The Last Book Box

Originally 95 cents each!

In a post six years ago I mentioned that I’d finally gotten around to unpacking a box of books that had been sitting in a closet since I moved into the place. The problem I always have when I move (aside from all the book packing) is shelf space. I prefer the kind of shelves mounted on the wall, so I have to recreate shelf space every time.

Not that my memory for what I mentioned in a post six years ago is sharp. Or even exists. I noticed the post had some views recently, so I re-read it. The line caught my eye because last week I opened the last unopened box of books.

And I found some old science fiction friends!

Of course they were science fiction. I’m sure at least 80% of my library is science fiction.

Note that we’re talking about physical books here; actual ones made of paper that, especially in paperbacks, ages badly due to the acid in the paper.

The rest of the library is some split between mysteries and non-fiction, with the latter mostly being science, with the science mostly being quantum physics.

One would find little of history, biography, westerns, romance, or general non-SF drama. Not that I don’t sometimes read history or biography or westerns (romances, not so much), but I don’t buy them.

I do have some John Grisham, Michael Crichton, Dave Berry, and so forth, so it’s not all SF, mysteries, and physics.

There is also a collection of graphic novels, but that’s another subject. I see graphic novels as more akin to TV or movies. The images are as important, sometimes more important, than the text. (In a good gnovel, both are worthy.)

In any event, this is some obscure and forgotten stuff. It would be fun to research just how rare some of these titles are — whether still in print, available used, or have transitioned to electronic media.

Some I’d like to read again, but most I’ll donate to the local library (although I’m not sure how interested in old paperbacks they are) or sell them to a local SF book store that buys used books (or used to, at a low per-unit cost blind to title or length).

[UPDATE: Well, shit. That latter choice no longer exists. During the recent riots, Uncle Hugo’s, which is located in the area where George Floyd was murdered, was burned to the ground. Books burned. That… really fucking upsets me. They burned treasure.]

§

I have a friend who sells a lot on eBay, and I’d just give these to her to see what she could make from them, but we’ve looked into that sort of thing before, and it doesn’t seem productive.

I have two “cherished” collections that I’ve come to no longer cherish and now see as space-takers.

The first is 50 or so books from the beginning of a 1970s “men’s adventure fiction” series called The Executioner.

The series stars Mack Bolan, who enlisted in the Army at age 18 and served in Vietnam as a Green Beret. He is an expert sniper with over 90 kills, which is how he got the title, “The Executioner.”

During his tour, his father suffers a heart attack, loses his job, and ends up in serious debt to the local Mafia.

Things go from bad to very bad, and Mack’s father, driven by desperation (the whole family has gotten sucked into this), commits family murder-suicide. Only the young son survives.

Mack, sent home on emergency leave, decides the war abroad doesn’t compare to the war at home. He goes AWOL and begins a one-man war against the mafia.

This begins in the first book, War Against the Mafia, and goes on for 37 more books, finally ending with #38, Satan’s Sabbath. In each book, Mack goes after the mafia in a different city, state, or region, so starting with #4, Miami Massacre, book have names like: #12, Boston Blitz, #14, San Diego Siege, #19, Detroit Deathwatch, you get the idea.)

The last six, as Mack wraps up a successful war, are named after days of the week. (See all the titles listed here.)

These were so popular that after Don Pendleton finished the first 38 books, others took over. Bolan was a criminal — a vigilante and deserter — hunted by the government as well as the mafia. Once Bolan wins, the government co-opts him to lead a team of commando doing government missions.

Or something like that. It’s been ages since I read these. In the early 1980s, I haunted used book stores all over Los Angeles tracking down the whole set. I got tired of it once the mafia stuff was over, but the series has apparently continued for 586 installments!

§

There were a number of “men’s adventure” series back then. It seemed an outgrowth of the hard-boiled detective, but with a strong warrior element.

I saw ads for them in the back pages of paperbacks — short descriptions and order forms. I don’t remember how I got onto the Mack Bolan series; it wasn’t my usual fare.

The only other series like it I got into (and again searched used bookstores for) was the Remo Williams, The Destroyer, series.

I gotta say, I loved those books; they were hysterical.

The genre, from what I could tell, was violent and dark. In some cases, extremely so. The Bolan books were horrific in places.

