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.