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Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Dying of the Light

I ache, I sob, I whimper, I die[*]

All right. That's enough of that.

The Flea brings us the shocking news that media giant Bertelsmann, having just weeks ago taken sole possession of Bookspan (which runs such venerable outfits as the Book-of-the-Month Club, among others), intends to terminate many of the clubs. This includes the point of this post, the Science Fiction Book Club, of fond memory.

The SFBC did the standard book club thing: Every month it sent you a catalog of books you could order, including two "featured selections". If you didn't send back the response card in time, it sent you the featured selections. These clubs make money from people (like me) who often forgot to send in the cards. You were obligated to buy so many (maybe four, I think) books per year.

The books -- usually special, cheaply-made editions -- cost much less than regular hardbacks. When I joined, many of the books (including one of the "featured selections" each month) cost $1.98. This was at a time when paperbacks cost 95 cents to $1.25.

We had one new bookstore -- that is, a store which sold only new books -- in our county at that time (whereas today, thirty years later, there are...none), and it didn't sell hardback science fiction. So the SFBC was my window into the science fiction world.

(In fact, I believe I joined through a cardboard ad inside one of the paperbacks.)

Shelling out the two or three bucks was a big deal for me, and the cause of much careful consideration over the month's selection. I seem to remember that I asked for my book club membership as a birthday present from my parents, using the argument that a year's worth of books was about what they might spend on a present anyway. And that way I got presents several times a year.

Oh, the memories! Like the time I got Again, Dangerous Visions, which is chock full o' sex 'n gore and "mature themes", and which I received when I was 13 or so. I think my eyes popped out of my head once or twice and had to be surreptitiously replaced. I didn't understand some of the stories; many I did understand caused my eyes to only roll, not pop (quite a number of them cause this reaction today -- oh, of course, the dark night of fascism is nearly upon us, how very transgressive of you to notice).

I tried to keep this book in an inconspicuous place, without actually hiding it. I was afraid my parents might stumble on it and give me hell for buying a book with...sshhhh! sex! it, even though that hadn't been my intention.

I think I last belonged in the early- or mid-Eighties; I still have books I "accidentally" received then which I still haven't read.

There's nothing about this on their web page. Man! Nowadays you can browse their whole catalog. Back in the day you could only choose from the titles on the little flyer they sent. You know, I may still have those flyers stashed away, somewhere.

Looking at their home page was depressing -- nothing but Star Wars and Star Trek and other gunk! But look inside...

The Bloody Crown of Conan by Robert E. Howard!

Down These Dark Spaceways ed. by Mike Resnick! (I believe that was an SFBC original).

Black Seas of Infinity by Lovecraft!


Maybe they'll have a going-out-of-business sale.

[By the way, my mother belonged to the Doubleday Book Club. I still have books she bought through them -- my copy of Gone with the Wind, for example.]

[*] The words of the flower in the third Canto of Sommer's Vehicles, at least according to the terrific Robert Silverberg story, "The Sixth Palace", in the terrific Silverberg-edited anthology Deep Space, which at one time was an SFBC offering.

Why does my brain store minutiae like this, rather than something useful, like Niles's cell phone number?