It was a full and gratifying first quarter of the year for collectible books. I further strengthened my working relationship with our mail carrier (and weakened my PayPal account) by staying busy on eBay and elsewhere, doing my part to help get the economy rolling again. From all I can see, the market for fine books remains strong and healthy.
In this post and a couple to follow, I’d like to highlight a few recent releases that caught my attention and made their way into my permanent collection. These are books that I bought because I read and collect these authors, but in each case (I believe) there’s a case to be made for making a bit more of an effort and spending a bit more money to ensure that I’ve got solid, high-grade examples. In addition to the more straightforward pleasure of reading and owning a book that you’ve enjoyed, an extra step or two at the beginning can help to enhance your chances that the collection you’re building will also build in value over the years.
Dan Simmons. Drood. New York: Little Brown, [February] 2009. States: “First Edition: February 2009,” first printing indicated by number code “10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1” on copyright page.
Dan Simmons is one of those authors who has been on collectors’ radar pretty much since Day One. His first novel, Song of Kali (Bluejay, 1985) won the World Fantasy Award; it was followed in short order by Carrion Comfort (Dark Harvest, 1989), which won the Bram Stoker Award, and then Hyperion (Doubleday, 1989), probably the work for which he is best known in the science fiction community, which won both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1990. Drood (so far) has received starred reviews from PW and Booklist, and has appeared on both the PW and NYT bestseller lists.
As with The Terror (Little, Brown, 2007) before it, Drood doesn’t fall easily into a single category or genre; the book is a fit for your collection if you collect ALL Dan Simmons, of course, and likely if you include all of his fantastic work.
Not all of Mr. Simmons’ books have held up well in the collectible aftermarket. But Drood has a lot going for it: great reviews, bestseller status, and an author with a reputation for writing the book he wants to write, and refusing to be pigeonholed into a single style or genre. Probably the best comparison for Drood would be The Terror, which shows recently on eBay and ABE at $40 and up, signed and fine. Not a bad return at all. The combination of factors makes Drood an easy book to recommend.
For further consideration, Subterranean Press, which has published fine editions of several Simmons books, most recently the novella Muse of Fire, has just released a deluxe edition of Drood, limited to 526 total copies (500 numbered and 26 lettered), all signed by Dan Simmons. The bindings are an upgrade over the paper-over-boards of the Little, Brown edition, and it features fabulous jacket art by John Picacio. At $80 for the numbered and $500 for the lettered, not exactly a casual purchase, and as it’s not the true first, it’s harder to recommend other than to completists, but it promises to be a beautiful, extraordinarily well-made edition.
Kathleen Bryan. The Last Paladin. New York: Tor, [March] 2009. States: “First Edition: March 2009,” first printing indicated by number code “0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1” on copyright page. Trade paperback original.
Concluding volume in a trilogy after The Serpent and the Rose and The Golden Rose (both Tor, 2008), released in (relatively) affordable paperback editions and in a compressed timeframe, much as Del Rey did with Naomi Novik’s original Temeraire trilogy. I haven’t heard any sales figures, but having followed the series on the secondary market from the start, I don’t get the impression that this series has gathered the attention that Ms. Novik’s books have. But the reviews for the first two books were strong, and I found them a pleasure to read, as did my wife when I passed them on.
I think the cat is long since out of the bag that “Kathleen Bryan” is a pseudonym of noted fantasy/historical fantasy author Judith Tarr, who I’ve followed since the publication of her wonderful The Hound and the Falcon trilogy, which started with The Isle of Glass (Bluejay, 1985). She has published quite a few books since, including many that have been well-received and well-reviewed, but my favorites are still that original trilogy, and from a collectible standpoint, they are still quite reasonably priced in solid grade.
In this series as in The Hound and the Falcon, Ms. Tarr tells an appealing, primarily romantic story that integrates fantasy elements effortlessly, with absolutely no sense that they might’ve been gratuitously grafted on just to appeal to a genre readership. Adding depth and context to both stories is a solid historical background—it’s not exactly our world, but close enough that it isn’t difficult at all to see through the conventions and settings to the familiar supporting structure underneath. Ms. Tarr does this as well as any fantasy author I’ve read.
It would be a pleasure to see a readership build for the “Kathleen Bryan” name, much as it has for “Robin Hobb.” As far as collectability factors for this series go, these aren’t first novels, and their publication in paperback makes future appeal problematical. Still, notwithstanding an ending that seemed a bit too easy, I liked them enough to buy them all in both first edition/first printing and in uncorrected proof versions.
Kage Baker. The Empress of Mars. Burton, MI: Subterranean Press, 2009. Stated first edition; no printing indicated per publisher’s convention. Limited edition of 448 numbered hardcover copies signed by Kage Baker. Expanded from the novella of the same title (in Asimov’s, 7/2003, and Night Shade Books, 2003).
This limited edition is the true first. A trade edition is forthcoming (Tor, [May] 2009).
Full disclosure: I’m recommending this book without having read it yet. I have to admit that, as careful as I am with my books, I have problems actually reading a fine, signed, deluxe edition. I’ve been on the lookout for a copy of the ARC of the Tor edition, and worst case, I’ll be able to grab a copy at B&N in just a bit over a month. But having read a good many of Kage Baker’s novels and short pieces over the past few years, and with all that this beautiful book has going for it, I’m pretty comfortable in thinking that it’ll be of considerable interest to anyone who collects Ms. Baker’s work.
The best-case scenario for a limited edition is when it is also the true first edition. That’s the case with Empress, as it’s not with the SubPress edition of Drood mentioned above. So whether your collection focuses on first editions, fine editions or both, this one is the preferred. Also good is when the edition is relatively small (check) and when it sells out from the publisher before, on, or shortly after publication (check).
Empress also has linkages back in a couple of ways to the Ms. Baker’s other work. This novel version is an expansion of the Sturgeon award-winning, Hugo- and Nebula-nominated novella of the same name, which saw magazine publication in 2003 and was released the same year as a limited edition hardcover by Night Shade Books. It is also set in the same universe as the author’s “Company” series of novels and stories. The connection is further strengthened in this expanded version, which features two of the Company’s operatives. Sure seems like a winning hand to me.