It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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Cold War (book) pron

So Jared of pornokitsch.com and I had this cool idea: we would each post something about the various books we owned which were about, or set during, the Cold War. His are here. I’m old enough to remember the Cold War, although not all of it, of course. I’ve not been around quite that long. Anyway, I had a quick look through my book collection and discovered that I had almost 100 books on military aircraft used during the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s. I don’t remember buying so many. Some, I can pass off as research for various pieces of fiction. Honest. But others… Er, no. I put together a post about some of these aircraft books, but then I realised it wasn’t very interesting. So I binned it. Maybe I’ll inflict it in you another day. Instead, I decided to write about some other Cold War books instead… And yes, one or two of them are about military aircraft. But never mind.

One feature of the Cold War was the Space Race. Which didn’t actually amount to a race. At least, NASA always insisted it was never one. But then they did lie on occasion. Not about putting a man on the Moon, however. That was real. And I find it really annoying when people claim it was all faked. But anyway, the Cold War… Science fiction was more than happy to take the Space Race and run with it – and extend the Cold War to low earth orbit, the Moon, and wherever else US sf authors and their manifest destiny thought the Soviets might try and compete with them. Even as late as 1984, Kim Stanley Robinson had Americans versus Soviets in space in his Icehenge. The following sf novels, however, actually predate Gagarin’s momentous flight… which means they get a lot of the details, er, wrong. But never mind.

cold_war01According to the back cover of First on the Moon (1958), it is “a thrilling adventure of the very near future. Written with up-to-the-minute accuracy by a professional aviation research engineer…” Aviation research is, of course, all about spaceflight. Not. So it’s no surprise that First on the Moon hews pretty closely to early 1950s visions of missions to the Moon. But we mustn’t forget those pesky Soviets, who are determined to use “assassination and sabotage”, or “an H-bomb loaded rocket missile”, or even “a Red spaceship with a suicide crew” to prevent the noble Americans from claiming the Moon for “Old Glory”. First on the Moon was Jeff Sutton’s debut novel, and it’s the sort of alarmist Cold War claptrap that normally appeared from publishers of cheap thrillers rather than genre imprints. For the record, the Americans get to the Moon, but then there’s a game of cat and mouse between astronauts and cosmonauts, as illustrated by the cover art. I’m assuming the guy in the red spacesuit is a Russian, because of course being Reds they’d have spacesuits that colour. You can just make out that the bloke shooting at the Red is wearing a blue spacesuit. He must be a good guy, then.

cold_war03cold_war04Bombs in Orbit (1959), Sutton’s second novel, is more of the same. Not only does the cover art feature a pair of Convair F-102 Delta Daggers (Sutton worked for Convair at the time), which of course can’t reach orbit, but the back cover boasts the immortal strapline  “SPACE FROGMEN!” (which, I freely admit, is what prompted me to buy the book in the first place). The titular bombs… “Now the Russian space lead had taken a fatal turn – they had three controlled H-bomb Sputniks circling the Earth ready to drop when and where they wished.” Oh no! Not the H-bomb Sputniks! Bombs in Orbit is “a novel that cannot be put down until the last taut page.” This is blatantly untrue as I have done it many times.

cold_war05Sutton continued writing his Cold War space novels with Spacehive (1960), which boasts – I think – another Convair delta-winged fighter on the cover. I’m not sure which one, however; perhaps it’s one of the research aircraft used when they were developing the B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber– Ahem, anyway… The Spacehive is some sort of project in low earth orbit – “The United States was tossing the parts of Project Spacehive into orbit like bits of a jigsaw puzzle” –  but the US has not quite thought things through because “how do you get any work done when you’re a sitting duck every ninety minutes for Russian rocket snipers?” Oh no! Not the Russian rocket snipers! I’ve yet to read this book, or Bombs in Orbit (all the quotes here and above are taken from the back-cover blurbs), but they but look very… manly, all stony glances and blazing eyes. And gruff, lots of gruff.

cold_war02Charles Eric Maine, on the other hand, was a Brit and an actual science fiction writer. High Vacuum (1956) was his fourth novel and is a straight-up Moon disaster novel. A US rocket crashes in the Sea of Rains – a little bit of prescience by him there (I mean Apollo 15, which of course didn’t crash, but you know what I mean; and not Adrift on the Sea of Rains). “There is enough oxygen to keep alive four survivors for five weeks – or two for ten – or one for twenty…” It’s fortunate the crashed astronauts haven’t lost their ability to add up or take away. In actual fact, only three astronauts survive the crash and must struggle to survive… and try to figure out how to get back to Earth – um, this is starting to sound a little familiar…

cold_war07cold_war08The moment I saw Caper at Canaveral (1963) by Roger Blake on eBay, I had to have it. Just look at that strapline: “Bolder than today’s headlines! Cuban Commies use the fiery desires of a lush nympho to try to gain American missile secrets!” They don’t write them like that any more. Fortunately. And the back-cover’s no better, with its “COUNTDOWN FOR SEX!”. And just in case you don’t know what that is: ” 5 4 3 2 1″. The blurb is, well, it’s… “Gary’s public relations job meant getting the top scientific brains to join his firm. And his formula for winning them over was simple: FREE WHEELING SEX!” So there you go, back during the Cold War even the pencil-necks were manly stallions.

