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Books Sci-Fi The Media Entertainment

The Man Who Invented the Science Fiction Paperback 99

HughPickens.com (3830033) writes "Clay Latimer writes at IBD that Ian Ballantine, called by many the father of the mass-market paperback, helped change American reading habits in the 1940s and '50s founding no fewer than three prestigious paperback houses — Penguin USA, Bantam Books and Ballantine Books. But Ballantine's greatest influence on mass culture was publishing science-fiction paperback originals, with writers including Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Theodore Sturgeon, and Frederik Pohl and publishing the first authorized paperback editions of J.R.R. Tolkien's books. "These were great classics of world fiction," says Loren Glass. "He published in original form some of the greatest works in the golden age of science fiction. One of the interesting things about Ballantine is that he was not only a businessman trying to make money in books; he was a student of literature and publishing, and something of an intellectual."

Turning serious science fiction into a literary genre ranks among Ballantine's greatest feats. Prior to Ballantine Books, science fiction barely existed in novel form. He changed that with the 1953 publication of "Fahrenheit 451," the firm's 41st book. "That was obviously a key moment in the history of science-fiction publishing," Glass says. In 1965, when Tolkien's rights to his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy lapsed, Ace Books published his books without paying royalties and Tolkien responded by conducting a personal campaign against Ace. Tolkien began to urge the fans who wrote to him to inform them that the American copies were pirated: "I am now inserting in every note of acknowledgement to readers in the U.S.A. a brief note informing them that Ace Books is a pirate, and asking them to inform others." Ballantine quickly bought the rights and included Tolkien's back-cover note: "Those who approve of courtesy (at least) to living authors will purchase it and no other.""
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The Man Who Invented the Science Fiction Paperback

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  • I have been wondering what was behind that note for about 40 years. Thanks for the background on that.

    • by Megane ( 129182 )

      Or you could have, you know, looked it up in the appropriate places. [wikipedia.org]

      But HP summarized it with some details that I was not aware of before. Sounds like a modern social media campaign, done entirely by postal reply.

      • Yeah well you could have looked those details in using Google : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T... [wikipedia.org]

        • Not when he first started wondering about it. And I'm sure he hasn't been wondering about it constantly. Pre-internet, that sort of thing happened all the time. The usual answer was something like "I'll ask Uncle Joe next time I see him. He knows things like that."
          • Pre-internet, that sort of thing happened all the time.

            I think this is probably the hardest thing for post-internet people to understand. If you saw or heard someone make a reference to a literary work and didn't recognize it yourself (but could still tell it was referencing something), you had to track down someone who knew where to look. Reference desks at libraries basically existed to fulfill this function.

        • by DutchUncle ( 826473 ) on Saturday February 07, 2015 @06:39PM (#49007735)
          My 3-book Ballantine Books edition of LOTR sits on the shelf to my left. When I purchased it in 1970 or so and read that note on the back, there were barely computers as we know them today, let alone BBSes or the Net, or any kind of index. A few years later, the college science fiction club I co-founded circulated MIMEOGRAPHED COPIES of our sporadically-published newsletter with other clubs. (For those who never heard of mimeograph . . . use Google. For those who remember the intoxicating smell of mimeograph fluid, well, no explanation necessary.) Yes, children, there *was* a world before the Internet. And you.
      • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Saturday February 07, 2015 @10:45AM (#49005291) Journal
        To be fair, the author's message appeared in those paperback novels when the internet was still science fiction.

        IMHO, much of Slashdot's appeal is being exposed to interesting information I wouldn't see otherwise.

      • Were you even born yet when those paperbacks came out? I was 13 or 14, old enough to buy them with money from my paper route (remember those?) and read them.

        If I had thought of it (recently) before reading this story, I would have looked it up. But I've wondered about lots of things for periods measured in years, just not all of them concurrently and continuously.

  • Thank, you, Sir, for making my high school and university days ever so much more enjoyable by putting out literally hundreds of books for me to read. And thank you to the authors for publishing through those houses, so that I could afford to buy so many.

    • I recall how the first release of a new book would come out in hardback, at quite a premium over what the paperback would later go for. It's not that I wouldn't have rather had the hard back library... without paperbacks I'd have had access to far less reading material.

      Nowadays, if it wasn't for the airlines I would rarely read a dead tree novel. During the flight, I tire of explaining my 1st edition Kindle is not a remote control aircraft landing device.

      • You first edition kindle has wifi AND a cell phone....

      • by msobkow ( 48369 )

        Heh. I used to have to wait for them to show up in the used bookstores, where I could afford them. I figure I got about 20 books for the price of 1 by waiting for used instead of buying hard covers as soon as they came out. :)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Prior to Ballantine Books, science fiction barely existed in novel form." Not quite! Don't forget Mary Shelly, Jules Verne, HG Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle (he wrote more than Holmes) and so on. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_science_fiction for more.

