Posts Tagged Ace Doubles

Help Me Judge A Book By Its Cover!

So far my Ace Doubles have come from a pair of collections, one donated to a library, one sold on eBay.  The library collection was time based, a near complete collection of the Sci-Fi doubles for about a 16 month release window.  The other collection feels more deliberate, someone just buying the novels he loved, then making sure to not only write his name in each one, but on each side of each one.  In this second collection I ended up with three titles from author Emil Petaja.  Petaja only wrote 15 novels, which means buying one man’s Doubles collection netted me 20% of them.

I can only make assumptions, but I think the previous owner of this collection was deliberately picking Petaja books, so that’s where I’m going to go next with my reading.  So I thought I’d open this up for general opinions.  Below are the covers, tell me where I should start!  I’m working through The Janus Affair right now, so I’ll probably be looking for my next read by Friday.

I have my guess which one y’all will choose, but I’m still curious.

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Cover Art: Ed Valigursky

I just finished The Sun Saboteurs, half of F-108, a story written by Damon “To Serve Man” Knight and previously published as The Earth Quarter.  This isn’t the review, I still have The Light of Lilith  to finish first, rather it’s looking at some rather interesting similarities with To The Tombaugh Station.  Not in the story, in the cover:

Fortunately I found a site that lists the artists behind many of the Ace Double covers, which confirmed what I thought.  These are both from the same artist, Ed Valigursky.  According to the site, he also drew both covers of the last double I read, Delusion World and Spacial Delivery.  In total, he drew the covers for at least 100 Ace Doubles and Singles between 1954 and 1965.  He wasn’t their only prolific artist, he’s just the one I’ve first noticed as odds would have it four of the first five books I read featured his cover art.  Ace wasn’t his only client, either.  He also did trading card series and numerous magazine covers during that period.

Since I picked my first batch out based on covers, should it surprise me that one man was involved with so many of them?

What really strikes me, though?  See those two covers above?  Both of those scenes happen in the book.  The cover for Spacial Delivery?  Represents a scene that happens throughout the book.  Delusion World wasn’t a specific scene, but did match the overall feel for the book.  As I’ve worked my way towards publication, I’ve often seen the warning that an author, especially a new author, should count themselves lucky if the cover artist even reads the blurb of the book.  Much less the whole thing.

That Sun Saboteurs cover?  The scene is from the last 10% of the story.  Even if Valigursky himself didn’t read the entire story, someone involved in the process of making the cover cared enough that it represented a scene in the book, and picked a powerful scene both emotionally and visually.  Someone picking up the book is presented with an intriguing cover, then can get to the scene itself and say “oh damn” when they realize what, exactly, is happening.

Valigursky’s career strikes me similar to many of the authors he drew for.  He just worked.  He kept producing and made his mark on a series of books that are collected as much for the work of the cover artists as for all those words sitting in between.  He worked commercially until the 1990s, and still painted on commission for years after.  He passed away in 2009 at the age of 82.

I suppose, in the end, this is my nostalgia for a different era in cover art, the hand painted covers that occasionally even cared about the contents of the book.  The covers that made collectables out of books sold for 35 or 40 cents, a pittance of a price point even adjusting for inflation.  I can’t say that modern cover are will never be collectable in the way these stories were.  In fact, we may be in the last great age of cover art due to the rise of the eBook.  It’s an appreciation of an artist I’d never know about except for finding that box of old Doubles in ziplock bags at the back of a library sale.

It’s a shame I’m learning of many of these writers and artists only after they passed, but it’s nice that the books and covers live on to a new generation.

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Ace Doubles

I’ve been to the used book sale at the local library several times.  Never walked away with much, largely because not much ends up speaking to me.  When I go into any used book store, I beeline to the Science Fiction section.

I will stop here so you can be suitably shocked.

Lately what I’ve looked for is old pulp.  What I sometimes call the “skinny novels,” the ones that fill the narrow gaps in between the inch-wide spines that dominate the shelves.  My local used book store, Hole in the Wall Books, has a fantastic selection of these.  The spines of Daw books give the entire room a yellowish tinge, and I dig through the titles, looking for authors I’ve never read or even heard of, but who are represented with a dozen titles.  I keep my smartphone on, looking up starting points in series.  Because of this I have books like Dorsai! sitting on my night stand, and am currently reading Destination: Void.  I don’t end up liking all of them.  That’s almost part of the fun.  They’re short, they’re cheap, so I feel better about not liking them.  When they end up corny fun (Dinosaur Beach) I enjoy the ride.  When I don’t (Assassins from Tomorrow) I start picking apart what’s going wrong.

When I go to the twice a year library book sale, I wander the shelves of intermingled fiction looking for these titles.  Nothing is sorted out.  Lord of the Rings sits next to Tom Clancy.

This last time my wife called me over to the hobby and craft section.  There, sitting in three cardboard boxes, were little paperbacks in Ziploc bags.  If they’ve always been at the book sale, I can tell why I’d miss seeing them.  Who’s going to look for pulp science fiction in the hobby and craft section?  Perhaps someone thought they fell under the header of being collectibles so they were shunted away with books on collecting.  Perhaps they’ve never had these books at the sale before.  I’m not sure.  All I know is they were there and I started to dig through them.

