Off The Shelf #2: A Load Of Ballards

I’ve been a huge fan of Mr J. G. Ballard ever since finding a copy of The Atrocity Exhibition on the shelves of the school library whilst in sixth form. I was drawn to the provocative title having never heard of Ballard and upon reading the book immediately thought “what the hell was that?” It’s fair to say it had quite an impact on my choice of reading material at the time and the book still thrills today as it did then. I’ve gone on to collect pretty much everything he’s written and enjoyed most of it immensely so I thought I’d pick out a few covers for this series.

The majority of the following titles were published by Panther (or a later derivative), one by Berkley Medallion (with fetching Richard Powers artwork) and the final three volumes are by Penguin. I have also written about a four book Ballard box set, each book with stunning artwork by David Pelham and dressed in a beautiful wraparound box painting in another article (here) so I won’t repeat any of those covers in this piece.

So, please enjoy checking out my Ballards and let me know what you think via the comments;

The Atrocity Exhibition
This version was published in 1979 by Triad Panther
The cover artist is uncredited

Ballard Atrocity Exhibition

The Day Of Forever
This version was published in 1971 by Panther
The cover artist is uncredited

Ballard Day Of Forever

The Disaster Area
This version was published in 1973 by Panther
The cover artist is uncredited

Ballard Disaster Area

Crash by J. G. Ballard
This version was published in 1977 by Panther
The cover art is by Chris Foss

What’s this – no giant airbrushed spaceship? This is possibly my favourite Chris Foss cover painting ever. As the title says, simultaneously brutal and erotic.

Ballard Crash

The Crystal World
This version was published in 1970 by Panther
The cover art is by Richard Whittern

Ballard Crystal World

Low-Flying Aircraft
This version was published in 1985 by Triad Panther
The cover artist is uncredited

For some reason this fine collection seems to be very difficult to pick up at reasonable prices.

Ballard Low-Flying Aircraft

Concrete Island
This version was published in 1976 by Panther
The cover art is by Richard Clifton-Dey

Ballard Concrete Island

Voices Of Time by J. G. Ballard
This version was published in 1962 by Berkley Medallion
The cover art is by Richard Powers

Ballard The Voices Of Time

I know, the next two books are exactly the same except for their covers but sometimes it’s hard to make a choice between one or the other and so you end up intentionally owning a pair. I don’t have lots of pairs by the way… well, not that many.

The Four Dimensional Nightmare
This version was published in 1977 by Penguin
The cover art is by David Pelham

Ballard Four Dimensional Nightmare

The Four-Dimensional Nightmare by J. G. Ballard
This version was published in 1965 by Penguin Books
The cover art is by Giorgio Gordoni

Ballard The Four-Dimensional Nightmare

The Wind From Nowhere
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin
Cover art by Alan Aldridge

This title is a part of the aforementioned box set but is presented here in an earlier print version with a completely different jacket design. I couldn’t resist including this because of Aldridge’s bonkers cover art!

Ballard Wind From Nowhere

From The Library Of The Unsubscriber No.3, This Week’s Latest Additions

I needed a bit of cheering up last weekend and so I put the kettle on, helped myself to a couple of chocolate biscuits and settled down with eBay on my iPad. I was hoping she wasn’t going to be in a fickle and obnoxious mood as is sometimes her inclination. As I sipped my tea however I had a good feeling about this session and before long I had quite a few books on my ‘Watch’ list. Before the hour was over, I had bought several titles and was bidding on quite a few more. Cheered on by this lucky streak I helped myself to another cup of tea – in a much more cavalier style than I had done before!

It was only a few days later before my hallway started filling with those lovely bookish parcels ready to have their sealed flaps gently teased open to reveal their beautiful, delicate contents. (steady on now old chap! This is starting to sound like an exercise in literary eroticism now so I’ll end these thoughts right here!) The following five titles were amongst the first batch to arrive but I have had more parcels arrive this morning already and am expecting next week to bear similar fruit.

