Sometimes, when I was much younger, I bought the same book twice, but, then, I was sometimes accused of reading books upside-down. Quite true, but it wasn't my fault. I blame it all on Donald Wollheim, the mastermind editor at Ace Books who in 1953 came up with a novel idea of printing two books back-to-back, so they were upside-down relative to each other -- finish one story and you were staring at the upside-down ending of the other story (or ads), so you turned it over and started again., a trick I often played on my children...till they figured it out. The genesis of this publishing revolution is recounted in Don Wollheim's introduction to James A. Corrick's Double Your Pleasure: The Ace SF Double.
I can't do any better than James did in this excellent tome published by Gryphon Books of Brooklyn, N.Y. And if you're even halfway serious about collecting this long-lived series (35 years) you really need to get this book. Not only does it have Wollheim's introduction and James' highly detailed and informative thesis, it has a complete checklist of all the issues and reissues. While Ace also published westerns and mysteries, their science fiction issues are, justifiably, the most famous and popular; while I occasionally bought a mystery, rarely a western, I was a regular buyer of Ace's SF doubles, hitting the newsstand for then-current issues, scouring used-book stores and thrift stores for books published while I was still following the adventures of Dick and Jane. Since I can't trump James Corrick's achievement (sometimes the best really is the best and should not be messed with -- Hollywood hacks considering remakes, please take note) all I'll do here is add some some of my memories and reminisces about the Ace Double series...I'm sure you must have some of your own.
My Uncle Bob, one-time husband of my Aunt Joyce, had a whole shelf of books built into the headboard of his bed, which I thought was just the neatest thing ever, since I had to settle for a box at home. Among the titles was The Seed of Earth/Next Stop the Stars (Ace F-145), both titles by Robert Silverberg, published in 1962. The sight of that hairy big-eared creature covertly watching a classic 1950s rocketship (the original story, The Winds of Siros, first appeared in the September 1957 issue of Venture magazine) was very disturbing to me. It was definitely up to no good, and is probably the reason I never really trusted Debbie the Bloop...the space monkey from Lost in Space that everyone else thought was so cute. If they had seen this cover by prolific (79 Ace Double covers) artist Ed Valigursky (1926 - 2009) they might not have been quite so trusting of little Debbie...I certainly wasn't taken in, thought I can't say the same thing about Doctor Smith.
One of the great things about the Ace Doubles was that they carried ads and listings for other Ace books. Now, that was hardly unusual. Most Ace publications did as well. The difference is that since the Doubles were printed back-to-back and upside-down, the end of each story was in the middle of the book. Call me easily amused (it runs in the family) but to me that was nearly as fascinating as the format itself. And the ads gave me goals in my searches for the out-of-print books...no internet, no checklists, I needed all the help I could get.
|The interior pages of M-111|
Fugitive of the Stars by Edmond Hamilton
Land Beyond the Map by Kenneth Bulmer
As James Corrick points out in Double Your Pleasure, "Despite its availability as a market, many Double writers left Ace as soon as their finances allowed." It was a combination of low advances (when writers were paid at all, or on time) and ruthless editing to accommodate the format, which bothered established writers more often than it did beginners breaking into the paperback book market; much to the chagrin of giants such as Asimov, Ellison and van Vogt, "unabridged" did not always adhere to its Webster's meaning when it came to Ace Double cover claims. Also, "Ace Doubles were blessed with some of the best (and, to be honest, worst) SF pulp paintings in paperback history." Of course, I, as a reader, did not recognize some of the shortcomings that are obvious now; what I did know, however, was that the writing was vibrant, almost electric, and the covers were fantastically imaginative and evocative. Looking back, I think that energy might have stemmed from the breakneck pace required from the writers and artists to fill those newsstand racks week after week, month after month. I depended upon the Ace Doubles to be there for me with a regularity usually only satisfied by periodicals.
Let's finish up with a few of my favorite Ace Double titles and/or covers. As I mentioned earlier, I'm sure you have your own list of titles that stick in your mind for whatever reason, whether they were glimpsed on the racks, back when every American town had a newsstand, or a candy store where trashy SF magazines and books were sold, along with five-for-a-penny candy and wax bottles, or were found in used book stores and charity shops.
War of the Wing-Men by Poul Anderson has a wonderful cover by Emesh and takes place in the universe of Anderson's Polesotecnic League, one of the best ideas ever for a realistic interstellar economic system.
Harlan Ellison's A Touch of Infinity is an odd duck in the realm of the Ace Double, being a collection of short stories. It has a Valigursky cover, and was paired with Ellison's novel, The Man With Nine Lives.
Another favorite writer for me growing up was A. Bertram Chandler, an Australian in the merchant marine whose love of the sea pervaded his science fiction stories, especially those about Commodore John Grimes, into which series falls Into the Alternate Universe, which features an irresistible cover by Valigursky; Commodore Grimes is the most fully realized character in all science fiction. Not in the Grimes series but also exploring an alternate universe is The Coils of Time, sporting a Jack Gaughan cover, another great artist.
I was first attracted by the evocative covers for this 1967 Ace Double, both of which are by Jack Gaughan, though each is painted in a totally different style. While lots of science fiction has been based on Greek, Roman and Egyptian myths, Petaja may be alone in using Finnish myth, the Kalevala, of which The Stolen Sun is the third in the series. H. Warner Munn's The Ship From Atlantis was the second in his series about Merlin's godson (the first was published in 1939!), and is a grand fantasy in the Weird Tales tradition, a magazine for which he often wrote in the early part of the Twentieth Century.