Monday, November 7, 2011

A London Journey: The Paperback and Pulp Bookfair

   At ten in the morning on Sunday, the sixth of November, the usual crew of vatic doomsday predictors, Marxists, Muslims and proponents of phallocentrism (verily) were participating in a venerable tradition of free speech and open debate, hollering at their onlookers, disciples and gawkers, over on Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. A crisp autumn walk from there through the leaf-strewn paths of Hyde and Green parks, through the swaths of fat pigeons and spastic cyclists bolting along, one chances upon Buckingham Palace, where the Queen’s guards stand vigilant in their long grey winter coasts, tirelessly blending into the dull grey London autumn, where hordes of tourists, dressed for any and every weather imaginable, scatter about, for what purposes I know not. Slightly further south still lays Victoria station where John Worthing was found in a handbag. Emerging to the surface from this railway station, amidst the bustle and ferment of activity and movement, a select number scurry on to Vauxhall Bridge Road for a short distance, before they return underground, into the belly of the Park Plaza Hotel. This medley of persons is not uniform in age, sex or appearance, but each member conveys in their own unique manner, whether by their yesterday’s jeans, their untidy leather jacket, long hair or gait, that they are not likely to be guests of the fair Westminster establishment. Their purpose, unknown but to rare few, is The Paperback and Pulp Bookfair, the last of its kind in England, as the organiser of the event proudly announces to old and new faces as they lay down their cost of admission and enter inside.
   I discovered this book fair though a flyer sent out months ago in a book I ordered from the event’s organisers, Zardoz Books. These booksellers, out of Wiltshire, specialise in vintage and collectable pulps and paperbacks. The world is slightly larger and more interesting because of Zardoz Books and their catalogues are well worth a frequent visit. My wife and I were extremely tickled to be at this event, after the anticipations of months (though my own anticipation was more often and more vocally expressed). There, in a posh subterranean conference room in the Plaza, we finally found ourselves digging through box after box of old paperbacks—there was less pulp, I saw merely one lonely old copy of Weird Tales—in search of treasure. The plan was to avoid high-end items: for my wife will not be persuaded to trade swaths of lucre for musty old yellow yarns and I am a reader first and a collector second, and in any case, I prefer to make my expense purchases with extreme care and cautious decision, and do not incline to evaporate my funds for items rabidly seized from the dealers’ shelves. I was here especially to dig up a good set of speculative fiction to fill in the long hours of the winter holidays. My wife’s own pulp tastes fall into old horror and historical fiction. The selections offered at the fair were plentiful, well-selected and varied, and importantly, cheap: the average book was £1 and I did not purchase anything over £3. My wife, splurged slightly more for a mint Peter Tremayne novel, priced a decadent £5. O the shameless profligacy of it! The deals were plenty: the first seller I went to cut three pounds off my already excellent score. In addition to science fiction, fantasy and horror there were stacks of westerns, crime novels, movie tie-ins, and 1940s/50s erotica for those of different tastes than mine. Some comics lay hither and thither. Pans, Aces and Penguins filed en masse. The Avenger sat nonchalantly beside Doc Savage, Yoda, Conan the Cimmerian and Hopalong Cassidy. Stacks upon stacks spoke to the long-forgotten popularity of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sax Rohmer, Zane Grey and so many other snows of yesteryear. They brought to mind with snide temerity that quip of Latin poetry by Andrew Marvell:
          Nempe sic innumero succrescunt agmine libri,
              Sepia vix toto ut iam natet una mari.