A distinction I make in storytelling is between “combatants” and “innocents” — the former are those who one way or another put their lives on the line in the context of the story. They are participants.

The latter are generally those with no connection to the story — bystanders or family members, for instance. When a story threatens or harms such innocents, I see that as darker.

The Bolan books (my perception is this is generally true with “men’s adventure” fiction) are extremely dark and violent. Dark in the sense of people sinking to the worst levels of human behavior possible and in cost to innocents (and innocence).

The Remo Williams books are a parody of the genre. They’re tongue-in-cheek, often silly or funny, and the violence is cartoonish.

The setup is utterly preposterous. Remo Williams is a Newark cop a secret government agency frames for murder and gets sentenced to death. Except the death is faked. Williams wakes up to find he’s been recruited to be a secret assassin for CURE, a super-secret organization set up by President Kennedy in recognition that our Constitution doesn’t work and sometimes the government just needs to kill bad people protected by the Constitution.

(There was a time, long ago now, when people actually cared about the government not just adhering to the Constitution but honoring it.)

Remo’s trainer and eventual father-figure is Chiun, an aged but ultra-deadly assassin trained in the ancient art of Sinanju, which is the “sun source” of all martial arts. Mastery of Sinanju essentially gives one superpowers.

These started in 1971 co-written by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir, although the latter moved on due to tension between them. Murphy wrote various other books, and tried to start other series (you’ll spot a couple of them in the pictures).

Wiki lists 153 in the series, plus some associated books. I stopped collecting them somewhere just past 100. It got old, but I enjoyed it for a long time.

§

The point is, my friend (BentleyMom) did a little research and it doesn’t seem either series, The Executioner or The Destroyer, is in any particular demand.

What people would be willing to spend for them seems close to shipping and handling; no way to make anything off the exchange. (Just a happy buyer.)

Trying to unload individual books, no matter how obscure, seems like a pain in the ass and likely to be not worth the effort financially.

Giving them to a library at least has some chance they’ll be read by someone who will appreciate them. (Selling them to Uncle Hugo’s would also have given them a chance to find new love.)

Which is really the point. They’re all brief love affairs of mine. Someone else should have a chance to love them, too.

Two surprises lurked in that box (along with some dust and a few spiders).

Firstly (see photo to right), I was surprised I still had a bunch of Marion Zimmer Bradley Darkover novels. I would have sworn I gave all those away to a friend years ago.

I really think I did. The ones shown here aren’t close to being the whole series, so I must have given her a bunch of them without realizing I still others. Oh, well, so it goes. (I wonder if she’d like the rest.)

Those aren’t all Darkover novels, but just judging by the titles, most of them are. I really liked that series when I first read it, but when I tried to go back and read it again many years later, I just couldn’t get into it. (Which is why I gave it to a friend who was into the series.)

(That bottom one, The Last Immortal, by J.O. Jeppson (aka Janet Asimov) is among a small subset of my library labeled Awful Book! As I recall, it ends with intelligent galaxies talking to each other.)

§

The last surprise was finding my first copy of The Trilogy:

I had no idea I still had them. The cover of the first one is hanging on by the proverbial thread. The other two are in better shape, but I always did like the first book best.

I have a big thick hardback that includes all three, and, as you can see, those three paperbacks have seen finer days. What cracks me up is that the price tag on all three is 95 cents.

I wonder how many times I’ve read that story!

§ §

I had more for this Sci-Fi Saturday, but word count is already obnoxious.

I meant to get into how, since my negative review of books 4 and 5, I’ve since read and enjoyed books 6, 7, and 8, of The Expanse, but I’m not sure I actually have that much to say. Maybe when book 9 comes out.

If you haven’t seen Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, you really should. It’s wonderful and funny and delightful! (I should probably do a whole post on it.)

And I’ll probably do a whole post on the worst SF book adaptation ever.

Stay reading books, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

15 responses to “The Last Book Box

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I remember seeing the Executioner series in bookstores. I think I actually read one. (Or one in another similar series.) It would have been in the government agent phase, taking place in Russia. I don’t remember how old I was, but the writing seemed pretty pulpy, not that my standards at the time were violated. I also remember reading somewhere that by that time the series was written by a team of writers. It looks like a bunch of them are available on Kindle books.

