Archive for the 1958 Category

Close Up: Undersea City

Posted in 1958, Close Up with tags , , , on July 31, 2010 by Aaron

closeupFrederik Pohl & Jack Williamson

I’m always excited in anticipation of receiving a new book.  I should have learned by now that over-excitement more often than not leads to disappointment.  I can only think of one occasion offhand where my expectations have been well and truly exceeded.  And quite a few where I have been crestfallen to a greater or lesser degree.  But, that’s all part of the drama and excitement of being a book collector.  It’s always, at the very least, interesting.

On this occasion I did have high hopes.  The flaws were described well in the auction, but weren’t noticeable in the provided image.  I thought, “Great, he’s being very honest about stuff that needn’t be mentioned”, but it wasn’t quite that way.  Let’s have a look.
At casual glance, looks great!!  But careful inspection of the image reveals what I couldn’t see in the auction.
Now, you can see the two flaws described in the auction as “…two small tears on top border of front cover.”  One indeed is a small tear with an associated crease about three times the length of the tear running up to the edge.  The other is not a small tear.  It is a large tear.  And the creasing is also significant.  These I would have definitely spotted in the auction and hence my surprise upon receipt of the book.  The image was apparently from a different copy he had up sometime in the past.
Boards are in good condition.  Currey ‘B’.

The view from the top and bottom is, aside from that tear, very nice.Spine sits nicely and the binding is very tight.
The head and tail are likewise in excellent shape.
The GP bugbear of the poor quality paper shows itself with the typical age-toning of the block.
Not as bad as some that I have.  Nice ocean surface rippling across the top of the chapter pages too.
The back of the jacket is nice and white and exhibits little rubbing or wear.

Year: 1958
Paid: $15
Art: Wallace Wood
Quantity: 5000, 2000 remaindered (Eshbach), 5000 (wikipedia)
Binding: Currey priority ‘B’ – gray cloth with red lettering on the spine
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated
Chalker & Owings: UNDERSEA CITY, by Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson, 1958, pp.224, $3.00. 5000 copies printed, but only 3000 bound in two bindings, first black boards (about 2000), second gray cloth c.1959 (1000); rest “remaindered” and probably destroyed in liquidation. Jacket by Wallace Wood. Reprint: Ballantine.
Currey: UNDERSEA CITY, Hicksville, N.Y.: The Gnome Press Inc., Publishers, [1958]. Two bindings, priority as listed: (A) Black boards lettered in red; (B) Gray cloth lettered in red. First edition so stated on copyright page.
Comments: Damn tear on the cover.  I don’t know how to rate an otherwise VG+ book with a defect like that.  Offset to a certain degree by the truly outstanding price for this title.
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Review: SF’58: The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy

Posted in 1958, 3:Lunar, Review with tags , on November 5, 2009 by Aaron

Judith Merril, editor

I’ve been reading a little slow lately – it’s taken me about a month to work my way through this anthology. My reactions to it are a bit mixed, though before looking a bit more closely at it, first a very brief history.  The SF(‘xx) series edited by Judith Merril was a long-running annual series in which Ms Merril attempted to collect the outstanding SF&F for a particular year.  To put things in their proper order, I’ll talk more about this and her when I review the very first tome in this series.

As I said, my reactions were mixed.  I normally read anthologies cover to cover, as I imagine the editor always has some sort of structure or theme development in mind when putting the thing together.  While I did read the first story first, I thereafter hopped all over the shop in reading.  I’m not sure if this affected my reading experience or not.

I felt it was quite an odd bunch of stories – a couple I thought were fantastic, but others were a little strange to my way of thinking.  I just want to mention a couple of my favorites before taking a general overview.

The Wonder Horse by George Byram is a fantasy tale about a mutant racehorse that goes on to be unbeatable, the controversy the horse generates and how it’s owners cope with the sudden fame and fortune.  A very straightforward story, no real surprises or twists, no startling conclusion, and one that perhaps seemed a little misplaced in an anthology of this nature.  To my surprise though, I enjoyed it a lot.  A thoroughly engaging and satisfying read.

