Off The Shelf; Keith Laumer

Keith Laumer Portrait

The next author to come under the spotlight as part of this ongoing mini-series is Keith Laumer who is probably familiar to many for his Retief novels. I first discovered him via a rather tatty copy of A Plague Of Demons which I picked up in a dusty old bookshop one rainy afternoon. I must admit that I bought it mainly for the cover as it was the 1967 Penguin version with an illustration by Alan Aldridge but I did rather enjoy reading it following my purchase.

Since then, I have replaced my battered copy of this book with a much tidier copy and have also expanded my collection of Laumer’s writings considerably. I haven’t included this novel here though as it was featured as part of an earlier article on the Penguin/Aldridge series which can be found here if you’d like to see it.

I’ve become more aware of his output through Berkley Medallion recently due to the fact that a great deal of these publications were illustrated by Richard Powers. They tend to be quite hard to come across being US versions so consequently fetch higher prices once shipping is factored in.

So, onto the covers! I’ve selected eight titles as usual, each one featuring particularly eye-catching artwork. The first four books presented below are pulled from my modest collection of Berkley Medallions for all you Powers fans out there.

I’ll be back again soon with another Off The Shelf selection so be sure to follow the blog to receive notifications of all new posts. Let me know what you think of this week’s covers in the comments too, your feedback is always greatly appreciated.

The Shape Changer by Keith Laumer
This version was published in 1973 by Berkley Medallion Books
The cover artist is Richard Powers

The Shape Changer by Keith Laumer

The Infinite Cage by Keith Laumer
This version was published in 1974 by Berkley Medallion Books
The cover artist is Richard Powers

The Infinite Cage by Keith Laumer

Time Trap by Keith Laumer
This version was published in 1970 by Berkley Medallion Books
The cover artist is Richard Powers

Time Trap by Keith Laumer

It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad Galaxy by Keith Laumer
This version was published in 1968 by Berkley Medallion Books
The cover artist is Richard Powers

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Galaxy by Keith Laumer

Galactic Odyssey by Keith Laumer
This version was published in 1970 by Mayflower Books
The cover artist is Josh Kirby

Galactic Odyssey by Keith Laumer

Nine By Laumer by Keith Laumer
This version was published in 1970 by Sphere Books
The cover artist is uncredited

Nine By Laumer by Keith Laumer

A Trace Of Memory by Keith Laumer
This version was published in 1968 by Mayflower Books
The cover artist is uncredited

A Trace Of Memory by Keith Laumer

The Great Time Machine Hoax by Keith Laumer
This version was published in 1965 by Pocket Books
The cover artist is uncredited

The Great Time Machine Hoax by Keith Laumer

Eight Penguin Covers by Alan Aldridge

Penguin SF Logo 1967

In 1967, Penguin chief Allen Lane was harbouring serious misgivings about the direction that editor Tony Godwin was taking Penguin with regard to the marketing and distribution of fiction. Lane felt that the covers being designed by Alan Aldridge and his colleagues were becoming too commercial and increasingly tasteless. To Lane such covers were undignified and not in keeping with Penguin’s reputation. Worse still, the use of images he regarded as titillating or even offensive was an insult to the books’ authors, some of whom were now making their own feelings known, with more than one threatening to move to another publisher.

Matters were made worse by Godwin’s desire to sell Penguin books in non-traditional outlets such as supermarkets. Lane disliked the idea and as booksellers joined authors to protest at the way Penguin was heading so the rift between the two men deepened. To Lane, Aldridge’s ‘vulgar covers’ and Godwin’s ‘gimmicky selling’ were a threat to over thirty years of Penguin tradition and brand identity. If left unchecked it would only be a matter of time before the books were being packaged and sold just like any other consumer product. The crisis came to a head in late April and early May with a boardroom bust-up that resulted in Godwin’s departure and Lane’s barbed comment that ‘a book is not a tin of beans’.

The Penguin SF titles published in 1967 perhaps give some idea of what all the fuss was about, for whereas previous SF covers had targeted adults, Aldridge wanted his to ‘reach the kids’ and for that something different would be needed. Aldridge’s new designs retained the black, white and mauve livery that had first been used the previous year but shortened the banner to SCIENCE FICTION and relocated it beneath the logo along with the price. With the price and banner out of the way, the title and author’s name were shifted to the top right corner. But tinkering with typography was merely housekeeping to clear away the clutter in preparation for the main event. For unlike the other SF covers of 1966, the artwork was no longer confined to a white-bordered window but took centre stage instead.

Penguin SF had never seen anything like it. Aldridge clothed his cast of characters in gaudy bow ties & polkadots or kipper ties & pantaloons, mixing vaudeville with freak show in a crazy raving medley of surrealism and psychedelia that pinched from Pop Art whilst also flirting with Art Deco. His phantasmagoria of floating images took SF cover art to the brink and the titles of the books said as much. Strung out in shrieking white capitals, they splintered the blackness like a banshee’s wail.

