Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Aaron's Book of The Week :: Lost Horizon by James Hilton

Lost HorizonThis week's Book of the Week is Lost Horizon by James Hilton. Written in 1933 and successfully adapted to the screen by Frank Capra in 1937, Lost Horizon tells of the discovery of a lost civilization high in the Himalayas. Such lost world stories were popular in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, but the subgenre dried up as the notion of finding a civilization hidden from the modern world became absurdly implausible.

This edition of Lost Horizon is Pocket Book #1. Sadly, my copy is not the very scarce first printing, which you can tell from Gertrude the Kangaroo's presence in the lower right corner of the cover. Pocket created the Gertrude logo in May of 1939, shortly after the first copies of Lost Horizon were printed, and she continues to adorn Pocket Books to this day, although she's lost weight over the years.

Lost Horizon is often described as the first paperback book ever published. This is flatly untrue (I believe I warned you that book collectors are incorrigible liars), since for many years previously some publishers had released paper-bound copies, i.e. copies with the covers missing, of certain of their hardcover books. What collectors really mean is that Lost Horizon was the first pocket-sized, mass-market paperback, but then this is also flatly untrue, since it was preceded by a 1938 Pocket Books unnumbered edition of The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, distributed in New York as a test market. Collectors will pay thousands of dollars for that edition of The Good Earth, calling it the real first paperback. But this is in turn flatly untrue, because Penguin Books had already started selling mass-market paperbacks in England in 1935. Next week's Book of the Week will be a Penguin paperback published before either Lost Horizon or The Good Earth came out. (I regret that I don't have a copy to show you of the unnumbered edition of The Good Earth, the single most valuable paperback book in existence according to my trusty Holroyd's Paperback Prices, but I did recently acquire one of the Top 5 most valuable paperbacks, which you will see in a future BOTW installment.)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Immortality, Inc. by Robert Sheckley

Immortality, Inc.We continue our tribute to Robert Sheckley (1928-2005) with Immortality, Inc., Sheckley's first novel. Originally published in an abridged version called Immortality Delivered in 1958, this 1959 edition is the first printing, paperback original of the complete version. Immortality, Inc. was a nominee for the Hugo Award for best science fiction or fantasy novel of 1958. It has a wonderfully bizarre opening line, the kind that is possible only in science fiction and fantasy: "Afterwards, Thomas Blaine thought about the manner of his dying and wished it had been more interesting."

Immortality, Inc. was made into a 1992 film called Freejack, starring Emilio Estevez. The film was not good and entirely lacked Sheckley's trademark humor. Several of Sheckley's novels have been made into movies, and while I have not seen the others, I have it on good authority that only one is worth watching: The Tenth Victim (1965), starring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress. In general, film producers and directors do not understand written science fiction and routinely butcher the SF stories they attempt to adapt to the screen. (The same used to be true of fantasy, but that is starting to change, thanks largely to Peter Jackson). This is why fans of written SF are forever trying to distance themselves from Hollywood SF - although most of us actually like to watch the movies, even the bad ones.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Untouched by Human Hands by Robert Sheckley

Untouched by Human HandsThe Book of the Week is Untouched by Human Hands by noted science fiction author Robert Sheckley, who passed away on Friday.

Robert Sheckley was an important contributor to the science fiction field in the 1950s and 60s, and continued to write sporadically and to interact with fans until his death. He was one of the earliest science fiction and fantasy writers to make humor an important part of nearly all his work, and he is said to have been a major influence on Douglas Adams, creator of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Sheckley was named Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2001. Untouched by Human Hands, a collection of short stories, was Sheckley's first book. My copy is the first printing, paperback original (cover art by Jack Coggins), published in 1954.

Incidentally, "paperback original" (or "PBO") means that there was no prior hardcover edition. From the 1950s through the 70s, most science fiction books went straight to paperback without any hardcover edition (and many still do to this day), which is why any science fiction collector must necessarily also be a collector of vintage paperbacks - speaking of which, we will still get to Pocket Book #1 eventually.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Book Review Teaser :: A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

A Clash of KingsContinuing with the A Song of Ice and Fire posts, Aaron has reviewed A Clash of Kings, book two in the series, by George R.R. Martin on Fantastic Reviews. The cover shown is the orginal hardcover. I like this cover much better than the "people-less" cover art on the new editions. (For an example of the new cover art concept, see A Feast for Crows).

