David Pelham’s Hoyle Triptych

Roughly a year ago I had the good fortune to fall upon two copies of a three book Penguin mini series in a second hand shop. Both books were in exceptionally good condition for their age and were priced very reasonably at £3 each. Of course I had to have them and find the third book too, it wouldn’t be that hard – would it? Or so I thought back then. In the intervening period I kept my eyes and ears open for the missing volume through all my usual channels and have been unlucky… until now.

Last week I noticed that one of my larger book dealers had a copy for sale and quickly contacted him to purchase it. I could hardly await it’s arrival, then on Saturday morning it duly fell through the letterbox with a thump and I had another Penguin collection success story on my hands!

Two of the books were written by Fred Hoyle, A professor of astronomy at Cambridge University no less, the third title was co-written with his brother Geoffrey. The stark, sleek black covers are by David Pelham, the geometric design mirroring the contents of each volume. The only colour added was the stencilled name and title at the top centre of each cover. Because of this design, they end up looking more like text books than Science Fiction novels, see what you think.

Here is David Pelham’s Hoyle Triptych in all it’s glory;

The Fifth Planet by Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle
1971 – Penguin Books
Cover art by David Pelham

Hoyle Fifth Planet

The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle
1971 – Penguin Books
Cover art by David Pelham

Hoyle The Black Cloud

October The First Is Too Late by Fred Hoyle
1971 – Penguin Books
Cover art by David Pelham

Hoyle October The First Is Too Late


Thirteen David Pelham Covers

Putting together a collection of anything can be a frustrating and disheartening endeavour before indulging in the pleasure afforded by it’s eventual completion. I’ve spent many years tracking down records and books which I still haven’t managed to obtain despite having an endless list of internet resources to draw upon. Personally speaking, when a collection is left in a state of incompleteness for an extended period of time it becomes a monument to compromise – I am an owner of fractions but never of the whole.

When I began picking up books belonging to this series, they seemed to be both plentiful and reasonably priced. I was lulled into a false sense of achievement by these early acquisitions and rapidly obtained the first eight titles without much effort. The next four were a much tougher proposition, availability was extremely limited and the prices noticeably higher. After several more months of searching I required just a single volume, this is when the problem became apparent. The elusive book was The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick. Not only is PKD a highly collectable author but Stigmata is undoubtedly one of his best works therefore making my task of finding a copy twice as difficult.

A few months ago however, I stumbled on a US bookseller with a copy up for sale, the price he wanted almost made me pass it up but I decided to contact him anyway. After making a few sensible offers, the dealer declined to negotiate his price and I returned to thinking that my collection would remain at a round dozen. It therefore came as quite a surprise when the dealer contacted me again a few weeks ago and accepted my previous best offer.

When the book arrived safely yesterday, I could hardly believe it. I had finally managed to assemble a complete set. Here are all thirteen covers from this fine series of books published by Penguin in 1972-73. Each title boasts a stunning David Pelham cover, the whole series is unified by a number of thematic design and typography cues.

Dick Three StigmataStapledon SiriusPohl Space MerchantsVonnegut Cats CradlePenguin SF OmnibusFarmer Night of LightBlish Black easterMoorcock Cure for CancerApeman SpacemanHenderson The PeopleStapledon Last MenStapledon StarmakerPohl Plague of Pythons

Dedicated to Frederik George Pohl Jr.
(November 26, 1919 – September 2, 2013)

A Visit To Leakey’s

I spent last week in Scotland visiting my old friend Stuart who lives in a beautiful little fishing village called Rosehearty which is located around 45 miles north of Aberdeen. During this time, my genial host took me to several areas of outstanding beauty and jaw-dropping scenery which acted as a perfect escape from the rather stressful business of mentally preparing myself for my new job. One of his excursions included a trip to Inverness for a fine lunch of haggis, neeps and tatties followed by a visit to Leakey’s Bookshop on Church Street.

Leakeys Exterior

Leakey’s is Scotland’s largest secondhand bookshop and is housed in an old Gaelic church which dates back to 1793. The building houses a vast collection of books spanning all genres and also features a rather scary looking wood burning fire which heats the whole space in winter. There are bookshelves lining every available wall which extend up onto a mezzanine level accessed by cast iron spiral staircases. It truly is the bookshop that time forgot and has a magical quality about it, something sadly missing in today’s soulless corporate outlets. I really can’t recommend a visit to Leakey’s enough if you’re even remotely nearby, it’s a good job I live several hundred miles away as I’m sure I’d spend most of my free time there browsing the seemingly endless stock of vintage paperbacks.

Leakeys Interior

After a very pleasant hour of rifling through the science fiction section, I realised I had a huge stack of books on the floor in front of me and so I began to ruthlessly narrow down my selection. In the end, I left the shop with twenty six titles – a fantastic haul which cost me far less than it would have done if I had bought the same books via eBay or an online book dealer. Needless to say, I was a very happy man on the long drive back to Rosehearty that afternoon.