The other (and perhaps the) stand-out tale for me was Zenna Henderson’s Wilderness.  Told with extreme skill and wonderfully paced, it relates the experiences of one young woman – a teacher in a very small and remote South-West town – and the discovery of who she really is.  Confused and frightened by her heightened senses, she thinks her sanity to be slowly deteriorating until she meets someone like her and reluctantly accepts her true identity.  I’ve since discovered that those of you familiar with the ‘People’ series from Zenna Henderson will no doubt more-or-less know what they are in for here, but for me it was new and unfamiliar.  Ms Henderson was a very talented writer and I’m certainly looking forward to reading more of her work; she also appears in both Judith Merril’s first Gnome Press anthology and in SF’57.

The Fly by George Langelaan deserves a mention of course.  A tale with which everyone is very familiar now, but nevertheless it was an education to read in it’s original form.  This is (I think) it’s first publication in hardcover, although it was earlier published in Playboy magazine in July, 1957.

Another notable inclusion is Near Miss.  The last Henry Kuttner story to be published; a tribute to the prolific and very popular author who died that year.

Prefacing each tale is a small introduction by Ms Merril and at the back of the book is a Summary and a section called ‘The Year’s S-F, Summation and Honorable Mentions’ – a kind of an appendix or perhaps a reading list for you.  The short introductions add an extra dimension to each tale –  Ms Merril gives us the occasional bit of insight into her choices, a little background or info on the author and/or story.  They make for interesting reading so here they are reproduced for your appreciation.

View this document on Scribd

Complementing the stories are 6 non-fiction articles that comment on various aspects of science fiction and ‘space science’ in general.  The most interesting of which is Sputnik: One Reason Why We Lost written by G. Harry Stine.

In all honesty, I struggle to see how this could be collectively considered ‘The Year’s Best’, but Judith Merril is far more experienced than I when it comes to this kind of thing so I take her at her word.  Having said that though, the inclusion of that non-fiction really adds an extra dimension to this book and this combined with those two or three exceptional tales make the effort worthwhile.

Close Up: SF 58: The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy

Posted in 1958, Close Up with tags , , on October 6, 2009 by Aaron

closeupJudith Merril, editor

Very nice condition. There isn’t really much to talk about with this, just a couple of things to point out – all on the dust jacket.

Nice, bright and clean. The only blemish on the cover is down on the lower right corner – you can see a small strange circular stain. The spine of the jacket looks like it might be faded as well. It’s hard to tell. I mean it’s definitely a lighter color, but I don’t really know if that’s by design or not.
The bare cloth boards look fantastic.

They are unblemished, bright and there is only one very small bump on the bottom front corner. The head and tail of the spine are
in superb condition. The view from the top looks just as good.

Just a bit of dust spotting to the top of the block. The bottom looks great.

Nice and white as the text block is within. Quite exceptional for a Gnome Press book of the later years. At least some noticeable discoloration is usually evident. Not so here.
The head and tail of the spine look great too.

Just a couple of very minute closed tears.
On to the rear of the cover and we can see the major defect.

It looks like a sticker has been removed at some point from the upper left hand corner. A disappointing end to a book in otherwise fantastic condition. Still, for 8 bucks… I’m not complaining!!

Year: 1958
Paid: $8
Art: W.I. Van der Poel
Quantity: 4000 copies, 1263 copies remaindered.
Binding: Currey priority ‘B’. Red cloth with black lettering on the spine.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated.
Comments: Excellent condition and a super buy at $8. Possible slight sunning to the spine.
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Review II: Starman’s Quest

Posted in 1958, 2:Orbital, Audio Books, Review with tags , , on July 25, 2009 by Aaron

Robert Silverberg

This book has recently become available at  I thought I’d take the opportunity to listen to it and feed back the experience into the review I did a few months ago.

