Last week a customer traded in the mother of all classic sci-fi collections. 35 boxes! For those not familiar with how many books can fit into an average packing box, that roughly adds up to 3,000 books. However it’s not the size that made this the mother of all collections, though it usually would. What made this collection extraordinary was that it was accrued over a lifetime (if it was printed between 1960 and 1994, this man owned it), a lot of the authors I’ve never heard of, and most of them were never read.
As I processed them last week, I couldn’t help but wonder how I would have felt if one of my novels were in these pristine stacks? While it would be great for my book(s) to have been picked up by a major publisher and found their way into someone’s collection, it would pain me to learn that it sat unread for thirty plus years. I want people to devour my books and anxiously await the next. I don’t want them to sit in a storage unit, forgotten. That’s the stuff of nightmares.
It would also pain me to know that after a lifetime of writing and promoting, no one remembered my name. Yes, it happens. I realize that. And yes, just because I’ve never come across their name doesn’t mean that they’re obscure (though I think that fifteen years in the business is enough to say that they are) or that they didn’t warrant that kind of legacy. But still, I don’t want a sci-fi guru to pull my works out of a box and say, “who the hell is this?” Or worse, have a used bookstore employee say, “I’m sorry, we can’t sell this because no one reads them anymore.” I think that would be worse than never being published in the first place.
A lot of work and care went into each of these books. Heck, some of them even have beautiful cover art from Rowena, Darrell K Sweet, Frank Frazetta, Tom Kidd, and Royo.
(From left to right: Kelly Freas, David Mattingly, Luis Royo, Michael Whelan, Darrell K Sweet, and Richard Hescox)
It made picking through them very difficult because as a bookseller, I knew that a lot of these are going to sit on the shelves for a long time. But on the other hand, as a writer I understand what the hopes of everyone involved in each book’s creation were because I have those same hopes. I know how much work went into novel and I don’t want it to have been in vain. I’m as excited to show these forgotten treasures to the public, as I am dismayed that they were forgotten in the first place. It’s an uncomfortable dichotomy, one that is almost as uncomfortable as the question itself.