Archive for the 1949 Category

Close Up: Limited Edition, The Thirty-First of February

Posted in 1949, Close Up with tags , on June 19, 2011 by Aaron

closeupNelson Bond
1949

Lucky, lucky me.

This is one of the Gnome Press titles that I didn’t expect to get for a long time, and certainly not at this price. Essentially it is the same as the regular edition except in a couple of cosmetic respects. You can find the Close Up for the regular edition here, and if you’re interested in the contents you can also check out the Review.

The obvious differences are in the binding.  The Limited Edition is bound in crimson boards with gold lettering and a black spine.  The top of the block is also blackened.  The other difference is of course the text proclaiming the limited nature of this book.  Lets take a look.

Not in as nice a condition as my regular copy, but ok nonetheless.  Taken a bit if a ding about halfway down the spine at some point as you can see.  Now we’ll compare the bindings.  First the regular edition in it’s burgundy cloth, and then the limited binding.

Very nice.  I normally do the rest of the Close Up with the jacket on, but the jacket is of little interest here as it’s identical to that of the regular edition.  Lets continue.  Note the blacked top of the block.

There’s a little damage to the head of the spine – it’s quite brittle at that point.

We’ll close out by looking at the signature page.  I have copy number 78.

Note the “…of which one hundred are for sale.” statement.  The remaining twelve were taken by Nelson Bond himself and are different again.  Those twelve copies have no dust jacket and are presented in a slipcase.  I (still I hope..) have one earmarked for me when I get around to paying for it.

Year: 1949
Paid: $52
Art: James Gibson
Copies: 112 (Eshbach)
Binding: Currey priority (A). Crimson cloth, black spine with gold lettering on spine and cover.  Blackened top of the block.
GP Edition Notes: 1st and limited edition so stated
Chalker & Owings: THE THIRTY–FIRST OF FEBRUARY, by Nelson Bond, 1949, pp.272, $3.00. 5000 copies printed, of which half were hardbound on printing, the rest paperbound in trade format for Armed Forces distribution a year or so later at $1.00. An additional 112 copies were signed and numbered on tip-in sheet with spine blackened, gold titling, in black cardboard slipcase, $5.00. The 112 copy fancy edition, the only one Gnome did, was done at Bond’s request. Although it is basically a kludge and uses the regular edition, there was an attempt to give it the “look” of Bond’s special limited version of Exiles of Time (Prime Press). Bond, who had a bookstore of his own in Roanoke, VA, reportedly took and sold almost all of the special himself. We’ve seen only one of the specials offered for sale in over 25 years, and we bought it.
Currey: THE THIRTY-FIRST OF FEBRUARY. New York: Gnome Press, [1949]. Two issues, no priority: (A) Crimson cloth, lettered in gold on spine panel and front cover, spine panel and top edge of text block stained black. 112 numbered copies signed by the author.  12 copies reserved for use of the author were enclosed in paper slipcase and apparently issued without dust jacket.  100 copies for sale were issued in dust jacket and apparently some if not most were issued without the paper slipcase.  Limited issue.  (B) Magenta cloth lettered in black.  Trade issue.  First edition so stated on copyright page.  Note: Reprinted circa 1952 in paper wrappers for distribution to US military personnel.  Although a later printing, the first edition statement is retained on the copyright page.
Comments: In any condition, this is a great addition to a Gnome Press collection.  Especially so at only $52.  I am ecstatic to have it.  Chalker & Owings miss what is mentioned by Currey regarding the special presentation of the 100 vs. the 12.  A discrepancy in the Currey description above as I pointed out in the Close Up of the regular edition is the color of the cloth and the lettering.  Currey claims magenta cloth with black lettering for the regular edition, but obviously you can see it’s burgundy with darker burgundy lettering.