I just wanted you, my kind readers and fellow vintage paperback cover aficionados to be the first to enjoy these brand new additions to my humble library. I’ll post more newly acquired books when time allows, I have plenty more great covers to share with you all yet.

Your erudite comments on these matters are as ever always welcome;

Budrys’ Inferno by Algis Budrys
This version was published in 1963 by Berkley Medallion
The cover artist is Richard Powers

Budrys Budrys' Inferno

Babel 17 by Samuel R. Delany
This version was published in 1969 by Sphere
The cover artist is Bill Botton

Delany Babel 17

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
This version was published in 1969 by Panther
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

Vonnegut Player Piano

Fourth Mansions by R. A. Lafferty
This version was published in 1975 by Panther
The cover artist is Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon

Lafferty Fourth Mansions

The Sentinel Stars by Louis Charbonneau
This version was published in 1974 by Corgi
The cover artist is Josh Kirby

Charbonneau The Sentinel Stars

The Groff Conklin / Richard Powers Conundrum

It should go without saying before I write this article that I love both Groff Conklin edited anthologies and the wonderfully sublime cover artwork of Richard Powers but I think you may have guessed this already.

Last week I was indulging myself in a little casual browsing over a cup of tea when I came across a book with rather stunning Richard Powers artwork. I Clicked the link and discovered to my delight that it was indeed a Powers cover and furthermore edited by Mr Groff Conklin. I was however greatly dismayed at the condition and price of the book, the cover was terribly creased and the edges chipped badly. The dealer wanted £8 which I thought was far too high and so I reluctantly passed on.

Imagine my surprise then when a few minutes later a second copy appeared on my screen – what are the chances of that happening? I mean, this is a fairly anonymous 1955 anthology not a towering classic of sci-fi. Condition-wise it was rated VG and so I tentatively looked at the price fearing the worst. it was a US dealer once again and so the exchange rate resulted in around over £4.50! Postage was a little more than I like to pay but nothing too fantastically steep and so I clicked the ‘Buy’ button with a huge grin on my face.

The next thing that happened was either a very strange coincidence or a form of odd cosmic destiny of some weird kind – another, different Powers/Conklin title had appeared on my screen. This one was also located in the US and had a favourable price so I really had to buy that one as well… wouldn’t you have done the same in my circumstances?

Postage from the US can take several weeks usually and so I was checking the postbox every morning for their arrival, the postie must think I’ve finally lost what few marbles I have left rolling around my mind. Finally after just a few short days, they both arrived and I couldn’t wait to open those tempting packages – I was not disappointed in the slightest.

Here then are the objects of my strangely coincidental quest, what do you think – was it worth the waiting time and effort involved involved in searching do you think;

Science Fiction Thinking Machines edited by Groff Conklin
1955 – Bantam Books
Cover art by Richard powers

Conklin SF Thinking Machines

The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Groff Conklin
1957 – Berkeley Books
Cover art by Richard powers

What I find most comical about this book is the title – it’s not big at all, merely a regular sized volume and not the huge compendium like I thought it might end up to be. Ah dear, I have tears of laughter in my eyes again, another cup of tea beckons I think.

Big Book Of Science Fiction Groff Conklin

From The Library Of The Unsubscriber No.2, Artistic Luminaries and Uncredited Heroes

This week’s glimpse into my library reveals a number of little treasures including cover artwork by such luminaries as Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon, Hoot Von Zitzewitz and Ian Miller. The final two books in this selection are both recent acquisitions – I just love the cover for Android Armageddon and its disembodied, computer filled head. Design like this would never get past draft stage these days which is more the pity.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this brief selection of randomly selected covers and books;

The Ring by Piers Anthony & Robert E. Margroff
1968 – Ace Books
Cover art by Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon

Anthony Margroff The Ring

The Big Time by Fritz Leiber
1967 – Ace Books
Cover art by Hoot Von Zitzewitz

Leiber The Big Time

The Werewolf Principle by Clifford Simak
1977 – Pan Books
Cover art by Ian Miller

