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When I was Jung

Sunday, December 19th, 2010 | Posted by Bud Webster

space-service2My folks taught me to read when I was four or five, and by the time I was in first grade I was reading on a third or fourth grade level. Nothing unusual about that in a subculture made up of readers, of course, but it got me sidelong glances and furrowed brows from a few of my classmates during my formative years. Got my butt kicked once or twice (or a hundred times), too, because those of us who read are not only suspected by those who don’t, but we also tend to be smart-asses.

I began raiding the school library early on. The librarians loved me, because I checked out the maximum number every week and brought them back on time to get more. Librarians like that sort of thing in kids, even today.

I began reading mythology (well, after I had exhausted all the Dr. Seuss1 and the like), fairy tales, tall tales, that sort of thing. I also had a strong interest in science; this being the beginning of the Space Age, and it was inevitable that I’d start noticing all those books with rockets and atoms on the spines. Boy, did I get hooked.

I read pretty much whatever sf I could find in the school and public libraries, and when my family moved in with my aunt on her farm in the country, the lady who drove the bookmobile began loading extra science fiction on her weekly pass through Botetourt County so I wouldn’t pout.

I’ll jump ahead, since this is less about me than it is about what I’m doing, both here and elsewhere.

I think it’s only natural for those of us who read to make lists of our favorites; those writers who make our eyes widen, who set our minds to wondering, who haunt us even when their books are shut and on a shelf.

year-after-tomorrowWe not only make lists, but construct whole pantheons alive with literary gods and demiurges, and when we’re young, we gather like acolytes and sing their praises, shunning infidels and splitting quasi-Talmudic hairs over who did the best aliens and why Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or a Modern Prometheus wasn’t really science fiction. We sat at lunch, trays or bags in front of us, being so gosh-wow about it all that I feel embarrassed even today.

And who were those deities who held us in thrall?

Oh, they were many and varied, were they, and their names rang in our minds like an otherworldly carillon: Heinlein, Clarke, Doc Smith, Lovecraft, del Rey, Leinster, Williamson, Asimov, Bradbury, and on and on and on, ad astra per verba.

When I was twelve, see, I didn’t know that these guys were just, well, guys. They put their space-suits on one leg at a time and farted in the bathtub just like I did. To me, they were like Leonardo da Vinci ā€“ bearded, with high foreheads and robes.

(That came to a screeching halt after I started going to conventions, but that’s not germane here.)

In the early 1970s I began writing my fanzine and sending it out for Letters of Comment from other fans. As I went along, I began adding the addresses of several pro writers to my mailing list, and even received letters from a number of them, including Fritz Leiber, Harlan Ellison, Gordon Dickson and Gene Wolfe. That, in a very real way, was my genesis as both a writer and a stfnal historian.

marooned-on-mars2Even then, I was collecting books, writing about them, getting deeply involved with edition points and all the ephemera of the book-tweak. I spent a couple of days in the Barrett Collection at the University of Virginia Library poring over their collection of H. P. Lovecraft books, pamphlets, and amateur press booklets, creating my very first bibliographic article. I made a lot of mistakes, looking back at it now, but my heart was in the right place.2

All of that has led to writing about matters concerning the bound codex for increasingly well-paying markets, which itself led directly to that Pantheon I mentioned earlier. (Somewhere in there I began writing and selling my own fiction, too, but again, not the point here.)

Since I began writing seriously3 about the history of science fiction, it has become possible for me to approach those quasi-deities I read as a kid: writers like Robert Silverberg, Harry Harrison, Harlan Ellison, Fred Pohl; and while they were still with us, Jack Williamson, Damon Knight, and William Tenn.

Had anyone back in my faan-boy days ever told me Iā€™d be on a first-name basis with these worthies, exchanging witticisms and puns, prying anecdotes and secrets about their careers I’d have widdled myself laughing.

And yet, here I am, and please believe me that even at the age of almost six decades, that faan-boy is still in there and threatening to embarrass me again when I send one of these guys an e-mail asking about some abstruse event or story from 1947. With luck, he always will be.


1 Pronounced “Soice”, by the way. Hey, it could be worse. When I was a kid I thought it was “SEE-us.”

2 In a jar under my bed. HAH! It’s the way I tell ’em.

3 Well, as seriously as I write anything, I guess.

6 Comments »

  1. This was a great posting! I’m still trying to read everything I can of some of the authors you’ve mentioned, Jack Williamson and Lester del Rey, mostly. Can you suggest any good books on the history of science fiction? BTW, if you have any copies of your old fanzine you should put them up as PDFs. :)

    Comment by Mister_Alex - December 19, 2010 6:19 pm

  2. Actually, Alex, that’s both an easy and hard question to answer. The easy part is that there are dozens of good, interesting book on the history of sf/fantasy, I’ve written a couple myself.

    The hard part is getting into specifics. Mike Ashley has done a number of very good books on the history of the sf magazines, and a good listing of those titles can be found at his Wikipedia entry:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Ashley_(writer)

    My most recent book is a collection of columns about classic sf anthologies, and you can get a sample of them at Phil Stephensen-Payne’s Galactic Central:

    http://www.philsp.com/articles/webster_index.html

    There’s also a sampling of my “Past Masters” columns, about individual authors.

    Comment by Bud Webster - December 19, 2010 8:43 pm

  3. Ah, those covers do excite me still. Mel Hunter, who did the cover for “The Year After Tomorrow” also did the cover of Ben Bova’s first book,also published by Winston, “The Star Conquerors”. Those same space-suited figures on Findlay’s Norton anthologies also showed up on Philip Latham’s Winston “Five Against Venus”. Paul Orban did two other covers for Winston besides “Marooned on Mars”; Bryce Walton’s “Sons Of The Ocean Deeps” and Poul Anderson’s “Vault of the Ages”.
    While Winston used the same cover art on each edition of its books, the listings of the Winston SF series on the back of the jacket changed to reflect the range of books in print at the time of each subsequent edition’s printing. Collectors of Winston’s SF series need to be sure that the book has the correct jacket to match the stated printing, to avoid acquiring editions to which a later jacket may have been added. There were 35 books in the series, of matching dimensions, plus the “The Year After Tomorrow” anthology which was larger than the series books while still carrying the Winston SF logo. There was a further book published after Winston merged with Holt & Rhinehart which might otherwise have been uniform with the previous 35 in the series, but appeared without the Winston SF logo, Lester Del Rey’s “Outpost of Jupiter”.

    George R. Morgan

    Comment by George R. Morgan - December 21, 2010 4:49 pm

  4. I was determined at one point to assemble a collection of all the Winston titles, since I read so many of them as a kid (Milton Lesser was one of my favorite writers), but the high price-tag on many of them discouraged me after several years. I think that _The Year After Tomorrow_ is the only one I have left, the rest went onto eBay for good enough prices that I was able to fill a number of holes in my anthology collection.

    Comment by Bud Webster - December 21, 2010 5:31 pm

  5. ALEX:

    There’s another resource you might want to look into for good sf references, and that’s the Advent Press titles being sold by NESFA at their website. The two Atheling books (pseudonym for James Blish), Damon Knight’s collection of reviews and essays, and especially the Tuck Encyclopedia are well worth having in your own library.

    Comment by Bud Webster - December 21, 2010 5:34 pm

  6. […] subjects ā€” the pros and cons of selling vintage books, his role as an stfnal historian, and the magical books that first lured him into the […]

    Pingback by Bud Webster (1952-2016) | File 770 - February 15, 2016 5:04 am


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