Archive for the 1952 Category

Close Up: Judgment Night

Posted in 1952, Close Up with tags , , on January 31, 2010 by Aaron

closeupC.L. Moore
1952

Very striking cover art by Frank Kelly Freas graces this title.  When I first say the cover for this book I immediately thought of vampires.  I haven’t finished the title story yet, so I can’t say for certain, but there doesn’t appear to be any vampire involvement in that particular tale at least, though the freaky black koala with sea anemone hands is playing a part.

It’s so difficult and usually expensive to pick up a flawless Gnome Press book, there is usually some underlying problem that is either not mentioned or that can’t be adequately seen in a photograph.  I think I have maybe two or three that I would consider to be – for all intents and purposes – mint.  This copy certainly isn’t mint, but I mention it because of the disappointment I felt when I removed the dust jacket.

So, why a little deflated?  Well, if we look at the jacket pretty much as I saw it in the auction it looks pretty good.  And indeed it is.  I have seen copies around with jackets in worse condition than this for as much as three times the price I paid.  Anyway, lets see what the deal is.
As you can see, good initial impression, and this was the basis I picked this up on.  The logic being, that if the jacket is ok, the the rest usually follows.  Remove the jacket and the issue is revealed.
Need I say more.  The spotting is quite emphasized here in the picture – it doesn’t appear as bad in person – but it’s there nonetheless.  Note the staining along the bottom edge.  This occurs consistently on enough books to suggest that there is a common cause, and I don’t mean that someone spilled something on the bookshelf.  I think that maybe this stain comes from the oil on peoples skin that gets rubbed in to the bottom edge there with repeated reading.  Try this for yourself – the next time you are reading a book, take note of which part of the book gets the most worry from your hands.  I bet it’s the left hand on the bottom edge of the front board.
Other issues with this particular book – the boards are slightly bowed and the spine has a roll.  The spotting on the block is rather typical and not too much of an problem.

Overall, it doesn’t look very flash – rather untidy.  Let’s look at the spine extremities.
The jacket is pretty good all around.  No drama there.
Looking inside we can see the theme of general poor condition continuing.  Foxing and staining you can see.
Actually photographing it does highlight it a little more, but it’s still there nonetheless.
Just a little rubbing on the rear of the jacket there, but otherwise quite clean.

Year: 1952
Paid: $38
Art: Frank Kelly Freas
Quantity: 4000 copies
Binding: Blue boards with darker blue lettering on the spine.
GP Edition Notes: Currey ‘B’ binding.  1st edition so stated.
Comments: This copy has obviously not been abused physically as it’s pretty intact, but just careless storage, I would image, has led to the numerous problems like the bowed and spotted boards and the foxing.  Shame.
Expand Upon: wikipedia.com, Internet Speculative Fiction Database

condition

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Review: The Starmen

Posted in 1952, 4:Stellar! with tags , on November 14, 2009 by Aaron

Leigh Brackett
1952

I was rather pleased to pick this up.  Check out the Close Up for some visual goodness.

In looking into the writing career of the author Leigh Brackett, I learned some interesting trivia.  Thanks to that fount of all human knowledge, Wikipedia, I discovered that she was, amongst many other notable things,  involved in the writing of several prominent movies, the most notable (from an SF perspective) was the original screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back.  It was eventually entirely rewritten, but she was included in the credits.  Check her out on wikipedia and at the ISFDB – very interesting reading.

This is a good story.  I especially enjoyed the way it began.  On a contemporary Earth, our hero Michael Trehearne (an interesting choice of name) is chasing his origins.  From the U.S. to England and finally to the French countryside he has searched and finally feels he is closing on the source of his difference.  There are no real hints at this being an SF tale until about chapter 4.  A refreshing start, and this is where we pick up his real adventure.

His difference is physical.  Not an obvious difference, but as a very successful test pilot for the USAF his ability to withstand heavy ‘G’s and other subtle differences leads him to suspect something special in his origins.  Though he doesn’t suspect how special.  He does indeed locate his ‘kin’ and thereafter his real adventure begins.  I’m trying to avoid giving too much away here, suffice to say that he embarks on a cosmic adventure with his erstwhile relatives and succeeds in helping to bring interstellar travel to the various peoples of the galaxy.

