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Vintage Treasures: A Touch of Infinity/ The Man With Nine Lives by Harlan Ellison

Saturday, February 8th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

A-Touch-of-Infinity-smallI enjoy collecting vintage SF and fantasy paperbacks of all kinds. But I get the most pleasure out of the Ace Doubles.

The Ace Doubles have a lot of things going for them in terms of raw collectibility. They were edited by Donald A. Wollheim, one of the most accomplished editors our genre has ever seen, and the authors in their stable reads like a Who’s Who of major talent of the era. Best of all, they had some really terrific covers, including some truly iconic SF images.

Of course, even among the Ace Doubles, some are more collectible than others. Certainly the early novels of Philip K. Dick are near the top of the list, as are novels by Asimov and Dean Koontz. But speaking as someone who’s bought and sold Ace Doubles for many years, I think Harlan Ellison’s A Touch of Infinity (paired with The Man With Nine Lives) may be the most in demand.

Lots of reasons for this. Ed Valigursky’s classic cover, featuring a spacesuit-clad future person hiding in the rubble from invading flying saucers, clearly didn’t hurt. 54 years after this book went on sale, I still want to find out what that’s all about. A Touch of Infinity is also Ellison’s first short story collection and that alone makes it remarkable. And the novel on the flip side, The Man With Nine Lives, has never been reprinted… so if you’re an Ellison collector, this is the only way to get it.

On top of all of that though, this little book is simply a pure slice of 60s nostalgia. It’s a way to transport yourself back half a century, to a time when science fiction was still fresh and new; when Harlan Ellison was an unknown name, a hotshot young writer with only two previous books to his name; and when a mainstream publisher still tried their best to package his singular voice as typical paperback SF.

It wasn’t long before books by Ellison became a major event in the genre, so his first humble releases have a unique appeal to collectors — almost as if he were appearing in a secret identity.

A Touch of Infinity has the tag line “Unique stories of the fabulous future.” Here’s the book description:

STORIES OF DOOMED WORLDS AND STRANGE FUTURES

A Touch of Infinity is the first collection of the best stories of one of the most remarkable talents to appear in science-fiction recently. A writer with an eye to the unique and a real feeling for the stars, Harlan Ellison has made his name a selling feature wherever fantasy is read.

Among these stories you will read the astonishing novelette of the human booby-trap, the man whose personal sacrifice was to save the defenders of a lost-cause planet; you will be startled by the robot who lost his obligations to serve his makers, and gripped by the duel of wits between a wrecked spaceman and a machine turned homicidal maniac.

There are many other vivid scenes, and events on a half dozen fierce and wonderful worlds, in this unusual new volume.

If, April 1956, containing "Life Hutch"

If, April 1956, containing “Life Hutch”

Interestingly, despite the fact that this is clearly marketed an as SF novel, you’ll note Ellison is already being described as a fantasy writer.

Even though it’s an Ellison collection, it probably won’t surprise you that A Touch of Infinity doesn’t contain the kind of fiction modern readers have come to expect from him.

For example, “Life Hutch,” teased in the description above, is the story of a stranded pilot, shot down in the middle of a desperate battle with an alien fleet, who crashes on a small planetoid and makes his way to a life-hutch, an outpost on the edge of explored space intended to keep stranded travelers alive until help arrives.

Instead of a humble refuge however, the narrator find a malfunctioning robot that attacks anything that moves…. and leaves him slowly bleeding to death on a metal floor, trying desperately not to twitch while the robot’s cold eyes watch for any sign of renewed motion.

It’s a compact and tense adventure story of a battle of wits against a remorseless adversary, exactly the kind of thing that early SF magazines like Worlds of If did best — but not the sort of avant garde fantasy Ellison later became famous for.

“Life Hutch” was Ellison’s second published story (he claims in his introduction that “I will never reprint the first, since Jim Blish winces in pain at the mere mention of it.”)

