Written by Fred Patten, and published on the LASFS Rex Rotary, October 19, 1966. Intended for Apa L, 105th Distribution, LASFS Meeting no. 1523, October 20, 1966. Address: 1825 Greenfield Avenue, Los Angeles, California, 90025. Phone: GRanite 3-6321.
|New York in 1967!||Los Angeles - Tokyo in 1968!||Salamander Press #210.|
I just finished reading a very bad s-f novel published by Ace Books -- Saga of Lost Earths, by Emil Petaja, to be specific -- and I'm wondering just what's happened to Ace? Its books were never literary prizewinners, but you used to at least be sure of getting an hour or so of good reading enjoyment out of just about any title under its imprint. Now, though, more and more of its output -- primarily the "original novels", I note -- is absolutely horrible, not really worth finishing (except that I like to finish any s-f book I start, so that I know what I'm talking about when I praise or pan it).
Now, I know that Ace is desperate for new material, and has lowered its publishing standards just to get enough material to fill out its schedule of a half-dozen or so s-f titles a month -- two sides of a Double-Book, a couple of original titles (one of which is usually a Science-Fiction Classic reprinted from public domain sources), and a couple of reprints of its old titles (usually by Andre Norton). I also realize that Ace is having problems because of its reputation of being one of the cheapest houses in the field, paying as little as it can get away with; its action in the Tolkien War alone caused at least Poul Anderson to announce that he would boycott Ace as a publisher of his works in the future. But -- I'm wondering to what extent Ace's having fallen on hard times is a result of its own exhaustive publishing schedule and questionable practices in dealing with its authors, and to what extent it reflects a general slacking off in the quality of today's paperback s-f field?
Publishing schedules have gotten tight all over. Ballantine, which used to bring out most of the best books in the field, has slowed down its output considerably, and stepped up the percentage of reprints of its old titles at the same time. (Its new titles are usually worth waiting for, though.) Pyramid, which used to issue a couple of s-f books a month, has dried up completely except for the Doc Smith titles. (I've seen the notice that Pyramid is supposed to resume its s-f program soon, and I'm looking forward to seeing what sort of s-f it'll be putting out -- good new stuff, bad new stuff, or reprints?) Signet is reprinting Robert A. Heinlein, and that's about it. Avon is sticking to safe quality titles, such as Blish's Cities In Flight series and Asimov's Foundation series; I'll admit it's a pleasure to be able to get these in a decent, uniform, attractive paperback format, but where's the experimentation with new titles that Avon used to do, that brought us such gems as Piper's Little Fuzzy? Dell's output is so slight today as to be hardly noticeable, and Crest/Gold Medal has disappeared altogether. Berkeley -- well, Berkeley is doing one of the best jobs in today's market; up to as high a standard as the field has ever had, I will admit. Bantam is just beginning to dabble in s-f again, after a long hiatus. Lancer has a very spotty record; its output is small, ranging from reprints of excellent "lost classics" to mediocre new material. Paperback Library and Belmont are newcomers in the field, hopefully still struggling upward to some standards of quality; Belmont is doing a fair job of mixing the old lower-quality pulps for decent reprint material (I wish it'd do something about its lousy level of design/packaging, though), and Paperback Library is bringing out readable new anthologies, not-so-readable new novels -- including disguised reprints of minor British titles -- and reprints of American books that may or may not be abridged. Airmont is and always will be crud (assuming you can find its books in the first place), and Tower doesn't have an s-f schedule worth mentioning yet. And Ace, still the giant in Quantity, is now just about the pigmy as to quality; for every Roger Zelazny there are three Lin Carters.
The debit, then, among the producers of paperback s-f, is Ace just about gone (as far as readability goes, with some exceptions), Pyramid gone, Signet gone, Bantam gone, Avon gone, and Ballantine noticeably struggling, with Berkeley standing alone at its former levels of quality and quantity. The newcomers to the field, our new assets, include principally Belmont and Paperback Library, and, to an erratic extent, Lancer; certainly not enough to balance the books.
What's the reason for this cutback? Has a lack of stories forced the publishers to suspend their schedules? Has a decision by the publishers, based on poor sales or other reasons, to stop pushing s-f caused the authors to stop writing good new novels? I know that the various paperback houses have been striking out into new fields in the past couple of years: Ballantine with Tarzan and Tolkien, and various others with their paperback Gothic Novels series, or revivals of the old pulp heroes (especially Bantam's Doc Savage reprint series). Have these crowded out their houses' s-f lines -- and if so, is it a temporary or permanent state of affairs -- or are these new subject fields replacing s-f lines that would've been dropped anyway? Is the s-f market shrinking? (I still buy almost everything that comes out.) Are the publishers paying less and driving the authors elsewhere? Is Hollywood suddenly stealing all of the good authors? What? Why?