I did say I was going to mention some books about Cold War military aircraft, but in my defence they’re not real Cold War military aircraft. They are in fact aircraft that never got off the drawing-board or beyond the prototype stage.

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There were some pretty cool ideas floating about at the time – all in an effort to go higher, further and faster than the enemy. Midland Publishing specialises in military aviation books, and has produced a series on the, er, blue sky thinking prevalent at the time. I don’t have all of the Secret Projects books – there’s another British Secret Projects (which I have but haven’t included here), an American Secret Projects on bombers which I don’t own, and a Soviet Secret Projects on fighters which I also don’t own. Midland have also published several books on Luftwaffe Secret Projects. But Nazi secret technology and occult flying saucers is probably a post for another day…

cold_war09Some of those proposed Mach 3 bombers and fighters may have been cool, but the coolest machine of all was the Caspian Sea Monster. Caspian! Sea! Monster! It was actually an ekranoplan, or ground effect vehicle, which flew a handful of metres above the ground or sea surface. Only the Soviets bothered to build them, and some of them really were monsters, huge things capable of carrying tanks at 500 kph. Unfortunately, they did require a very placid sea-state, which limited their usefulness. Still, they are cool. An ekranoplan makes an appearance in Sebastian Faulks’ James Bond novel, Devil May Care, and I believe Charlie Stross has mentioned them too in his fiction. But really they should be in every story ever written.

cold_war11After all that money spent designing and building aircraft that could fly as fast as possible, during the 1960s a bunch of politicians decided supersonic bombers were an inefficient method of delivering nuclear warheads to the enemy. Build a faster bomber, and the enemy only went and spoiled things by building a faster interceptor. And they were expensive too. Even when they were controlled by Giant Computer Brains, like SAGE – which was used to direct interceptors to bombers entering US airspace. At the time it was built, SAGE was the biggest computer in the world, with each of its 24 machines weighing 250 tons. Yay for miniaturisation and the integrated circuit. Anyway, no supersonic bombers and no supersonic interceptors. Instead, it was all about ballistic missiles. These were buried in silos hidden in the countryside, or carried on submarines. I don’t have any books on ballistic missile submarines but I do have this one on missile silos. Nowadays, you can buy abandoned missile silos, and several have been converted into homes. We may laugh now, but they’ll be the ones laughing after World War III…

cold_war13Speaking of which, should there be an exchange of missiles, the government and military command structure need somewhere safe to carry on the fight. A nuclear bunker. Or several of them. The general public had fall-out shelters of their own, of course, but they had to build them themselves in their own backyards. It’s doubtful they would have been very effective. The shelters documented in Cold War Secret Nuclear Bunkers – which, of course, are not all that secret anymore – were only for the government and military. And they were pretty damn big. Most have now been abandoned. Of course, fall-out shelters were only effective if you managed to get inside them before the missile hit. In the UK, we had the “three-minute warning”, which didn’t really give enough time to do anything except perhaps say “Oh shit”. The government successfully sold this to the British public as crucial and important because the US told them to. In actual fact, putting early warning stations on British soil gave the US a ten- to fifteen-minute early warning, which was plenty of time for them to see about defending themselves. If the UK got turned into a post-apocalyptic wasteland in the process, why should they care? That’s what allies are for, right? Recently, a military nuclear bunker in Scotland was put up for sale – very useful for the family who needs a Giant Nuclear Bomb Proof Basement.

cold_war12Other countries beside the UK had not-so-secret-now nuclear bunkers. In the US, they had enormous secret underground command complexes built into mountains. Like NORAD, and that one where they keep the stargate. And the ones where they keep all the aliens. Underground Bases and Tunnels was published by Adventures Unlimited Press, which probably tells you all you need to know about it. If you need a hint, here’s the back-cover blurb: “This is a disturbing and important book, revealing a massive level of secret underground engineering activity on the part of the federal government” and “A must read for students of conspiracy, technology suppression, UFOs and the New World Order”. There is a companion volume, Underwater and Underground Bases, but I’ve yet to pick up a copy. All that money Western governments spent on secret bases full of reverse-engineered alien technology, and all they really needed to control their populations was… neoliberalism! And we bought into it, even though it’s all based on a spreadsheet that contains equations that don’t add up. Economics: it’s magical. Personally, I’d sooner governments used alien technology. That would be much more fun.