Cartoonish and cadaverous, gilded and grotesque, Aldridge’s artwork was trippy and fun. It tuned in to the spirit of the times and to some his covers were the drug of choice (this was 1967 after all and flower power was in full bloom) but they did not please everyone. Aldridge aroused adoration but also abhorrence and some of his covers in the main fiction list provoked a particularly hostile reaction. It was enough to ensure there would be no encore. With Godwin gone, Aldridge’s position at Penguin became increasingly untenable and by early 1968 he too had left the building.

I happen to think that this series of eight titles illustrated by Aldridge have stood the test of time and still look decidedly freakish, even in 2016. What I like most about these covers is that they look about as far away from SF as you can possibly get, taking a direction never before explored by artists and completely reflecting the times they were created in. Feel free to drop me a comment and let me know what you think about this collection of bizarre covers.

Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison

Destination: Void by Frank Herbert
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

Destination Void by Frank Herbert

The Wind From Nowhere by J. G. Ballard
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

The Wind From Nowhere by J. G. Ballard

A Plague Of Demons by Keith Laumer
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

A Plague Of Demons by Keith Laumer

The Circus Of Dr Lao by Charles G. Finney
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

The Circus Of Dr Lao by Charles G. Finney

The Joyous Invasions by Theodore Sturgeon
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

The Joyous Invasions by Theodore Sturgeon

Time And Again by Clifford D. Simak
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

Time And Again by Clifford D. Simak

Tiger! Tiger! by Alfred Bester
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

Tiger! Tiger! by Alfred Bester

From The Library Of The Unsubscriber No.20, Cover Oddities

Searching through my bookshelves earlier for this week’s selection, I was happy to see so many fantastic covers adorning the books I have collected over the years. I have always tried to choose the edition of each title according to my favourite artwork wherever possible. Although having said this I have my fair share of oddities too and so I thought I’d assemble a small collection of books with slightly questionable or just plain wonky artwork. What are your thoughts on this matter – am I being overly harsh or too critical of the choices included here or are you too an aficionado of the downright strange? Let me know in the comments.

Cybernia by Lou Cameron
This version was published in 1973 by Coronet Books
The cover artist is uncredited

Cameron Cybernia

New Writings In SF 22 edited by Kenneth Bulmer
This version was published in 1974 by Corgi Books
The cover artist is Mike Little

Anthology New Writings In SF 22

The Hounds Of Tindalos by Frank Belknap Long
This version was published in 1963 by Belmont Books
The cover artist is uncredited

Belknap Long The Hounds Of Tindalos

In Deep by Damon Knight
This version was published in 1978 by Magnum Books
The cover artist is Chris Moore

Knight In Deep

A Plague Of Demons by Keith Laumer
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

Laumer A Plague Of Demons

A Delivery From The U.S. Part Two

Last week, I wrote about placing an order via eBay for a list of books from my good buddy Otis in the U.S. (here). I then went on to feature the first half dozen of these fabulous titles for you to drool over.

This week I’m presenting the second set of six vintage paperbacks in an attempt to create a much more easy to digest format rather than dumping a whole load of covers in front of you to sift through. Once again, do let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Time Trap by Keith Laumer
This version was published in 1970 by Berkley Medallion Books
The cover artist is Richard Powers

Time Trap by Keith Laumer

Day Of The Beasts by John E. Muller
This version was published in 1971 by Macfadden Books
The cover artist is Jeff Jones

Day Of The Beasts by John E. Muller

Notions: Unlimited by Robert Sheckley
This version was published in 1968 by Bantam Books
The cover artist is uncredited

Notions Unlimited by Robert Sheckley

The Stars Around Us edited by Robert Hoskins
This version was published in 1970 by Signet Books
The cover artist is Gene Szafran

The Stars Around Us edited by Robert Hoskins

The Ruins Of Earth edited by Thomas M. Disch
This version was published in 1972 by Berkley Medallion Books
The cover artist is Richard Powers

The Ruins Of Earth edited by Thomas M. Disch

All The Colors Of Darkness by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.
This version was published in 1968 by Paperback Library Books
The cover artist is uncredited

All The Colors Of Darkness by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.

A Delivery From The U.S. Part One

When I have a little spare cash, I always head over to take a look at what my good buddy Otis has to offer on eBay. I have to wait until I have sufficient funds to make a larger purchase because I always know he’ll definitely come up with the goods like every time I’ve browsed his vast selection of titles. There’s never any point in buying just one or two books from the U.S. because of the ridiculous postage charges that most sellers levy but Otis calculates his payment by weight and so it makes total sense to negotiate a bulk buy to take best advantage of the final total.

A few weeks ago I found myself in that very position and so happily sat there with my iPad in my hand furiously tapping the ‘Watch’ button until I had created a decent sized list. This was then trimmed judiciously and an email sent to Otis requesting a postage quote. Given the time differences involved, he’s always on the ball and got back to me fairly promptly with a price – the deal was done!