Unfortunately, it didn’t do anything to change my opinion.  The body of the story is great, right up until Alan inherits his money and takes on development of the Cavour drive.  As I pointed out in the original Review, the big disappointment is the end and this is exacerbated in audio form.  With audio books, it is very easy to just switch off for a minute or so.  If you do that towards the end of this book, as you switch back in you will wonder what the hell is going on as the story progresses in giant leaps.  And all of a sudden it’s over.  As I did with the book, I kind of felt a little cheated out of a fulfilling read (or listen, as the case may be).

It’s frustrating, as there is some great material and ideas here.  Despite all this, the book is well read by Dawn Larsen.  It’s very easy to listen to her voice and she is well paced.  All in all, Starman’s Quest is worth reading or listening to, but pay attention at the end.

Close Up II: The Survivors

Posted in 1958, Book Care, Close Up with tags , on March 27, 2009 by Aaron

closeupTom Godwin

I have to add an addendum to Close Up: The Survivors. I pointed out that the state of the browning on the pages in this book was quite extreme.  Along with this extreme browning goes brittleness.  Something I could see and feel, and had emphasised the hard way.  I always try to take great care when I read my GP books because of their age and value, but on one occasion I was a bit careless with this one.  I just brushed my finger carelessly across the left page edges when reaching to turn the right hand leaf, and this happened:

Moral of the story:  Be very careful with your older books.  Especially those that exhibit severe browning of this nature.  The pages become very brittle.

Take note and take care.

Review: The Survivors

Posted in 1958, 4:Stellar!, Review with tags , on March 24, 2009 by Aaron

Tom Godwin

I like his style. Tom Godwin writes from a very dark perspective. I mentioned in the Close Up that the cover looked dramatic and impressive, and that it gave me a good feeling for the content. My feeling was correct. This book is dramatic. It’s dark. It’s filled with that kind of obsessive resentment that you harbor over a lifetime, single-mindedly planning, watching and waiting for the opportunity to unleash against the unfortunate but deserving object of your vengeance.

I get the impression that Tom Godwin wrote this story while dressed in moldy rags, hunched over a dirty scrap of paper with a rat-gnawed stub of a pencil that he had to keep sharpening with his teeth, while starving in the clammy corner of a dank, dark, locked room.

The story starts under a cloud of fear, fugitives broken through the blockade around Earth, running silent at at the limit of their ships capacity, hellbent for safety and refuge on a distant planet.

But it all turns to custard.

The alien antagonists find and cripple the ship, take the fit for slave labor and dump four thousand Rejects (as they call themselves), apparently doomed to a very short and brutal life on the hell planet of Ragnarok.  But, as you know, the name of the book is The Survivors, and survive they do.

The scope of this book is big,  too big for it’s 190 pages.  If this was written today it would be of Helliconian dimensions.  Alas, in the 1950s, people weren’t really envisaging multi-volume science fiction epics.  Actually, the backdrop of the Helliconia Trilogy is very similar, so similar in fact that I could be tempted to say that Mr Aldiss drew some inspiration from this novel.  Ragnarok – like Helliconia – orbits a star.  That star in turn orbits another in a binary system.  This leads to an unusual seasonal rotation.  The planet’s primary orbit around it’s star maintains an Earth-like minor seasonal cycle, and the secondary orbit around the other star induces major (longer and deeper) seasons.  This of course means that the major winter and summer are killers.  Fortunately, the major seasonal cycle on Ragnarok is much shorter that the two and a half thousand years that Helliconia is immersed in it’s major seasonal cycle.

If the climate of Ragnarok is brutal then the fauna is equally so.  Between the wildlife, the climate and the ‘Hell Disease’, our few thousand castaways are whittled down to less than a hundred in short order.  There is no romanticism here.  As the tale progresses through the generations of those that eke out an existence on Ragnarok, characters who are shaping up to play major roles are killed quickly throughout the book.  A little disconcerting from the point of flow perhaps, but it lends a certain amount of realism, especially in this environment.  I like it.

