Some writers agonize over every line. Some are prolific like Andre Norton. Others are hyperprolific like Isaac Asimov.
But Lionel Fanthorpe stands alone. He isn’t the most prolific author out there, having written “only” about 200 books, but he had the distinction of having written 168 books in less than a decade. Many he wrote in a week. Some he wrote over a three-day weekend.
This fervid output was the result of his association with Badger Books, a cheap-as-they-come UK publisher that emphasized quantity over quality. The publisher would commission the cover art first (or steal it from some old American paperback), send it to the author, and have them write a 45,000 word novel, usually with a deadline of one week.
Fanthorpe wrote 168 books for Badger between 1961 and 1967, dictating his tales into a reel-to-reel recorder and sending the tapes into the publisher’s typist. Often he’d stay up late into the night, covering his head with a blanket so he could concentrate. The results were overwritten, padded, and compellingly bad.
The only biography of Lionel Fanthorpe, Down the Badger Hole by Debbie Cross, has long been out of print but has now been revised, expanded, and released as a free ebook on the TAFF website.
And what a book it is! Cross gives us generous helpings of Fanthorpe’s prose, including masterful examples of padding through repetition.
Many, many years ago I worked at a used bookstore called Bookmans in Tucson. Everybody from Arizona knows Bookmans. They have several stores around the state and they’re all as big as supermarkets, filled with used books, music, and games. Most books are half cover price, and employees got a 50% discount. Sometimes the manager would be like, “You did a good job today, Sean, take a book.”
I realized that I would never get another opportunity like that in my life and took full advantage. My library exploded with books on every topic imaginable. I also learned the joy of collecting vintage paperbacks, with the added joy of getting them for next to nothing.
So when I came across Ted Mark’s I Was A Teeny-Bopper For The CIA I just had to get it. I’d never heard of the title or author before (I wasn’t about to forget that title!) and figured this would be something I’d never see again. I was right, I’ve never seen that book again, and now, 20 years later, I finally got around to reading it.
I was saddened to read in this month’s Ansible that longtime fan Ned Brooks had died from injuries sustained from a fall. He was 77.
Ned was one of the first to welcome me when I got into fandom way back in my fanzine days of the early 1990s. He and I shared an obsession with collecting books, with him beating me handily by several thousand volumes. I often joked with my wife that if she didn’t stop complaining about my ever-expanding library, she should visit Ned’s house and see what a real collection looks like.
I knew him primarily through his fanzine, It Goes on the Shelf, a review zine started in 1985 in which he wrote about all the strange books he picked out of used bookstores, estate sales, and thrift stores. He had an eye for the unusual, the quirky, the forgotten. More than once I’ve gone to my local university library clutching a copy of IGOTS in order to look up some intriguing title.
IGOTS came around Christmas time every year, and my wife I always looked forward to opening up that familiar manila envelope and reading through the colored pages of Ned’s witty reviews of all the books he’d gathered in the previous 12 months. While I fell out of the fanzine world several years ago, Ned’s zine was one of the only I still received. I wasn’t about to give that one up!