    I have boxes of books myself. I used to return to them periodically. But in recent years, if I really want to read a particular book, laziness often leads me to dig up the ebook version, if it’s available.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Definitely pulpy. Once Pendleton left, it was pretty much any one they hired. If you look at the Wiki page listing the series you’ll see a lot of names. There was a certain something to the mafia cycle of the books. After that it became rote, and I lost interest.

      There’s a lot to be said for the arc of one writer’s vision. You just can’t crank that out on an assembly line. I’m not sure which I dislike more, publishers who keep milking the cow or fans who keep demanding more. Nothing ever ends anymore.

      I have to admit I’m pretty much all in on ebooks, especially now that I have library access. About the only advantage left to print books is situations you wouldn’t or couldn’t take an ebook. Camping, or long power outages, or something along those lines.

      The exception is art books and gnovels. I don’t like reading comics even on my iPad. On my iPhone? Never. (I seem to be out of that phase. I have a few in my queue and just can’t work up the interest.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Scanning the titles on the wiki, none of them jump out to me. Maybe what I read was in another series. It probably would have been in the early 80s.

        I know what you mean about one writer’s vision. I notice a definite difference between the original writer and subsequent ones in any series. Of course, some series never have just one original writer. I devoured the Perry Rhodan novels in my youth, and those were always done by a team of writers. And the original writer’s vision isn’t always better. I actually enjoy Conan more in many of the pastiches than in the Howard originals.

        I’m even in on ebooks for graphic novels, but I definitely will only read them on a full tablet. And many science books, if they have diagrams and tables, are better read on a larger screen. But most run of the mill novels I consume on my phone.

        I do agree though that they’re not there yet for art books. That said, I very rarely buy art books. I used to when I went to book stores and their gorgeous covers and material made me buy them on impulse. But I usually quickly tired of them and ended up regretting the purchase.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        There were a lot of such series. Michael reminded me of the Tom Clancy “Op-Center” series. I only lasted for the first half-dozen Jack Ryan novels. I got off the Clancy bus just around the time the Op-Center stuff (and all the video game stuff) was kicking off. Those were hugely popular, so maybe it was one of those?

        As we’ve discussed before, I usually won’t follow a series beyond an author’s death (or just leaving it). I do agree there are rare exceptions that are actually better than the original, and some continuations are quite good (Robert B. Parker did well continuing Raymond Chandler, I thought). I had a lot of regard for Sue Grafton putting in her will that her character, P.I. Kinsey Millhone, died with her. The ironic touch is she wrote the “Alphabet” series, and she died after writing the “Y” book, so we’ll never see a “Z” book nor learn what she would have done next.

        Gnovels are doable on my iPad, but it still misses something. Some artists use the entire page of panels artistically, and that gets lost. On the flip side, it’s nice to be able to zoom in on images. But, yeah, I do most of the reading on my phone.

        I own an ecopy of Monroe’s What If, and I read a library ecopy of his How To, and both suffered quite a bit even on my iPad. (Physics books with large diagrams also suffer.) I bought both books in hardcopy for a friend’s birthday, and have paged through them — much better experience than the ebook version.

        Like everything in life, it just depends. 🙂

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Yeah, poking around on Wikipedia, some of the others series I remember seeing on the bookshelves were Nick Carter and The Destroyer. I’m sure there were others. I probably have the book I read buried somewhere in one of my boxes (I didn’t venture outside of sci-fi / fantasy that much), but I’m not interested enough to go looking.

        Out of curiosity, I did pull up the preview for one of the recent Destroyer books. Very pulpy in a 2019 manner.

        The thing about graphic novels is I think the contemporary artists are doing them now with the e-versions in mind. But I agree looking at some of the earlier ones can be awkward.

        One of the things I’ve noticed lately is a trend for textbooks to just put the page image of the textbook in the ebook. It makes reading the ebook version a bit of a hassle on tablets and utterly impractical on phones. I can see doing it in a textbook where the visual design is heavily optimized, although enough others have specific ebook versions that I find it annoying, but it’s sometimes done in books where it really wasn’t necessary, which is frustrating.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Nick Carter, yeah, that was a pretty big one, as I recall. The Destroyer is a parody, or at least a comedy version, of the genre, so the pulp content there is fully intentional. (I suppose, in some sense, it always is.)