From Aaron's review:
"A Clash of Kings is the second volume of George R. R. Martin's highly successful series, A Song of Ice and Fire. A Song of Ice and Fire is a lengthy retelling, with added fantastic elements, of the War of the Roses. So I am told, anyway; I am no British historian...."

"A Clash of Kings picks up soon after A Game of Thrones left off. The threats to the Seven Kingdoms from the supernatural Others in the North and from dragons and nomadic Dothraki warriors across the sea have yet to materialize. As for the internal struggles for control of the Seven Kingdoms, however, the battle has been joined."

To read the entire review (warning: there are spoilers):
A Clash of Kings

Monday, December 05, 2005

Aaron's Book of the Week :: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Game of ThronesThe Book of the Week is a signed copy of the first edition of A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. A Game of Thrones is the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, the fourth volume of which - last week's Book of the Week, A Feast for Crows - hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list a week ago.

One of the peculiarities of collecting books is that authors' most successful books are often not the ones in which collectors are interested. Because A Feast for Crows is selling so well, it will never be a rare book, for there are too many copies of it in circulation. However, the success of the later books in the Song of Ice and Fire series has caused the original edition of A Game of Thrones, which did not sell very well when released, to become a highly prized collector's item, only nine years after it was published.

Incidentally, the cover depicts the throne of the imaginary kingdom various characters vie to control in A Song of Ice and Fire. Called the "Iron Throne," it was constructed by an earlier ruler out of the swords of his vanquished enemies. This makes it a rather hazardous and uncomfortable place to sit, a nice visual representation of the Shakespeare line, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Amy's bookshelf :: A Game of Thrones in Russian

A Game of Thrones - RussianThis is one of the oddest books in my collection. Игра престолов, A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, translated into Russian. It's a small sized hardcover with 766 pages. It was published in 2001. I think the cover is interesting. I don't read Russian, although I do know a few Russian words.

I also own Russian copies of A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords. They are a matching set of books. Why I bid for these on eBay, I'm not quite sure. I have no plans to learn Russian. But I think they are interesting conversation pieces that look good on a bookshelf.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Aaron's Book of the Week :: A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

A Feast for CrowsThe Book of the Week is A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin. (Pocket #1 was scheduled to be the Book of the Week, but we're postponing that in favor of a different sort of #1.) This is the first American edition, signed and inscribed to me when Martin was at the Tattered Cover last week.

George R.R. Martin has paid his dues since he began publishing in 1971. In the 1970s and early 1980s he wrote a variety of different types of fiction, including science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mainstream, all of which was beautifully written and won him critical acclaim and many awards, but none of which met with much commercial success. To make ends meet, he went to Hollywood in the mid-80s and spent ten years writing for television - if any of you remember a strange show called Beauty and the Beast, Martin was responsible for making that series much better than it had any right to be.

In 1996 he returned to writing novels with an epic fantasy series called A Song of Ice and Fire. Once again, however, his work was slow to find the right audience. The first volume of the series, A Game of Thrones (next week's Book of the Week), did not sell well and Martin did a disheartening signing tour, including one stop where he addressed a group of only four people, all of whom got up and left when he started to talk. When he toured for the second book in the series, he took a detour to meet with my science fiction & fantasy book group. Only a half-dozen of us were able to be there, since it was in the middle of a workday, yet Martin was very pleasant and friendly to those of us who made it.

After a slow start, each book in the Song of Ice and Fire series has been progressively more successful, due largely to word-of-mouth among Martin's devoted fans. A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in the series, was just released on November 8. Yesterday, it went to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Congratulations to George R.R. Martin on his long-overdue success.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Selected Stories of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan PoeThe Book of the Week is the Armed Services Edition of Selected Stories of Edgar Allan Poe, published in 1945.