This is a typical space opera and not really unusual in any respect except for the cool device around which the story is built.  The monopoly the Vardda people have on interstellar travel and its jealous protection provides the interesting backdrop against which this story is penned and it is engaging.  While not being a page-turner, it is consistent with quality golden age space opera in that there is a constant upbeat pace and many interesting changes of location.

In the course of his adventures, Trehearne – what we would now consider true Star Trek or Star Wars fashion – discovers that the galaxy is peopled with many different races based on the basic humanoid form, and to Ms Brackett’s credit she does provide a somewhat reasonable explanation for this:

Trehearne had been amazed at the persistent recurrence of the humanoid form even when the root-stock from which a particular race had evolved was not even remotely human, and Yann had explained to him what every Vardda school-child was taught in General Biology, that the development of the humanoid form [….] rested simply upon the necessity of a species that intended to progress beyond the animal level of intelligence to evolve hands, or a workable substitute, and free them for use.
page 112

Cool.

In subsequent editions known as The Galactic Breed or The Starmen of Llyrdis, it is a well paced, expertly crafted and thoroughly enjoyable tale.  If you’re a fan of fine space opera, I highly recommend taking to the stars with The Starmen.

Close Up: The Starmen

Posted in 1952, Close Up with tags , , on November 2, 2009 by Aaron

closeupLeigh Brackett
1952

This was a snatch buy from eBay, one of those ones that comes up every so often. I have favorite searches set up so they are emailed to me every day. I know exactly when they arrive so I can get the latest listings as soon as I can. This was listed as a ‘Buy It Now or Best Offer’ auction. Well, as soon as I saw it was listed for only $60 I grabbed it. It’s always a risk – I could only see the cover – but it looked pretty good and this is quite a pricey title to pick up from a dealer.  You would have to pay at least $100 or so for for a copy in this condition from a dealer, and more likely much more.  There is a bit of foxing inside the jacket too.  Lets have a look.

Wonderful cover art from Rick Binkley.  Cover is nice and bright, no damage.  Just a bit of wrinkling at the top of the spine.  Concern becomes apparent when we remove the jacket.

You can see the mildewy stains on the front board and particularly on the spine.  The rear board is in much the same condition as the front.  If anyone knows how to perhaps remove or treat this issue somehow, please let me know.
The top and bottom view reveal no surprises, just a bit of dust spotting and discoloration on the top there.
And the bottom looks pretty good.  The spine sits nice and the block is hardly discolored at all.
Likewise the head and tail.  Just a touch of wrinkling at the head…
..and no problem on the tail.  Very, very nice, in fact.  There is no chipping and any rubbing is practically non-existent around the whole book.
I mentioned the foxing inside the cover, we can see a bit externally too.

The edge of the wrap-around is pretty mottled there.
Like a few other books, this one has that little touch that I really appreciate.  You can see the twelve signs of the zodiac introducing each chapter.

Fantastic.
The jacket has one small score with a small hole in it.  You can see it on the edge of the wrap-around center-pic below.

The rear looks great.  No significant staining or wear.  Super.

Year: 1952
Paid: $60
Art: Ric Binkley
Quantity: 5000 copies
Binding: Slate gray boards with black lettering on the spine.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated.
Comments: A nice copy. This is definitely a very good buy at $60.  Shame about the staining on the boards. Anyone know how to clean them??  Can they be cleaned or at least tidied up a little??
Expand Upon: wikipedia.com, Internet Speculative Fiction Database

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Review: The Mixed Men

Posted in 1952, 4:Stellar!, Review with tags , on October 10, 2009 by Aaron

A.E. van Vogt
1952

What are the Mixed Men??  It’s a question I had when I started into this book.  It turns out that the ‘Mixed Men’ are a product of the union between men and robots.  A union under normal circumstances impossible, but made feasible with the ‘cold fusion’ process.  Sound interesting??  Intriguing??  It did to me.  Actually, the story isn’t about how the Mixed Men came to be, or the specifics of their biology, it’s about how events unfold when the giant space battleship Star Cluster uncovers a civilization of ‘humans’ collectively called The Fifty Suns in the Greater Magellanic Cloud – a culture lost for fifteen thousand years.  Before we look into it a little further, what about the author??