        Good point about newer comics and gnovels. Doesn’t surprise me a bit. I haven’t paid much attention to comics and gnovels in many years. I seem to have moved on from that life phase. (I was way into them for a while, but I started back in the days of Heavy Metal magazine, so I put my time in.)

        I’ve seen ebooks that are just page scans.

        Even now OCR isn’t perfect — I catch typos in ebooks of older novels that are clearly OCR errors. For instance “rn” becomes “m” or “ol” becomes “d”. But they’re pretty good at extracting the abstract text and chapter formatting and realizing it electronically. Doing it with scanners means entry-level hires can rip up old books and feed scanners. (I assume systems have some smarts to recognize ambiguity or confusion and flag it from someone to review.) It makes lots of ebooks available.

        That won’t work with a lot of textbooks. Their formatting and use of images and diagrams makes that impossible to do automatically, so converting an existing textbook to eformat requires, not just a skilled human, but one skilled enough to not screw up the textbook! Ideally it should probably be done by the authors to make sure the full intent is translated.

        So I can see why it happens. It’s a pity, though. I agree they’re pretty unusable.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I didn’t realize The Destroyer was a parody series. That puts the over the top silliness and villainy in the first pages of the preview I read into a different perspective. And skimming the Wikipedia, I see it has a lot of sci-fi and fantasy elements. Interesting.

        The etextbooks I was talking actually weren’t scans of the printed version. I have seen some like that, but never in ones actually sold to me. Those are pretty terrible. But the ones I was talking about are published from the same template used for the printed versions. So they’re not nearly that bad, although they’re still not nearly as good as one optimized for ebook publishing.

        Again, it seems like the newer stuff is getting optimized for ebooks, but a lot of textbooks are on their sixth edition or whatever, and the authors and editors obviously aren’t willing to go back and reformat the whole thing. Although I have bought some new ones that had that type of formatting, and was pissed about it. (A couple were returned because of it.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Remo and his teacher-father-figure Chiun, because of the powers of Sinanju, have what amount to superpowers. Almost a cross between Batman (a highly trained ordinary guy) and Superman (an alien with special powers) — somewhere in the middle. They can’t fly, but they can walk on water.

        They make what Sinanju can do almost plausible. It’s always explained why they can walk up walks (microscopic cracks and projections) or break through walls (finely tuned resonant vibrations). But it’s clearly strolling on the fantasy side.

        I’ve long thought Asian Wuxia martial arts stories were pretty much the same as our comic book superhero stories. In contrast, Wushu is grounded in the real world. The Destroyer brought that Wuxia style story to a genre that, as you’re noticing, doesn’t have a lot to distinguish between products. As such, the series really stood out. (And for the tongue-in-cheek. Most of those series were deadly serious.)

        Publishing templates sounds better than page scans and still has that automatic (less expensive!) aspect. It takes expertise to convert or create for the format.

        I wonder how standardized that stuff is. Different ebook formats, I suppose? The need for DRM complicates things, too.

        Instead of hardbacks and paperbacks, publishers will switch to Apple or Kindle…

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        The Destroyer series actually sounds kind of interesting. I might have to check it out at some point, particularly when I need something easy and escapist.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Easy and escapist (and sheer fun) is exactly what those books are. It got a little old after 100 books, but I really enjoyed them a lot.

  • Michael

    I don’t gather your recommending those particular series today? Haha. It’s fun to think of reading past… When I read The Hunt for Red October I was in junior high and it blew me away. I’d never read anything like it before. I remember enjoying The Cardinal in the Kremlin and Patriot Games quite a bit, too, though I couldn’t tell you much about Cardinal at this point. I fell off that wagon after Clear and Present Danger;. And Robert Ludlum was a favorite for a while during that timeframe!

    I haven’t read all that much historical fiction, but really enjoyed a novel or two from David Liss as I recall. Lately rather than keeping books I’ve been keeping a book log. I’ve got about four and a half years recorded now. Which means there’s quite a bit in the rearview I won’t recall except the ones I really enjoyed.

