Leaving Your Mark By Christopher M. Chupik


*Worry not.  I am all right.  But taking two days of doing bloody nothing this week left me with two days worth of what Dan calls “administrivia” in both house and business to do, which means I’ve spent te morning running around like a port-wine drunken turkey with its had cut off (a story for another time.)  So…. Thank you to Christopher Chupik who doesn’t mind my putting his post up late. – SAH*

Leaving Your Mark

By Christopher M. Chupik

I open the book and see the name inscribed in neat handwriting on the end paper:

“Irene M. Montgomery”

I smile. We meet again.

Over the past fifteen years or so, I have purchased a dozen books which used to belong to Irene:

Pirates of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Warrior of Llarn and Thief of Llarn by Gardner F. Fox, Prince of Peril by Otis Adelbert Kline, Three Against the Witch World by Andre Norton, The Legion of Space and The Legion of Time by Jack Williamson Lost Worlds and The Years Best Fantasy Stories volumes 1, 2, 4 and 6, all edited by Lin Carter.

From time to time I find people’s names in books I purchase used. One person even had a personalized stamp for his name. Some used bookstores stamp their books. But this is the first time I’ve ever run across the same person’s name again and again. And it makes me curious about the person whose books I’ve inherited. Just who was Irene M. Montgomery?

Googling brings up an Irene M. Montgomery who died in 1917. Clearly not her. Of course, “Montgomery” could well have been her maiden name and she is now listed under her married name. But I have no way to know. So I am left to judge her from her books.

And what can I deduce?

For one thing, she took very good care of her books. These are in great shape considering their age. For another, her reading tastes dovetail very closely with mine. It’s clear Irene had a passion for both the Planetary Romance and Sword and Sorcery subgenres. Likely she was one of the millions who discovered Burroughs during the reprint boom of the ’60s. I can relate, having discovered him myself twenty years later. Many of my ERBs are Ace editions, with Frank Frazetta covers, like the one Pirates of Venus sports.

The popularity of ERB prompted Ace to reprint authors like Otis Adelbert Kline, ERB’s chief rival during his life time. Now, OAK wrote about Venus first, back when ERB was writing about Mars. When ERB wrote about Venus, OAK switched to Mars. Legends of a “rivalry” between the authors seems to be just that — legends. As to the book itself, well . . . Prince of Peril isn’t that great, I’m afraid, but it’s perhaps not entirely OAK’s fault. Despite the “complete and unabridged” which adorned every Ace reprint, Ace did in fact abridge novels, the works of OAK included. Paizo’s short-lived Planet Stories line reprinted OAK’s Martian novels unabridged and while they are a slight improvement, Kline still comes in a distant second to Burroughs.

OAK’s biggest flaw was that his alien worlds never feel as exotic as they should. His names lack the same ring of romance that ERB brought.  There’s a nagging feeling at times that if you took out the alien animals and advanced technology, they could just as easily be taking place in some far-off place on Earth. OAK’s most important contribution to the field was being the literary agent of Robert E. Howard.

When Ace ran out of older authors, they started publishing pastiches by contemporary authors like Norton, Fox and Carter. Fox’s Llarn novels are fairly standard Burroughsian fare, but with some interesting twists. Fox was a pulp veteran, and one of the most prolific comic writers of all time, creator of the Flash, Hawkman, Adam Strange and many, many more. Norton’s Witch World series is too big a topic for this post, but I will note how the series starts off in Burroughsian territory (Earthman transported to other world) and gradually shifts into Fantasy over the course of the first six books.

I can also tell she was a big reader of DAW during its yellow-spine days, back before they courted respectability. It’s not a surprise that Irene was a big reader of Ace and DAW: Donald A. Wollheim was editor at both. Wollheim was a big Burroughs fan, and one of the first publishers willing to take a chance on Fantasy back when SF was king. The early DAW leaned heavily into Sword and Sorcery, the subgenre created by Robert E. Howard during his short but prolific life.

Carter’s Years Best Fantasy anthologies are interesting. While Lin Carter may not have the most sterling of literary reputations, there’s no denying his enthusiasm. The man loved Fantasy, especially Sword and Sorcery and made no apologies for it. While his own works varied from decent to hackwork, his work as an editor is better regarded. Though one is not sure whether to be galled or amused by the audacity of Carter always including one of his own stories in with the year’s best.