The collection is 123 pages. Here’s the complete table of contents:

Introduction by Harlan Ellison
“Run for the Stars” (Science Fiction Adventures, June 1957)
“Back to the Drawing Boards” (Fantastic Universe, August 1958)
“Life Hutch” (If, April 1956)
“The Sky Is Burning” (If, August 1958)
“Final Trophy” (Super-Science Fiction, June 1957)
“Blind Lightning” (Fantastic Universe, June 1956)

The Man With Nine Lives Harlan Ellison-smallThe Man With Nine Lives (no relation to the 1940 Boris Karloff film of the same name) is the flip side of A Touch of Infinity. It is advertised as a complete novel. A short novel, yes, but nonetheless one of the only novels by this talented short story writer. After his first two novels in the 1950s, Ellison switched almost exclusively to short stories.

The Man With Nine Lives is 133 pages and has an unusually dark cover by Ed Emshwiller. It was the first and last time the novel was to see print. Here’s the book description:

HE WOVE A WEB THROUGH UNNAMED WORLDS

Emory’s showdown with the space mogul Lederman began and ended with a fight to the finish on the small asteroid Brutus. But in between, Emory spent fifteen years and more lives than any one man had ever had a right to.

Because in his effort to bring his antagonist, the man who had stolen his woman and wrecked his life, to that lonely, airless field of honor, Emory had had to make a terrible pact with Manuvac — the machine that guided human destinies a million years ahead. It was a pact that was to take him in many shapes to many worlds on missions of alien peril and unthinkable adventure.

But Emory was indeed The Man With Nine Lives, and this is a science-fiction novel to be rated among the very best.

A Touch of Infinity/The Man With Nine Lives by Harlan Ellison was published in paperback by Ace Books in 1960. Neither book has ever been reprinted and there is no digital edition. The original cover price was 35 cents.

Copies in good condition are a little more expensive now, but still — like virtually all vintage paperbacks — generally much less than the cover price of a modern paperback. I bought a copy in November as part of a collection of 18 Ace Doubles for $37 — or about two bucks a book.

We’ve covered the following Ace Doubles so far:

ATTA/ The Brain-Stealers by by Francis Rufus Bellamy and Murray Leinster
The Ship from Atlantis/ The Stolen Sun by H. Warner Munn and Emil Petaja
Vulcan’s Hammer / The Skynappers by Philip K. Dick and John Brunner
The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream by G.C. Edmondson
Bow Down to Nul / The Dark Destroyers by Brian W. Aldiss and Manly Wade Wellman
Gateway to Elsewhere / The Weapon Shops of Isher by Murray Leinster and A. E. van Vogt
The Cosmic Puppets / Sargasso of Space by Philip K. Dick and Andre Norton
The Beast Master / Star Hunter by Andre Norton
Big Planet by Jack Vance
City Under the Sea by Kenneth Bulmer
The Forgotten Planet (Planets of Adventure) by Murray Leinster
Six Worlds Yonder / The Space Willies by Eric Frank Russell
Sentinels of Space / The Ultimate Invader by Eric Frank Russell and Donald Wollheim
Ring Around the Sun/ Cosmic Manhunt by Clifford D. Simak and L. Sprague de Camp
The Trouble With Tycho/ Bring Back Yesterday by Clifford D. Simak and A. Bertram Chandler
The Last Planet (Star Rangers) by Andre Norton
A Touch of Infinity/ The Man With Nine Lives by Harlan Ellison
Kirkus Looks at Donald A. Wollheim and the Ace Double
Tales of Outer Space/ Adventures in the Far Future edited by Donald A. Wollheim
The Pirates of Zan by Murray Leinster

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.

21 Comments »

  1. I have an ACE Double I liked a lot as a kid (bought from a used bookstore) – “The Time Mercenaries”/”Antropol”…

    Comment by GreenGestalt - February 9, 2014 6:13 am

  2. Just the other day I was wishing Harlan Ellison had written more teleplays for The Outer Limits. His contributions, “Soldier” and “Demon with a Glass Hand,” are favorites with my wife and me. Thus your entry on this book caught my attention — maybe it will turn out to be a bit like some “lost” OT teleplays. That devastated ray-crossed landscape on the Touch of Infinity cover reminds me of the ruinous scene of future war that begins “Soldier.”

    Irrelevant anecdote: back around 1988, we lived in Racine, Wisconsin, where a local TV station broadcast OL late nights. My wife would call up the station every week to get the list of titles, see we wouldn’t set the alarm clock to get us up to watch something that would turn out to be one of the series’ duds. The person(s) she talked to used to fumble the titles sometimes. Thus “OBIT” became “Orbit,” and one of Ellison’s titles (from the series encore season) became “Second Season Soldier.”