I’ve had a fantastic break thanks to Stuart (who incidentally runs a rather good Sci-Fi/horror blog called The Fifth Dimension) and travelled home with a much heavier suitcase than the one I took with me. I’ll spare you the holiday snaps (as fabulous as they are) and share a small selection of tasty book covers from my latest stash instead;

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

I’ve been looking for the 11th printing of this title from 1974 for a while now and was incredibly lucky to find a copy in extremely good condition despite being almost forty years old. The reason I wanted this particular version was because of the wonderfully psychedelic Ian Miller cover art.

HG Wells Time Machine

Things edited by Ivan Howard

I missed out on winning this anthology on eBay a few months ago, it sold for three times the price I paid for it at Leakey’s. This is a Mayflower Dell publication from 1965 and contains six shorts from the likes of Poul Anderson, James Blish and Damon Knight. The cover artist is uncredited but the painting is signed ‘Jacks’.


Anthologies are great to collect, especially the early magazine style publications of the sixties of which I have a number. These two books have a couple of things in common; they both contain shorts by J.G. Ballard which would eventually end up in The Atrocity Exhibition and they were both published in the year I was born.

New Worlds, April 1966 edited by Michael Moorcock

Published by Roberts & Vitner Ltd, this collection features Ballard’s The Assassination Weapon in addition to short stories by Moorcock and John Brunner among others. The cover is uncredited.

New Worlds 1966

Impulse, March 1966 edited by Karl Bonfiglioni

This is another Roberts & Vitner publication and contains shorts by the likes of James Blish, Poul Anderson and Brian Aldiss. Ballard contributes You and Me and the Continuum. I initially grabbed this one because of the brilliant cover painting by Judith Ann Lawrence which features yet another human skull to add to my collection.

Impulse 1966

It’s fair to say that I’m slightly obsessed with Penguin Sci-Fi books of the sixties and seventies and so I always tend to keep an eye open for them when I’m hunting. I never thought I’d pick up such well preserved examples of the following titles at such ridiculously low prices.

Consider Her Ways and Others by John Wyndham

This near fine collection of Wyndham short stories was published in 1965 and has a strikingly odd cover by Herbert Spencer, the founder and editor of influential design magazine Typographica.

Wyndham Consider Her Ways

Trouble with Lichen by John Wyndham

Published in 1963 with more strange cover art, this design is the work of John Griffiths.

Wyndham Trouble With Lichen


Never Mind The Ballards, Here’s The Box Set

Assembling a collection of anything can be a frustrating endeavour at times, particularly when an item eludes you for so long that you eventually resign yourself to the fact that you’ll never be able to own said item. Being something of a music and book collector, I have hit this brick wall several times in the past and rarely managed to obtain what it was that I originally spent huge amounts of time trying to track down in the first place. This short tale however is an exception to such a predicament.

I’ve been a huge fan of J.G. Ballard since reading The Atrocity Exhibition in my late teens as part of a small obsession I had with the work of Burroughs, Gysin et al and following this introduction I picked up everything I could find by him. Just recently though I have been tracking down the wonderful Panther reprints which were issued at the end of the 1970s to replace my slightly tatty copies. As part of this research into publication history, I came across a blog post which featured a 1974 Penguin box set of four books; The Terminal Beach, The Drowned World, The Wind From Nowhere and The Drought. Each title has cover art by David Pelham which is nothing short of iconic, in fact I seemed to come across plenty of framed covers selling for £20 and upwards rather than the books themselves. Pelham also produced a fantastic wraparound painting for the slipcase itself making this one of the most visually appealing uniform editions I think I’ve ever seen.

Such desirability however brings scarcity and so when months of searching failed to turn up a single copy at any price I began to suspect that tracking down this beautiful box set might turn out to be a difficult proposition. Some weeks ago, a copy appeared for auction on eBay – the first I had ever seen – and I watched the price rapidly accelerate from its 99p starting price to well beyond £60 in the last hour with a sinking feeling. I knew at this point my chances of ever owning this set were very slim if this was the outcome.

Imagine my surprise when it turned up on eBay again last week, it had no accompanying picture and was being offered for a fixed price of only £15… could this really be what I was looking for? I took no chances and hit the ‘buy it now’ button, determined not to miss out once again should this indeed be what the brief description claimed it was. Several days of anxious waiting ensued and finally the package arrived. I can’t remember the last time I was so nervous tearing into a book parcel but after the final piece of bubble wrap was removed, my initial worries subsided as realised I now had an extremely good example of this much sought after box set in my hands.

Ballard Pelham Penguin Box

Ballard Box Set Cover

Ballard Pelham Terminal

Ballard Pelham Drowned

Ballard Pelham Wind

Ballard Pelham Drought