Like Mary Shelley last week, Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was a great influence on two different genres (three, if you count poetry as a separate genre). He is best remembered today for his horrific imagery, which inspired later horror writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, but he is also credited with inventing the modern detective story, beginning with "The Murders in the Rue Morgue."

The Armed Services Edition run of paperback books was printed between 1943 and 1947, exclusively for distribution to American servicemen overseas. A huge number of these books were printed and so many are still in existence, but they are difficult to find in good condition - American G.I.s were notoriously rough on their books, being understandably preoccupied with other concerns such as not getting their asses shot off. Copies in fine condition of the most desirable ASE titles, including The Adventures of Superman and Tarzan of the Apes, thus command very high prices.

The peculiar sideways format of ASE books resulted from the fact that the American publishers who agreed to make these books at well below their usual profit margins as part of the war effort (at the request of Army Librarian Ray Trautman - any relation?), used presses designed for magazines. These presses required wide paper, which then had to be cut into squat little rectangles in order to be small enough to fit in a G.I.'s pocket. Why didn't they have paperback presses, you ask? Because mass-market paperbacks were still a very new concept in the early 1940's - indeed, the success of the ASE program helped the idea to catch on in the late 40's and early 50's. Next week's Book of the Week will be the very first mass-market paperback, Pocket Book #1.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Book Review Teaser :: A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

A Storm of SwordsGeorge R. R. Martin's series A Song of Ice and Fire is setting the standard for epic fantasy. Earlier this month the fourth book, A Feast for Crows, was published in hardcover. The previous books are A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords. If you like fantasy and you are not yet acquainted with this series of novels, as Aaron said in his review of A Storm of Swords on Fantastic Reviews, "get your tail to the book store."

From Aaron Hughes' review of A Storm of Swords:
"This is the third volume of Martin's highly successful series, A Song of Ice and Fire. The series is epic fiction on a grand scale. A Storm of Swords jumps between no fewer than ten different viewpoint characters, twelve if you count the prologue and epilogue...."

"We knew from A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings that Martin has succeeded in creating a fascinating world peopled with believable characters entangled in a powerful epic story. This is no small feat, but it is another matter again to draw together the disparate elements of such an epic tale into a satisfying resolution. I am delighted to report that A Storm of Swords strongly evidences that Martin is up to that challenge."

To read the entire review (warning: there are spoilers):
A Storm of Swords

Monday, November 14, 2005

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

FrankensteinThe Book of the Week is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

In 1816, young Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was vacationing in Switzerland with her husband-to-be, celebrated poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. (They weren't able to marry officially until later that year, when Shelley's first wife committed suicide, but there's no need to discuss all those sordid details.) They were passing an evening reading ghost stories out loud with a group of friends including another very famous poet, Lord Byron (who had recently impregnated Mary's stepsister and had an incestuous affair with his own half-sister, but we're just not going to go into all that), when Byron challenged the group to write their own suspense stories. Who could possibly have imagined that the contest would be won hands down by Shelley's teenaged bride, who would write the two renowned authors under the table and create arguably the most influential novel in the history of two different genres? Frankenstein reshaped the horror genre, and is widely regarded as the first modern science fiction novel. The novel was revolutionary in that it attributed all the strange events in the story to scientific principles rather than supernatural forces, and its theme of how technological advances may reshape human destiny - as reflected in the book's subtitle The Modern Prometheus - to this day remains the central motif of science fiction.

The true first edition of Frankenstein, published anonymously in 1818, is unobtainable for we collectors of modest means. My copy is the first paperback edition, printed by now-defunct publisher Lion Books in 1953. Note that even though this book was published well after the famous 1931 film version of Frankenstein, the cover ignores Boris Karloff's rendition of the monster and instead depicts him as the anguished person described in the book. (Compare the scan of the 1967 Bantam edition.)

