Thursday, February 16, 2017

1960s science-fiction book cover: "Down to Earth"

But what about the book itself? Here's a closer look at Down to Earth, the science-fiction novel at the center of last night's Tucked Away Inside post.

  • Title: Down to Earth (the original UK hardcover title was Antic Earth)
  • Cover blurb: "A stunning science-fiction flight into the unearthly future"
  • Author: Louis Charbonneau
  • Cover illustrator: Paul Lehr (1930-1998)
  • Publisher: Bantam Books (F3442)
  • Date of publication: July 1967
  • Price: 50 cents
  • Pages: 187
  • Format: Paperback
  • Excerpt from back-cover blurb: "The Earth was little more than a memory for them — a memory stretching over time and the black abyss of space, a memory kept alive by the huge, three-dimensional images sent up to save them from the madness of their isolation."
  • First two sentences: The first incidents occurred on June 21, 2135 A.D. Dave Perry knew the exact date because a careful daily check of the chronometer had become a ritual.
  • Last sentence: "Huh!" said Jackie, as if he had thereby said it all.
  • Random sentence from middle: Now she hated bridge.
  • About the author: Charbonneau, born in 1924 in Detroit, Michigan, might still be alive as of the this writing. He'd be in his early 90s, and I cannot find any evidence of or reference to his death online. According to the "About the Author" section on the last page of this book, he served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, has been an English literature teacher and has written for the Los Angeles Times. ... According to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, he "also wrote nonfantastic Westerns as by Carter Travis Young" and made his science-fiction debut in 1958 with No Place on Earth. Of his handful of science-fiction books, the Encyclopedia adds: "In all these novels Charbonneau tends towards claustrophobic situations in which his rather conventional protagonists explore themselves through action scenarios."
  • About the cover artist: Lehr is well-regarded in the history of science-fiction illustration. You can see large versions of some of his work on this post on the Muddy Colors blog. And check out even more of his artwork on Melt and Monster Brains. ... Muddy Colors states: "Along with illustrators like Richard Powers and John Schoenherr, Lehr's surrealistic works help define [the 1960s'] distinctly abstract style." And the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction adds: "while his works were not as extravagantly surreal as those of an artist he is sometimes compared to, Richard M. Powers, those two artists did contribute significantly to the distinctively imaginative style of sf art during that era, which for some represents the peak of the form's long history." ... A documentary called "The Visionary World of Paul Lehr" is in production, and you can learn more at the official website.
  • A positive review: From Goodreads (where the book has a 3.17-star out of 5 rating), Duane Colwell writes: "Very enjoyable. I read it first in 1967 and a couple times since. Recommended. Just finished reading it again, for, I think, the third time. Still a good story. Imaginative and exciting."
  • A negative review: In 2011, and Amazon reviewer with the moniker "Mithridates VI of Pontus" wrote [excerpt]: "The seductive combination of a beautiful cover by Paul Lehr, a seldom read author, a fascinating premise (well, at least from the back cover) appeared at first glance a glorious chance for the pen to wax delightfully on the glories everyone else missed out on. As much as the esotericist delights in searching through back catalogues of dusty books the lack of extant information/reviews on the work entails risk. If I had known the entire plot revolves around a vengeful/vindictive/insane man inflicting tortures (the PG-13 sort) on an unsuspecting family hanging out in space -- à la a watered down version of Michael Haneke's Funny Games (1997) without its postmodern deconstruction of our desire to watch violence -- I would have never spent my hard-earned $2.00 on a copy. ... If you find the book in your local bookstore gaze a moment at the Paul Lehr cover and set it back down. Avoid."

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