantasy Publishers for a long time now.  The hardcover version tends to be quite pricey and I guess the shipping would be high (it’s quite a big heavy book).  So I’m pleased to get hold of the digital version and hoping I can learn something new about Gnome Press and some of their publications.

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