The Snows of Yesteryear

SFBC Notes and Queries -
send them in!

When old sf fans of a certain age huddle around the bar they tend to reminisce. A peculiar tendency, really, to be so enthusiastic about looking back when in discussion about sf, notionally a forward-looking (if not always progressive..) literature, but there you go. There's so much more comfort in the certainties of the past than the unreliable future. Must be an age thing.

Well anyway, here's some exciting - is that the right word? - well, perhaps informative and maybe evocative observations on SFBC past by a variety of members of the Wegenheim mailing list -

Catherine Pickersgill - SF Book Club? Never heard of it, never seen one, what are you on about?

Peter Weston - I agree that the British SFBC was an absolute rock for SF readers in the Bad Old Days, and that they published some incredibly good stuff (with only occasional bogeys like Agnew S.Bahnson's 'The Stars Are Too High'). But being rational for a moment, they were fairly poor editions, you've  probably already got the titles you really want in better-quality bindings, and I don't quite see the point in obsessively tracking-down those last few SFBC volumes, just because you can complete the run.  Or am I failing to enter into the spirit of all this?

Peter Weston - In spite of my weg posting a few minutes ago, the SFBC was VERY important to my life, as I tried to make clear in an early chapter of 'Stars'.  It was through it that I discovered Heinlein, Alfred Bester, Van Vogt, and Beryl Henley, if that's not an odd combination.  I also won a fountain pen in their story-competition, around issue number 55 or so.

I'd certainly love to see some of those newsletters again, which I remember as being long thin strips of type.  We owe a great debt to those unknowns who conceived and persevered with the idea of a specialist club for SF nuts!

Peter Weston - Well, this morning's post brought me a copy of the September 1960 issue of the SFBC Newsletter, courtesy of Rog Peyton, and I'm saved the trouble of scanning it (for you, Andy) since Gregory has kindly put it up on his site.

And I have to say in my own defence that upon reading my little piece for the first time in over forty years I think Mr Pickersgill was a trifle unkind. Considering the circumstances in which it was written, I don't think it's too bad. Bear in mind that the story-opening didn't give you much to work with (spaceman gets out of ship on garden planet), the expected length was only 500 words, and I was sixteen.  So I went for a 'gimmick' ending - I think I'd been reading a lot of 'Nightmares and Geezenstacks' at the time - but the editors clearly thought this was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

 So do I.

Greg Pickersgill - To my immense delight I have actually found the small pack of SCIENCE FICTION NEWS I knew I still had  and all sorts of interesting things have appeared. (I now regret even more than ever discarding a much larger partial set way back in 1971 in a misguided rationalising exercise before moving to London.)

Like who was Ildiko Hayes, editor of SCIENCE FICTION NEWS for some of the later issues, and author of what sounds like an odd thing - The Scourge of Fiction,published in Critique: Exposing Consensus Reality 1988, Vol. 28 - according to my websearch.

And who is this guy Peter R Weston who won second prize in a competition for writing the ending to some story outline? His sub-fanzine garbage is in SFN 46 of September 1960. He got a 30/- Conway fountain-pen for it. Bloody hell, the rest of the submissions must have been dreadful. Wonder if he still has the pen?

And who was Mrs G Wicks of Hornchurch, Essex, who won two guineas who an ending which is described as " well-written and logical" by the SFN editor. Hmm.

There's a hell of a lot of interesting stuff in these little leaflets. I have no idea of how many were ever issued - the latest issue in my little bundle is number 93 of January 1965, announcing the month's choice as Pohl and Kornbluth's GLADIATOR AT LAW, which is SFBC issue 94. I believe that the original numbered series of SFBC issues goes up to issue 188 of December 1972 (and continues in various forms thereafter too), so assuming SFN was monthly at least part of the time there were...oh I dunno, more than 93 anyway.

John Boston - I too have fond memories of the UK SFBC, since back in the day before the day it allowed me to get hardcover copies of books I liked that were only in paperback in the US (Budrys' THE UNEXPECTED DIMENSION comes to mind) or that I couldn't find or afford in US hardcover (A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ).  I also admired them (and other British hardcovers of that penurious period) for being compactly well made.  

Jim Linwood - (re SFBC 2, THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES) - This as been nagging away at the back of my mind for a couple of days. THE SILVER LOCUSTS was published by Rupert Hart-Davis in 1951 so the SFBC edition was the first h/b appearance under the US title, possibly using the plates from a US Edition.

Dave Wood -The Club Edition is unique in having a new story, The Wilderness which was not in the original book. Of course the question now is, which story was dropped for The Wilderness?