I only have two major issues with this book, one is that the brevity doesn’t do the story justice as I mentioned, the other is the seeming ability to conjure something out of nothing in the way of manufacturing processes and technology.

Example:  Becoming fed-up that their traditional-style bows and arrows are too slow and unwieldy to effectively combat the aggressive wildlife, they somehow manage to put together a magazine fed bow and arrow system that is cocked in the style of a semi-automatic shotgun that can release 10 arrows in less than 10 seconds.  A generation after that, they are smelting aluminum and have built a powerful generator to power a hyperwave transmitter.  Uhhh… ok.

I have to nit-pick about the ending a little too, a ‘sail off into the wild blue (black) yonder’ closure didn’t really sit well given the grim nature of the bulk of the story.

All that aside, this is a very enjoyable book – if you appreciate gritty realism in terms of suffering and consequences and don’t mind that no one is considered too essential to the story.  I don’t, and I find it very refreshing given the space opera fare that was popular back then.

If Tom Godwin sounds appealing to you, and you can’t get hold of this book, I recommend you visit Rusty over at Best Science Fiction Stories and take in Godwin’s very highly regarded short story The Cold Equations online.

Close Up: The Survivors

Posted in 1958, Close Up with tags , , on March 18, 2009 by Aaron

closeupTom Godwin

There are a lot of issues with this book. There are a couple of interesting points also. I picked it up as part of a package that included The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag and Sixth Column, both by Heinlein and Shiras’ Children of the Atom.  The four books together (once I subtracted shipping) cost $490.  $210 for Hoag + the remainder for the other three.  I budgeted $180 for Sixth Column and split the difference on the other two: $50 each.  $180 is certainly a great price for a 1st ed Heinlein that’s in pretty good shape as you’ll see in a future Close Up, so I think $50 for The Survivors and the same for Children of the Atom represent excellent buys.  These are all sought after GP titles.  By way of comparison, an inferior copy of The Survivors went for $75 on eBay several days ago.

I like this cover.  It’s impressive, it’s dramatic and it bodes well for the content.  There is no artist credited for this in the book, but Wikipedia suggests that one Wallace Wood is responsible, a very well known illustrator and comic artist.  Well, at least to those in the know, I hadn’t heard of him before.

Well, it all looks good until we get under the covers…

A stain near the spine there and that nasty darkening is caused from reading the book without a dust jacket on.  Oil and dirt from the hands gets into the boards after too much handling.  How do I know this??  Because I have done it myself to another of my Gnome Press books, van Vogt’s The Mixed Men.  Here’s a closer view.

So let’s get all the bad stuff out of the way.  While we’ve got it stripped like this, we’ll continue to check out the exterior.

There is a split beginning to form along the fold (I don’t know the correct term for this feature) down the spine and when the book is handled, you can feel the looseness in this area.  The top and bottom of the spine are likewise damaged.

Some wear and a chip off the top there.

And some significant chipping at the base.

Enough of that.  When we put the clothes back on it doesn’t look so bad.  The top and the bottom check out ok if we ignore the aforementioned issues.

There is a little wear along the bottom edges of the boards, and you can see that the spine still sits reasonably square despite being rather loose.

The jacket looks great too.  Nice and clean with very little wear except two problems.  A closed tear at the top…

…and that unsightly open tear at the bottom.  You can see as I mentioned that otherwise the dust jacket looks great.  Once we look inside it gets interesting.

There is some debate as to how a bookplate actually affects a books value.  Some think it doesn’t matter and others consider it a blight.  Personally, I love them, as long as they are cool, like the one in this book.  I have one other with a bookplate – The Mixed Men, and I think the plate on that book is even better than this one.  You’ll see it sometime.  They add real character to the books and are a point of attachment from whence those lost days of classic science fiction, when people actually maintained their own libraries are tangibly brought forth.   I often talk about the provenance of a book and here is a fine example of what I’m talking about. I can feel the ’50s when I see things like this.  Great stuff.

