A big part of collecting science fiction novels is the thrill of the hunt. The fact that the books aren't always easy to find adds a game element to discovering and buying them. It can be quite satisfying, randomly stumbling upon a longed for publication, on sale for next to nothing. I still can't get over how books are practically given away these days. When I look at my bookshelves, sometimes I have to do a double take, because it's not just pages on those shelves, but authors' blood.
How many of you, dear readers, own more books than you have actually read? Yet you feel compelled to keep searching, to keep buying. To me, each new book I discover that's worthy of the collection represents a vast new vista that I can escape to -- only to truly find myself. They represent parallel realities, treasure troves of ideas, and subconscious manuals to become a better writer. I also tend to love the cover art. Not to mention the smell of em'.
I enjoy checking out new and old bookstores, they hold a certain familiarity that keeps me coming back. It can feel like you're in Raiders of the Lost Ark, except you're often searching for something you didn't even know you wanted. Sometimes the hunt in of itself can be more thrilling than actually owning the book.
About a year ago I traded a big lot of high-end Disney books to a man who had a garage full of science fiction, and he gave me carte blanche to take whatever I wanted. So, I loaded up several plastic crates worth of texts and placed them in the trunk of my car. I remember feeling a pit of guilt, because the challenge had been taken out of the hobby. Somehow I felt like I had used a cheat code in the collecting game. It sapped the thrill of it.
In regards to "the hunt," there are many places to pick up books. Of course, you could start with the everyday chain bookstore, which absolutely deserves your support. The problem is that so many titles aren't carried in mainstream shops. Authors like Alfred Bester, Robert Silverberg and Harlan Ellison are virtually extinct at your local Barnes and Noble. The next logical step would be used bookshops, which are always fun. But since science fiction is so popular among readers, the good and rare stuff can get picked clean rather quickly. So you need to do some research and find the particularly good stores in your area.
Some of the better shops around Los Angeles that have a constant stream of solid vintage titles are The Iliad, located in North Hollywood and the Last Bookstore in downtown LA. I enjoy prowling their shelves, especially on an overcast or rainy day, discovering new authors and titles I'd never heard of before. You also tend to encounter interesting characters, like-minded readers who you share a special silent kinship with. Go often enough, and you start running into the same people -- I'm lookin' at you Mathew Tepper!
One of the clerks at The Iliad told me that they have an endless need to replenish their shelves with science fiction fare because readers tend to hold onto to their collections. It's not seen as a disposable medium. In other words, the readers of the genre tend to stockpile. My theory behind this is because most science fiction readers are very passionate about the genre and are generally moved by what they read. Even when it's bad.
I spent five years working at Marvel Entertainment in licensing and branding, and two more years at The Walt Disney Company. One of the biggest lessons I learned in the industry centers on the trigger that compels people to purchase licensed goods. The trigger was contingent on quality content, and whether or not that content tied to the brand it represents, emotionally moved the consumer. If it did, they'd want to hold onto the experience. But how does one hold onto an ephemeral experience like a story?
Through buying goods that remind them of how they felt. T-shirts, action figures, you name it. I believe that certainly applies to science fiction fans in regards to the genre in of itself. Fans are emotionally tied to the genre in almost its entirety. Just like how horror movie fans are willing to sit through scary flicks both good and bad.
Where was I? Right. Where else to buy the good stuff? If the bookshops don't have what you necessarily want, other good spots are your local Friend's of the Library. These are mini-shops that are usually built-into or near libraries that take donated books which they can't process into their system, which they in turn sell for cheap rates. I've picked up quite a few rare gems from these pop-up shops, including the Buena Vista Public Library in Burbank.
If your town or city has a local science fiction club, that can be a great place to pickup books and comics. For instance, in the last few weeks alone I was able to procure a nice selection at the sales rack at LASFS (The Los Angeles Science Fiction and Fantasy Society) The oldest / longest running sci-fi club in the world.
If book shops, libraries, and local clubs don't have what your looking for, you can try thrift shops. And if that doesn't work, you'll have to cheat and search online, I.E. sites like Ebay, Amazon, Albris, Half.com, etc. Warning: Shopping online can be very addicting, because things are constantly being posted, but if you have a target title in mind, it is the best way to buy exactly what you're looking for. Usually, depending on the title, you can get a really good deal. I bought most of my Asimov hardcovers online at decent rates. However, I've been hard pressed to find a good deal on Clark Ashton Smith works. If any readers are looking to sell, I'm easy to find!
Now of course, if you can't find the book in any stores, or if it's just too rare or expensive, or, if you're just trying to save space, you can always just download books to a Kindle. Though I collect physical texts, I do think E-readers are valuable, convenient and that it's good to mix it up from time to time. Especially since you can't always lug a ton of books when you're on the go. I had trouble finding a copy of Damon Knight's The Futurians as well as a few other histories of fandom, so I've been reading and enjoying them on my Kindle.
One last trick that I use is to buy in lots. Craigslist and Ebay are especially good for this. I jumpstarted my collection by searching on Craigslist for people selling in bulk and found someone who sold me hundreds of paperbacks and hardcovers (see the first posting of Universe Collecting to learn the story) -- https://omni.media/universe-collecting
If there's an author I'm looking to collect, I usually type a phrase like, "A.E. Van Vogt Lot" Or, "Robert Heinlein Lot" into the Ebay search bar and see what comes up. Usually it will list vendors who are selling a dozen or so books by a given author at a pretty good price and I'll pull the trigger on what I want.
Now that we've covered where to buy, in my next issue we will talk about a particular author who I enjoy collecting, and whose early editions can be challenging to find -- Mr. Philip K. Dick.