THE SCI-FI PAPERBACK GRAB-BAG

Okay, let’s say you’re me.

If you’re me, you never walk past a book store, you walk in to book stores, including used book stores. And when you’re in a used book store what you’re looking for are vintage science fiction and fantasy books. First you check for Ace Doubles you don’t already have. Then you look for books on one of your various lists. These are lists, kept on your phone, of books you heard were good, people recommended, are part of a series you’re collecting with the intention of eventually reading, etc.

And you do this for a couple decades or so, maybe three.

What you end up with, if you’re me, is a crap-ton of vintage science fiction and fantasy paperbacks—enough to fill a couple shelves two deep, and a box in your closet marked “OVERFLOW BOOKS.” Then you promise yourself that you’re going to read them, and you do, but oh so slowly. Then you count them and realize that along with your many other books you have about 35 years worth of books on your “to read” shelves. Then you get all OCD and decide you’re going to arrange those paperbacks into Old SF/F, New SF/F, and Non-SF/F and read them in a particular order. It looks like this:

Click on this image to get to the handy-dandy Internet Speculative Fiction Database!

Click on this image to get to the handy-dandy Internet Speculative Fiction Database!

Then you count them again against the number of books you read in a year (not counting the books you read for work) and realize that those carefully ordered shelves will still take you a decade or more to get through.

Then you decide you need to read more, which is empirically true.

Then it gets to be the last week of the year and you decide, No, I need a new scheme! And then it hits you . . . Don’t plan ahead, don’t make reading SF and fantasy novels a chore, make it fun. Every book in your possession is worth reading—you bought them for a reason, even if you can’t remember when or why.

And then it hits you . . . Choose at least one book a month at random and read it.

So, if you’re me, here’s what you do.

STEP 1: Gather Materials

Chicago pizza rules the entire universe.

Chicago pizza rules the entire universe.

You will need . . .

  1. A big box . . . the biggest one you have.
  2. Packing tape.
  3. Some kind of cutting tool.

The box I found came thanks to my brother-in-law from back in Chicago who sent us pizza for Christmas—the best gift any ex-patriot Chicagoan can hope for!

STEP 2: Cut Hole in Box

Safety First!

Safety First!

 

Careful—that blade is sharp! Make a hole big enough for your hand and a paperback book. Mine measures about eight inches by about two inches.

It will look like this:

There’s a hole in the box.

There’s a hole in the box.

STEP 3: Segregate Books

Maybe a separate but equal box?

Maybe a separate but equal box?

 

Unlike schools, it’s perfectly fine to segregate books. Remove all the non-SF/fantasy books. Those will still be read, but let’s face it, they have no place in an SF/fantasy grab-bag . . . box.

STEP 4: Fill the Box with Books

Try not to look!

Try not to look!

What’s in the box?

Science fiction and fantasy books, that’s what!

Make them as random as possible. Don’t try to stack the deck in favor of one book over another. That kinda defeats the whole purpose.

When full, it will look like this:

We’re going to need a bigger box!

We’re going to need a bigger box!

STEP 5: Seal it Up

Another tool to be used with caution.

Another tool to be used with caution.

Use your packing tape to seal the box. The books are in there now, in random order, safe and sound.

AND YOU’RE DONE!

It now looks like this:

It doesn’t look like much, but it contains enormous power!

It doesn’t look like much, but it contains enormous power!

You’ll want to find a cool, dry place to keep it. If you’re me, you’ll decide to put it in front of your badly leveled filing cabinet that needs something in front of it to keep the drawers from opening and tipping the whole thing over. Set it with the hole pointing up, or sideways—up to you. I needed the box to be taller to keep the top drawer closed.

Danger lurks around every corner!

Danger lurks around every corner!

But of course this whole thing was pointless unless you now actually choose a book at random . . .

Close your eyes . . .

That’s me!

That’s me!

. . . and grab a book at random!

Clarke for the win!

Clarke for the win!

My first randomly-chosen SF/fantasy book is The City and the Stars by SF legend Arthur C. Clarke. It’s been added to my “currently-reading” shelf at GoodReads!

Hooray!

Do try this at home.

Happy New Year!

 

—Philip Athans

UPDATE: The City and the Stars was awesome. February’s random pick … (drumroll, please) … The War Against the Rull by A.E. Van Vogt.

And after finishing The War Against the Rull, my March random picked happened to be another book by A.E. Van Vogt . . . Ptath!

April’s random pick is Podkayne of Mars by Robert A. Heinlein. Been a long time since I’ve read any Heinlein . . . can’t wait!

UPDATE 1/1/2016: After picking Peter Hamilton’s massive Pandora’s Star in May, my grab-bag reading stalled out. I’m still slowly working my way through Pandora’s Star but will begin 2016 taking it off the “grab-bag” list so I can get back to some other SF, fantasy, and horror…

I chose a new book at random this morning and it is… The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole!

And on 1/18/16… The City Machine by Louis Trimble.

Next pick, 2/23/16… The Lord of Death and the Queen of Life by Homer Eon Flint

May 3, 2016 pick: Gloriana by Michael Moorcock

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the recently-released How to Start Your Own Religion and Devils of the Endless Deep. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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13 Responses to THE SCI-FI PAPERBACK GRAB-BAG

  1. PASchaefer says:

    This is a fantastic idea. Love it.

  2. Great concept. Think I will give it a go.

  3. lidywilks2 says:

    Good idea. I’ll have to try this out.

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