    Comment by Major Wootton - February 9, 2014 3:14 pm

  3. “see we wouldn’t set” — should be “so we wouldn’t set”

    My wife says it was always the same person who answered the phone. Maybe taught to read by the sight-reading method!

    Comment by Major Wootton - February 9, 2014 3:16 pm

  4. I have most of Ellison’s work, but I wasn’t aware of these.

    Comment by westkeith - February 10, 2014 11:44 am

  5. > Just the other day I was wishing Harlan Ellison had written more teleplays for The Outer Limits. His contributions, “Soldier” and
    > “Demon with a Glass Hand,” are favorites with my wife and me. Thus your entry on this book caught my attention — maybe it will
    > turn out to be a bit like some “lost” OT teleplays.

    Dale,

    Very possibly! Many of the stories are “Outer Limits” style sci-fi with a twist, just the kind of thing that eventually earned Ellison attention as a promising screenwriter.

    If you’re interested in that style of SF, I think you’d really enjoy this book.

    > That devastated ray-crossed landscape on the Touch of Infinity cover reminds me of the ruinous scene of future war that begins “Soldier.”

    Interesting. I haven’t seen “Soldier,” but I know Ellison used it as the basis of a lawsuit, when he sued James Cameron for stealing his idea for the movie “Terminator.”

    > we wouldn’t set the alarm clock to get us up to watch something that would turn out to be one of the series’ duds.

    Now that’s dedication! Setting the alarm clock to get up in the middle of the night to watch a TV show.

    Comment by John ONeill - February 10, 2014 4:52 pm

  6. > “see we wouldn’t set” — should be “so we wouldn’t set”

    The sentence still worked!

    Comment by John ONeill - February 10, 2014 4:54 pm

  7. > I have most of Ellison’s work, but I wasn’t aware of these.

    Keith,

    They were Ellison’s first publication in the field, so the book didn’t have an exceptional print run. Still, the Ace Doubles had excellent distribution, so there are plenty of copies. I’m certain you can find one at a reasonable price if you’re interested.

    Comment by John ONeill - February 10, 2014 4:55 pm

  8. John, you say you haven’t see ‘Soldier’, but please tell me you’ve seen ‘Demon with a Glass Hand’.

    Greatest triumph of imagination over budget in TV history.

    Comment by John Hocking - February 10, 2014 11:23 pm

  9. Mr. Hocking!

    Of course! But danged if I can remember the details… you know, I think that episode deserves a re-watch, and tout de suite.

    Thanks for the splendid rec, John. In your debt — as always!

    Comment by John ONeill - February 11, 2014 4:36 pm

  10. I’m Harlan Ellison’s editor at HarlanEllisonBooks.com and I’m happy to report that THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES has indeed been reprinted (in Nov 2011) under the author’s preferred title: THE SOUND OF A SCYTHE. Not only did we reprint the novel, but we printed–for the first time– ALL of the novel, including 25% of the text cut by Wollheim from the Ace Edition. And since they’ve been mentioned by others in the comments, I’ll add that Ellison’s OUTER LIMITS teleplays are also available in BRAIN MOVIES Volume 1, also available from HarlanEllisonBooks.com.

    Comment by Ellison Editor - February 11, 2014 4:50 pm

  11. Ellison Editor,

    Thanks for the correction! I was very surprised to find the book had never been reprinted. I’ll reach out to the good folks at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, and let them know their entry on THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES needs updating. :)

    Glad to hear about BRAIN MOVIES, too. Wow, you folks have really been active the last few years!

    Comment by John ONeill - February 11, 2014 5:22 pm

  12. I should also mention that THE SOUND OF THE SCYTHE has a magnificent cover by Jill Bauman that still messes with my head every time I look at it.

    If you do get hold of the Internet Speculative Fiction Database folks, please let them know that we also rescued ROUGH BEASTS–which was originally planned for publication in 1994–from limbo. The database still has it as unreleased and non-genre, neither of which is correct.

    Very best,
    Jason Davis
    HarlanEllisonBooks.com

    Comment by Ellison Editor - February 13, 2014 1:28 am

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