Incidentally, book collectors as a group are notorious liars. Collectors call the Lion Books Frankenstein the first paperback edition, but this is blatantly false. It was preceded seven years earlier by a printing in the peculiarly formatted Armed Services Edition series of paperbacks. Next week's Book of the Week will be an Armed Services Edition book.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Book Review Teaser :: Lady of Mazes by Karl Schroeder

Lady of MazesKarl Schroeder is a new science fiction writer from Canada. Our reviewer Aaron was impressed with the futuristic ideas in his third book, Lady of Mazes. If you're looking for new and challenging hard SF, you might want to try this book and author.

From Aaron Hughes' review of Lady of Mazes:
"Lady of Mazes is set far in the future of our solar system. It takes place in the same future universe as Schroeder's earlier novel Ventus, but the two books are completely independent. In this future, "inscape" technology allows individuals to perceive the world around them however suits them - sort of like virtual reality that travels around with you. In most of the solar system, inscape will even manipulate the world for your benefit. So, for example, if you're feeling blue, inscape will arrange for you to bump into an old friend likely to cheer you up (the real person, mind you, not a make-believe version). But is this too much of a good thing? If reality is continually rearranged to suit you, what are you missing?"

To read the entire review:
Lady of Mazes

Monday, November 07, 2005

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Time MachineAs many of you know, foremost among my peculiar hobbies is collecting rare books and magazines, with emphasis on science fiction and fantasy. Every week or so I bring in a different item from my collection for display in my office....

This week's Book of the Week is one of the prizes of my collection, my first edition of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. This is the first British edition, one of only 1500 copies printed and bound in cloth in 1895. (Like many books of the era, this one has a catalog of the publisher's other titles at the back. Believe it or not, which catalog is attached is one of the factors that can affect a book's value.) I am very pleased to have this book back in my possession, after it spent the summer as the centerpiece of the Aurora History Museum's "Science Fiction Century" Exhibit.

The Time Machine was H.G. Wells's first novel and probably his most important. It is arguably one of the two founding works that led to the modern genre of science fiction, along with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. But do not expect to see a first edition of Frankenstein in my office any time soon - the last one to appear in the marketplace was a signed copy that sold at private auction for a price reported to have exceeded one million dollars. For next week's Book of the Week, we will make do with the first paperback edition of Frankenstein.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Book Review Teaser :: Foop! by Chris Genoa

FoopChris Genoa's first novel Foop! is, according to our reviewer Aaron, an impressive first novel. If you like bizarre SF humor, you might want to look for this book from a small publisher.

From Aaron Hughes' review of Foop!:
"Foop! is Chris Genoa's first novel and it comes from a small publisher, Eraserhead Press. Nevertheless, Genoa is going to be a major success, and I'll tell you how I know: People like to laugh, and Chris Genoa is fucking hilarious.

Foop! is a bizarre romp through time, chock-full of laugh-out-loud moments, effectively blending black comedy with slapstick. Like all the best humorists, Genoa delivers comedy in ways that resonate on a deeper level than mere punch lines.

The book begins with our first-person protagonist Joe (no last name) leading a time traveling tour group to watch the assassination of Abraham Lincoln...."

To read the entire review:

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Book Review Teaser :: Blue Wizard Is About to Die by Seth "Fingers" Flynn Barkan

Blue Wizard Is About to DieAnd here's something completely different, a review of a book of poems about electronic games titled Blue Wizard Is About to Die. As this book is not science fiction, fantasy, or horror, we categorize this as a "related interest review".

From Aaron Hughes' review of Blue Wizard Is About to Die:
"Blue Wizard Is About to Die is a book of poetry about electronic games, from the classic arcade video games like Pac Man to home systems such as the Play Station 2. We thought this might be of interest to Fantastic Reviews readers, since many science fiction and fantasy readers are also electronic gamers. Then again, we don't wish to neglect those readers who are not. Accordingly, we are providing two slightly different versions of the review of Blue Wizard Is About to Die, one for readers who play (or used to play) video games and one for readers who do not."

To read the review(s):
Blue Wizard Is About to Die

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Book Review Teaser :: Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham

Specimen DaysSpecimen Days is a science fiction book shelved in fiction because it's written by a well-known author. Perhaps it will get some literary types, who don't read genre fiction, to unknowingly read some science fiction.

