Monday, February 12, 2007

Some Ace Books Covers for Samuel R Delany Books

Below are nearly all the early Samuel R Delany novels published by Ace Books. Although it should never be doubted that Ace Books provided a service to SF which is pretty much second to none in discovering and publishing new talent in the sixties, their format had to be relentlessly commercial. Covers were designed for appeal to SF readers who were coming out of the pulpy fifties SF universe of rocket ships and hairy Martian monsters. They had to be cheap. They had to be short. There are some almost painful descriptions of SRD having to cut huge lengths of text to fit Ace's word-length requirements which he tells in his memoir of the period The Motion of Light in Water.
It is perhaps partly this experience that prompted one of Delany's later academic themes in the study of science fiction which has been to place the physical object, the book, its economics and production within the sphere of literary criticism.
The point can be well made with reference to the Harry Potter books of all things. Imagine J K Rowling going to her publisher with Harry Potter number one, and an outline of the way the story would develop through seven novels. No matter how enthusiastic they may have been, no publisher in their right mind would have alowed the first Harry Potter book (HP and the Philosopher's Stone) to be the doorstep size of the fourth, fifth and sixth books. It's not until the fourth book that Rowling has economic power enough to produce what she wants and to know it will be published and find an audience. Imagine what might have happened to the Harry Potter series is Rowling had been in a position to write the first three books as fully as the (currently) last three? Hence, the economics of book production have had a literary effect.
Such is the same with Ace Books. It was very often the first UK publication (normally in paperback) which saw the first publication of the 'full text' of Delany's early novels.

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