There are pleasures of the past you can buy — if you’re willing to pay the price. For some bookworms who got hooked on science fiction in the 1950s and 1960s, the Winston Science Fiction series aimed at children trigger an intense sense of nostalgia. However, I don’t believe it was the words in those 37 volumes that are burned into our memories, but the cover and endpaper art. Finding one of these stories reprinted without the art doesn’t set off those same intense emotions about the past, at least for me. I often wonder if nostalgia isn’t predominantly a visual thing. I’m in a number of Facebook groups where people are crazy about posting images of the past.
I never owned any of the Winston books as a kid, but got them from my school library, the Miami-Dade County Public Library, or from the Homestead Air Force Base library in the mid-1960s. There were three kinds of science fiction novels aimed at children that I remember from back then. The twelve Heinlein juveniles from Scribners, books by Andre Norton, and the Winston Science Fiction series. When I got my first job I ordered all the Heinlein books in hardback from the publisher. I wish I had ordered the Winston books at the time too. Those Winston books today in VG to Fine condition run hundreds of dollars each if they have the original dust jackets.
Another important visual bond with these books was the endpaper art that was part of most of the first editions by Alex Schomburg. In fact, this artwork can set off a flurry of comments on the Facebook groups Space Opera Pulp and Science Fiction Book Club. It seems to capture the essence of 1950s science fiction. And it’s a shame that all hardback books don’t all have endpaper art. The Heinlein juveniles did have beautiful endpapers, but just a star pattern, not like the sense-of-wonder artwork below.
For many years I’d keep an eye out for the Winston Science Fiction books when I shopped at used bookstores. I never saw any. I eventually assume they were all owned by collectors. A few years ago my friend Mike found The Ant Men by Eric North at a library book sale in good condition but without a dust jacket. I was envious of him for his luck. We then found WinstonSciFi that sells reproductions of the dust jackets at very reasonable prices. Now his copy of The Ant Men looks like this one:
The other day Mike and I were shopping at a used bookstore and found a Dover reprint of The Ant Men by Eric North. It had a stylised version of the cover that was okay, but what really shouted at me to buy the book was the original Schomburg endpaper art. I didn’t buy it because the book’s cover looked wrong. I’m still tempted to go back to get it because of the endpaper art.
Last year I discovered that many titles in the Winston Science Fiction series were being sold on Amazon as ebook and trade paperback reprints and they used the original cover art (but not the endpaper art). I ordered one just to check it out, Rockets to Nowhere by Lester del Rey. The publisher of these reprints is Dan Thompson of Thunderchild Publishing from Huntsville, Alabama. He also offers a reprint of The Ant Men with the original cover. You can read about how Dan got into reprinting vintage science fiction here. Like me, Dan also read the Heinlein and Andre Norton books growing up. He discovered that most of the Winston books were out-of-print and thought that was a shame, so he got into the publishing business. A few were in the public domain, but for most, he had to track down the copyright holders to arrange contracts for reprinting. He’s been able to reprint many but not all of the series in both ebook and trade paper editions.
Even though I’d love to own a mint condition original copy of Rockets to Nowhere, having Dan’s trade paperback reprint visually fulfills my nostalgic needs.
Of course, I would prefer to own the 1st-edition, but I don’t want to spend $200. $7.99 is a great compromise between my eyes and my bank account.
Some of these books have never been reprinted, and for some, Thunderchild is the first publisher since Winston to publish them. Which makes me wonder just how good are these stories? I decided to give one a read, but the one I picked wasn’t from Thunderchild. I’ve been wanting to read some Raymond F. Jones, but I now prefer to listen to books. The Year When Stardust Fell was the first one I could find on audio. I got it for $2.99 at Audible.com because I bought the 99 cent ebook edition at Amazon. Thunderchild also sells an ebook and trade paper of this title, and I might get it too because of the cover.
These stories were aimed at children, sometimes even targeted to elementary school kids, but mostly to junior and senior high. I found this story far more adult than I remembered. I don’t think I read The Year When Stardust Fell as a kid, but I had a couple of Deja vu experiences while listening to it. The story is about when Earth passes through a comet’s tail and its dust affects metals, so eventually, all machinery breaks down. Civilization slowly collapses. The story is told from the point of view of Ken Maddox who lives in Mayfield in an unspecified state. Ken’s father is a chemistry professor at a local university. Because of Mayfield being isolated, it’s citizens are able to survive with rationing while in larger cities millions die. As the story progresses the people of Mayfield must learn to live with less and less, and even deal with the moral problem of lifeboat ethics.