Simak The Werewolf Principle

Android Armageddon by Robert Tralins
1974 – Pinnacle Books
Cover art by Vincent DiFate

Tralins Android Armageddon

Atoms And Evil by Robert Bloch
1962 – Fawcett Gold Medal
Cover artist not credited

Bloch Atoms And Evil

A Few Unexpected Finds With Junior Unsubscriber

This past Monday was the last day of Junior Unsubscriber’s summer holiday and so I said I’d take her for lunch, the park and do all the other things such young folk enjoy doing. It was drizzling during the morning which put a slight dampener on our initial plans but after heading out for a bumper sushi lunch and a bit of treat shopping we set of to the park for some much needed exercise. My spirits were high until I fell off her skateboard during a coaching session and almost smashed my glass back into a million pieces! When will I finally learn that I’m a 47 year old wreck of a man and no longer 16, thrusting and vital?

We later ran into Sheffield city centre for a wander around in the warm September sun and try to locate some sticky buns to consume. After parking the car I noticed a shop I hadn’t been in for a good many years called Rare And Racy, a place which I happily called my second home for most of my formative years. I asked Junior Unsubscriber if we could pay a quick visit to which she shrugged her shoulders and nodded blankly – oh, she knows me only too well.

Rare & Racy Shop

After just fifteen minutes I came away with a hardback, two Silverberg novels plus an anthology and two other paperbacks for just £8! I probably could have unearthed a few more treasures but the extreme avant garde jazz being played at high volume in the shop was beginning to disquiet Junior Unsubscriber so we beat a hasty retreat in search of the aforementioned sticky buns.

So, all in all a great day – the small one was happy with her sushi lunch, treats and various activities whilst I was delighted with my wholly unexpected finds. I really must pay Rare And Racy a few more visits in future.

The shop can be be found at 164-166, Devonshire Street in Sheffield. They also have a website here which is worth looking at to get an idea of just what kind of treasure trove the place is.

Inside Rare & Racy

Here are the aforementioned newly acquired books in all their glory;

Visions & Venturers by Theodore Sturgeon
1980 – Readers Union / The Science Fiction Book Club (UK)
Cover artist uncredited

Fabulously minimal cover which almost looks like an Open University manual on Technical Drawing.

Sturgeon Visions & Venturers

The Green Brain by Frank Herbert
1975 – New English Library
Cover art by Bruce Pennington

Another cover which only serves to deepen my love of the human skull, here rendered brilliantly amidst swarming insects by Bruce Pennington.

Herbert The Green Brain

Chains Of The Sea edited by Robert Silverberg
1974 – Dell Laurel-Leaf Library
Cover art by Gervasio Gallardo

Anthology Chains Of The Sea

Vornan-19 by Robert Silverberg
1972 – Tandem
Cover art by C. Achilleos

Silverberg Vornan-19

Next Stop The Stars by Robert Silverberg
1977 – Ace Books
Cover art by Don Punchatz

This frankly bizarre piece of cover art apparently shows a man in his long johns doing battle with a purple, two headed, four armed alligator-style alien and winning by the simple application of a large stick! I like it, although I’m just not entirely sure why…

Silverberg Next Stop The Stars

From The Library Of The Unsubscriber No.1, 100th Post

This article represents something of a milestone in my brief time as a blogger, you are currently reading my 100th post! Yes, it all started back in January 2013 when I began to throw out regular missives into the digital void, unsure as to whether anyone would want to listen to my musical ramblings and look at pictures of vintage paperbacks. I had no idea what I was aiming for back then but I think I have a much clearer idea now thankfully. I’m glad to say that a few of you still keep on coming back for more and so I continue photographing books and inserting the odd comment about my beloved odd music. I’d like to take this opportunity to say a big thanks to anyone who has read, liked or commented on a post at any time in the past. It makes my little endeavour here all the more worthwhile.