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Review: Pattern for Conquest

Posted in 1949, 3:Lunar, Review with tags , on August 1, 2009 by Aaron

George O. Smith
1949

As I mentioned in the Close Up, I was very much looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this particular book.  Fortunately I didn’t have any expectations regarding the story, despite my eagerness in possessing a copy.  George O. Smith was a regular contributor to pulp magazines in the 40s, and this is his first true novel – albeit reassembled from serialization in Astounding magazine.  The only previous experience I’d had with Smith was the short story ‘History Repeats’ in audio form, which is available from Librivox as part of the ‘Short Science Fiction Collection 20’ audio collection.  I quite liked that story but just to preempt my review a little, it seems he developed his style a bit between the pulp release of ‘Pattern for Conquest’ in 1946 and the 1959 publication of ‘History Repeats’.

No (or low) expectations turned out to be a good thing.  Another good thing was that I’d read Space Lawyer a few weeks ago.  If you go back and read that review, it might give you a clue as to why it was good preparation.

‘Pattern for Conquest’ is an interesting book.  ‘Interesting’ however, is an adjective that can cut both ways.  The story defies a concise summary as quite a lot happens so I feel something of importance or interest would inevitably have to be omitted so I’m not going to attempt it.  I’m just going to talk about both sides of the ‘interesting’ label.

If you made yourself familiar with the Space Lawyer review, one of the main reasons I gave that book a COSMIC! rating is the use of the vernacular of the times.  The quaint mid-20th-century exclamaitions and language were a couple of reasons I enjoyed that tale so much, yet the very same factor works against this story.  In ‘Lawyer’ some of this language is so over the top that one suspects author Nat Schachner had his tongue firmly in cheek.  As a result, one is free to enjoy it as an endearing idiosyncrasy of the book.  Here, though Smith is not so bold with his turn of phrase, the language and witty repartee come across as especially dated.  Kind of like your old aunt’s 50s living room as opposed to the more progressive designs of the times.  Despite both possessing obvious roots in a common past, one retains it’s charm and style and the other is just… tacky and old.

Another thing that is ‘interesting’ is the apparent attempt at incorporating some ‘hard science’.  I refer to Robert Heinlein reasonably regularly in these reviews as he is probably the benchmark for science fiction of this period.  When RAH explains something in terms of the science or rationale behind it, it comes across as sensible, readable and at least convincing.  Whether it is actually true or not isn’t really important – it doesn’t stand in the way of the story.  Here, it’s not so.  Often I had to go back and reread descriptions of effects or processes as they came across as confused nonsense the first time around.  Even if they were scientifically sound they were clumsily handled. With the re-digestion and extra conjugation required (which took me out of the flow of the tale), I just had to either continue with a mental question mark over it or proceed on faith.  Both cases aren’t conducive to a satisfactory reading experience.

Ok, enough of the bad stuff.  The positive side of the blade is what propelled this out of an ‘Orbital’ rating and into ‘Lunar’ territory.  The story rocks along.  Though many things transpire a little too rapidly to be entirely comfortable, there is never a dull moment.  This book isn’t a page-turner but there is always something to come back to when you put it down.  I like a book like that.  As is typical with science fiction of this vintage, the book is too short – there are many ideas, situations and themes that would be given much more detailed treatment in subsequent eras, but the story itself, the premise of the whole thing is very good.  I especially liked the path that the earthmen chose in the face of their defeat and domination at the hands of their alien antagonists.  I can’t help but think that this was influenced by the cost (in all senses of the word) of WWII, the book being written just at the end of that period.

A story with many shortcomings, nevertheless a light and enjoyable read.  If you don’t mind a bit of simplistic gung-ho space opera and are prepared to accept this on it’s merits as a product of it’s time, then great.  If you are a trifle more demanding, well… you might not enjoy it.  Tempering that though is a faint but detectable current of intelligence and some real food for thought, especially towards the end.