Check out wikipedia for some more in-depth info, but notable about van Vogt is the extent of his influence, with huge names such as Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison crediting Mr van Vogt for inspiration.  This is the only novel-length story of van Vogt’s in the Gnome Press stable, though he does have several short stories in the various GP anthologies.  The book was apparently put together as a ‘fix-up’ of some short works published in Astounding Science Fiction pulp magazine in the mid-40s.  As we have seen with at least one other fix-up, thing don’t always hang together, but here they do.  Almost as seamless as a proper novel, it’s a great job.  However, here and there I found large passages of time – weeks or months – to have passed also seamlessly, fortunately they didn’t affect the flow of the story at all.

I really enjoyed this the first time I read it almost a year ago, and I think I enjoyed it even more this time.  I mentioned the Mixed Men being the product of robots and men.  This is a little misleading.  In the context of this book, the robots concerned are actually the products of some super-genetic engineering.  A mass panic and genocide against these ‘robots’ led them and their natural human rescuers to flee to the Greater Magellanic Cloud and subsequently over the course of thousands of years passed from our Galactic history.  But this is all back-story, basically at the start of the tale, a mapping expedition from Imperial Earth stumbles upon a ‘weather station’ outpost, thereby discovering the existence of the Fifty Sun society, and this is where we pick it up.

The story has two principle characters.  Peter Maltby is a Mixed Man…

Wait.  Perhaps I should describe what a Mixed Man really is before continuing.  There are three types of human resident in the Fifty Suns – normal (non-Dellian), robots (Dellian, don’t worry about the term, it’s explained in the book) and Mixed Men (Dellian and non-Dellian hybrid).  Mixed Men embody the best of both worlds – with a robot’s physical and mental prowess and normal human’s creativity and adaptability.  They effectively have two parallel minds with exceptional mental powers which puts them at a distinct advantage over both originating human strains.  However, their numbers are relatively few and they have been marginalized because of a failed uprising and have to live in super-secret underground cities.  They have no active participation in society.  Maltby is a captain in the Fifty Suns Navy and, unbeknown to society in general, the hereditary leader of the Mixed Men.

…and Lady Gloria Laurr is Grand Captain of the Star Cluster.  Ms Laurr is seeking to root out the Fifty Suns to bring them under Imperial Earth’s dominion, and Peter Maltby is trying to satisfactorily mitigate their discovery in a way that will temper Imperial Earth’s inevitable domination and reassert the Mixed Men as a functioning sub-group of the Fifty Suns’ government.

I’m getting a bit carried away here, I don’t want to describe what happens in the story but hopefully I’ve given you plenty to pique your interest in this tale, so lets move on and I’ll address a couple of cool things in the book.  First, as I alluded to in this comparison between Cosmic Engineers and The Mixed Men, the characterization here is good.  We really get a handle on our principle actors – their thoughts and feelings, their motivations.  Maltby is a talented leader, careful, considered and able to look at the long-term welfare of the entire Fifty Suns civilization.  Laurr is driven, ambitious but just sensitive enough to recognize when her single-mindedness needs curbing.  Usually.  You can see we are heading for a confrontation here, and we get it, although by the end of the book things between these two have turned out a little unexpectedly.