And so I wanted to do something a bit special for this centenary piece, maybe a cracking theme to knock your eyes out! I must confess though I’m finding it a little difficult to keep putting together themes after multiple raids on my library for collections of linked covers. I’ve written about skulls, heads (twice), the odd box set, horror collections, the female form, hardback books and a number of individual authors & artists but it’s becoming increasingly hard to present half a dozen or so visually connected cover designs.

And so I decided that it was time to throw open the doors of my library to the general public and produce an ongoing series of much looser collections. These will be recently acquired and randomly selected books from my library shelves which may be completely unconnected by their cover art other than being brilliant (or bonkers) examples of design. I can then slip in a few other more thematically inclined posts whilst I present these glimpses into my ever expanding collection.

I hope you enjoy this series as much as I’ve enjoyed putting the first few instalments together. Here’s the first batch of five covers to tantalise and titillate, feel free to comment;

The Bromius Phenomenon by John Rankine
1973 – Ace Books
Cover art by T. Upshar

Rankine The Bromius Phenomenon

The Genocides by Thomas M. Disch
1979 – Panther Granada
Cover artist uncredited

Disch The Genocides

The Synthetic Man by Theodore Sturgeon
1961 – Pyramid Books
Cover art by Lester Krause

Sturgeon The Synthetic Man

Planet Of No Return by Poul Anderson
1971 – Tandem
Cover artist not credited

Anderson Planet Of No Return

Possess & Conquer by Wenzell Brown
1975 – Warner Books
Cover art by Charles Moll

Brown Possess & Conquer

Playing Records – August 2014

This month has had its ups and downs for me and so I find that my taste in music has tended to change in direct proportion to what’s going on at the time. I’ve not been listening much new stuff just recently, partly because there’s been not much released during August that has taken my fancy. Personally speaking, my countdown is ticking for the end of September which is when new LPs from Electric Wizard and Aphex Twin arrive – I’m more than a little excited! And so, apart from one current release, this month’s selection is culled from the depths of the labyrinthine archive that is my music library. Here goes;

Demdike Stare – Testpressing#006
2014 – Modern Love

Testpressing#006

Last month I listed two Demdike Stare releases which had been taking up a large portion of my listening time and a month later, here comes another 12” hot on their heels. This is instalment number 6 in the Testpressing series and I can’t help wondering how many more of these sterling slabs of wax will be issued. The brilliantly titled ’40 Years Under The Cosh’ starts proceedings with a looped vocal sample and disjointed drum machines before building to a percussive crescendo midway. Flipside track ‘Frontin’ offers no easy way in with it’s jarring raw electronic blasts before setting up a steady rhythmic pulse around which a smear of percussion lurks underpinned by stuttering synths. The track is actually very sparsely constructed like the Testpressing series a whole but works brilliantly. It’s been refreshing to hear Sean Canty and Miles Whitaker turn their subversive attentions to other musical forms and I hope this series yields a few more releases.

Guitar Wolf – Loverock
2004 – Narnack Records

Loverock

Three leather & shades clad Japanese rebels with a penchant for scuzzed up punk turn in a true masterpiece of downright filthy garage trash rock ’n’ roll. This is the album to me which best personifies their sound – fast, raw, loud and as distorted as hell. The vocals are all sung in Japanese and so impossible to understand (unless you’re Japanese of course!) but that takes nothing away from these seventeen guitar troubling, adrenaline soaked tunes. No individual track descriptions are required at this point, I’m sure you’ll have made your mind up if this is your bag already but with a discography consisting of over a dozen LPs there’s plenty to go at if you’re interested. Get filthy and sweaty with Guitar Wolf.

Boris – Akuma No Uta
2003 – Diwphalanx Records

Akuma No Uta

After spending most of last month enjoying the latest offering from Boris I decided one evening in a fit of nostalgia to play my first bought and still favourite LP by the band. Akuma No Uta is a perfectly structured LP starting with the doomy guitar of opener ‘Introduction’ which segues into a pair of brief speedball freakouts. The centrepiece of the album is Naki Kyoku which begins with gently rippling guitar then builds into a colossal solo from Wata before belting home with all guns blazing. The album concludes with two heavy as fuck sludge jams – thirty nine minutes all told, done. Extra points are awarded for the cover which of course brilliantly apes the LP Bryter Layter by Nick Drake – double necked guitar and all.

Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza – The Feed-Back
1970 – RCA Italiana

The Feed-Back

I recently got a chance to replace a poor quality vinyl rip I owned with a lossless version of this album and so it’s found its way into heavy rotation this past month after too long an interval. The Group (as they were often referred to outside Italy) was basically a free improv collective featuring movie soundtrack maestro Ennio Morricone on trumpet. This is the kind of LP which when played polarises a room of people instantly – usually everyone complaining loudly before I have to reluctantly turn it off! It’s stuffed with some fine improvisation from all players but the key to this album’s brilliance is the addition of a drummer who lays down the kind of solid, funky break beats that would have crate diggers in tears. My only gripe here is the brevity of the album, just three tracks are included with a total running time of only twenty seven minutes. It’s also virtually impossible to track down the vinyl version, copies change hands for silly money although a little Google-Fu may well pay dividends.

Aphex Twin – Richard D. James Album
1996 – Warp Records

Richard D. James Album

And so finally Mr Richard D. James, The Aphex Twin himself has seen fit to release his first LP in thirteen long years come September 22nd. Cheers Rich, seriously what kept you? in honour of this truly momentous occasion I have been playing one of my personal back catalogue favourites to death all week. If you don’t know what this album sounds like already then shame on you, go and buy it at once and revel in its twisted brilliance. It somehow manages to shoehorn a bin bag full of drill ’n’ bass rhythms, squelchy acid licks, sinisterly pitched vocal snippets, orchestral flourishes and as many heart rending melodies as you could possibly shake a very large stick at. Oh, and anyone who can make a cracking tune using a jew’s harp, slide whistle and a pipe organ as on the last track ‘Logon Rock Witch’ fully deserves the epithet of genius in my book. My ears are now fully open Mr James, don’t let me down!

Album(s) Of The Month – August

Stars Of The Lid – Back Catalogue
1995 to 2007 – Various labels

Stars Of The Lid Back Catalogue

Last year I worked from home for a period of several months and so decided to create a number of playlists for use during such times. One of these playlists was to contain a favourite few albums by Texan duo Stars Of The Lid but I couldn’t honestly decide which to choose and so I included all nine of their LPs. As I mentioned above, I’ve had a funny old month and so I decided to revisit this playlist after a few sleepless nights. It’s been playing pretty much constantly ever since. So what is it about this band that compels me to happily sit through the eleven hours of music which makes up their back catalogue time and time again? It’s hard to adequately explain without resorting to cliche and clumsy metaphor but simply put they have a deeply calming, all enveloping effect on me which I utterly lose myself in. This is not lazy “ambient” music – far from it. Tracks such as ’Tape Hiss Makes Me Happy’ from their 1996 debut album Music For Nitrous Oxide has a definite sinister edge to it as does ‘The Artificial Pine’ from The Ballasted Orchestra amongst others. The later albums incorporate sparse orchestral elements amongst the expansive drones and sometimes fleetingly put me in mind of contemporary Eastern European composer Arvo Part. Whichever album I choose to start with I always end up playing the rest of the list – it’s even playing as I type these notes. So, I’m afraid I’ve had to nominate nine records this month because one just won’t do, normal service will be reserved in September! In The Meanwhile do your ears a favour and buy at least one of these life-affirming albums, you’ll thank yourself in the end. This truly is massively recommended listening.

Stars Of The Lid Back Catalogue;

1996 – Music For Nitrous Oxide
1996 – Gravitational Pull Vs. The Desire For An Aquatic Life
1997 – The Ballasted Orchestra
1998 – Maneuvering The Nocturnal Hum
1998 – Per Aspera Ad Astra
1999 – Avec Laudenum
2001 – The Tired Sounds Of Stars Of The Lid
2007 – Carte De Visite (Tour release only)
2007 – Stars Of The Lid And Their Refinement Of The Decline

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