Close Up: Pattern for Conquest

Posted in 1949, Close Up with tags , , on July 24, 2009 by Aaron

closeupGeorge O. Smith
1949

This is it.  This book is the biggest single reason I started collecting Gnome Press.  I had not long started to collect 1st edition SF, one of my first being Iceworld by Hal Clement.  I had never heard of GP before acquiring that particular book, so I ran a search on eBay for ‘Gnome Press’ and this book – Pattern for Conquest – was the first result I got back.  I remember being captured by the cover art, somehow being enthralled by it’s age… it had a special something that made me burn for Gnome Press.  I’m waxing a bit lyrical here, suffice to say that it all really began here, and now I finally have a copy of the book that got the Gnome Press ball rolling.  It’s the best condition copy I have ever seen, but it does have one solitary significant flaw.  Lets have a look.
Beautiful.  I just love the art that came out of Gnome Press once they got away from their few fantasy titles and before the obvious decline of the mid-late ’50s.  A little shelf wear to the upper right part of the cover and just the odd nick and wear around the edges.  The flaw is quite evident here – sunning on the spine.  It was mentioned in the description, though it’s still a little more severe than I expected.
Boards are nice.  A bit of bumping on the corners, but not really an issue.  There is one other thing to point out, it’s a bit hard to make out and it’s more pronounced on the back, but there is a couple of centimeters of lightening down the front edge of the boards.  Looks like it may have seen a bit of sun sans jacket at some point.
The views from the top and bottom reveal no surprises.
The jacket edges are nice.  Some slight age-toning of the block, but quite negligible.  You can see what looks like a water stain on the bottom of the block – it’s not.  It’s actually a light scratch.

You can see the jacket is very nice here, not much rubbing and practically no chipping.  The head and tail of the spine are very sound also.  The sunning however, is very noticeable in this view.  I’ve highlighted the two tones of orange.
A couple of interesting items of trivia regarding this dust jacket.  Briefly, a correction had to be made to the title on the spine (hence the odd white square) and ‘Minions of Mars’ (a never-published book) is listed on the back.
Check out the Trivia Page for more detail regarding these.
The rear of the jacket is beautiful and clean, rounding out a book in excellent condition.

Year: 1949
Paid: $38
Art: Edd Cartier is credited on the jacket flap and in Eshbach, though I have seen Hannes Bok mentioned as the artist variously around the Internet. I don’t know why that might be.
Quantity: 5000 copies. 3000 in hardcover, 2000 paperback armed forces issues.
Binding: Orange cloth with darker spine and front board lettering.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated.
Comments: Like ‘Cosmic Engineers’, I paid a reasonable price for a copy in this condition.  A bit unfortunate though with the sunning on the spine downgrading this to Near Fine.  Still, I’m very pleased with it.  A desire fulfilled.
Expand Upon: wikipedia.com, Internet Speculative Fiction Database

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Review: The Thirty-First of February

Posted in 1949, 3:Lunar, Review with tags , on May 4, 2009 by Aaron

Nelson Bond
1949

The Thirty-First of February is an unusual title. This is a collection of thirteen stories that supposedly could have been written on that date. As we all know there aren’t 31 days in February, so we can conclude that this must be a fantasy collection.  There is very little in the way of science fiction here, not that there is anything wrong with that at all. Indeed, the stories in this collection are fine examples of the short form of writing.  Like many of the authors who were published by Gnome Press, I hadn’t heard of Nelson Bond prior to this endeavor.  He wrote across many genres and for many mediums apparently – early television, radio, plays as well as books and magazines.

The man has (or rather had, he’s dead now) talent.  I could see that from about 2 pages in to the very first story.  The Sportsman was the name of the tale, it was very simple with no real twist or big ideas, just a little mystery at the end.  A little low-key maybe, but it gave me an excellent insight into Bond’s style.  It’s definitely dated though he creates a certain ‘imagination flavor’ for me.  Two writers that come to mind as I think about this idea are H.P. Lovecraft and Mervyn Peake.  Lovecraft creeps along dark, slimy and forbidding ways with unseen things lurking behind the words.  Peake’s prose rides dust motes suspended in shafts of sunlight in an empty room and smells a bit musty.  Mr Bond is sports jacket-wearing after-dinner cigars in a slightly smokey but well lit study, leather-bound volumes lining the walls and a tumbler of whiskey at hand.  Well, that’s what they do for me, and I like writers that can have that effect.

