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Collecting Science Fiction
In Memoriam

by Timothy Doyle

#66, 10 March 2006

The last several weeks have been rough for the SF & Fantasy community. Octavia Butler, SF's only MacArthur Genius award winner and an author that Harlan Ellison describes as a "remarkable talent" and "a natural born writer," died unexpectedly on February 24 at the young age of 58. David Feintuch, author of the Nicholas Seafort space navy series, died March 16 at the age of 61. SF and fantasy writer John Morressy died March 20; Morressy wrote almost two dozen genre novels and is perhaps best known for his Kedrigern the Wizard stories.

Finally, most recently, Stanislaw Lem died at age 84 on March 27. The Reuters article on Lem's death reports that the author sold over 27 million copies of his books, which have been translated into more than 40 languages.

Lem was a native of Poland, and his earliest books were blocked by Communist censors. His critically acclaimed novel Solaris was first published in 1961, and later translated into English and published in the US in 1970 (New York: Walker, 1970). Solaris has been filmed twice, first in 1971 by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, then again in a 2002 Hollywood remake shot by Steven Sodebergh and starring George Clooney. See the Collecting SF article "We've Met the Aliens And They Are Us!" for a discussion of Stanislaw Lem and Solaris.

They will be missed, one and all.

A Letter to Collecting Science Fiction

I recently received an email from a BookThink reader named Aaron posing some interesting questions related to a topic I've written on in the past, signed books.

"I indirectly know an up-and-coming author, who has offered to sign/write anything I ask inside a first edition copy of her book. She has even offered to write something that sounds like I am a close personal friend. (I heard someone joke about getting books signed, saying they always ask for a signature made out to "Dear eBay member") Additionally, I want her spouse to sign since he contributed to the technical research. He is mentioned in the book dedication by initials, and of course the ubiquitous "it wouldn't have been possible without ..." Could additional text help the book's resale value? What about the spouse's signature? What if it wasn't obvious that the spouse had contributed to the content?"

First, a quick summary of the discussion from my previous BookThink article, "Signed Books - Measuring Their Value."

I distinguish between dollar value and personal value when talking about a book's value. Dollar value is quite simply the amount you can sell the book for. Examples of personal value include the emotional appeal of a tattered childhood favorite storybook or a book passed down from a beloved family member. I also note that having a book signed and personalized to you by an author can add a great deal of personal value to the book and that many collectors are cheating themselves of this pleasure because they have been told that a personalized inscription devalues a book.

Aaron's question is a little different though. He wants to know if an inscription that appears to be written from the author to a close friend will increase the dollar value of the book. My answer to this would be a qualified Yes.

A book with an inscription from the author to a personal friend is known as an association copy, and traditionally in bookselling association copies are favored over copies signed by the author to someone they've just met, say, at a signing. Of course, if the associated friend is famous in their own right, so much the better. I recently purchased a Groff Conklin anthology (the scarce Gnome Press hardback edition of Science Fiction Terror Tales published in 1955) with a wonderful inscription made out by Conklin to H.L. Gold, his editor at Galaxy magazine during the early 1950s. The scarcity of the title, the fact that Conklin did not sign very often, and the personal relationship between these two famous names in SF makes this a unique item. And, as with most unique items, it is difficult to assign a dollar value to this book.

The drawback with Aaron's example is that the association is artificially contrived. The provenance of an association copy should document the personal relationship between the author and book owner - "Signed by the author to his landlady, who typed the manuscript of this his first novel," or "Signed by the author to his college roommate, who was the basis for the title character." These are extreme (and manufactured) examples but illustrate the point. A real example would be the Conklin title described above. There is no question about the relationship between Conklin and Gold, and the book was purchased by me from the daughter-in-law of Gold's last wife, so the provenance is solid. In Aaron's case, the relationship is indirect, and the author has offered to "write something that sounds like I am a close personal friend." The provenance of this item would support casual acquaintance at best. But, she is an up-and-coming author, so there is time to cultivate that casual acquaintance into a real friendship!

As to Aaron's other questions:

"Could additional text help the book's resale value?"

I've gone on record many times to say that "More is better" with author signatures. Forgery is and will continue to be one of the biggest problems in the collectible book market for the foreseeable future, and having more text in the author's hand makes it much less likely to be a forgery. The forger's ideal is signature only.

"What about the spouse's signature? What if it wasn't obvious that the spouse had contributed to the content?"

Aaron asks if having the author's husband sign would increase dollar value, given that he is mentioned (by his initials) in the dedication and contributed to the writing of the book in some fashion. This time, I would answer with an unqualified "Yes".

As I wrote in "Signed Books - Measuring Their Value":

"Finally, try for association signatures. At a signing with John Sandford for his recent Naked Prey, the author mentioned that the book's dedicatee was present. When I asked her to sign the dedication page by her name, she seemed genuinely pleased, and we had a very pleasant conversation. There are dozens of signed copies of this recent title available, but I haven't seen any with the dedicatee's signature. It is unique features like this that appeal to the collector mentality and maximize your profits."

I would ask the husband to sign at the dedication page, close by his initials. When listing the book, make it clear in the description who this person is, their relationship to the author, their link to the initials in the dedication, and their role in writing the book. This all becomes part of the provenance of the book. Remember, even if these extras don't increase the dollar value over that of a simple signed copy, it could still make all the difference in selling your book first, before any other copy.

As always, feel free to email me about any of my columns, to ask a science fiction question, or to suggest future topics you'd like to see.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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