The second cool thing is the Star Cluster itself.  At about a mile long and with a crew of 30 000 it’s a very impressive vehicle.  Capable of rendering multiple planets uninhabitable and engaging the entire Fifty Suns’ Navy simultaneously, you don’t mess with it.  Unless you’re a Mixed Man.  One neat concept was that under physical stress the ship can split into thousands of self-sustained mini-ships, and reassemble itself later once the danger has passed.  This design feature is employed at one point in the book because Maltby navigates the behemoth into a storm.  Which brings me to another cool thing…

The ‘storms’ are an integral plot element.  I forget their mechanics and they’re described a little vaguely anyway, but they are born out of nova events and like terrestrial stormy weather, can be tracked and mapped.  Similar to their analog here on Earth, keeping tabs on them is vital for safe transit – an uncharted storm can prove disastrous for the unsuspecting spacecraft.  Several points of the tale hinge on these events.  The Star Cluster discovers a Fifty Sun weather station at the beginning of the story, not having local storm location information hampers the location of Fifty Sun worlds by the Earth men and Maltby attempts to destroy the giant battleship by plotting a course into a giant storm.

It’s been in print in various forms up until 1980 (mostly under the title Mission to the Stars – see the ISFDB here) so you could pick up a cheap copy off the Internet without too much hassle.  Do so.  A superb example of Golden Age space opera, I enjoyed The Mixed Men a lot, and compared to similar fare I have read recently such as Pattern for Conquest and Cosmic Engineers, there is nothing mixed up about this tale.

Close Up: The Mixed Men

Posted in 1952, Book Care, Close Up with tags , , on September 28, 2009 by Aaron

closeupA.E. van Vogt
1952

This was the second Gnome Press book I purchased after Iceworld.  It arrived back in November last year and I read it not long after.  I just love the cover.  As you probably know, I’m a huge Ric Binkley fan and this is period SF art at it’s best.  What a crazy setup for the bridge of a starship, and I just love it.
It’s a little tatty around all edges, especially at the head and tail of the spine there is some chipping.The spine is a bit loose, you can see in these pics that it’s standing on a slight angle.  With a tight spine it would stand nice and straight.

This is also the second Gnome Press book I read (or third? The Robot and the Man may have been second…), and is a victim of an early attempt at book care wisdom.  The staining you can see on the boards comes from my very own hands.  I thought in order to protect the dust jacket I should remove it to avoid undue wear because of all the handling that gets done while reading.  Big mistake.  I have read elsewhere on the Internet that removing the dust jacket is a good idea, but experience tells me otherwise, as you can see.  The staining comes from the oil on your hands – no matter how clean your hands are there is always a small amount of moisture and oil present.  Repeated handling like this rubs it into the boards.  The wisdom is, as far as I’m concerned and what I would strongly recommend: DO NOT remove the dust jacket for reading.  However, you MUST ensure that the jacket is in a Brodart or similar protective sleeve.  If not, don’t subject the book to any handling (or as little as possible) until you do get a sleeve on.  In my experience, having the jacket in a protective sleeve and on the book is excellent protection while reading.

So, lets move on and check out the rest of the book.
You can see the lean on the spine quite clearly.  I think this is the worst book I have for this particular defect.  Note the scuffing and wear on the bottom edge of the boards and the base of the spine especially.
A closer look at the head of the spine reveals that chipping I mentioned earlier.
Also present on the tail, and you can see very well that wear there.  The jacket also has a distinct crease on the front running the length of the hinge.
The front paste-down has a beautiful bookplate glued in.  Austin P. Haller, MD.  I wish I had some way of finding him, I’d love to ask him about the book.
That is one stylish bookplate.  The pages are fox-free.  Very little discoloration at all.
The back of the book exhibits a few chips and some wear.
Quite clean though.  I remember distinctly when I got this title, looking at the back and thinking, “Wow.. will I ever get these books?  They look so cool”.  Well, I have all of those four now.  Men Against the Stars, Journey to Infinity, Five Science Fiction Novels and Travelers of Space (which I haven’t read yet).

Year: 1952
Paid: $41
Art: Ric Binkley
Quantity: 5000
Binding: Navy boards with red lettering on the spine.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated.
Comments: The dust jacket is a little poor and I wish I was more aware when I was reading the thing.  Maybe a tad over-priced at $41.
Expand Upon: wikipedia.com, Internet Speculative Fiction Database

condition

Close Up: Five Science Fiction Novels

Posted in 1952, Close Up with tags , , on July 2, 2009 by Aaron

closeupMartin Greenberg, editor
1952

There isn’t too much to make detailed comment about on this book.  It does have a few flaws, but they are very straightforward and readily apparent.  The book is quite thick, as is to be expected from a set of novellas.