Looking through his table of contents, I see a number of familiar names: Charles R. Saunders, Gardner F. Fox, Tanith Lee, Jack Vance and Karl Edward Wagner. There’s even an early story by George R. R. Martin, back when he was still writing (I kid!). It’s a pretty impressive lineup.

Lost Worlds was a very influential book for me. When I first signed it out from the library back in the early ’90s it was the first time I was exposed to Carter, as well as Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith.

I don’t have anything of hers from later than 1980. Since her tastes ran towards two genres that had almost died out by then, it’s not hard to imagine why. Despite the success of the Milius Conan film, Sword and Sorcery was on the wane by the ’80s. Marvel’s Conan comic was limping along and most of the literary output in the genre was in the form of Tor’s decidedly uneven and repetitive Conan pastiches. Planetary Romance was also gone, save for Kenneth Bulmer’s Dray Prescot novels and John Norman’s — shall we say controversial? — Gor series. And I think that Irene wouldn’t have been interested in that. Both series were published by DAW and came to an end in 1988. Of course, it’s entirely possible she did continue buying new books and I just haven’t bought any of them. I’d like to think she still found things worth reading.

My hometown once boasted six used bookstores and now has three — and one of those is closing. Almost all the new bookstores belong to the same chain. The experience of walking into a bookstore and running across some unexpected rarity from another decade is becoming a lot harder.

Not all hope is lost. The e-book revolution has brought many older works back into electronic print. Gardner F. Fox’s Llarn series, for instance, has been reissued as part of an initiative by his estate to reprint all his works. And while scrolling through Amazon lacks the romance of browsing bookstore shelves, sometimes you can still be surprised by what you find.

All used books once belonged to someone else. But it’s rare that we’re reminded of that fact. Without Irene’s name written inside, I would have never given any thought about the person who owned these books before me. Because she did, I am reminded of her each time I open them up.

Irene M. Montgomery, you have not been forgotten.

74 thoughts on “Leaving Your Mark By Christopher M. Chupik

  1. This was a neat read.

    …Maybe she’s still around and has been culling because she’s switched to ebooks.

  2. Otis Adelbert Kline…I have “Jan of the Jungle” and “Jan in India” in Kindle e-book. I hadn’t encountered any of his other works.

    1. One of the advantages of the ebook revolution is that we can get OAK’s full-text again. Most (if not all) of the paper reprints followed the text of the Avalon hardcovers, which has a ironclad page-count restriction and always cut-to-fit.

      The general consensus back in the day was that ERB had the better Mars books and OAK the better Venus. Certinly, if you want to try OAK’s planetary romances, the Peril trilogy is the place to start.

      1. I liked Kline a *lot* better than Burroughs. Burroughs had lots of stuff going on, but the *story* crept along so slowly I kept losing interest. The over-the-top romantic entanglements were annoying. And there was way too much boilerplate repeated between novels; yeah, you can only write the same basic story so many times without repeating yourself, but you can at least mix it up a little…

        Kline’s stories, by comparison, kept the plot moving, and the protagonist usually had some goal other than “get the girl.”

        I understand why Burroughs might be more popular; a lot of people claim to *like* the verbose and indirect style. Nothing else explains the number of people who swoon to Tolkein’s Rings books, or Stephen R. Donaldson’s books, which go on endlessly, avoiding any plot advancement be endless side-excursions… chainsaw all that out, and you’d have one ordinary-length novel.

        1. I think there are good reasons to like Tolkein’s books, but having said that, last time I tried reading them, I got stalled in “Return of the King”. Oddly enough, it took reading “Monster Hunter International” (which some people might consider to be “popcorn”) to jump-start my ability to get back into “Return of the King”….

    1. d*mn it. This would make a great fantasy short story. One of those “love across time” in which the books allow a young librarian to travel and meet her when she was young, cue relationship, then back to today, hear the books were donated because she died, add in some detail so show it’s all real, like a note to him falling out of the next book.
      Written in the right way it would be very moving. No, I don’t want to do it. No, really.

        1. I started a number of his books and didn’t manage to grind through to the ends. It’s hard to believe they were written by the same guy who did “The Anubis Gates”.

          Robert Silverberg once talked about writing his “masterpiece story”, as in the old meaning of “master piece”, the thing a journeyman made to show he was worthy of calling himself a master of his craft. Powers wrote his early… then was like a master cabinetmaker finishing out his career as a log splitter.

