Saturday, 20 March 2021

2001AD, give or take two decades

My previous post (here) on both my first library, and the great cull that followed my first year at University, is a sort-of necessary introduction to the following, 2020 year-in-collecting story.

As I explained in my previous post, I occasionally encounter a book that gives me pause, leaving me in a uncanny-like uncertainty as to whether or not said book was one that I had in my first library collection, but rashly disposed of decades ago.

(The Wikipedia entry for uncanny is rubbish—at least as it relates to literature—but accurately describes what I mean: "the psychological experience of something as strangely familiar, rather than simply mysterious." The uncanny in literature persists only so long as a reader is uncertain whether an event described has a natural or supernatural explanation. In fact, the major distinction between two schools of the gothic is based on how the uncanny is resolved: the English school taking the natural approach, the German school taking the supernatural approach.)

Anyway, in November of 2020 one of the books recommended to me by the eBay algorithm caught my eye. The cover looked kind-of familiar, and the longer I looked at it, the more familiar it appeared.

So, I did what I usually do in such cases: I pulled up a scan of a very old photo of my shelves, taken in the late 80s, enlarged it, squinted at it one way and another, fiddled with the contrast etc., until I convinced myself that the 43rd book on the top shelf of the bookcase in my photo—which had previously defied identification—was, in fact, G. Foster's 2001AD (1976).

Having got this far, I then did some searching online to try to find out more about the book, so that I could decide whether or not it was one that I might like to read again. Definitely working in its favour was that it was now as far beyond 2001 (20yrs, give or take) as it previously was prior to 2001 (20yrs, give or take), when I last read it.

What I discovered was that G. Foster's 2001AD was published in Sydney by Bill Ewington Books, that it was one of a very small number of books published by Bill Ewington Books, and that no library in Australia—or anywhere else, for that matter—seemed to have a copy of the book. As such, I was unable to discover anything about the author of what I could only assume was a locally-written and -published science fiction.

Given the rarity, the genre, the date, the near-perfect 70s font on the cover, the fact that it was local, and the neat two decades before-and-after focus date, I decided to buy a copy.

Although the book recommended by eBay was cheap, it appeared to be a little worn—but the photo was poor and so it was unclear just how worn the condition might be. Looking online, I could find no better copy—indeed, I could find no other copy at all—and so I wrote to the vendor and asked for more information or a better photo. (The eBay seller was manyhills), a rural Victorian bookseller (Manyhills Book Store.)

The vendor sent a larger photo (above) and on the basis of it, I went ahead and bought the book, which arrived very promptly. I have to say that the book looked even more familiar in hand. When I opened the cover I discovered why: it was not just a copy of a book I once owned, it was the copy I previously owned!

I know this for certain because, for a very short period of time, I inscribed my books: at first with just my initials, in ink, later my name in pencil, occasionally with a date. In total, I probably have fewer than a dozen such books still, but enough to be 100% certain: this was/is my copy of G. Foster's 2001AD.

I was gob-smacked. It was like seeing a toy snake turn into a real snake: talk about the uncanny! Here was something that was both "strangely familiar" and "mysterious": how on earth had my copy of 2001AD ended up in Traralgon, Victoria? Where had it been over the last three decades?

Having written to the vendor once again, he was able to tell me that the had owned the book since 2009 when he "bought a bulk lot of about 1600 sci-fi books from a guy who was moving overseas"; the books were picked up from Melbourne, but he could not remember the exact suburb (unsurprising, after more than a decade) .

The book itself contained further clues: stamps from Bill's Book Bar, 29 Block Arcade Ballarat and Sue's Book Bazaar, 34 Curtis St. Ballarat. Ballarat is a large inland city (relatively unusual in Australia) about 110 kms north-west of Melbourne.

The "much loved Bill's Book Bar" (see here)—a "a terrific shop … inside the Block Arcade, crammed with books" (here)—gets a few mentions online. In 2013, long after my book was in Melbourne, it was described in the past tense: as a "pok[e]y little shop … selling, as the name suggests, used books as well and magazines and comics" in "rows of shelves towering above" the customers (here). There is still (it seems) a "Book Bazaar" at 34 Curtis St. Ballarat, though by 2007 the "Sue's" had been dropped and the owner was John Nunn (here). Google street view shows the shop, with its present name, completely unchanged from December 2007 through to February 2018.

If I could establish a more accurate date-range for both Bill's Book Bar and Sue's Book Bazaar, I might be able to work out just how much of the last three decades my copy of 2001AD spent in Ballarat, but I would still be in the dark concerning how it got there from Sydney.

Turning from the long journey my book has taken: once my book arrived I refreshed my research and discovered more concerning the author and publishing history of the book. Although there was no entry for the book on ISFDB online (The Internet Speculative Fiction Database), I did find an entry on, which tells me that G. Foster was George C. Foster (1893–1975), a UK author, and that 2001AD is a rare Oz reprint of The Change (1960), a story in which "nuclear experiments inadvertently rejuvenate humanity" (entry here).

Many copies of the Digit Books paperback, with terrific cover-art (below), are available for less than ten dollars. There is also a single copy of a paperback edition published in the 70s by Eclipse Paperbacks, in Dee Why West (Sydney), with the subtitle "A terrifying novel of the future." A copy of this edition is held by the National Library of Australia (here), and a fine copy is available to buy from this West Australian bookseller for fifteen dollars.

Although I suspect that Eclipse and Bill Ewington Books are related in some way, and that the two books have identical text-blocks, I am resisting the urge to test this theory by buying the Eclipse Paperbacks edition. It is enough that I have been able to buy back this little bit of my past for only $14. (Of course, once I re-read the book, if I find that I like it, I will probably end up with copies of all three editions!)

I'll end with one further observations: part of my reasoning for buying (back) this book was that it was so rare that I may not get another opportunity to buy one: after all, I could find no copy in any library, for sale online (other than the one I bought), or having been for sale online. The fact that the one I bought turns out to be the same one I owned as a teenager reduces the total number of copies known to exist—or known to me anyway—to just one exemplar.

For all I know, no other copy exists, or has existed since I bought my copy (the first time) in the mid-80s. Of course, if it is true that no other copy exists or has existed for thirty-five years, I guess it is also true that it is not so remarkable that, in managing to buy a copy at all, I managed to buy back the one I stupidly sold as a part of the great cull.

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