Science fiction, fantasy, and horror fans are a unique lot. Always looking
for the next new thing, we are also extremely loyal to our old favorites. There's
a sense of history to these genres; a pride in knowing how we got to where we
Which is why it's so golly-damned frustrating when classics disappear into
the no-mans land of out-of-stock (OS), out-of-stock indefinitely (OSI, or as
we in the book business call it, SOL), or out-of-print (OP). Don't misunderstand
me; certain things should go. crap.
The problem is the crap hangs around too long, and the good stuff appears briefly
and then is rarely heard from again. I see it every day in my bookstore, and
I'm tired of it.
Some of these books are no longer available (or
only available from abroad or from specialty publishers), and that is criminal. So I'm
drawing a line in the sand, throwing down the literary gauntlet, as it were.
I'm calling out the publishing industry, lining them up against the wall, and
taking aim, while offering nothing more than the traditional final comfort of
the condemned: a blindfold and a last cigarette.
The revolution is coming, brothers
and sisters, and it's time to make sure you're on the side of the righteous.
I know for a fact that some publishing folks will be visiting this site, so
here it is: your chance to be heard, and maybe, just maybe, make a difference.
I'll get things started on a personal note. I've been reading books for a very
long time now, and I've noticed that I tend to read in cycles. I pick up a horror
novel, say, read and enjoy it, and before you know it, I'm reading almost nothing
but horror novels. Then one day a science fiction book catches my eye, so I
try that, and soon I'm gallivanting around the galaxy, horror novels merely
a dim and distant memory.
I had been reading other things for quite a few years,
but suddenly in grad school, of all places, I rediscovered a yen for science
fiction. What did it for me was a nice little used bookstore with a huge stash
of Del Rey's Best Of series. Does anyone besides me remember these? Mass
market paperbacks with suitably SF covers-not too pulpy, not too fancy-between
which were sandwiched the glorious, thrilling best short works of classic science
Some of the authors I had already heard of: Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch,
Philip K. Dick. Others were a mystery to me: Henry Kuttner, Murray Leinster,
Stanley G. Weinbaum. All had short introductions by folks like Asimov, Bradbury,
or Lester del Rey himself, and the stories were chosen to showcase the author
in question at his or her best. I picked up a couple by authors I knew, but
soon I came running back to pick up any books in the series I could find. What
These books formed a blueprint, a map charting the history of science fiction.
The authors and stories chosen ranged from the earliest days of the Golden Age
of the 30s up through the New Wave of the 60s and beyond with no debates over
the relative merits of eras or authors, but rather with the strongest stories
that could be found.
I read stories I never dreamed existed, stories like Stanley
Weinbaum's A Martian Odyssey. Written in 1934, this was the first story
to create aliens that were truly alien; i.e., not humans decked out in blue
fur. Amazingly, it was also the first story to point out that alien / different
did not necessarily mean evil.
Did I like every story/author? Of course not. But that's not the point.
point is that I picked up authors I'd never heard of and gave them a try, and
found some real gems like Leigh Brackett and C.L. Moore in the process. So what
am I complaining about? I'll tell you what I'm complaining about. I found these
books 10 years ago, and most of them were out of print then.
Not only were the
Best Of's out of print, but most of the other works by these same authors
was also unavailable. The situation has not improved. Sure, some folks like
Philip K. Dick have been revived and introduced to a whole new audience, but
what about the rest of them? Go to your favorite bookstore and take a look around
for anything by Cordwainer Smith or Edmund Hamilton or Frederic Brown.
find something, I guarantee you're in a specialty shop that carries used books,
because barring non-US or specialty press editions, there's just nothing out
there any more.
I mentioned the Vintage repackaging of Philip K. Dick's novels earlier. Vintage
has also done a nice job re-introducing the world to the brilliance of Alfred
Bester. How hard would it be to do something like that for this series of books?
Think about it: nice trade paperbacks with classy covers and all new introductions
by some of today's writers, say Connie Willis on C.L. Moore, or Terry Pratchett
on L. Sprague deCamp.
And don't let them give you that tired old "Today's
market isn't interested in those old fogies" crap. Of course today's market
isn't interested-most of today's market has never heard of these folks because
THERE'S NOTHING OF THEIRS OUT THERE TO READ! Give the market a chance, and
you just might find there IS a demand out there for this stuff.
gotten this thing started. Now it's YOUR turn. I know there's an old favorite
of yours consigned to the scrap heap of publishing, something you'd love to
tell all your friends about but can't because no one can find it. Here's your
Light up that mailbag, people. Tell me about your missing treasures. Heck,
follow our editorial guidelines (which can be seen here)
and the next "Blindfolds and Cigarettes" column might be yours. Don't
let the bastiges tell you what you want to read. You tell them, loud and clear.
Who knows? Somebody may be listening.