Another thing I always mention especially in connection with GP’s later books is the browning of the pages.  There is very significant browning here.  You can see the extent of it when you contrast the pages against the front paste-down.

Wow.  I think this is the worst in my library thus far.  One cool thing that Gnome Press did in their books was to individualize them.  What I mean by that is applying nice touches such as the half-moons I illustrated in Agent of Vega, and in this book we have a nice array of stars helping to introduce each of the four parts.

Nice.  Some people think it looks tacky, and I guess from a contemporary perspective it does, but it’s classic ’50s.  I love it.

The rear of the jacket looks fine, it’s nice white aspect helps to hide the serious issues underneath.

This is the longest Close Up I’ve done thus far – a reflection of the poor condition of the book.  So, let’s finish on a high note and have a closer look at that book plate.

Beautiful.  But just who are Dorothy Jane and Marvin A. Eaton??

Year: 1958
Paid: $50
Art: Wallace Wood
Quantity: 5000 copies (1084 remaindered)
Binding: Sky blue cloth with dark blue lettering to spine.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated on copyright page.
Comments: The jacket is excellent despite those couple of issues but it hides some damage in the loose spine and obvious mishandling. Still, for a title such as this for $50, a nice acquisition.
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Review: Starman’s Quest

Posted in 1958, 2:Orbital, Review with tags , , on February 25, 2009 by Aaron

Robert Silverberg

I don’t have much time for Robert Silverberg’s books.  Admittedly I haven’t read many but what I have read has never really engaged me.  He seems to be a writer with many ideas, but with some kind of inability to bring them to deserving life on the page.  Two cases in point: ‘Kingdoms of the Wall’ and ‘Sailing to Byzantium’.  In Kingdoms the protagonist scales a huge mountain and passes through different cultures and habitats on the way.  In Sailing to Byzantium, there is a sort of time-traveling party that jaunts from one civilization to the next having a good time.  Both cool concepts (the latter being based on a poem by William Butler Yeats), but neither left me satisfied.  Actually I really enjoyed Kingdoms when I read it about 15 years ago, but I wasn’t a ‘mature’ reader back then.  Or maybe I’m a snob now.  Dunno…

This book, Starman’s Quest, doesn’t satisfy me either, though there are a couple of interesting ideas presented.  The story is simple enough, I’ll outline it here and there’s not much danger of spoiling it for you as the outcome is telegraphed quite early on.

17 year old Spacer boy has twin brother who jumps ship on Earth.
Boy does an interstellar return run,  brother is now 9 years older.
Boy locates brother and shanghais him back on board.
Boy stays on Earth for 9 years and develops hyperspacial drive.
Boy employs the new technology to catch up to the ship.
Boy is now the same age as his twin, family is reunited and all are happy.

The story is not complicated, a very simple plot.  There are some shortcomings in the structure which I’ll talk about later, but there are a couple of cool ideas in the book.

The first interesting idea is the community of ‘Spacers’ – the crews of these interstellar ships.  Due to the supposed ‘Fitzgerald Contraction‘, Spacers live much longer relative to their planet-bound brethren.  A few weeks in space at near lightspeed can equal many years of ‘normal’ time.  Because of this Spacers have trouble adjusting to life between runs – the substantial societal and technological changes in their absence are difficult to cope with.  Existing in their own societies on board ship and in special enclaves at spaceports, they rarely interact with the general population.  Indeed, they also suffer a certain amount of discrimination.  Our ‘boy’, Alan, is only 17 subjective years old but several hundred objective years old…  or is it the other way ’round…  Anyway, this idea doesn’t require a leap of imagination or creativity to bring about, but the two different societies co-existing is a cool concept for a story.