Ken and his science club buddies run a ham radio rig that stays in touch with other research sites who are trying to solve the problem of the dust affecting metals. Ken and his buddies also help his father in the lab. This allows the story to emphasize the workings of science. I found the tale thoroughly engaging. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either. To me, it holds up well with other 1950s science fiction stories. In fact, I was always anxious to get back to the story. But then, after-the-collapse stories are among my favorite kind of science fiction story.
To be honest, I can’t remember any of the details from the books I think I read. Of course, I read these stories 55 years ago. I’ll have to read several more to see if I think the series deserves to be remembered for its fiction. What I’m discovering is I want these books because of their physical artistic appeal that trigger my nostalgia. I saw a group of 8 of them on sale at eBay today for $300. The idea of holding those old books again is very tempting, even though $300 could probably get me “reading copies” of the entire series if I shopped carefully. A reading copy in used book terminology meaning its beat to hell but you can still read it. I could get most of them as ebooks for less than $100, and all of Thunderchild trade paper editions for under $300.
Dan says these books aren’t big sellers. It’s probably hard to market books for kids in the 1950s to kids or nostalgic adults in the 2010s. I wonder what will happen to these stories when the baby boomers all die off. I doubt any of them will ever be considered classics of the genre. It’s a shame that Thunderchild doesn’t have the right to publish the entire series again as one uniform set so they might have collector appeal.
Here the complete list of titles with cover artists. My favorites tend to be the ones with Alex Schomburg cover paintings. Links are to Thunderbird trade editions at Amazon.
- Earthbound, Milton Lesser, cover by Peter Poulton (1952)
- Find the Feathered Serpent, Evan Hunter, cover Henry Sharp (1952)
- Five Against Venus, Philip Latham (Robert S. Richardson), cover Virgil Finlay (1952)
- Islands in the Sky, Arthur C. Clarke, cover Alex Schomburg (1952)
- Marooned on Mars, Lester del Rey, cover Paul Orban (1952)
- Mists of Dawn, Chad Oliver, cover Alex Schomburg (1952)
- Rocket Jockey, Philip St. John (Lester del Rey), cover Alex Schomburg (1952)
- Son of the Stars, Raymond F. Jones, cover Alex Schomburg (1952)
- Sons of the Ocean Deeps, Bryce Walton, cover Paul Orban (1952)
- Vault of the Ages, Poul Anderson, cover Paul Orban (1952)
- Attack from Atlantis, Lester del Rey, cover Kenneth S. Fagg (1953)
- Battle on Mercury, Erik Van Lhin (Lester del Rey), cover Kenneth S. Fagg (1953)
- Danger: Dinosaurs!, Richard Marsten (Evan Hunter), cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
- Missing Men of Saturn, Philip Latham, cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
- The Mysterious Planet, Kenneth Wright (Lester del Rey), cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
- Mystery of the Third Mine, Robert W. Lowndes, cover Kenneth S. Fagg (1953)
- Planet of Light, Raymond F. Jones, cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
- Rocket to Luna, Richard Marsten (Evan Hunter), cover by Alex Schomburg (1953)
- The Star Seekers, Milton Lesser, cover Paul Calle (1953)
- Vandals of the Void, Jack Vance, cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
- Rockets to Nowhere, Philip St. John (Lester Del Rey), cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
- The Secret of Saturn’s Rings, Donald A. Wollheim, cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
- Step to the Stars, Lester del Rey, cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
- Trouble on Titan, Alan E. Nourse, cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
- The World at Bay, Paul Capon, cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
- The Year After Tomorrow, eds. Lester del Rey, Cecile Matschat, and Carl Carmer cover and interior illus. Mel Hunter (1954) – an anthology of nine short stories
- The Ant Men, Eric North, cover Paul Blaisdell (1955)
- The Secret of the Martian Moons, Donald A. Wollheim, cover Alex Schomburg (1955)
- The Lost Planet, Paul Dallas, cover Alex Schomburg (1956)
- Mission to the Moon, Lester del Rey, cover Alex Schomburg (1956)
- Rockets Through Space, Lester del Rey, cover and interior illus. James Heugh (1957) – Special Companion Book (nonfiction)
- The Year When Stardust Fell, Raymond F. Jones, cover James Heugh (1958)
- The Secret of the Ninth Planet, Donald A. Wollheim, cover James Heugh (1959)
- The Star Conquerors, Ben Bova, cover Mel Hunter (1959)
- Stadium Beyond the Stars, Milton Lesser, cover Mel Hunter (1960)
- Moon of Mutiny, Lester del Rey, cover Ed Emshwiller (1961)
- Spacemen, Go Home, Milton Lesser, cover Ed Emshwiller (1961)