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We have some more statistics on the current Tolkien boom. From PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY, October 3, p. 70-71:
"THE NUMBER OF TOLKIEN FANS in this country is growing by leaps and bounds, and Ballantine is going back to press again to meet demands for Tolkien's books. On October 14, 150,000 copies will be printed of each of the five Tolkien books that Ballantine has published. This will be the 10th printing for "The Hobbit", bringing the in-print figure to 642,000. In the case of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "The Fellowship of the Ring" will be in a ninth printing, bringing total copies in print to 579,000, and "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King" will each go into a seventh printing, bringing their total copies in print to 550,000. "The Tolkien Reader," which has not yet been out one month, is going into its fourth printing, and total copies in print will be 350,000."
Whither the Ace edition, I wonder?
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There will be a raffle soon to touch off the TPFF; the Trans-Pacific Fan Fund. As most of you know by now, the L.A. in '68 Committee is working to make the 1968 World Science-Fiction Convention a trans-oceanic WorldCon in more than just name alone. While the major convention will be held here in Los Angeles (assuming we win the bid, of course), the Tokyo fans will be doing more than just giving us their moral support. A convention is scheduled to be held in Tokyo at the same time, and we're working to achieve as much communication as possible. Among our definitely lined-up projects are the tape-recording of at least one speech written in advance, so that it can be played at the Tokyo con at the same time it's being delivered here. (There will either be a mimeographed transcript in Japanese of the speech to be handed out to the audience, or we'll have a taped translation of the speech to be broadcast in Japanese; we haven't worked out this detail yet.) At any rate, we are going to bring a Japanese fan to Los Angeles for our half of the WorldCon, and this is what the TPPF is for.
Since the members of Japanese fandom are relatively little-known to American fans, we probably won't be able to operate the race along the established Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund lines. The TAFF race is essentially a popularity contest, with the American and British fans voting for the fan they'd most like to meet, or the fan they think will best represent their country, depending on which way TAFF happens to be going at the time. As most of us haven't yet had much contact with Japanese fandom, though, the prospect of trying to select a candidate from a list of nominees, all of whom are unknown to the voter, isn't likely to stir up too much enthusiasm. What we'll probably do is collect the money, and let Japanese fandom decide among itself who it wants to send to Los Angeles. This may be Takumi Shibano, Koichiro Noda, Shoku Uhara, or somebody else, but we'll leave it up to them.
Anyhow, the Trans-Pacific Fan Fund will be kicked off by a raffle to be held at the LASFS' Thanksgiving Meeting. Tickets will be 25¢ each, and can be brought in advance, in case you're not planning on attending that Meeting. The prize will be a piece of original prozine artwork: Paul Orban's original illustration to Murray Leinster's "First Contact", which appeared on pg. 21 of the May, 1945 issue of ASTOUNDING SCIENCE-FICTION. Vintage stuff like this isn't easy to come by; make sure you get your ticket to the raffle.
-- BEING COMMENTS ON THE PREVIOUS DISTRIBUTION
As to the matter of whether or not SHAGGY should be revived at this time, I continue to vote against it. My reasons are pretty well summed up in Chuck Crayne's and Al Lewis' comments: SHAGGY would be good to have back again if it were the proper kind of SHAGGY, but, with all respects to Flieg, I don't think he has what it takes yet to do a proper job on SHAGGY. Whether or not SHAGGY and Apa L can co-exist -- and I agree with Bĵo, here; technically there's no reason they can't -- I don't think that SHAGGY has enough support in the club right now, at this moment, to make its revival a success. Maybe it will, in another two or three months; but why can't we wait this long to see how opinion materializes, instead of having to get out an issue right away? Also, as various people have pointed out, SHAGGY is the club fanzine, and its disposal is up to the Executive Committee and the membership as a whole; one member or a small clique in the club cannot unilaterally seize editorship without the club's official consent. So such pronouncements as "I've decided to publish an issue of SHAGGY in December, whether you like it or not", do not settle well. Get more practice with HIPPOCAMP first, Flieg -- or, contrariwise, I'll support your reviving the old SHANGRI-LA, which is a slightly different animal than SHANGRI L'AFFAIRES. But not our SHAGGY. Not now. Not yet.
Chuck Crayne -- Your single-card indexing system has already been developed; write to Documentation Incorporated, in Washington, D.C., for information on its Uniterm system of indexing. But this is still not a practical solution as to how fans are to index their s-f collections; how many fans can afford an electronic computer? Which is about as inexpensive a machine as you can get that's still mechanically complex enough to do the kind of work you want.
Sharjah has carried the stamp & coin racket about as far as they can be carried. First they put out a fancy commemorative coin, to rook all the coin collectors; then they issue a special set of postage stamps to commemorate the issuing of the coin, to rook all the stamp collectors. And stamps printed on aluminum foil, like bumper stickers?