Among them were hiding the Ace Doubles.

I knew they’d printed books like that before, two short novels printed back to back, one upside down so that there are two front and no back covers.  All with the fantastic artwork that graced pulp fiction in the 40s and 50s.  All priced at $2.50 or $3.50 for the sale.  I maintained some composure, held myself to just six books, four doubles and two standalone titles.  I wasn’t picking authors, I wasn’t picking titles, I didn’t recognize most of them.  I was picking artwork and taglines.  How could I turn down a man in a white fright wig hooked up to a machine, with the tagline “The god-king, the man-wolf, and the I-machine”?  Flip it over and two men stand on a chessboard with rockets flying behind them.  Sold!

As I was digging out my wallet at the checkout, the volunteer mentioned that everything would be half price on Sunday.

Yes.  I went back.  I set a budget of $20, and I gobbled up Ace Doubles.  Ten more, bringing the total haul to 14 books and 28 individual stories.  It’s overwhelming, and I hardly know where to begin.  No, that’s a lie, I don’t know at all where to begin.  Among books picked at random I ended up with the first edition of a Hugo winner (Jack Vance’s The Dragon Masters), a story by the author of Dinosaur Beach (Keith Laumer’s Worlds of the Imperium), a story by one of the first major female science fiction writers, and screenwriter of the first draft of Empire (Leigh Brackett’s The Nemesis from Terra) and even a title just obscure enough that I got to add it to Goodreads (Robert Moore Williams’s The Darkness Before Tomorrow  paired with Keith Woodcutt’s The Ladder in the Sky).

So here’s a quick breakdown.  I don’t have cover scans of all of these, sorry, and I will likely read both halves of each Double before moving on to the next.

  • D-335.  Poul Anderson The War of Two Worlds (Earth must choose — The Martians or the monsters!) and John Brunner Threshold of Eternity (All time and space was their battlefield!)
  • D-479.  Wilson Tucker To Tombaugh Station (Was his spaceship haunted — or only booby trapped?) and Poul Anderson Earthman Go Home (This quarantined world resisted change.)
  • F-108.  Damon Knight The Sun Saboteurs (Exiles from a hostile universe) and G. McDonald Wallis The Light of Lilith (Trapped in time’s vortex.)
  • F-119.  Gordon R. Dickson SpAcial Delivery (Rendezvous with a double-sized goliath) and Delusion World (If you don’t look, she’ll go away!)
  • F-123.  Leigh Brackett The Nemesis from Terra (Caught in the web of the fourth world) and Charles N. Fontanay Rebels of the Red Planet (Was he man, mutant, or Martian?)
  • F-127.  Keith Laumer World of the Imperium (His deadliest foe was his own Alternate World self) and Marion Zimmer Bradley Seven from the Stars (Secret war of the space castaways)
  • F-141.  Robert Moore Williams The Darkness Before Tomorrow (Were all humans their guinea pigs?) and Keith Woodcutt The Ladder in the Sky (Black magic or unimaginable superscience?)
  • F-145.  Robert Silverberg The Seed of Earth (If your number is up, you go to the stars) and Next Stop the Stars (Exciting stories of wonders in new worlds)
  • F-149.  Robert Moore Williams King of the Fourth Planet (The god-king, the man-wolf, and the I-machine) and Charles V DeVet & Katherine MacLean Cosmic Checkmate (10,000 worlds against one)
  • F-153.  Marion Zimmer Bradley The Planet Savers (One body, two minds, and a world in the balance) and The Sword of Aldones (All lines of cosmic force met in their hands)
  • F-161.  John Brunner Times Without Number (Beware the masters of “if”) and David Grinnel (aka Donald A. Wollheim) Destiny’s Orbit (He sought an empire in the stars)
  • F-177.  Robert Moore Williams The Star Wasps (Cybernetic men versus the invisible monsters) and Terry Carr Warlord of Kor (Backwards world — or secret outpost to another galaxy?)
  • F-185.  Jack Vance The Dragon Masters (Which was master, which was monster?) and The Five Gold Bands (Find the five keys to earth’s freedom)
  • H-59.  Louis Trimble Anthropol (Secret mission to save a hostile world) and Philip E. High The Time Mercenaries (What port awaited the end of their thousand years beneath the sea?)

I’m probably going to put together reviews of them as I read them, just because I’ve been meaning to get into reviewing something on this blog.  So if you want my views on a specific one, let me know in the comments.  If you really need the covers to make a decision, Google image search for “Ace Double” and the letter-number combination I listed. Oddly, my inclination would be to not start with the Hugo winner, because I don’t want to potentially start with the best of the lot.

Wikipedia lists 224 total science fiction doubles (and several hundred more western, mystery, and non-genre doubles).  That means I now have just over 6% of them.  I’m not going to go super crazy.  I’m not going to buy things like this lot of 104 currently going for over $400 on ebay.  But I’ll keep my eye out for them in the future.  If you see them in and around the DC area, going for under $4 each (or especially under $2 each) let me know.


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