Thursday, July 13, 2017

1960s science-fiction book cover: "The Non-Statistical Man"

  • Title: The Non-Statistical Man
  • Cover blurb: "One man's mind spins a taut and eerie arc from the dark past into the distant future — and suddenly the world looks different"
  • Cover typography: Absolutely awesome
  • Author: Raymond L. Jones
  • Cover illustrator: Unknown (one Amazon reviewer of this book believes it might be the work of Richard M. Powers)
  • Publisher: Belmont Books (Belmont Future Series, L92-588)
  • Date of publication: May 1964
  • Price: 50 cents
  • Pages: 158
  • Format: Paperback
  • Back-cover blurb: "One of the undisputed masters of science fiction creates a weird new universe. Logic becomes a hindrance and intuition a precision tool. A trip to the moon is a trip into the past and on a distant planet mankind conducts an experiment in prehistoric jungle life. For anyone who reads this book the world will never quite look the same."
  • Contents: Although it's not made clear on covers, this book actually contains a novella ("The Non-Statistical Man") and three short stories ("The Moon is Death," "The Gardener," and "Intermission Time"). All were originally published in the 1950s.
  • First two sentences of "The Non-Statistical Man": Charles Bascomb was a man who loved figures — the genuine, Arabic kind, that is. Not that he didn't appreciate the other kind, too.
  • Wait, does that mean the third sentence is sexist? A little bit, yes.
  • Random paragraph from middle: He was called almost as soon as he arrived to the office of Farnham Sprock, Second Vice-president of New England. Sprock was a small, mealy old man who had been by-passed sometime ago for the top post in the Company. He had been relegated to office administration, even though it was known that all who felt his judgement would suffer for his failure.
  • Is Farnham Sprock a silly name? Yes.
  • Will this blog post now become the No. 1 result in Google searches for "Farnham Sprock"? I certainly hope so.
  • About the author: Raymond F. Jones (1915-1994) was a prolific American science-fiction author who mostly wrote short stories. His 1952 novel This Island Earth was turned into a 1955 movie with the same title. That movie, though considered quite respectable, was later ridiculed in 1996's Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie.

    Here's an excerpt from an autobiographical piece that Jones wrote in 1951. It's about his early life, before his writing career took off:
    "Science fiction inspired the course of my studies through high school and college. I ended up in radio engineering as a result, but in the dim days of the '30's radio operators were quite unneeded.

    "I left my home town of Salt Lake City and wandered around Texas a bit. Later I took up the nomadic life of an installer of telephone exchange equipment for Western Electric. That was too nomadic for a married man, which I became in 1940, and I settled down with the Weather Bureau. During the war, I returned to electronics in the engineering department of Bendix Radio at Baltimore. Afterwards, I returned to Phoenix, Arizona where the climate is more amenable."
    You can find that entire essay, and much more, at an excellent website — — about Jones' life and works that Richard Simms has lovingly put together. Also of note is that Jones' interests also included genealogy, meteorology, model railroading and photography. I think we would have gotten along swimmingly.
  • Review excerpt [with spoilers]: Here's a portion of Kelly Libatique's three-star Amazon review of the title tale in The Non-Statistical Man:
    "It is thought provoking, I'll give it that. The main character is a statistician who zealously embraces his techniques and practice as an employee of a big insurance company. But then, with the help of another main character we are introduced to, he discovers that he has a greater power than just a talent for numbers. He is dragged, painfully at times, into the world of intuition. But really, in my opinion, it was more like discovering one has the ability to foretell the future, almost the way a palm or crystal ball reader would. I'm exaggerating, but so did Jones.

    "The other main point that Raymond Jones was perhaps making was what sort of impact this would have on society should individuals start tapping into it. With our main character's "former powers" as a statistician, he was deliberately doing wrong to people for the sake of making money for his employer. But as his newly discovered abilities in intuition evolve, he becomes more, well, moral."
  • Final thought: The Non-Statistical Man would also be a good title for a contemporary novel about an old-school front-office baseball employee who can no longer get jobs from Major League Baseball teams that are instead seeking SABR-savvy whiz kids using newfangled computer-based analysis."

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