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.