‘Where Silverberg goes today, the rest of science fiction will follow tomorrow’
This month: Re-reading Philip K. Dick
They were ugly little things. I mean the first editions of Philip K. Dick’s first novels — squat, scrunchy, cheaply printed 1950s paperbacks, artifacts of a primitive era in science fiction publishing. Ace Books was the name of the publishing company — they are still in business, though vastly transformed — and Ace writers then were paid one thousand dollars per novel, which even then was the bottom rate for paperback books, although in modern purchasing power it’s a good deal more than most new SF writers can command today.
Still, there were harbingers of things to come in those early Dick books. The very first sentence of the very first one tells us that in the most literal way: “There had been harbingers.” That’s Solar Lottery, Dick’s debut novel, an Ace Double Book of 1955, printed back-to-back, as Ace did in those days, with Leigh Brackett’s The Big Jump. As the novel opens, the harbingers include “a flight of white crows over Sweden”, “a series of unexplained fires”, and the birth of a two-headed calf. For us, the readers of science fiction half a century ago, the harbinger was the book itself, the announcement of the presence among us of a brilliant, quirky new writer.