I love dollar bins. If you’ve ever been in the Dealer’s Room at a convention, or any decent bookstore, you know what I’m talking about. The jumbled box at the foot of the booth, virtually ignored, with a hand-scrawled note on the lid: “All books — $1.”
I was at Capricon 34 this weekend here in Chicago and dropped by Greg Ketter’s booth in the Dealer’s Room. Greg is a great guy, owner of DreamHaven Books in Minneapolis, one of the last great science fiction bookstores. I’m pretty sure I was in the middle of a conversation with someone when I saw three boxes peeking under from under his booth with a hand-written “$1” sign. Next thing I know, I’m sitting on the floor, surrounded by neat little stacks of books on the carpet.
There’s nothing like finding a book you’ve always wanted in a dollar bin. Except maybe finding a treasure you didn’t even know existed. And that’s what happened when I pulled out a pristine copy of Laurence Manning’s 1975 paperback The Man Who Awoke from the bottom of the box.
The Man Who Awoke is a collection of five novelettes originally published in Wonder Stories in 1933. It follows the adventures of Norman Winters, a scientist who finds a way to put himself into suspended animation and wake up every 5,000 years. He encounters vastly changed human civilizations at every stop, until he awakens one last time in the year 25,000 A.D.
I read the first story in the pages of that pinnacle of Western Modern Literature, Isaac Asimov’s pulp anthology Before the Golden Age, and really enjoyed it. Winters awakens in 5,000 A.D. to find the city of New York gone, and in its place a thick forest — and humanity struggling to survive.
It was a rip-snortin’ slice of pulp escapism… or was it?
As Asimov remarked in his notes on the story, written in 1974:
Norman Winters encountered a society that resented the consumption of coal and oil in reckless profusion by their ancestors and that lived in a stringently cycled economy made necessary, in part, by ancestral waste.
In the 1970s, everyone is aware of, and achingly involved in, the energy crisis. Manning was aware of it forty years ago, and because he was, I was, and so, I’m sure, were many thoughtful young science fiction readers.
It was a funny kind of escape literature that had the youngsters who read it concerned about the consequences of the waste of fossil fuels forty years before all the self-styled normal and sensible human beings felt it necessary to become interested.
Each of Winters’s leaps into the future were covered in a separate story — and each addressed the consequences of some social ill, from rampant consumerism to blindly following strong leaders.
I’ve been waiting to read the next installments in the series since I thrilled to the first one, 25 years ago. Before the Golden Age, of course, was a considerable success, and I like to think it was that success that led Del Rey to reprint the entire series in paperback a year later.
In any case, here’s Del Rey’s compelling copy on the back of the book:
Norman Winters slept soundly. Five thousand years at a time. But what worlds did he wake to?
Humanity staggers to save itself amid the world’s littered, stagnant wreckage after what has become known as the great Age of Waste.
The world is dominated by the Brain — the inexorable machine that knows all, sees all, and feels nothing.
A life so unbearable to face that humans program their choice of dreams and sleep their lives away!
After the Age of Freedom came an Age of License. And after that, the terrifying Age of Anarchy.
At last, humanity discovers the secret sought through the centuries — but what price glory?
The instant I opened it, the 1975 tip-in brochure for the Science Fiction Book Club fell into my hands, crisp and new as the day it was printed. No one has opened this book in nearly 40 years, and it shows. I was more than happy to hand Greg a buck for it, believe me.
Manning was a Canadian author who died in 1972. He wrote very little else of consequence in the genre — a handful of short stories and one short novel, The Wreck of the Asteroid, which was also serialized in three parts in Wonder Stories in 1933, but never reprinted.
He was a founding member of the American Rocket Society and is recognized today by the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum as an early pioneer in rocketry.
The Man Who Awoke was published by Del Rey Books in 1975. It is 170 pages in paperback, priced at $1.50. The cover is by Dean Ellis. It has never been reprinted and there is no digital edition.
There was a British edition from Sphere (cover left) in 1977.