          Such endless masses of books now abound,
              That scarcely one cuttlefish in the sea can be found.
I dare my own translation. One was not so put to task in finding treasure here as in culling the gold from the silver, out of those stately chests; in choosing what to take home and what to leave behind.  
   At first I stuck to my purpose, my greedy fingers plucking out 1960s and 1970s sci-fi novels by Avram Davidson, Fritz Leiber, Poul Anderson and other names I knew I could trust. I also first grabbed a couple by Abraham Merritt; ghost stories and supernatural horror being a decided part of my winter reading. The frenzy of competition and the steady depletion of the tables did not invite meticulous and deliberative selection. I should have soundly bludgeoned my adversaries on several occasions, but this was not in accord with my manner. For every book’s cover studied with care and with every blurb read, another golden treasure fell into the hands of rival collectors, each one smiling as they shoved and shovelled their spade-hands ahead, into the next bin.
   Once I had a tidy crop in my clutches, gathered against the world, my pace slackened and I grew indolent. I looked to round out what I had and decided upon a new route, with some unexpected forays into unknown territories. Since the value in pickings was not to be measured in monetary gain but in pleasures yielded in the winter evenings actually spent reading these books, finding the good but unexpected was in high order. For this, The Illustrated Roger Zelazny was a happy find; the £3 I paid for it (nevertheless a deal, it was marked for £4) is no more than it is worth, but the six Zelazny stories it contains, and Gray Morrow’s illustrations on every page, many in colour and including two dozen full-page illustrations, most in colour, make it a choice item.
   Because these books are for reading, finding a range and balance is of importance. Old anthologies are great for this, experience has taught me. A short story collection can offer perfect variety for a hectic Christmas, and there is something wonderful about sneaking in a lurid tale into a spare moment when one is gathered for the assorted familial, commercial, religious and bacchanalian festivities which form the week which lurks in the space between Christmas and the New Year. For this hiemal stretch, I picked Mike Ashley’s Weird Legacies, since its cover reminded me of the angels which adorn Christmas trees and its offered selection from the infamous magazine, Weird Tales, including some tales by the venerable masters, such as H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith along with some others by storytellers of lesser familiarity, including Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Edmond Hamilton and Francis Flagg. I paired this item with Who Knocks?, selected by August Derleth, who boldly mixed the macabre of Theodore Sturgeon and Ray Bradbury, with redolent ripe pickings from Weird Tales and golden oldies by Henry S. Whitehead and Lady Cynthia Asquith. All in all the makings of a pallid white Christmas were gathered here. 
   Always happy to be judging a book by its cover, the hippie-era redhead and goat-like alien on a blue cover, led me to Lloyd Biggle Jr.’s The World Menders, which I had never heard of before; purportedly about a world of  two races: the ‘artistic, superbly civilized race’ RASCZ and the slave-race OLZ. Another happy find was the second book of Robert Adam’s Horseclans series; a wise friend gave me the first book in the set a couple years ago and it took until now to find the second instalment. The series is set in a post-apocalyptic semi-medieval North America and lives up (judging by the opening book) to the highest standards of epic fantasy; a treasure of a genre, which even its most zealous enthusiasts must admit is inundated with utter rubbish. Hopefully I will find the third book of the eighteen book series in a shorter time than it took to track down this one.
   Having achieved my goal of gathering a bounty matched to my usual tastes, I decided to end the fair with a late harvest gathered from off the beaten path. After scanning over literally hundreds of books by the two Edgars, Wallace and Rice Burroughs, I decided to pick up one from each for something new (I had never read either), by this rare pair, who at least once upon a time, had captivated millions. Edgar Wallace deserves his due today for the original screenplay of King Kong and living on a diet entirely consisting of cigarettes and sugary tea—though he lived neither well nor long off it. I chose his The Yellow Snake for its horrendously politically-incorrect title and cover and its promise of cheap, but not unvalued, thrills. For Edgar Rice Burroughs, I decided against both Tarzan, and the Mars and Venus set, in favour of The Moon Maid, which boasted of ‘discovery and adventure in the unseen world of the Moon’. Unseen? The Moon? That is new, in the very least. Next, I found a decent 1950s copy of a Scarlett Pimpernel novel by Baroness Orczy. I haven’t tangled myself in the Pimpernel’s escapade for many years and delight in their return. Unexpected final additions to the lot then included a Penguin’s worth of James Thurber stories, which are always appreciated, and a couple of Pans, comprising of Tom Sharpe’s Porterhouse Blue, a Cambridge novel for my final year at that bastion of British learning (hat tip to my wife for finding this one), and J.B. Priestley’s The Doomsday Men, which was in lost years, highly regarded for heralding the atomic age.
   But all good things draw to a close; it is now Monday, and this day of dull drudgery renews all work and worry. These books will be sitting in a neat pile until Christmas break, when other duties release their sway, and winter feasts on the harvest of autumn’s guilty pleasures. The book fair is over, but the weirdness, terror, nostalgia and high adventure are in store for another day. Still, Christmas is all about looking forward, as we wait.

My finds, in no particular order, altogether for under £36:
Avram Davidson, Rogue Dragon (New York: Ace, 1965)
Samuel R. Delaney, Out of the Dead City (London: Sphere Books, 1968)
Poul Anderson, Mirkheim (London: Sphere Books, 1978)
Fritz Leiber, The Green Millennium (New York: Ace, 1953)
A. Merritt, Seven Footprints to Satan (London: Orbit, 1974)
A. Merritt, Dwellers in the Mirage (London: Orbit, 1974)
Fletcher Pratt, Alien Planet (New York: Ace, 1962)
Leigh Brackett, The Sword of Rhiannon (New York: Ace, 1953)
Roger Zelazny, The Dream Master (New York: Ace, 1966)
Roger Zelazny, The Illustrated Roger Zelazny (New York: Ace, 1979)
Mike Ashley (ed.), Weird Legacies (London: Star, 1977)
August Derleth (ed.), Who Knocks? (London: Panther, 1964)
Gordon Dickson, The Book of Gordon Dickson (New York: Daw Books, 1973)
Robert E. Howard, Son of the White Wolf (London: Orbit, 1977)
Lloyd Biggle, Jr., The World Menders (New York: Daw Books, 1971)
Frederick Marryat, The Phantom Ship (London: Four Square Gothic Mystery, 1966)
Robert Adams, Swords of the Horseclans (Los Angeles: Pinnacle Books, 1977)
Edgar Wallace, The Yellow Snake (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1955)
Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Moon Maid (New York, Ace, [1962])
Baroness Orczy, A Spy of Napoleon (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1953)
James Thurber, The Beast in Me and Other Animals (London: Penguin, 1961)
Tom Sharpe, Porterhouse Blue (London: Pan Books, 1976)
J.B. Priestly, The Doomsday Men (London: Pan Books, 1949)

*Addendum, my wife’s finds:
H. Rider Haggard, She (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1961)
Bram Stoker, The Jewel of Seven Stars (London: Arrow Books, 1975)
Peter Tremayne, Dracula Unborn (London: Corgi Books, 1977)
Robert Bloch, Psycho (London: Corgi Books, 1982)
Marion Zimmer Bradley, Hawkmistress (London: Arrow Books, 1985)
Frank B. Gilbreth & Ernestine Gilbreth Cary, Cheaper by the Dozen (London: Pan Books, 1968)
Ernst Mason, Tiberius (London: Panther, 1961)
Harrison Ainsworth, Old St. Paul’s (London: Pan Books, 1968)
Jack Loudan, The Hell Rakes (London: Tandem Books, 1967)