Rog Peyton - The Hart-Davis SILVER LOCUSTS was a retitle of MARTIAN CHRONICLES but different in that it dropped "Usher II" and replaced it with "The Fire Balloons". THE SFBC Edition also dropped "Usher II" and replaced it with "The Fire Balloons" and "The Wilderness" and to the best of my knowledge is the ONLY edition with those contents.

The Corgi paperback (small size, green spine) contents followed that of the Hart-Davis edition right up until Corgi pbks changed size to the standard pbk size (mid to late 60s?). They kept THE SILVER LOCUSTS title but used the US plates making the 'silver' editions of Bradbury (with the Pennington covers) the first UK appearance of the original US contents. This continued through to the point where HarperCollins took over the rights in the 90s and went B format using the title THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. But they went back to the Hart-Davis contents!!! Did you follow all that? Confusing huh?

Jim Linwood - (re SFBC 26 - Dick's WORLD OF CHANCE)

Both versions are substantially different and there was a piece in Paul Williams' PKDS newsletter dealing with this.

My (really Marion's) copy of the Rich and Cowan UK edition of 1956 concludes:

"The highest goal of man is to grow and advance, to find new things, to expand, to push aside routine and repitition, to break out of mindless monotony, and thrust forward."

The Ace PB concludes with:

"It isn't brute instinct that keeps us restless and dissatisfied. I'll tell you what it is: it's the highest goal of man - the need to grow and advance...to find new things...to expand. To spread out, reach areas, experiences, comprehend and live in an evolving fashion. To push aside routine and repitition, to break out of mindless monotony and thrust forward. To keep moving on..."

The SFBC is identical to the Rich and Cowan version. The US version is the superior one.

Greg Pickersgill - I really do like both the early Swirly format and the midperiod Tree-rings - both very evocative of the design notes of their period, and also big landmarks in my own life and sf reading. I'd certainly like to give credit to the people responsible.

I do have one bit of info - many of the Tree-rings jackets are credited as '"Wrapper design by John Griffiths." Whether that means he simply came up with the basic concept or actually did each one, I dunno. Who is John Griffiths then eh?

The original Swirly, though - well, that's just a one-time spark of brilliance. Other than picking two colours for each one there's not much effort required.

Maybe there was a credit on the dj of Number 1, EARTH ABIDES. I don't have a dj for my copy.

Possibly done by some arts-college student on the equivalent of work-experience, just like those repainted covers Dave 'discovered' on the BRE Astoundings.

There's a lot more we need to know really - like for example what were the printruns? Believe it or not Catherine and I were arguing about that right before going to sleep last night. How fannish is that, eh?

Greg Pickersgill - Oh I dunno. It was all a dream really. There were were at Winsel recycling dump, and we've dropped off all the REALLY rubbish rubbish into the apropriate pits, and I'm walking across the tarmac with a couple of things that might actually be of use to someone to put into a local charity's walk-in container.

As I slide them inside I notice there's a couple of boxes of books and can't resist hopping in for a nose. Imagine, if you can, and I am sure you will, my utter astonishment when I see that amongs some typically useless junk there are a couple of dozen first and second series (you know, the ones with the bi-colour swirly and the white ones with the tree-rings) SFBC editions, all of them in damn-near perfect condition - better than the copies I've got myself as matter of fact. AND a copy of the Dobson edition of THE ANALOG ANTHOLOGY which by incredible coincidence Catherine and I were discussing just the other day, tangential to a conversation about Christopher Anvil.

Anyway, there I am just about freaking out totally. (Well, I exaggerate for effect of course - it isn't like the fabulous fannish moment of finding for example a complete set of JAZZ MONTHLY in the local charity shop at a fiver the lot, but it is the closest I have been for along time now.) I can't decide whether I am looking for any of the eight or nine titles I have missing from my set, or whether I am looking for the possibly rare and really valuable ones (like THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES) or whether I am just going to lift the lot, or what.

Or whether I am going to Do The Right Thing and walk away. After all Frame is a genuine local charity (local aid for local people if I might almost coin a phrase) not some faceless transnational, and it would just be Bad and anyway think how embarrassing if challenged by one of the attendants all of whom know me at least by sight (wood-scavenging, don't you know).

Anyway, it's hell. To tell the truth if I hadn't had to walk twentyfive metres back to the car carrying two boxes of books I obviously wasn't holding when I went INTO the container I'd probably have been a Bad Person. As it was I just felt really sick about the whole thing all day. And that was even before I started thinking about some poor sod who had probably kept those books for well over thirty years and now they've been dumped - like so many of our collections - like so much useless pulpwood.

Now, a sensible person would probably wait a few days until the stuff gets cycled into the charity shop; I have another plan. Maybe. You didn't read this here, right?