That’s a pic of one of the boxes I unloaded in my library this morning. It contained 103 paperbacks from the vast collection of the great Martin H. Greenberg, one of the most prolific and talented anthologists our field has ever seen (click for a more legible version). Greenberg died almost exactly a year ago, on June 25, 2011. He left behind some 2,500 anthologies and other books he created — including over 120 co-edited with his friend Isaac Asimov — and his company Tekno Books, a book packager which produced nearly 150 books a year. I wrote about six of them just last week in my article TSR’s Amazing Science Fiction Anthologies.
He also left behind a massive collection in his home in Green Bay, which was purchased by Chicago collectors Doug Ellis and Bob Weinberg. They’ve been gradually selling the high value stuff — autographed vintage hardcovers, things like that. Doug runs the Windy City Pulp and Paper show every year, and he brought some of it to the show.
I’m usually a pretty social guy. Put me in a room with fellow collectors and I’ll happily spend my hours chatting. But as I passed Doug’s booth, I saw countless boxes of what looked like beautiful, unread vintage paperbacks stacked in neat rows, all priced at a buck. I started to browse, then select a few books, and finally obsessively dig through every single box, much to the annoyance of the always patient Jason Waltz and my other companions.
I buy a lot of collections, big and small. I even managed to acquire some of the legendary collection of Forry Ackerman — the man who inspired me to start my own small SF collection in 1977 — when it was slowly auctioned on eBay a few years ago.
But I don’t often see paperback collections in this condition. Virtually every book looked pristine and unread, and some were fifty years old or more. When you’re given a chance to browse a few thousand brand new books from the 1960s – 1980s, you take it — especially when they’re selling for a fraction of cover price.
I found a lot of titles I didn’t have, including the Charles L Harness novels Lunar Justice and Lurid Dreams, more than a few that would replace my own worn and tattered copies, and several dozen that I just couldn’t turn down for less than a buck, including vintage paperbacks by James Tiptree, Thomas M. Disch, A.E. van Vogt, Jack Vance, Theodore Sturgeon, K.W. Jeter, and many others.
I ended up purchasing four boxes of books. The good-natured Doug Ellis put up with me when I insisted on haggling, and cut me a terrific deal.
“Call me if you’re interested in looking at the rest of the collection,” he said. “Seriously — there’s another 60 boxes sitting in my garage.”
Not every book I bought was unread. And that’s where the story really gets interesting.
Greenberg wasn’t just a workaholic editor and collector — he was also a voracious reader. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of early SF short fiction, and drew on that knowledge to produce hundreds of SF and fantasy anthologies.
I read dozens as I was growing up, including Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories (25 volumes), Science Fiction of the 50s, The Mammoth Book of Golden Age SF, The Future in Question, and many others.
Greenberg acquired his expertise through his collection, and that became obvious as I started to examine some of what I’d purchased — especially the older SF collections of the 1950s edited by Groff Conklin, Lester del Rey, and others.
The hardcover copy of Fletcher Pratt’s 1951 World of Wonder — which Doug sold to me for two bucks — has extensive notes scribbled in the table of contents. Beside “Operation RSVP,” by H. Beam Piper, originally published in the January 1951 Amazing Stories, is scrawled:
Fantastic — use. Conflict Resolution?
Greenberg reprinted “Operation RSVP” in Amazing Science Fiction Anthology: The Wild Years 1946-1955, published in 1987. There are also notes beside other stories, including Heinlein’s “They,” “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, and Rudyard Kipling’s “The Mark of the Beast.”
I first noticed Greenberg’s notes as I was packing the books in boxes at the show, before Jason Waltz carried them to my car (a task he has undertaken stoically since 2009, when he was accidentally standing next to me when I bought the entire stock of a vendor selling vintage SF digests).
Intrigued, I returned to Doug’s table and flipped through a few more books. In a copy of Terry Carr’s 1974 anthology Universe 4 I found Greenberg’s notes on “Stungun Slim” by Ron Goulart. (“Bus. — psy.” Whatever the heck that means.)
I dug around in my pocket. I had exactly 51 cents left. I called Doug over, handed him the 51 cents, and held up Universe 3 and Universe 4. He stared at me incredulously.
“You drive a hard bargain,” he said, shaking his head.
After unpacking one box I still have three more from the show to dig through, including dozens of hardcover anthologies from Martin H. Greenberg’s impressive collection. Perhaps I’ll find more notes.
I think this is neat. The thought that some of the books in my collection helped give birth to later books in my collection, and that the evidence is right there in front of me.
But it’s just a bonus. The real gift Marty Greenberg has given me is many hours of reading pleasure, and introducing me to a multitude of fine SF and fantasy writers of the 20th Century. And now he’s shared part of his excellent collection with me, and I look forward to many more.
Thank you, Martin Greenberg. May the earth rest lightly upon you.
And thank you Doug Ellis, for making it possible. You’re a prince among booksellers, and I hope you spend my 51 cents wisely.