I’m always shocked at how speedy the delivery of my order is too and this time was no exception, within a week the postie knocked at my door bearing a large cardboard box full of vintage treasures. Once inside I quickly ripped open the lid and sifted through my prizes like a container full of rare, delicate gems.

I’ve split the books into three parts for ease of viewing, here are the first six titles for your delectation. Comments at the ready…

What’s Become Of Screwloose? And Other Inquiries by Ron Goulart
This version was published in 1973 by Daw Books
The cover artist is Josh Kirby

What's Become Of Screwloose? And Other Inquiries by Ron Goulart

The Infinite Cage by Keith Laumer
This version was published in 1974 by Berkley Medallion Books
The cover artist is Richard Powers

The Infinite Cage by Keith Laumer

Greener Than You Think by Ward Moore
This version was published in 1961 by Ballantine Books
The cover artist is Richard Powers

Greener Than You Think by Ward Moore

Daughters Of Earth by Judith Merril
This version was published in 1970 by Dell Books
The cover artist is Robert Foster

Daughters Of Earth by Judith Merril

A Far Sunset by Edmund Cooper
This version was published in 1968 by Berkley Medallion Books
The cover artist is Richard Powers

A Far Sunset by Edmund Cooper

The Shape Changer by Keith Laumer
This version was published in 1973 by Berkley Medallion Books
The cover artist is Richard Powers

The Shape Changer by Keith Laumer

From The Library Of The Unsubscriber No.13, Cover Shapes And Symbols

I’ve discovered that I have a number of books in my collection with rather experimental covers depicting shapes, symbols, manipulated photographs and other wonders of the late 60s & 70s . I thought it would be good to group them all together over a couple of posts, each one having a slightly different cover subject. It’s amazing to note that a lot of these progressive covers were uncredited although some were created by luminaries such as Richard Powers and Josh Kirby.

See what you think of my first batch of experimental covers, comments are as ever always welcome.

The Star Treasure by Keith Laumer
This version was published in 1971 by Berkley Medallion Books
The cover artist is Richard Powers

Laumer The Star Treasure

Under Compulsion Thomas M. Disch
This version was published in 1970 by Panther Books
The cover artist is uncredited

Disch Under Compulsion

The Symmetrians by Kenneth Harker
This version was published in 1966 by Compact Books
The cover artist is uncredited

Harker The Symmetrians

Time And Stars by Poul Anderson
This version was published in 1970 by Panther Books
The cover artist is uncredited

Anderson Time And Stars

Digits And Dastards by Frederik Pohl
This version was published in 1971 by Corgi Books
The cover artist is Solutions

Pohl Digits And Dastards

From The Library Of The Unsubscriber No.5, Junior Unsubscriber Pays A Visit

After making an idle suggestion during a previous article about the possibility of asking Junior Unsubscriber to pick the next random selection of books for your enjoyment, the thought began to grow in my head. Not long ago, I mentioned that she could choose any five books whose covers she liked for whatever reason. It wasn’t long before my pristinely ordered bookcases looked like a series of incendiary devices had gone off across the shelves.

Not much later however, Junior Unsubscriber handed me a small pile of books and exited the room with a happy demeanour, seeming to have enjoyed the whole experience immensely. After tidying up the aftermath of this onslaught I turned my attention to the pile of selected paperbacks and was quite pleasantly surprised that a non-SF reading twelve year old can assemble such a great collection of book covers without knowing anything of the authors or artists involved.

It’s been an interesting experiment and with results like this maybe I ought let Junior Unsubscriber loose on my library a little more often to see what sort of collections she’s capable of putting together. I do dread the tidying up afterwards however… See what you think of her choices and annotated comments regarding the covers;

A Trace Of Memory by Keith Laumer
This version was published in 1968 by Mayflower Books
The cover artist is uncredited

“The man has big writing in his crazy hair and his neck is melting.”

Laumer A Trace Of Memory

A Spectre Is Haunting Texas by Fritz Leiber
This version was published in 1971 by Mayflower Books
The cover artist is uncredited

“This is pretty scary, an alien skeleton who is also a vampire because he’s wearing a cape.”

Leiber A Spectre Is Haunting Texas

Analogue Men by Damon Knight
This version was published in 1967 by Sphere Books
The cover artist is David Davis

“These people are climbing over some railings in the nude but it’s ok because they’re made out of wood.”

Knight Analogue Men

Psychogeist by L. P. Davis
This version was published in 1967 by Mayflower-Dell Books
The cover artist is uncredited

“Someone has done very hard sums on this man’s head, the other bit of his head looks like a machine.”

Davies Psychogeist

Prostho Plus by Piers Anthony
This version was published in 1973 by Berkley Medallion
The cover artist is uncredited

“This is what happens in your mouth at night if you don’t brush your teeth properly”

Anthony Prostho Plus

The Purple Armchair by Olga Hesky
This version was published in 1963 by Mayflower Books
The cover artist is uncredited

“Lots of aliens are crammed into this chair. It looks a bit uncomfortable to me so I’d find another chair to sit on.”

Hesky The Purple Armchair