          1. In fairness to that story, at the time, I’d also not managed to really get into Anubis Gates.

            1. The Gates has a Beginning, a Middle, and an End, and a coherent Plot threaded all the way through. Even if you don’t like it, it’s a properly-rendered novel.

              Alas, most of the stuff he wrote after that lacks at least two of those…

      1. I’m reminded of Jack Finney’s 1970 Time and Again, where the protagonist travels to the Dakota Apartments circa 1882, and falls in love. The technique was to live as if one already lived in the selected era.

        [Looks at bookcase.] My copy of TaA is lost to the mists of time, but he published a sequel From Time to Time in 1995. I don’t recall reading it, but my remaindered copy has a sticker price of $1.99. In hardcover(!).

        [Adds FTtT to stack]

  3. That’s the problem with e-books, especially of the Kindle unlimited variety. While the author’s derive income from all transactions (a plus!), they never get handed down or handed around.

    1. Gresham’s law, applied to books, cheap books drive good books out of circulation. I actually “purchase” my Kindle books instead of KU, but I am pretty sure my digital rights are to my personal devices. No problem reloading when one device breaks.

  4. Both series were published by DAW and came to an end in 1988

    Actually, the most recent Gor book was August of 16. I believe they are on their third or fourth author. I suspect Irene would have been okay with them up to book 4 or maybe 6.

    I would claim book 1, Tarnsman of Gor, was just A Princess of Mars typed into a computer doc and then a search and replace done on all the names if it was published five years later than it was.

    The e-book revolution has brought many older works back into electronic print.

    It has also given those of us who love those genres new books to read and, if we want, a chance to write and sell them without gatekeepers insisting the genres are dead.

    1. It looks as if both series have been continued. Bulmer wrote a number of new Kregan novels for the German market and Norman has resurrected Gor through indie.

      1. “The cost of success..” I’ve been reading a bunch of “Nebula” magazines from the 1950s and 1960s; Bulmer was editor, and wrote about a quarter of the content under various names. He was pretty decent by the standards of the day; most of his output was short stories, and even his handful of “novels” would barely be novellas nowadays. But some were rockin’ good reads anyway, particularly the Dimensions stories.

        His development as a writer appeared to come to a complete halt when he started cranking out the Dray Prescot (more than fifty of them!) and Hook series. He turned out a lot of both, and wrote little if anything else.

        I don’t know what his sales figures were, but I think he ran into the same trap as Arthur Conan Doyle and Piers Anthony.

    2. To the best of my knowledge, the Gor novels coming out in indie are by the same person (under the name John Norman) as the first Gor novels.

      I haven’t seen anything about somebody else using the “John Norman” name in writing the Gor novels.

      1. It’s funny how often Norman gets mentioned around here. It’s like in my writing group. For years, seemingly any extended discussion we had eventually turned to the subject of cannibalism. Not sure what that says about us. 😀

        1. I was allowed to stay?

          My thoughts on Gor are odd. There is so much potential and it is so wasted sometimes. That said some of the latter books have fun ideas. The ending of Captive of Got is downright romantic in its way (I think…it is one of the Earth woman protagonist ones and I just check Slave Girl, so I know it isn’t that one. I don’t have Kajira or Dance handy).

          I think Norman was one of the last strong writers of that style in the US along with Adams in his Horseclans books, which I read before Got. I can remember seeing both in Safeway bits. People looking to write that violence and sex kind of low fantasy do need to take a gander through one or two of the early ones. I recommend Outlaw (my first) or Priest Kings.

          1. > potential

            Yes. Most of the early books can go toe-to-toe with any of the swords-and-science genre. But I lost interest after “Raiders”, checking a few of the later ones out over many years Nope, still no interest in page-long paragraphs consisting of a single sentence, and badly done dominance scenes.

            I didn’t object to the racy bits because they were racy; I objected because they were so badly done, and there was so much of it. The few of Norman’s later books I tried, I bailed a chapter or two in. But I guess that’s what his fans liked; same deal as Laurell K. Hamilton.

            1. I have often said the key problem is Gor wanted to be both sword and planet fiction and S&M fiction. In trying to be both it often wasn’t too good at either.