    Ever read any Murakami?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      No, probably not recommending. Unless one was into that sort of thing. The Remo Williams is more fun; I might read a couple of those at some point. (There are so many new things to read that it’s hard to get around to re-reading stuff.)

      Ah, Tom Clancy. Was a big fan of the books, and Red October is a favorite! Most of the movies were pretty good. Red October is the best movie, too. I even followed him for a few books in that Op Center series, I think it was? Lost interest after a handful. (I have a weird anti-trendy streak — the contrarian in me, I guess — and I tend to shy away from most things that are trendy or popular. He became huge, branched out, and others started writing his characters.)

      Ludlum for me is the Bourne books, which I quite liked. (I’ve read a little bit of Graham Greene, too.)

      One historical fiction I liked a lot is Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth. There’s a sequel, World Without End, that I have in paperback waiting for some plane ride or day at the beach to read. (Problem is, as I was just saying to Mike, I’m kinda all in on ebooks now and more likely to read something on my phone.)

      The book log sounds great; wish I’d done that all my life. That would be awesome. I have two library apps (two because neither covers all my local libraries). I was delighted to see they both keep a history or timeline. Less thrilled to find one of them only saves the last N books. Haven’t used the other one long enough to know if it truncates, too. It would be amazing to know how many books I’ve read in my life. A ton, for sure.

      No clue who Murakami is, and Wiki turns up lots of possibles…

      • Michael

        Yeah, I only have a few years in the log. I think, in a way, that was part of the attraction of keeping books. So we could remember what we’d read!

        Sorry for not being more specific. Haruki Murakami is the author I was asking about. The first one I read was 1Q84. They’re different… Hard to explain. Fairly simply written in terms of the prose style, but not so simple in general. It’s almost like they lure you in and much of the story is subconscious or something. They kind of sneak up on you. I enjoy him.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        When I consider all the purchases, the shelf requirements, all the boxing and unboxing in moves, I do ask myself why I collected books, music, and videos. Especially considering the archeological layers of vinyls, 8-tracks, cassettes (both bought and recorded), and now even the CDs. The videos have their own lesser layers, VHS tapes (both bought and recorded), DVDs, HD DVDs, BluRay DVDs — all obsoleted by streaming and the cloud.

        The last few years I’m all in on ebooks, so now even that stack is starting to feel almost more like Marley’s chains and boxes than valued treasures. These days, I seem to favor an austere aesthetic (a few years ago a friend commented I’d lived here over a decade without putting anything on my plain white walls). I used to really love visual clutter — a very busy visual field; walls of books, CDs, and DVDs, appealed to me visually. And, as you suggest, it was kinda cool seeing one’s backtrail so vividly.

        Funny thing about my memory for books, TV, and movies: It doesn’t work well. I tend to forget stories, maybe in part for breezing through them, maybe in part from there being so many over so many years that it’s like eating popcorn — who focuses (let alone remembers) on the individual kernels? I seem to remember what I learn from stories, but not the specifics. Which has the wonderful advantage of making re-reading or re-watching a lot more fun for me than it seems for most people based on what they say. As I go along I remember, “Oh, yeah, I remember that now,” but I rarely can say what’s coming next.

        (It varies depending on lots of factors, but to truly retain a story I have to really focus on it and get very intentional about it. All those Westworld posts I did were the result of that kind of focus and intention, and so I remember those very well.)

        I’ve never read any Haruki Murakami that I can recall. (Ha!) I’m certain I’ve never read any of his novels — it doesn’t look like his short stories have appeared anywhere other than in his own collections, so I probably haven’t encountered him in any of the various collections. (I’ve read a fair number of those Year’s Best SF edited by Gardner Dozois and other such collections.)

        From what I read about him on Wiki and Google, he’s on a different part of the fiction spectrum than I usually frequent. I’m big on harder SF and less engaged with fantasy or surrealism. As a (very) general rule, I’m more prone to humor and lightness in magical stories and less inclined towards darker fare. For instance, my favorite SF series of all time is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I’m also big on the Robert Asprin Myth series and other lighthearted fantasy series. In contrast, although I like them, I was never hugely into Star Wars or Lord of the Rings; not like some people are. I’m more on the Star Trek and Discworld side. 😀

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Here’s what I mean about bookshelves mounted on the wall:

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