The stories in this collection are a little ordinary, there are no ingenious plots, not unexpectedly clever twists and nothing that really knocks me back enough to say “Wow, that was great!!”.  But for me, that’s not the point.  I enjoyed this very much but not because of the aforementioned qualities (indeed, they were a bit lacking), but for the consistent quality and ‘flavor’ of his writing.  I just enjoyed reading it so much!  Of course it’s not really as bland as perhaps I am indicating here, so I’ll mention a couple of the more interesting stories.  Not necessarily the best, but most interesting.

‘The Five Lives of Robert Jordan’ follows several hours in the life of a man who, by the strange power of a mysterious watch, lives these hours several times over as a different personality.  For each  the same basic events unfold, having the same basic outcomes, but in different circumstances.  Actually, it reads more like an assignment that the modern creative writing teacher might dish out, and after the first two or three iterations I found myself very impatient for the conclusion.  I guess back in the ’40s this device might have seemed intriguing, but alas, sixty years on it’s not new.

Which brings me to another point.  One which I’ll no doubt touch on many times over the course of this odyssey.  When reading these books, it is always good to keep in mind that the stories that Gnome Press published were for the most part penned sometime between the early ’40s and late ’50s and when reading books of a certain vintage, we should try and time-warp our conciousness back to those times.  It’s often a little unfair to judge a book like this in contemporary light.  I must post on that at more length sometime… anyway, back to the book at hand.

The final story ‘Pilgrimage’, tells of a time in the not too distant post-apocalyptic future where a matriarchal tribe lives in an area named Jinnia, and the next Clan-mother is sent on a quest to discover the secret of the Ancients.  On her journey, she is rescued from the attentions of a wild Man-thing by a man who is obviously not a degraded man-animal as she would expect.  They travel together to the Place of the Gods as he tells tales to her disbelieving ears of how the human civilization used to be patriarchal before the fall of the Ancients.  They travel through Braska territory and on to Kota where she gets an unexpected surprise when she views the Gods visages carven into the mountain…

As much as I admire Nelson Bond’s prose and enjoyed reading this collection, none of the stories really captured my imagination.  This collection is subtitled ’13 Flights of Fantasy’, and although the writing is streamlined, aerodynamic and looks nice taxiing up and down the runway, unfortunately for the most part they struggle to get airborne.

Close Up: The Thirty-First of February

Posted in 1949, Close Up with tags , , on April 8, 2009 by Aaron

closeupNelson Bond
1949

Condition-wise, this is the best GP book I have, unread by the looks of it.  I doubt I will find another title this good either (but I hope I do).  However, I am led to believe that quite a few copies of this book were remaindered, so there is an unusual amount of fine examples floating around.  I just got a bit of provenance back from Jack at S & S Books:

…we purchased them in November 1977 from F & SF Book Co. Inc., Staten Island, NY.  They seemed to have been affiliated with Donald M. Grant, Pub. Inc., Hampton Falls,  NH.  Somehow they discovered and acquired a cache of these previously published books and sold them to retailers such as us.

Interesting.  Regarding this copy, there is nothing really to say, the pictures say it all.  I’ll allow them to talk, so sit back, listen and enjoy what they impart, though I will interrupt them but once.

Ok, I’ll just interrupt briefly.  You can see some slight scuffing on the dust jacket towards the top of the spine.  The photo enhances this quite significantly, in actual fact this is barely noticeable in real life.

It arrived without a jacket protector.  I photographed it before I put one on and it made a big difference to the results.  I wish I could do them all like this, but it’s safer to leave the protectors on in most cases.

