Books, Books, Books!

My big book haul from Balticon

Ah, books, books! Can’t get enough of ‘em. Running out of room for them, of course, but I’ve never let that stop me before.

One of the appealing aspects of Balticon (and there were many) was the large number and variety of new and used books dealers in the dealers’ room. I picked up some real finds. Looks like I’ve got my reading all lined up for the long, hot summer.

My most unusual and rare find was Far Future Calling, a collection of short fiction by Olaf Stapledon, edited by Sam Moskowitz, featuring a seventy page biography of the writer written by Moskowitz. I hadn’t even known this volume existed. I’m a sucker for any Moskowitz-written nonfiction about science fiction or fantasy, and this volume will make a handsome companion to another book I picked up earlier this year in San Francisco, a collection of Stapledon’s non-fiction and less well-known fiction put out by Syracuse University Press.

I also found a pair of older paperbacks by Theodore Sturgeon, a late-1950s paperback of his short stories put out in an unusually compact format, Aliens 4 (notice how petite it is next to the standard-size mass market paperbacks flanking it), as well as his notable vampire novel, Some of Your Blood, which I’ve been looking forward to reading for years now. Interestingly, the cover of this late-1960s edition advertises the book as Sturgeon’s first “straight crime novel.” Yet I’ve always seen it described as vampire fiction. Perhaps it is about a non-supernatural vampire, like the protagonist of one of George Romero’s early horror films, Martin (1976)?

I was very pleased to find a beautifully designed first edition paperback of Avram Davidson’s initial collection of stories, Or All the Seas With Oysters. Davidson’s short fiction has always been held in high regard, but thus far I’ve only sampled it in small doses. So I’m looking forward to delving into this collection of his early work. I’m also looking forward to diving into a huge collection of Alan Moore’s Supreme stories, Supreme: The Story of the Year. I’ve been perusing that book in stores for a long time now, but have never gone ahead and bought it because of its high price (for a trade paperback). But I finally found a very reasonably priced used copy, so now it is mine, all mine. I have no attachment for the character of Supreme or for Supreme’s world, but what Moore has done with this series of stories is very similar to what he did with Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? — i.e., present a loving, nuanced, affectionate, and very funny tribute to the Superman stories of the Silver Age. Great stuff! The “Silver Age Suprema” stories (which are actually Silver Age Supergirl stories) are worth the price of admission all by themselves. I found a copy of Barry N. Malzberg’s final science fiction novel, The Remaking of Sigmund Freud and bought it even though I had a duplicate at home; but I couldn’t pass up a Malzberg book for a buck, and I can always give my second copy away as a gift (or offer it as a prize for a lucky reader of this website, once I come up with a suitable contest).

Philip Jose Farmer's two "pornos" from the late 1960s

The last book I purchased at Balticon was Philip Jose Farmer’s Traitor to the Living, his third and final novel featuring protagonist Herald Childe, a private eye who sticks his nose into matters cosmic and otherworldly. Traitor to the Living was a departure from the first two books in the series in that it was not sexually explicit. The first two, Image of the Beast and Blown, were written for Essex House, a short-lived, Los Angeles-based publisher of “literary erotica” (or high-toned smut). Apparently, neither of these two novels (nor others from authors such as Charles Bukowski) was well received by the “spank the monkey” readership, because Essex House did not stay in business for very long. Whatever their failings as pornography (thus far, I have gotten around to reading Image of the Beast, and while it is intermittently titillating, it would not be my first choice for nocturnal emissions stimuli), the books must be regarded as minor classics of the erotic horror genre, precursors to the entire sub-industry of paranormal romance. I bought my copies from Awesome Books, a British mail-order firm which maintains an inventory of over two million used books and which offers free shipping to the U.S. when at least two titles are purchased (a great deal, even if one’s order typically takes three weeks to arrive). I’ve recently become a regular customer of theirs, since it is great fun to be able to shop British editions which aren’t typically found in American used book shops, as well as books by British authors who aren’t well published in the States, such as Christopher Priest. The Image of the Beast and Blown, for example, despite being set in Los Angeles, are peppered with British usages in the editions I bought, such as “kerb” for “curb,” “funny house” for “fun house,” and “chutey chute” for… well, I’m not certain what Farmer’s original word choice would have been (chute slide, perhaps?).

All four of Moorcock's Cornelius novels

I’ve also bought a good bit of non-pornographic Philip Jose Farmer from Awesome Books, including The Book of Philip Jose Farmer, Venus on the Half-Shell (written under the pseudonym Kilgore Trout… subject of an upcoming review), and A Feast Unknown (which apparently features a semi-pornographic apocalyptic battle between Farmer’s versions of Tarzan and Doc Savage, something which I’m sure only makes whatever sense it does in the original prose, not any pale summation). Some of the books I’m most looking forward to delving into are the Cornelius Quartet novels of Michael Moorcock, who in the mid-1960s boldly strode through the doorways Philip Jose Farmer had begun flinging open a decade earlier. I recently watched Antonioni’s paean to Swinging London, Blow-Up, and it whetted my appetite for Moorcock’s science fictional version of the London of the late 1960s.

Watch this space for many reviews to come!

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