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Farah and Abe

6 February 2005

Iíve been filling in Farah Mendlesohnís questionnaire about SF reading habits in youth [find it here], and it led me to reflect that the í70s must have been pretty much the best option for being a teenage science fiction fanatic. Lots of new stuff coming out, and new SF imprints to publish it; the best writing from the fifties and sixties - which is my Golden Age - still in print, and the first moves towards reprinting lost classics in a methodical way. We were spoiled, I think, and I for one didnít realise it until ten years ago, when I was talking to a friend who was running the SF section in my local Waterstoneís. I was suggesting lots of titles he didnít have in stock, that I thought he ought to, classics from my youth - and they were none of them in print, and I couldnít believe it.

Everything goes in cycles, and we may be coming into a second good time now. Not for the new stuff, where if you donít have Ďbestsellerí stamped all through you, itís getting harder and harder to find a publisher at all; but thereís a resurgence of reprint-series like the SF Masterworks from Gollancz, thereís print-on-demand which gives us access to long lists of books that would otherwise be out-of-print, and thereís the internet. Amazon and Abe between them may yet be the final death-knell for the mid-list author (itís conspicuous even from my own Amazon returns, how many people are buying second-hand copies rather than new - and of course we get no royalty from a second-hand sale), but for those of us who are readers as well as writers, they do offer a hitherto undreamed-of access to books that have long slipped out of print and almost out of cognizance. Suddenly itís easy to fill the gap on the shelf or to go questing for some half-remembered title encountered once and never quite forgotten. My first purchase from Abe was The Passion Flower Hotel by Rosalind Erskine, a bestseller in its day, but my only acquaintance with it had been a radio adaptation twenty years ago. I wanted it, suddenly, on a whim; pre-Abe, I might have waited another twenty years to come across it in a second-hand shop here or there. With Abe, I found it in five minutes, ordered it in ten and had it in two days. Thatís life-changing, even if the book itself is not. Oh, and in case anyoneís wondering why I speak of Abe instead of ABE - well, Iíve always seen him as a person, a backwoodsman in a check shirt, living in a log cabin in the woods with these great piles of books all around him, sorted in some order known only to himself.

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© Chaz Brenchley 2005
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.