Year: 1949
Paid: $40
Art: James Gibson
Quantity: 5000 + 100 Limited Edition + 12 Special Limited Edition copies reserved for Nelson Bond. Currey claims an Armed Forces paperback edition was produced in 1952 – probably 1000 copies.
Binding: Burgundy cloth with darker burgundy lettering on the spine and cover.  Currey claims black lettering – the copy I have is practically new as you can see and it doesn’t look black to me.  Currey also states that the 12 SLE copies were with slipcase and sans dust jacket and the remaining 100 LE were in dust jackets and most if not all were without slipcase
GP Edition Notes: 1st Edition
Comments: The block is pristine and white.  Nothing else to add, a superb copy.
Expand Upon: wikipedia.com, Internet Speculative Fiction Database

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Review: Sixth Column

Posted in 1949, 3:Lunar, Review with tags , on March 31, 2009 by Aaron

Robert Heinlein
1949

I think I mentioned elsewhere that I love reading early Heinlein.  I do.  There is nothing complex about his writing.  It’s very simple; the dialogue is simple, the plots are straightforward and the ideas are not challenging.  These are the reasons I could enjoy books like Starman Jones and Farmer in the Sky so much when I was 10 years old.  How fond are the memories of going to the Napier Public Library after school to pick up another Heinlein story, or another science fiction adventure from Hugh Walters.  Yet underneath the stories and adventures with which Robert Heinlein captivated my young mind, bigger ideas were waiting; social commentary and (sometimes harsh) critique of institutions such as religion and government.  Ideas that wouldn’t bring themselves to the fore until I was older and (somewhat) wiser.  Of course, in Heinlein’s juvenile novels, the protagonists were about my age back then and I could readily identify with the issues and feelings that they often had to overcome.

This book is not a juvenile novel (it lacks a young character for a start) but it reads like one:  Invading bad guys.  The last outpost of hope.  Wondrous secret technology.  The simplicity of it all as I alluded to earlier.  The content is a little more mature, however.  The characters don’t turn a hair at killing, and killing masses of people at that.  Indeed, one individual’s execution is described quite graphically.  These things are certainly out of bounds in Heinlein’s juvenile fare.

The US has been invaded and defeated by the ‘PanAsians’.  It’s not made specific who the PanAsians actually are, but I assumed them to be a bloc of countries including the likes of Japan, China and Korea.  They are of mongoloid extraction – that at least is made clear.  The military has been utterly wiped out, except for a research group under a mountain in The Rockies somewhere, and they have just all but eliminated themselves via an inadvertently uncontrolled use of the Ledbetter Effect (Dr Ledbetter himself didn’t survive) – a mysterious new force that isn’t fully understood.  This is where we pick up the story.  Our tiny group of heroes recognizes the powerful force they have on their hands and has to somehow utilize it to free America from the domination of the PanAsians.

In the Close Up of this book, I commented on the bizarre cover.  I also said that the cover is quite an accurate description of what is inside.  Our little band decides to set up a religious cult, capitalizing on food shortages and unemployment to attract followers, while assuaging the fears of the PanAsian authorities by dishing out gold coins – gold that is obtained by transmutation (one of the numerous and very handy uses the Ledbetter Effect can be turned to).  Other things are in their favor also, such as the occupiers reluctance to police things such as religious organizations and the worship of Gods.  The great God that is invented in this case is called ‘Mota’ – the reverse spelling of atom.  Under the guise of worshiping Mota, the cult travels freely around the country, and sets up a network of ‘churches’ that waits for the right time to rise up and use the Ledbetter Effect at it’s most devastating.

The Ledbetter Effect is truly a marvelous thing.  Just a little too marvelous to my way of thinking.  Cool looking divine halo; check.  Impenetrable force field; check.  Undetectable communications channels; check.  Transmutation; check.  Tractor and repulsor beams; check.  Fear-inducing subsonics; check.  Disintegrator; check.  Laser-like cutting focus; check.  Release surface tension on cell walls leading to explosive decompression of human bodies; check.  And get this one folks – race-selective death ray; double-check.  The last is especially useful when your country is occupied by a race that are referred to as monkeys, flat-faces, apes, baboons and slanties at various points throughout the book.

Apparently the book generates a bit of controversy regarding the depiction of the PanAsians in this way.  Too rascist or something.  I don’t have a problem with it at all.  To my way of thinking, it fits very well within the context of the book.  I’m sure if anyone was occupying my country, putting people in concentration camps, engaging in genocide and generally being a nuisance, I would think of much worse things to refer to them by.

