Infinity In Your Mailbox – more of why I love sf/f

Cover of the Science Fiction Book Club edition of the 1975 edition of the Annual World's Best SF series edited by Donald Wolheim.

Cover of the Science Fiction Book Club edition of the 1975 edition of the Annual World’s Best SF series edited by Donald Wolheim.

I joined the science fiction book club at three different points in my life. The first time was when I was about 13 or 14 years old, and had no idea what I was getting myself into. My mom was not very happy when the first package of books arrived. Fortunately, my paternal grandmother found out about it before my dad did and was able to run some interference for me. So this wasn’t one of the incidents that led to a beating, but it was a close thing.

I wound up doing extra chores at my grandparents’ house to earn the money to cover it. Dad let me remain a member for a year, strictly limiting what I was allowed to order until I’d met the obligation so I could quit the club. I wound up with a bunch of books. And they were hardcover—they were cheap hardcover, but still more sturdy than the paperbacks that most of my collection consisted of before then.

The second time was the summer just before I turned 18, and at least I had a job and was earning my own money.

The book club reeled you in with the introductory packet: for a token payment of two cents, you could choose something like six books from a list. There was a little asterisk statement about paying shipping and handling, which was always more expensive than you thought it would be. But compared to paying full price for the hardcover version when they first came out, it was still a bargain. After that you received a monthly mailing, and if you forgot to return the card that said, “send nothing at this time,” you’d get whatever that month’s book was. You could choose other books out of the mini catalog that came in each month’s mailing. And again, the prices weren’t bad, even with the shipping and handling.

The killer was if you didn’t return the card in time. Because you’d receive books you didn’t want, and usually wound up paying for them because returning them was more of a hassle.

The other downsides were that generally the books were a few years old. They usually didn’t become available to the book club until the original bookstore sales had dropped off for the hard cover, and then the paperback release. The amount of money the authors received was less than for bookstore sales, though most writers who have been willing to talk about it seem to take the attitude that a sale is better than no sale.

When I was living in redneck rural communities, back before the existence of the Internet, a book club was a means to get books that you otherwise might not ever know existed.

The second time I joined, I picked every anthology that was on the list for my initial package. Which included two different years of Donald Wolheim’s Annual World’s Best Science Fiction collections. I loved those kinds of anthologies, because I got a bunch of different stories by different authors. One tale might be a space adventure, another a dark exploration of the nature or identity, another a humorous examination of the future of crime, and the next might have a wizard outwitting a god. Anything could be between those pages!

And I didn’t even have to order one of the books to get a bit of that thrilling sense of wonder. Half the fun of the book club, for me, was reading the catalog each month. Because books and authors I had not heard of—even after I had moved to a slightly larger town that actually had a book store, and not only that more than one!—each received a paragraph or two of description, along with a picture of the cover. So even if I didn’t order the book at the time, later if I saw a copy in a used bookstore, or saw other books by the author, I had a better idea of what the book would be like than I would get just from reading the cover blurbs.

Every month I received a colorful display of dozens of imagined worlds, ranging from high fantasy to gritty near future sci fi thrillers to epic space battles between empires to individual journies of discovery. And all I had to do was, every now and then, buy one of those wondrous books. It was really a small price to pay for infinity.

No wonder 14-year-old me had thought nothing of the consequences when I taped two shiny pennies to a piece of card stock, scribbled my name and address on one side, then swiped an envelope and stamp from Mom’s desk. An infinity of wonder would be mine!

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. For more than 20 years I edited and published an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

3 responses to “Infinity In Your Mailbox – more of why I love sf/f”

  1. Joachim Boaz says :

    A wonderful post. I got into SF because my dad had an old paperback laying around — although it was only many years later that I wanted to buy any for myself…

    • fontfolly says :

      I was hooked because my mom read to me from her two favorite authors (Agatha Christie and Robert Heinlein) from the time I was baby. Which is why I’ve written a lot of sci fi mystery short stories. 😛

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