Category Archives: vintage paperbacks

2016: The Year in Books

chase-the-tiger01-duplicateAs the year winds down, my eyes are protesting. They have a point. My steely blue orbs have absorbed a lot of words these past twelve months. I made a point in 2016 of reading outside my usual comfort zones, as well as putting an emphasis on reading books from indie authors. Add in my own writing, plus editing jobs, plus trying to read menus in darkened restaurants, and I’m fortunate I can see at all.

But I can, so let’s recount the wonders of the written word! First, while I did cast the net wide for genre fiction and independently published works, I read my share of conventional literature as well. I finally got around to some Tolstoy, for example.  And I read The Commodore in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series, because I get the shakes if I go too long without reading one of those. I’m probably the last person to get on the Raymond Chandler bandwagon, but I’m making up for lost time. I read The Long Goodbye, and have another Phillip Marlowe mystery on deck.  I finished William H. Patterson Jr.’s Robert Heinlein: The Man Who Learned Better, 1948-1988, an exhaustively researched biography. I even worked in a couple political polemics, because it was that kind of year.

But the indie works really stood out in 2016. Nick Cole hit two homescreen-shot-2016-12-31-at-4-09-23-pm runs with Ctrl Alt Revolt and Fight the Rooster. The former won a Dragon Award for its sci-fi melding of AI, video games and caustic social commentary, while the latter is a manic romp about a Hollywood director trying to  break free from the chains of success.

Also standing out from the crowd was Liberty Boy by David Gaughran, a work of historical fiction set in Ireland that I enjoyed immensely.  The Missionaries by Owen Stanley was a fun skewering of do-gooder UN types set on a Pacific isle.

I’m one of Michael Bunker’s Patreon subscribers, so I’ve enjoyed the delicious chapters of Hell and the Sea as they’ve been released each month. The novel is a fictionalized account of the early days of the indie publishing revolution, and it has a big future ahead of it when it’s released in its entirety.

Part of my “reading outside my usual comfort zones” vow includes paying more attention to the romance genre. There is some great work being done on that side of the fence, like Place Your Betts by Katie Graykowski. The term “laugh-out-loud-funny” get overused a lot, but not in this case. Katie’s work just crackles with wit.

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-4-19-01-pmOf course, my heart has always been in the science-fiction and fantasy fields, and I found some gems here in 2016. Vaughn Heppner is one of those indies who sells so many books it makes my head spin, so I downloaded Alien Honor, and admired how he set the table for an entertaining space opera series. I kept noticing The Long Way Down by Craig Schaefer in the also-bought feed for my Connor Rix series so I gave that a read. I snatched up a copy of Hugh Howey’s Beacon 23 when it went on sale earlier this year. It didn’t do much for me, but YMMV. Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia isn’t indie published, but it hit a populist nerve and won a Dragon award. It’s the beginning volume in a great epic fantasy, and entertaining as hell.

I read The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson, first published in 1912, one of the strangest science-fantasy books I’ve ever read, and I mean that in a good way. It’s set in a future so distant that the sun has burned out and all of humanity lives in one vast redoubt. Speaking of distant futures, I finally (finally!) found a battered paperback copy of Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth at Half-Price Books, devoured it, and then raced through Dan Simmons’ homage to Vance, The Guiding Nose of Ulfant Banderoz.

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-4-06-18-pmThis was also a year for short stories. I started the year picking my way through Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning. I snacked on the wyrd western Ledge Town by Jason Anspach, and enjoyed  Jessup’s Door, a time travel story by Michael Bunker.  I’ve also been working my way through the variety of indie voices in The Expanding Universe.

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-4-05-49-pmIn my role as editor, I get the first look at a lot of fun and compelling fiction. I’ve enjoyed working with Kate Baray on her Spirelli Paranormal Investigations series, Cate Lawley on her Vegan Vamp series, Anthony Whitt’s  Hard Land to Rule westernand Lori Ryan’s Sutton Capital series of romantic suspense novels.

Of course, I contributed to the indie market my own self, with the release of the dark fantasy Fight for the Night, and the fourth book in my Connor Rix series, Chase the Tiger. If you’d like to make an author happy in 2017, sign up for my newsletter over in the sidebar, and give one of them a look.

Best Dollar Spent This Year

L'Amour: HangingWomanCreekBeing a writer, I have a library, and it’s a pretty good one. Despite the fact that my bookshelves groan and creak from the amount of paper I cram into them, I’m always on the lookout for more.

So you can bet that when I found myself at a sprawling small-town market days event this summer and found a vendor selling vintage Louis L’Amour paperbacks for 25 cents each, I had my wallet out faster than you can say “Hondo.”

L'Amour:RadiganLouis L’Amour was one of the greatest genre writers of all time. He died in 1988 but his books are still in print, and his sales count is somewhere north of 320 million copies and climbing. Besides being great reads, the four paperbacks I scooped up for a buck are a great window into a particular period of mass market publishing.

These books were first published in the 1950s and early 1960s, but  the Bantam and Fawcett paperback editions I found are from the late 1960s. All are priced at 60 cents, and all of them run from 115-125 pages—about 40,000 words.

That was a pretty standard genre novel back then. An inexpensive 120-page paperback is a format that has all but disappeared from bookstore shelves, although the short novel has found new life in the ebook era. My own Connor Rix SF thrillers (look over in the sidebar) run in the 50,000-word range, and I’ve found that to be a comfortable length for telling a complete story without saddling the reader with a long slog.

The cover art on these titles also L'Amour:LastStandcaptures a particular flavor of 1960s illustration. Sadly, none of the cover artists are credited in these books. The Radigan cover has a signature, but I can’t read it. The style is reminiscent of Fred Pfeiffer’s, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t do these.  Sharp-eyed followers of Western art will no doubt recognize these brushstrokes; if so, drop a line in the comments.