I’ll leave the considerable scope for social and institutional commentary analysis to others who are smarter than I.  Before I wrap this up, I just want to mention the pacing of the story.  It breezes along at a good pace.  There is never a dull moment and the dialogue heavy exposition that characterizes some of Heinlein’s work is absent.  As I mentioned earlier, this has an RAH juvenile feel, and it all wraps up neatly in the end.

I have two major criticisms of the book.  One is the Ledbetter Effect, it is just too powerful and I struggled to take it seriously even in a science fiction setting.  The other is in a similar vein to one thing I said about Silverberg’s Starman’s Quest.  The end comes too quickly.  Not as quickly as ‘Quest’ but more time should have been taken over unfolding the climax of the story.

A rather obscure work from Mr Heinlein, Sixth Column (retitled as The Day After Tomorrow is some subsequent editions) is good brisk fun from an author who has always been very enjoyable for me to read.

Close Up: Sixth Column

Posted in 1949, Close Up with tags , , on March 27, 2009 by Aaron

closeupRobert Heinlein
1949

Another Heinlein 1st edition.  I just love saying that.  Sixth Column is rather an obscure book in terms of Heinlein.  To me at least anyway – I hadn’t heard of it prior to my Gnome Press awareness.  This isn’t in as good condition as ‘Hoag’ but it’s not too bad.  Actually there are a couple of flaws which I’ll highlight later, but first lets have a look at the cover.  The cover artist is Gnome Press stalwart Edd Cartier and the subtitle proclaims that this is “a science fiction novel of strange intrigue”.  Well, the cover image certainly engenders ‘strange intrigue’ at the very least.  Check it out.

Looks like a couple of refugees from a carnival somewhere.  Bizarre.  Before getting into the story (I’m reading it at the moment) I would have thought that this would bear little relation to what was contained within, as book covers are want to do.  However, much to my mild surprise, it is very appropriate.  But that’s a topic for the review.

You can see on the spine there has been an abrasion of some sort.

Luckily it didn’t break through the dust jacket there.  Must have been a close thing.  The results of this can be seen under the covers.  Actually, the book looks as though it’s taken a few knocks.  Lets get the jacket off and take a peek.

We can see several issues here.  The most prominent of which is the dent on the front.  This is I think connected to the graze I just pointed out.  It looks as though something weighty has been dragged across the book while it has been lying flat before dropping off and grazing down the front of the spine.  You might be able to tell that the book isn’t standing quite straight – the spine is a bit loose.  Cool atom device with the chains on the front board there though.  Nice.

It’s had a bump on the bottom front free corner too.  And somebody has carelessly dropped something on to the back of the book at some stage.

Ouch.  These dings all look worse than they actually are.  I’ve purposely held them at an unflattering angle to the light so as to highlight the dents and things, making them easier to see.

Lets put the wrap back on and zoom in on the spine extremities.

The dust jackets a bit worn, but nothing too serious there.  Actually apart from that abrasion on the spine and the scratch on the back which I’ll point out in a minute, the jacket is good.  No tears to speak of at all.  Some minor rubbing to the bottom edges there.  Lets zoom out now and take in the ends.

Still sits quite square despite the looseness in the spine.  The back is nice, unlike any Gnome book I have thus far.

Looks great.  Nice and clean, the edges of the jacket look great.  But wait, what’s that??  Step closer.

A bit of a scratch there.  Luckily it hasn’t made it all the way through.  To finish on a positive note, I like the gnome astronaut on the back.  Very cool.

Year: 1949
Paid: $180
Art: Edd Cartier
Quantity: 5000 copies
Binding: Black cloth with red lettering to spine with a really cool red atom & chain device on the front.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated on copyright page.
Comments: The book has survived some close scrapes well – it’s been very lucky by the looks of it. Very clean internally and a great price for a Heinlein 1st edition too.
Expand Upon: wikipedia.com, Internet Speculative Fiction Database

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