              That said, when I first read Outlaws my thought was, “where is all the hard core S&M I was told to expect”. Sure, there were racy bits and even mention of the pleasure rack, but nothing too out of bounds for mainstream fiction. Scruples, which we passed around in HS with the “good parts” marked, was much more graphic than the first few Gor books.

              Captive is probably my favorite and it is seven. I have a soft spot for the ending which I consider tear jerkingly romantic (YMMV).

              What is interesting is most people who use Gor to structure their personal lives seem to treat it as Saleno Zito says Trump voters treated his ideas: seriously but not literally.

            2. I tried exactly one of the Gor books, and never got past the beginning, where the protagonist finds a slave girl chained underneath a wagon, I think the weather was bad, and has sex with her, then leaves. What disgusted me was the description of her circumstances, which sounded very uncomfortable, and him just leaving her like that after the sex. Doesn’t really matter that she was supposedly more than willing to have the sex, and did not complain about her position – so maybe she was supposed to be a full on masochist or something – that still made me dislike the protagonist rather intensely.

              I can tolerate S and M in stories when it’s more in the vein of girls (or guys) in delicate chains in comfortable surroundings – even if they get whipped or otherwise hurt from time to time, but it’s still pretty clear that they choose that, and could leave, sooner or later, if they really wanted – that scene was too much for me.

            3. But I guess that’s what his fans liked; same deal as Laurell K. Hamilton.

              Which was an awful pity. She had a really interesting series before she turned it into kinky romance novels.

              1. Her editor, who was mine too at the time, bragged to me that she (editor) insisted on the change. “And then she became a mega bestseller.”
                So my guess is that was the price of her getting some push.

                1. Laurell K. Hamilton. Won’t touch one of her books after getting part way into one of her books with more explicit scenes. Period. Don’t care that some of her earlier work wasn’t that way. She took the wrong advise. YMMV

                2. I took a look at one of her latest ones she put on sale for $2.99, and she seems to be trying to move Anita back towards the “supernatural troubleshooter” she started out as. How far that will go and how long it will last remains to be seen.

    3. Heh. Best description of Tarnsman I’ve seen. Probably only #4, although I definitely agree she would most likely have ended after about the first chapter of #7. (Maybe – I do know a few women who went at least through and some beyond where I finally had to give up…)

      Interesting, in kind of a scary way – apparently a Gor role-playing game was released just last year. No, I don’t want to know beyond mention of its existence on Wikipedia.

    4. Books 1-5 were fairly decent planet-and-sandals sci-fi / fantasy. IMHO, it went off the rails in book 6; Book 9 (Marauders) was probably the last gasp of sanity, but I’ll admit I didn’t read any of them past Book 12.

      1. People do differ on where it went off the rails for hard core fans (and even a lot of hard core fans laugh at a lot of the material), but I have not seen anyone really people a book beyond 10 as the one worth reading.

        There are times I want to do something along the lines of what I think was done to create Tarnsman from Princess. Outline all the damn things in Scrivener, search and replace the names, and write the books that are in there instead of the ones we got.

        Especially of late when I have had more reason to have a soft sport for Gor.

        1. “What could have been…” I’ve had the same reaction with more than one book, where the author had his hands on something awesome, and then spent his time on filler.

          The best example I have comes from film, though. There was a movie called “3000 Miles to Graceland.” It was about a group of thieves who knocked over a casino in Vegas during an Elvis convention. They were able to to it unnoticed because they were all dressed as Elvis themselves… and after an awesome start, it devolved into random scenes of WTF? and gratuitous violence, scored with holy-shit-where’s-the-MUTE-button instant-on blasts of rap.

          “Back in the day” there might be hundreds of hours of film boiled down to 90 minutes of finished product, even on carefully storyboarded films. It was the first time I realized that there could be more than one movie in that pile of discards…

          I see the people who spend hours “remixing” movies and putting them on YouTube; I now understand why they do that.

      2. I’ve only read #5, which I quite enjoyed, and one a ways later (7? 9?), which I found repetitive and dull. I imagine it’s like most things — most interesting while it’s still in the process of discovery; not so interesting when it’s all old hat, and that applies as well to what an author puts into the works.