The other interesting idea is the structure of Earth’s society at the time of the action.  Well, the structure of ‘York City’ at least.  There is a caste system in place operating in a kind of socialist police state.  It’s insinuated at various points in the book that the authorities brook no nonsense.  Citizens also have to wear, or are otherwise implanted with an ID chip.  People are born into ‘guilds’ that determine their method of income and place of residence.  For those who have no guild there is a ‘free’ guild.  One of the more respectable forms of income for members of this guild is gambling.  It isn’t portrayed as oppressive as it sounds, citizens have a decent amount of freedom and the tracking technology seems to be available to all if you want to locate somebody.

The structure and pacing of the book is not quite right.  The meat of the story should have been, I feel, in the development of the Cavour Drive.  We are introduced to interstellar propulsion early.  We learn the distinction between and the history of the slower-than-light ‘Lexman Drive’, and the theoretical and as yet undeveloped hyperspacial ‘Cavour Drive’.  We learn that Alan has a dream to develop the latter and open up the stars.  Yet the bulk of the book is dedicated to the location of his brother and his acquisition of the funds to facilitate development.  The actual development of the Cavour Drive is glossed over quite rapidly – only two chapters; a scant 8 pages were taken in locating the Cavour’s lost notes, the development and testing of the drive and the location and reunion of the family.

Something else that bugged me was the Rat character.  A small cutesy but very intelligent alien that could speak well.  It served as Alan’s conscience/advice dispenser.  Totally unnecessary I thought and I found it difficult to take seriously.  I can draw an unfavorable comparison to Heinlein here.  In many of his books he has a similar character – Willis in Red Planet and Lummox in The Star Beast to name two.  Alien characters that rarely verbalise but act as efficient sounding boards for the protagonists.  Admittedly, those two characters are crucial plot elements in those two books, but this makes the too-verbose Rat seem all the more superfluous.

Continuing the parallel with Heinlein, his 1956 book Time for the Stars has a similar theme in that a set of twins is separated by interstellar travel and suffer asynchronous aging.

I absolutely enjoy reading my Gnome Press books; I take great pleasure in the experience no matter the quality of the story.  I have to be a little harsh though and say that this book could should have been at least half again as long.  The final third of the book read like a slippery slope – it just kept gaining pace until it fell off the edge.  It began so well with those nice ideas looking for a suitable vehicle.  Pity the wheels fell off at the end.

Close Up: Starman’s Quest

Posted in 1958, Close Up with tags , , on February 24, 2009 by Aaron

closeupRobert Silverberg

Nice.  There’s not much really to say about this book.  The pictures speak for themselves.  The cover is beautiful and white, though perhaps a little yellowed on the spine.  No tearing or noticeable scuffing.  The attractive cover art looks good too – my wife admired it, so it must be…

Likewise the boards are great.  A little bruising on the spine extremities, but no problem.

A closer look at the spine extremities reveals that it really is in great condition.  Note the dust jacket is pristine here.  Super.

There are a couple of things I have questions about.  One is the trimming of the dust jacket.

You can se it’s trimmed mighty close to the text on the flaps.  This is evident in all four locations.  It’s clearly not where a library covering has been trimmed off the jacket (which is the first thing that came to mind)  as I have also seen this on another copy of this book.  I think it must be a mismatch between the dimensions of the dust jacket and the book itself – not all GP books are the same height; they do vary slightly.  So I think they printed the jackets thinking the books were going to be slightly taller and they required a bit of trimming to make them fit.

The other thing is the trimming of the block.

Aside from the typical Gnome Press browning, you can see some rough edges there.  Does anyone know what causes this??  I have seen this on many first edition books.  I am tempted to say in this case it is probably a dull guillotine blade that has torn the pages.  But in others it looks like they just didn’t trim the leaves that came from the edges of the printed block.

Year: 1958
Paid: $23
Art: Stan Mack
Quantity: 5000  (2000 remaindered).
Binding: Currey priority ‘A’ binding – Dark blue boards with yellow lettering to spine.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated on copyright page.
Comments: Great price for a book in excellent condition. Any illumination on the trimming of the flaps and block would be greatly appreciated.
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