Nice stylish cover if perhaps a little on the dull side.  I like the five spaceships representing the five novellas.  Cool.  Almost everything that is an issue with this copy is represented on the cover.
Small tears, a few nicks out and some general rubbing and that’s about it.  Pretty much the same on the rear of the dust jacket too which we’ll get to later.

No problems in the uncovered state except a little crimping of the spine at the head and tail. The boards are a little worn on the top and bottom edges too, but nothing serious.

The text block is only just a little discolored and you can see a stain there on the bottom.  The stain doesn’t travel up onto the pages.  The spine is still quite square.
You can see the chipping and general wear on the spine extremities.  Perhaps a little more than one would like, but hey, it’s not too bad…  except for this:
A substantial closed tear on the upper rear wrap-around.  The back is very similar to the front in terms of wear.

A couple of closed tears there under ‘East’ and at the top right.  A bit soiled in general too.  It’s all pretty harsh and obvious in examinations like this, but with the jacket protector on and in a normal viewing situation (general handling and on the shelf) it all doesn’t look that bad.
Year: 1952
Paid: $30
Art: Frank Kelly Freas
Quantity: 6500 copies – the second largest single print run for any Gnome Press book.
Binding: Brown boards with black shelf back.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated.
Comments: Nice book. The dust jacket is a little on the tatty side unfortunately. Not outlandish at $30 though.
Expand Upon: wikipedia.com, Internet Speculative Fiction Database

condition

Review: Five Science Fiction Novels – Part 1 of 5

Posted in 01 - But WIthout Horns, 1952, 1:No Launch, Five Science Fiction Novels, Review with tags , on July 2, 2009 by Aaron

This is the first installment of a 5 part review of this anthology put together by Martin Greenberg.  The book claims to be ‘Five SF Novels,’ but it really is five novellas housed in a thick book.  These mini-reviews will be done between reading other GP books, and each of these five reviews will be a bit shorter than usual.  At the end I’ll aggregate the scores for a final verdict and ‘over-review’ of the whole.

But Without Horns
Norvell W. Page

An intriguing title. I was interested. The story started off quite well too.
Norvell W. Page was a prolific pulp and comic writer penning many installments of several long-running super-hero type magazine serials.  This particular story is claimed on his wikipedia entry to be ‘an early classic explication of the superman theme.’  Perhaps so, but I can tell you that I didn’t enjoy it very much.

We were pitched straight into the story, having to pick up over the unfolding pages what our main character apparently already knew.  This was great, I was taken along for the ride in a fast paced noir-style adventure.  Our protagonist Walter Kilderling with two of his bureau buddies attempt to track down and eliminate a faceless entity.  This unseen force/character is named John Miller(!) and he gains control of people by either driving them insane or inspiring devoted worship by getting inside their minds.  John Miller is supposedly some sort of superman and is trying to breed a race of supermen using the city of Metropolis as a farm.  All the people that don’t reach the required level of intelligence are eliminated using some sort of electrical effect and the remaining populace are kept happy by the kind of communal communist-style arrangement (I think there’s supposed to be some sort of political commentary here).  However, about a third or half-way through, alarm bells started to go off.  I could sense the wheels of the story were starting to lose traction.IMG_3868-1

Anyway, to cut it short, the reasons I didn’t enjoy it are thus:  The motives of John Miller are never resolved.  We never find out for sure who (or what) he really is.  All the action in the story appears to lack a definite sense of direction.  And the ending is a total let-down.  I’m not going to ‘spoil’ the ending, but I turned the page and when I saw the ending was over on the other leaf I thought (as I had had the above questions running around upstairs for quite a while by this point), “Uh oh, this is either going to end spectacularly well, or spectacularly badly”.

The badness was indeed spectacular.