A couple weeks ago I reported here on a pristine collection of 35 Isaac Asimov books I purchased on eBay. Coincidentally, I also happened to stumble across blogger Mark R. Kelly’s Asimov Re-read. I found many of his comments right on the money, and Mark’s insights became the core of my article.
Eclipsed by all that discussion was the fact that the same day I also purchased a lot of virtually new paperbacks by Arthur C. Clarke (above). Although it was roughly the same size (32 titles) and same vintage (30+ years), and the books were in similar gorgeous shape, I expected to pay much less for them. And that’s exactly what happened: I took the lot home with a single bid for $27, less than a third of what I paid for the Asimov collection.
[Click on any of the images for bigger versions.]
I think “eclipsed” is probably the right word to describe Asimov’s effect on Clarke, at least among modern readers and collectors. Both are remembered and in print today, but it seems to me Asimov has eclipsed Clarke. I was delighted to win the Asimov auction, and merely content to win the Clarke. I read both Asimov and Clarke in my youth, yet Asimov’s books have enormous emotional appeal for me, in a way that Clarke’s don’t.
Which is ironic, because these days I find Clarke the better writer (by a significant margin) and, as an adult, I find Clarke’s novels much more interesting. But that’s not quite the same thing as nostalgic love. And when it comes to keeping books in print — and keeping a writer’s reputation alive — I think nostalgia wins out over writing ability every time.
Together with Robert A. Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke formed “The Big Three,” the best-selling triad of science fiction writers in the 70s and 80s, and the first SF writers to achieve best-selling status. While Arthur C. Clarke didn’t approach Asimov’s near-legendary productivity, he was a very prolific writer, producing over 30 novels and 16 short story collections. His most famous novels include Childhood’s End (1953), The City and the Stars (1956), Imperial Earth (1975), The Songs of Distant Earth (1986) and The Ghost from the Grand Banks (1990). He won both the Hugo Award and Nebula award for Rendezvous with Rama (1972) and again for The Fountains of Paradise (1979).
But of course his greatest claim to fame was as the screenwriter for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the most successful science fiction films of the 20th Century. The film was inspired by his superb short story “The Sentinel,” and he published a very successful novelization in 1968, which presumably filmgoers ran out to buy so they could understand the damn movie.
In fact, as I was sorting through the collection after it arrived, I was struck by just how many books Clarke produced to cash in on 2001: the non-fiction books The Lost World of 2001 and The Odyssey File, and no less than three sequels: 2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey Three, and 3001: The Final Odyssey. (Since the first novelization of 2001 sold over 3.2 million copies, you can hardly blame him.)
In addition to his fiction Clarke produced copious amounts of non-fiction, chiefly science articles (you can see an assortment in the pic above). Like Asimov, these were often collected in slender paperbacks that (presumably) sold decently, as I ended up with a boatload of them. Like mass market collections, paperback books that reprint science columns are a dead market today.
They don’t date very well, either. I dipped into Clarke’s fiction as I put them away, enjoying several of his stories. I couldn’t really get into his non-fiction, however. I ended up putting that in the attic. Sorry, Arthur.
Clarke’s fiction still makes excellent reading today, even if he doesn’t have quite the fandom Asimov does. His classic novel of alien invasion Childhood’s End has been adapted by the Syfy channel and is being broadcast in a special three-night event December 14-16. With luck, it will ignite more interest in his other novels.
If you enjoy looking at pics of vintage paperbacks (and who doesn’t?), our other articles on SF & fantasy series and collecting may interest you:
Collecting Karl Edward Wagner
Collecting Robert A. Heinlein
Collecting Philip K. Dick
Collecting Arthur C. Clarke
Collecting Isaac Asimov
Collecting Lovecraft, Part I
Collecting Lovecraft, Part II
Collecting Lovecraft, Part III: The Arkham Hardcovers
The Collections of Tanith Lee
The Novels of Tanith Lee: The Wars of Vis
James Bond in Outer Space: The Croyd Spacetime Maneuvres Novels of Ian Wallace
Clones, Deep Space Ships, and Surviving the Apocalypse on a Submarine: The Pocket Richard Cowper
The Ballantine Paperbacks of Vincent King
The Blessing Trilogy by William Barnwell
The Durdane Trilogy by Jack Vance
The Timescape Clark Ashton Smith
The Plantagenet Novels by Allen Andrews
The Books of Outremer by Chaz Brenchley
The Torin Trilogy by Cherry Wilder
See all of our Vintage Treasure posts here.