    Paperbacks did lead to a tremendous explosion of readers and authors and I do thank Ballantine for that!The first modern SciFi I remember reading in high school was a paperback ("Nerves" by Lester Del Rey) -- it got me hooked! But try some of the

    • Most of the authors you cite wrote stories that aren't novels as we know them today: the stories were originally episodic serials written for publication in magazines. "Barely existed" certainly seems a fair description, most science fiction stories were not written as novels.
      • Many authors wrote their novels episodically for newspaper or magazine printing, not just SF authors. Charles Dickens comes to mind, and it's evident in the extremely boring, dragged out nature of his work.

        Paperbacks, being the form of affordable literature, lead to an explosion of all types of books as a richer populace met declining book prices. "Barely existed" properly refers to all forms of the written word, not just science fiction.

        Thomas Jefferson drove himself nearly to bankruptcy, and a significant

  • retcon much? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fermion ( 181285 ) on Saturday February 07, 2015 @12:57PM (#49005897) Homepage Journal
    A lot of this had to do with WWII and advancements in technology. WWII produced an increased literate adults who in turn produced children who read. It also lead to a shift in the demographics of readers, namely more men read, which lead to their sons reading. In the 1940's this was mostly lead by magazines who published short stories, novella, or series of science fiction written by most of the names we know from the classic period of science fiction.

    One of these authors that was writing before 1950 was Robert Heinlein who first published in 1947 and had established serious science fiction by the mid 1950's.

    What lead to the popularization of science fiction, arguably, was the technological innovation in print. That is, printing paperbacks was cheap enough so that even if very few books sold, it was still possible to at least break even. The advent of the paper back is like the advent of direct to video movie. Lower risk, more titles, profits are driven by the few that sell well, the rest are pulped.

    So this is what those publishing houses invented. Pulp Fiction [wikipedia.org].

    • Re:retcon much? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Saturday February 07, 2015 @01:52PM (#49006253)
      The granddaddy of science fiction was H.G. Wells, who published fiction from 1895-1941. My hunch is the primary impetus for science fiction was the industrial revolution. Prior to it, the rate of technological progress was slow enough that very little changed throughout your lifetime. Without visible advancement, there was little reason to speculate on what the future might bring. But once the rate of advancement took off, actual development began to outstrip people's imagination, which challenged their imagination to become more speculative.
      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        If H.G. Wells was the granddaddy then Jules Verne was the great-granddaddy. And it seems like Leonardo da Vinci did a lot of speculation on what the future might bring even though he wasn't an author, and so did probably many others. I would think it had a lot more to do with practical matters like literacy and the economics of writing, printing and distributing books than the lack of things to write about. It might have been totally off like the predictions of flying cars, but people has always liked to im

    • One of these authors that was writing before 1950 was Robert Heinlein who first published in 1947

      Robert Heinlein was first published in 1939.

      And frankly, the rest of your thesis is equally off base. SF and SF magazine were already well established by the beginning of the war. And you're wrong about the "pulps" - those predate WWII as well. And... well you spelled Heinlein's name correctly, so kudos for that.

      In the same vein Ballantine didn't invent paperback books (those were invented in the 1850's) or

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      What lead to the popularization of science fiction, arguably, was the technological innovation in print. That is, printing paperbacks was cheap enough so that even if very few books sold, it was still possible to at least break even. The advent of the paper back is like the advent of direct to video movie. Lower risk, more titles, profits are driven by the few that sell well, the rest are pulped.

      Actually, what made printing cheap was the mass market paperback - not paperbacks (which existed for a long time

  • So what's the story here? Is it about a publisher, or about a copyright infringement? Should I comment on one, or both? Why does it require 300 words?

    I admit that either story holds some interest for me, but both together deliquesce that effect and leave me flustered and flummoxed.

    • by SeaFox ( 739806 )

      So what's the story here? Is it about a publisher, or about a copyright infringement?

      If Tolkien's rights had lapsed then there was was no copyright infringement, just a guy who screwed himself by not keeping track of his creations.
      Hence, he had to resort to writing angry missives on the back of later printings instead of taking Ace to court.

      • by dryeo ( 100693 )

        Sounds like the courts eventually decided it was copyright infringement, at least according to a post up the page and this, https://www.kirkusreviews.com/... [kirkusreviews.com] though it took quite a while and really the battle was waged in the court of public opinion and the judgement from the court of public opinion forced Ace to not do any more editions, selling what they had, and give some royalties to Tolkien.

  • More than anyone else, Judith Merril probably did more to get NY publishers to take genre fiction seriously.

  • BB also came out with authorized editions of ERB's Mars and Tarzan books. Ace published a few of them, but not the whole of each series. On the other hand ACE with great Frank Frazetta and Roy Kernkel covers ended up published most of ERB's other books, such as Venus and Pellucidar series, as well as the books not in any particular series (e.g. The Mad King, Beyond the Farthest Star). The argument as been made that if ACE had not published LOTR, stirring up controversy, the series would not have made suc

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