  5. A bit of a review here – https://chicagoboyz.net/archives/58121.html
    I was at a local book festival at the end of last week, a community-supported thing, sponsored by a committee which wants to bring readers and books, and new readers — like kids! into the local library. It was a blast, as all of the other authors were indy and small-press authors.
    My daughter and I did a talk to three different sixth-grade classes at the local middle school. Such nice, lively kids – the love of reading has not been squashed out of them. I think about a third of each class were enthusiastic readers, three or four in each class were passionate readers, and there was a potential writer in each class!
    We had such a good time – I hope that we did some lasting good, talking about books and story-telling to the kids!

    1. “Hey! Why does the Engineering team always win the league championship?”

      “They’re the ones with real-time control over the artificial gravity field…”

    1. Same here. They vanished after the new book stores left.

      “We have an expensive new store in a high-priced section of town, and we only stock titles carefully selected by publishers in Manhattan!”

      “Your overhead is too high, and you’re selling the same garbage as every other bookstore, or even the shelves at Wal-mart or K-Mart.”

      “People just aren’t buying books any more! It’s The Internets killing local business!”

      “You’re losing money because you suck at being a business.”

      1. Pretty much happened here. The only “big” new bookstores here were a couple of chains. A Waldenbooks was in a mall, but the owner couldn’t run stores on both sides of the Cascades. We lost. When the mall was reconfigured to strip, a Borders went in until the chain died.

        Beyond that, we have a specialty shop or two, and places that sell books on the side. One does local interest books.

        We had a decent used bookstore, where we found a nice bird book. I think they closed during one of the Summers of Recovery, and they didn’t have any side/related businesses to cover for downturns. (Common here, one accounting firm sold internet access, and computer repair places showed up the the damndest places.)

  6. Norton was always brushing on the edges of fantasy even in the SF work. To be sure, psionics were a much more respectable as a SF trope at the time.

    What really differentiated her from Burroughs was the characters she shoved into the worlds.

    1. I notice that a lot of early American fantasy sometimes cloaked itself with science-fiction: Leigh Brackett setting her fantasies on other planets, Henry Kuttner finding scientific rationales for the magic in The Dark World. As fantasy became more popular and respectable in the ’60s, Witch World “came out” as it were.

      1. There was no fantasy market. It wasn’t really until the 1970s that fantasy could be sold as such, so it went into disguise.

    2. > psionics … trope

      It was unfolding as a new science; multiple governments were pumping Big Bucks into it. It was the Next Big Step past quantum mechanics.

      Alas, the Rhine studies are the poster child for “bad experiment design” and “reproducibility crisis.”

      see also: “Anthropogenic Global Warming”
      see also, “I want to believe!”

      1. Yeah. Though I actually argued with someone online who thought that psionics were now — retroactively — fantasy

  7. I’ve run into familiar bookplates a few times too. And not just locally; once I encountered the same previous owner in usedbooks bought in Montana and California (usedbook stores often get wholesale lots, which probably explains the geographic spread). And a while back I bought a series of 3 books from 3 different far-flung sellers, and all three were ex-the-same-library.

    But the one I regard as most interesting is a solo find — a Complete Byron (including all the letters; the man never shut up) published about 1840. It’s hand-inscribed to some fellow in Boston, a gift from son to father (I think). Looked up the name, and learned the same family is still living in Boston. I keep thinking I should drop ’em a line about the fate of great-squared-grandda’s book, which had migrated clear to southern California. And no, you can’t have your book back. 😀

    1. My father bought a 1890s book of the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. It was given by someone to his two sisters, and he did a nice drawing in the blank pages in front. A fair amount of the buildings were kept afterward, and turned into museums and such, while some of the statues from the exhibition ended up on the U of I campus in Champaign-Urbana.

  8. Years ago, when I was attending winter* High School in Venice, Florida I discovered the local library had a superb selection of SF, a thing not at all common in those days before moon-landing. Amongst other selections was a complete set of Doc Smith’s Lensman and Skylark novels, each a first edition with a signed, numbered bookplate tipped in. Clearly, some retiree had donated his collection and I was the joyous beneficiary. As added bonus, the inscriptions became increasingly personal as the author became familiar with this fan over the years.

    I am sure those books have long since been disposed, hopefully to somebody capable of appreciating them and not simply dumped in a burn bin. But I can always say: “Shake the hand that held the book that was held by the hand that shook Doc Smith’s hand!”

    *Therein lies a tale for another time. My High School had a winter campus, something less appealing once experienced.

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