From Aaron Hughes' review of Specimen Days:
"Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days continues the recent trend of respected mainstream writers dabbling in science fiction, even if their works are never published as science fiction."

"Specimen Days is comprised of three novellas, each set in a different time period, each involving characters enthralled by the poetry of Walt Whitman. (The title Specimen Days is taken from Whitman's autobiography.) This structure very closely parallels Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize winning novel The combines narratives in different time periods, extending from the past, through the present, into the future. The last of the three novellas in Specimen Days is set well in the future...By my definition, this makes Specimen Days as a whole science fiction, since the science fiction elements are crucial to the story..."

To read the entire review:
Specimen Days

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Book Review Teaser :: Chainfire by Terry Goodkind

ChainfireChainfire is the latest novel from fantasy author Terry Goodkind. Our reviewer, Gary Romero, enjoyed it and is looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

From Gary Romero's review of Chainfire:
Chainfire is the latest entry in Terry Goodkind's best selling fantasy series, "The Sword of Truth." With this amazing entry, he begins a trilogy meant to complete the undeniably popular series...."

"Terry Goodkind has an incredible talent for creating characters that feel real and are easy to connect with, and places them in an enjoyable, page turning story. His character, Richard, has common sense and his views on life and leadership make him a person we all hope to parallel. Those who are already familiar with the "Sword of Truth" series will be ecstatic to find that all (with one important exception: more on that later) of the characters from past books - Zed, Nicci, Carla and even some of the other Mord-Sith - are all back in this more than worthy sequel."

To read the entire review:

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Book Review Teaser :: Shelby and the Shifting Rings by A.M. Veillon

Shelby and the Shifting RingsShelby and the Shifting Rings is a young adult fantasy/mystery/adventure book with a spunky female protagonist. Fantastic Reviews book reviewer Jackie Sachen Turner found it entertaining and wholesome, try it you might like it.

From Jackie Sachen Turner's review of Shelby and the Shifting Rings:
"Shelby and the Shifting Rings: Book One -- Defender of Time Series is A. M. Veillon's first novel, which won third place in the SouthWest Writers 2004 Contest under the "Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels" category. This entertaining, time-travel fantasy follows 12-year-old orphaned Shelby Shodworth, heroine extraordinaire, as she discovers more about her family, friends, and reality, while solving a family mystery."

To read the entire review:
Shelby and the Shifting Rings

Friday, September 16, 2005

Book Review Teaser :: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go is a book by a name author, which is can be found in book stores shelved in mainstream fiction, that's actually science fiction. Fantastic Reviews book reviewer Aaron Hughes recommends it. He think's it's worth a look.

From Aaron Hughes' review of Never Let Me Go:
"Never Let Me Go by Japanese-born Englishman Kazuo Ishiguro, award-winning author of The Remains of the Day, is a very good science fiction novel....Never Let Me Go is entirely premised upon the existence of a technology that does not yet exist in reality. That makes it science fiction, in the same way The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells is science fiction. What's more, Never Let Me Go is set in an alternate universe in which history has taken a different course, which also makes it science fiction, just as The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (in which the Allies lost World War II) is science fiction."

To read the entire review:
Never Let Me Go

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Book Review Teaser :: Eragon by Christopher Paolini

EragonOn Fantastic Reviews, the review for Eragon is the most visited review. This fantasy book by Christopher Paolini, first of a trilogy, is very popular with young-adults. In 2006 Eragon will be major movie release.

From Aaron Hughes' review of Eragon:
"A recent Paul Collins article in The Believer called "Read the Book That You Are Reading" urged reviewers to judge books only by their texts, disregarding any prior knowledge they have of the authors. I generally agree with this sentiment, but I would be doing Christopher Paolini no favors by following Collins' advice here. Now nineteen, Christopher Paolini wrote most of Eragon when he was only fifteen and sixteen, and the highest praise I can give the novel is to say that it is a remarkable effort for a sixteen-year-old."

To read the entire review: