some sf-ish bits

I was browsing elsewhere and remembered long ago that I used to post occasional lists of interesting links, sometimes commented. I thought I’d try that again.

Saw a mention of Cory Doctorow recently and realised I hadn’t seen a post of his on Boing Boing in a while. So it turns out he’s doing other stuff.

Greg Bear is a hard SF author I’ve read lots of but haven’t read anything in ages. Happily he’s still writing and posts occasional news. Interestingly, I don’t think he’s gone down the special edition path, though I wouldn’t mind having his stuff in nicer editions than my old paperbacks.

Bear posted a link to “10 Exciting Cyberpunk Books Filled with High Tech and Low Life” on Portalist as it included a link to his “Slant“. An interesting list that reminded me that I should read The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi one of these days [hmmm SubPress did a nice edition of it too – though long sold out]. That review notes that Girl shared the Hugo with The City and the City by China Mieville and I do have the SubPress edition of that. That was the 2010 Hugo awards and they were held down south in Melbourne as AussieCon.

I’ve never been to a book convention and sometimes feel like this was something I should have done, particularly when the main annual SF con made it to Australia. I’ve rarely met authors of books I’ve liked, though Terry Pratchett was an exception. I recall in primary school, attending author and illustrator dinners which were fun and I was able to get books signed. For some reason I never went down the convention path. I love library conventions as a librarian but I seem to have shied from fan based conventions. Perhaps shyness was a factor, or an avoidance of fannish things.

I’ve been joining book groups on facebook of late, mostly independent publisher based. I suspect I’m as much interested in discussion of different editions and availability as I am in discussion of the works. I have always struggled to discuss books I like, perhaps there’s a level of detail required, that I find difficult to retain, so I end up listening rather than participating. I vaguely recall trying a book club once long ago, they met at UTS in the ugly tower. I have friends in book groups of long standing and I envy their longevity of engagement. Perhaps a sense of structured engagement combined with the flexibility of good company.

they’re all lined up

After around 9 years, I have finally managed to complete the 10 volume set of Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson in matching numbers. It was around 9-10 years ago that Subterranean Press started publishing limited editions and releasing them one a year. Book 10, The Crippled God, arrived on my doorstep on Tuesday morning.

I regard the Malazan series as some of my favourite writing and like to make the comparison that Lord of the Rings is what you get when an English professor creates worlds, while Malazan is what you get from two archaeologists, one of whom is also an anthropologist. It is a challenging read and I recall several attempts to get into Book 1 as they are densely written, with lots of characters and perspectives to keep track of, not to mention a massive timeline of history.

I commented on instagram that book 5 is set in the time before book 4 while book 6 follows on from book 4. The series requires full immersion and it is hard to keep it all in the head. Minor characters and vignettes in early books may actually be portentous of later events and play a larger part further along. I’ve read a couple of interesting reviews recently including Tor and Medium, each grappling with the task of summarising Malazan effectively.

Collecting was a bit of fun in the early days as I was determined to read them all first before deciding to get special editions; I don’t do that anymore as I’ve had too many close calls. The first two Malazan had sold out by the time I decided I wanted the Subterranean editions so I ended up paying around $400 for book 2, then had a bit of luck and paid US$650 for book 1 of the same number, while the remaining were initially US$150 early on, but as costs rose in the following years, the final book was US$175.

Over the years I have been fortunate to acquire just about every other special edition of related works including all the releases from PS Publishing and Ian Esslemont’s works. I think the only title I’m sort of missing is the PS deluxe slipcase edition (100 copies) of Erikson’s The Lees of Laughter’s End, though I do have the limited release which was one of 500. I’d meant to follow it up years ago but didn’t get round to it and may have left it too late.

There have been books published in addition to the special editions including recent continuations. I am not aware of any special editions of those and have been picking up the first editions. It took me a while (along with access to Global Books in Print via my local library) to work out that the first edition (and first UK edition) was via Bantam Books and they were then released in the US through Tor. Increasingly I think the Bantam and Tor editions are being released almost simultaneously. While working that out I have ended up with 2-3 editions of each of the later works :-) That I think is getting a bit excessive. I have also managed to get the Bantam and Tor releases of the first book, Gardens of the Moon. Interestingly the first editions haven’t significantly increased in value like the Subterranean releases.

i’ll have that one please

Book collecting is an addictive space. I think I continue to tread carefully but occasionally disappear down rabbit holes. Depending on my mood I have, on occasion, bought unknown books in special editions, because I like reading special editions. This is a dangerous, and expensive, path. But it reflects somewhat the challenges of the special editions market.

I recall reading years ago, some advice about buying art as investments. The advice was simply “buy what you like.” The thinking being that if it gains in value then it’s worthwhile but if it doesn’t gain in value, then you still have something you like.

Some new books

With books, I am an addict for owning and collecting. For me, the investment value is irrelevant; I like to read pretty books and I like to have pretty books on my shelves. At times the investment value can be bewildering. I have stock standard, albeit limited/special editions, that I’ve paid $50 or so for, which are now worth close to $1,000. This was not intentional and the vagaries of the market scare me a little.

Science fiction and fantasy are my faves and it’s a curious market. Lots of folk on good incomes working in computer stuff who also like scifi and fantasy tends to be a large group. I’ve noticed increasingly over the last decade or so, a rise in interest in special books and figurines and so forth. The internet of course has vastly improved findability: if it’s not online, it cannot be purchased.

A print run of 500, nicely bound, editions of a book used to be sufficient. These days, such runs tend to sell out quickly. The audience are no longer local but global. COVID-19 lockdowns seems to have accelerated that process.

This means that if a nice edition of a book is announced and I’ve not read it, nor the author, I may well buy that special edition. Because if I do get round to reading it, often as an ebook, and love it, then the special edition will likely have sold out. I have been caught out a few times and it’s not always possible to recover, or at least attain the title somewhat affordably. Thus, on occasion, I have been buying books on spec, in nice editions, just in case. This does not sit right with me. Yet they are nice and I have no regrets. So far.

a lack of progress

My reading has not been fab in recent months. I like working from home but I don’t think the restriction of lockdown is working well for me. It’s sort of curious that I can work from home easily when I know I can go anywhere at the drop of a hat – “have passport, will travel” was my catchphrase. Working from home when I can’t go anywhere far is a little challenging. I feel my world closing down to a few routines. Stepping outside those routines is increasingly uncomfortable.

I live in a city where new covid cases are in single figures per day. Realistically, life should be approaching normal.

My reading has dropped off completely. I struggle to read anything of substance. I have several books underway, some even predate lockdown. I lie in bed at night and play wordish games on my phone but struggle to pick up a book, print or digital. I switch off the light and go straight into a sound sleep.

I sleep well. Snore well. Snore too well for the rest of the house I suspect.

I seem to work well though my work day is changing. Up in time to start work at 10, an hour’s commute replaced by an extra, luxurious hour in bed. I’ve always had lunch closer to 2 than 1…but now it’s usually post 2. Of late, I’m finding around 4-5, my attention slows and disappears. I spend an hour or so on the playstation and my focus returns and I do a chunk more work. Playing a game seems to invigorate mentally in a way that watching a movie or tv does not.

My entire job can be done from home. I have been here before, when I was working vendor-side. It’s different now. I am amused by the idea, once again, of being able to do my job from wherever I am, independent of the building I work for. I work for the State. I support the State.

When I re-read that bit about the “State”, I need to say I am referring to the State of New South Wales, and not a state of mind and not the “state” as some sort of governmental control. I work for the benefit of NSW and to support the information needs of NSW folk. It’s not a creepy thing. No echoes of 1984…yet.

As is not uncommon, I have digressed somewhat from the post I started to write. This was supposed to be simply, a list of books I have on the go, so here is that list:

  • Use of Weapons by Ian M Banks – this is a Subterranean Press edition that arrived prior to lockdown and was underway, yet I haven’t quite got back to it
  • Embassytown by China Miéville – another Subterranean Press edition underway pre lockdown
  • Walking Home by Simon Armitage – a poet describes his experiences walking the Pennine Way going in the opposite direction to everybody else. I want to walk the Pennine Way one day. This book is fab and I am halfway through, my partner loaned me the physical book though I later bought the e version so I could turn off the bedside light. I’m about halfway through.
  • The Sandman Book II by Neil Gaiman – I am re-reading my beautiful deluxe compendium editions of the Sandman chronicles.
  • Masters of Science Fiction: Kate Wilhelm – a double volume collection from Centipede Press of short stories by Kate Wilhelm. I am buying all in this series.
  • The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu – this is the second book in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past series. The ideas are good, character development not so fab, Chinese perspective is outside my usual experience. Also a Subterranean Press edition.
  • R is for Rocket/S is for Science by Ray Bradbury – a master of the short story. Possibly one of my favourite short story writers, though that I think may require another post.

Too many on the boil and another arrived today that I really want to read again. A book I read long ago. That will be a post for another day.

shelf arrangement

My partner once heard of someone with 35,000 books who needed to see their books in order to feel complete. I had my books in boxes for a decade and my mind felt their absence. A gap in who I am. I would occasionally rummage through the boxes in search of one, or in search of any. I have a need to see my books or at least know my books are seeable/accessible to feel at ease.

Living room

Every time I move house, I pack and unpack, play with arrangement, change. In my flat, the main cases, and others were in the large, expansive open plan living/lounge/dining space. In my previous place they were in a large bed/games/spare space. In our new place the main cases are in the lounge.

The main cases are a set of 4 built by my grandfather as a wedding present to my parents. I suspect that means they’re probably around 60 years old now. Deep shelves on the bottom to support shallower shelves on top. Dad used to have them side by side but I’ve been fond of interlocking.

The bookcases my grandfather built fit certain sizes of books. I have many books that are a little too tall or a lot too tall. So I have other shelves in other rooms. I occasionally wonder if I can add glass doors to the shelves to provide a little protection. Open shelves attract dust and I am not good at dusting, nor getting round to dusting.

The placement of books can be fluid at times. Some of my books are even in alphabetical order, though some are arranged by publisher or prettiness. Some things remain consistent, the bottom 3 shelves work well for the bulk of my science fiction including the entirety of the Pratchett oeuvre. I continue to be happy with the kids books on the left. I’ve weeded some in the last move but Trixie and Biggles remain. Travel is working off to the right, just at the edge of possible…as is the idea of travel.

Main bookcase in new home

This time I’ve got a chunk of fancy books front and centre. Previously the fancy were in the bedroom, some still are. In part due to shelf height though the Capt America omnibuses seem to have made themselves at home in the bedroom across multiple houses. The fancy books are pretty and I don’t like them hidden away. They should be seen and touched and read. Have wine and coffee spilt on them, crumbs caught in them…chocolate smears.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The main cases exist for access but also as a space for me to stand and stare and ponder. I seem to achieve a certain state of ease in the presence of my books, they free my mind a little. That’s as distinct from the mental simulation of reading them. Their presence matters. A foundation of sorts. Late at night, I sometimes stand in front of my books, pausing with one or two, othertimes the mass. Occasionally thinking on the books, occasionally thinking on other thoughts entirely.

a list of folios

The last post was supposed to be a list of books I wanted from The Folio Society. Instead it was a late night digression down other pathways of my mind. Here is a list of interesting things that I wouldn’t mind having. Of course, it would also be useful if I could win powerball or some such lottery. So far I have been unsuccessful in that direction. Someone suggested that my chances would improve if I actually bought a ticket but I fail to see the logic of that assertion.

Anyways, here is a list of books from The Folio Society that I wouldn’t mind getting:

  • Dune by Frank Herbert – my preference is for the Centipede Press edition but I am tempted by this one too
  • The Dam Busters by Paul Brickhill – I’ve seen an old movie which was based on this and it’d be nice to read the book itself
  • The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill – I have read this and own it in paperback. I also love the movie that was based on it. It’s on sale at the moment so extra tempting.
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – I have a nice edition pre-ordered already so this is now less tempting but…
  • Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle – the book on which the movies were based, I think I read it long ago and may own a dodgy secondhand paperback
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin – possibly my favourite work by Le Guin. To my shame I am yet to read The Left Hand of Darkness but do have an Easton Press edition
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman – I have read and own a first edition of this but the Folio Edition is more colourful than their usual fare
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Ship/A Scanner Darkly by Philip k Dick – colourful and interesting approach to joining two books together. I have an ageing paperback of Androids that cries out for a nice edition. I loved it as a teenager and I loved it as a movie, Bladerunner. I keep hoping that someone produces a really fancy edition one day, Subterranean Press has published all his short stories
  • Small Gods by Pterry* Pratchett – possibly one of my favourite books by Pratchett. I own almost all his works in first edition hardcovers, with covers by the inimitable Josh Kirby. They are perfect. I am a little curious as to what folio has done with it and they have done Mort as well, possibly a couple of others. *the spelling of “Pterry” I vaguely recall as an old humour in alt.fan.pratchett
  • I Am Legend by Richard Matheson – I haven’t read the book and it’s been adapted to movies a few times and I remember watching The Omega Man in my teens. Will Smith starred in a later version I also loved.
  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn – dear Kuhn and his paradigmatic shifts in telling the story of the progression of science. I read it, studied it, own it in paperback. It is a key work in the historiography of science. I don’t really agree with his philosophical thrust and lean more toward a Feyerabendian approach.
  • On the Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin – a pivotal work that I have never read in its entirety. It would be fab to do so with a nice edition

That seems a good spot to stop. Again unexpected as it was only supposed to be a list of books but ended up being something more. A list of books and the reasons for wanting the books and the value I place on them. It feeds a little into that imaginary list of things I collect and broadens its reach. Ultimately the books I buy represent some sense of things that have piqued my interest. Not necessarily representative of me as that is perhaps a broader topic, or I’d like to hope that I am more than my books.

a rumination on folio books

In my last post, I started to think about books I want nicer editions of and the sorts of things I want to collect…though as is usual for me…alas…I got distracted by the items and my thinking on bigger things was rather shallow. This post too is also shallow, and continues on by listing a bunch of interesting things from The Folio Society that I’d like to own. I oscillate between bad librarian and good librarian. I fail to borrow books from libraries yet at the same time I see value in cultivating collections that are of interest.

My work as a librarian is also associated with purchasing and acquiring collections. Luckily the work I do professionally does not intersect with the collecting I do personally. I have made it known at work that I do collect books and the areas in which I collect. At work, it is about ensuring that acquired material meets the information seeking needs of residents of NSW and aligns with the Library’s Collection Development Policy. However there is often a difference between what the Library collects and the sorts of questions that folk seek to explore. That describes a little, the tension between the Library as a collector of a history, and the Library as a reference service. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes not.

Hmmm I have digressed and perhaps this post is a little less shallow than is my wont. This was supposed to be a simple post, listing books I wanted to buy from The Folio Society. There are memories here too. What I like about folio society books is that they are usually nice printed and bound, with slipcase…I don’t recall whether they had a ribbon or not. They tend to be a little utilitarian, lacking colour and life in their physicality…I s’pose leaving that to the dreams and visions that the text inspires. They do look good on a shelf and I occasionally wonder what my books would look like if I ever attempted to arrange by publisher. Book arrangement…hmmm there’s a blog idea for another day.

On memories. My dad, late in life I think, took on a subscription to the Folio Society which required him to purchase 4 releases each year, usually at a discounted rate. He ended up with a bunch of nice books, many of which I have retained, and here and there, ensured that his friends ended up with a few too. They were too nice to box up and send to the Salvos. They needed to be assigned a home of folk that knew and loved dad.

Oddly, I never got round to taking out a membership myself, or buying them new. I have bought a bunch here and there, secondhand but in good nick. As special editions go, they’re not too expensive for the basic ones; at minimum, they are a well bound hardcover with a good printing aesthetic. They have regular sales where you can pick up nice books for reasonable prices, there is even a sale at the moment.

This post was supposed to be a simple post listing interesting titles from Folio that I might want. This post is no longer that post and adjustments have been made. Perhaps the next post will be that simple list….

future pretty books

I was pondering my post the other day about refraining from buying a pretty book (1984 by George Orwell) and that sense of things that would fit that list in my head. The list does not actually exist and if it did would be a in a state of constant flux, each book I come across, assessed and re-assessed. Some seem instant “must-haves”, others not.

I recently bought the Subterranean Press edition of Use of Weapons by Iain M Banks. While I like it and Banks generally, I don’t think I actually want to collect them in special editions. So I’ll stop at one. Honest :-) 1984 from Suntup Editions was very nice but I don’t want a special edition of it though I came close to ordering it.

The Martian Chronicles - in slipcase

I have ordered Suntap’s Artist edition of Fahrenheit 451 as it is Ray Bradbury and I think is a key work of the 20th century. More importantly it feels like it would fit my imaginary list. I already have a few nice editions of Bradbury’s work:

I usually prefer limited over lettered, in part because lettered are too expensive and also sell out really quickly. I am happy to have nice books and they don’t necessarily have to be the best or most expensive. Like 1984, there’s a couple of other classics I am umming and aahing over:

Both of these are classic texts done up in pretty ways. Jekyll and Hyde is somewhat affordable while Dracula not so much. Both editions look interesting through I am unsure about the “glow-in-the-dark” features of the latter. I have some liking for vampire novels but can’t quite commit to these either. Not yet. I alas missed out on Centipede’s release of The Delicate Dependency and am occasionally tempted to track it down on secondhand markets.

Dune. Frank Herbert. Mmmmm…I have an Easton Press edition of this that was felt nice to read as well. I am keen for a nicer edition and ideally, keen for a nice set of all 6. Folio Society has produced a nice slipcased edition which I’m tempted by and I read a rumour somewhere that they may be able to publish the all the Dune novels. Centipede Press also have a nice edition of Dune in the works though it will be significantly more expensive. However I love Centipede’s releases the most and will aim for it.

Ender’s Game. Orson Scott Card. Centipede Press released a gorgeous edition of the first book which I was able to acquire. According to their site, Speaker for the Dead, the next book in the series is forthcoming, hopefully I’ll get it and the third book further in the future.

I think a part of my head would love a set of special editions for Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series though that could be rather eccy as there’s a lot of books in the series. I would also be keen on a set of Asimov’s Foundation novels though alas I vacillated too long on the folio release and missed out. There is an Easton Press edition but it looks a little chunky.

the value of possessions

For eventually, we come to hold our dearest possessions more closely than we hold our friends. We carry them from place to place, often at considerable expense and inconvenience; we dust and polish their surfaces and reprimand children for playing too roughly in their vicinity – all the while, allowing memories to invest them with greater and greater importance. 

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles [reviews: NYT, SMH, Canberra Times]

I came across this book last year and once started, consumed it eagerly. It had a light, deft touch playing with ideas, feeling at times a sort of philosophy-lite though that sells it short. It’s not for everyone but it resonated with me not so much for context but the interplay of ideas. It’s been but a year and I feel like I need to revisit it already.

On the next re-read, I want to keep track of more quotes. I liked the one above in that sense of the emotional value that can be rooted in objects. Though all who know me would agree that concepts of dusting and polishing don’t exist in my world.

I commented recently on things that reminded me of my parents and I sometimes find it odd the things I have and the recollections they evoke. Moving stuff gets harder each time, particularly the books. They have weight and arrangement yet are a visible part of who I am, my past, my history. Titles from different parts of my life: SF, history, childhood, philosophy, travel.

sometimes pretty is not enough

I had a moment, but moments ago. A book. A pretty book. A fancy book. With slipcase. An interesting book. A book I have read. A book I respect. A book that would not be out of place on my shelves. A temptation. A nice version exists.

I. Must. Have. It.

Must I?

Why?

Its existence is not a sufficient reason for ownership. It’s not a book that I have thought of wanting in a nice edition. It’s not a book that I have hunted down. It’s not a book I desire in a pretty format. Oddly perhaps.

A newsletter from a publisher and suddenly I am racing for the credit card. It’s added to my shopping cart. But wait, do I actually want it…is there a thought process involved?

I like my special books and I have some very pretty ones. I could even argue that this one sort of fits my personal collection development policy. If I had written such. There are clear areas in which I collect and yet I don’t want everything. Some things. Not all things.

If I had a list of things…some would be specific books, some specific authors. Sometimes I know what is on that list. Sometimes I do not. But that idea of a list is important. Does this title fit? Does this title sort of sit on the imaginary list in my head?

This time it did not.

I did not buy.