So there you have it, a small slice of the Cold War in fiction and fact. Four decades of the twentieth century in which the two largest industrial nations postured and blustered… and a complete waste of time. Because the USSR just collapsed on its own. Apparently, when the USSR did crash, many powerful officials in the US intelligence community didn’t believe it. They thought it was a trick. The Soviets were only pretending their entire nation had come crashing down about their ears! In actual fact, they were going to go: Aha! Fooled you, imperialist yankee running dogs! And then invade everywhere. Still, history often makes fools of even the cleverest among us (not that there are any of those in government, of course). But at least the Cold War made an excellent topic for fiction, both science fiction and otherwise. It allowed various writers to fight the good fight under alien skies, or present secret services that weren’t collections of over-educated incompetent nincompoops. At least the Cold War was good for art. And cool aeroplanes. Don’t forget the cool aeroplanes. And the ekranoplans as well, of course. At least the Cold War gave us ekranoplans. And for that we should be properly thankful.


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Book porn: Philip Kerr

Not all of the authors whose books I collect in first edition are science fiction or postwar British literature. One or two of them are non-genre and more recent. Like Philip Kerr – who could, I suppose, be classified as a genre author as most of his books have been crime novels featuring the historical twentieth-century detective/policeman, Bernhard Gunther. I’m not sure why I decided to collect Kerr’s novels – there are other authors I read with as much enjoyment and anticipation, but I don’t generally hang onto their books once I’ve read them. Perhaps he was just easier to collect when I started tracking down first editions…

Whatever the reason, here are all of Kerr’s books to date. There’s a new one – a Bernie Gunther novel, of course – due out in March this year: A Man Without Breath. It’s on my wishlist.

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The original Bernie Gunther trilogy, now available as an omnibus edition, Berlin Noir. A German Requiem is signed. (I see on Amazon that first edition copies of A German Requiem start at £120…)

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Dead Meat, a police procedural set in the Moscow, was televised in the mid-1990s under the title Gruschko, but I’ve never seen it. It doesn’t appear to have ever been released on DVD. When I first read A Philosophical Investigation, I was extremely suspicious of its philosophical underpinnings, and that was twenty years ago. I should think I’d be even more sceptical now. Gridiron, about a computerised building which starts killing its inhabitants, is probably Kerr’s worst book – yes, it’s such a hoary plot even The X-Files used it. My copy is signed.

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Three more thrillers. None especially stand out. My copy of the The Shot is signed.

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The Second Angel is actually a superb science fiction novel, and probably my favourite of all Kerr’s books. Dark Matter is an historical crime novel, with Isaac Newton as the detective. Hitler’s Peace is about the Tehran meeting between Hitler, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt.

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After a decade and a half, Kerr returned to Bernie Gunther, though now covering his activities since the end of World War II. The One From The Other is set in postwar Germany, but then moves to Palestine. In A Quiet Flame, Gunther is in Argentina, involved with the Perons and high-ranking Nazis who escaped capture by the allies. If the Dead Rise Not sees Gunther living in Cuba, with a second narrative set in Berlin in 1935 as the Germans set about building a venue for the 1936 Olympics.

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These two I have yet to read. They’re the seventh and eighth Gunther books.

Kerr has also written children’s books under the name PB Kerr – a series of seven Arabian fantasy novels, Children of the Lamp, and a YA novel about a boy who accompanies two chimpanzees to the Moon, One Small Step. I reviewed the latter here.


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I love the smell of old paper in the morning

Inspired by Pornokitsch’s book porn post earlier today, I have decided to share some of the older, and perhaps less obviously the sort of books I would buy, books in my collection. And here they are…

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I bought The Life and Works of Jahiz on abebooks after reading and enjoying Robert Irwin’s The Penguin Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature, but I’ve, er, never got around to reading it. It was published in 1969, so it’s not especially old – in fact, it’s younger than me. But I suspect very few people I know also possess a copy. (I see there’s a single copy for sale on Amazon… for £129.99.)

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I’ve tried my hand at poetry, and a few of my attempts have been published, but I’ve found the poetry that appeals to me most is that of the 1930s and 1940s, such as by the Cairo poets. Here I have three collections by Terence Tiller: Reading a Medal (1957), Poems (1941) and The Inward Animal (1943); Richard Spender’s Collected Poems (1944); and John Jarmain’s Poems (1945). They were bought at antique fairs, on eBay, or from Abebooks.

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And here are two poetry anthologies from that period. New Verse (1939) features photographs of the contributors at the end and appears to have been annotated in pencil by a previous owner. Poetry of the Present (1949) has a review slip in it, giving the exact publication date as April 28th 1949 and price as 10/6.

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My favourite poet is probably Bernard Spencer, and here are a couple of hard-to-find chapbooks: The Twist in the Plotting (1960) and With Luck Lasting (1963).

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I first came across the Cairo poets via the Lawrence Durrell connection. During WWII, there were two groups of poets and writers in Egypt – both serving in the armed forces and civilians. Durrell and Spencer were in the Personal Landscape group, centred around a journal with that title. The other group was called Salamander after its magazine, and later published three collections of poetry by armed forces personnel: Oasis (1943), Return to Oasis (1980) and From Oasis into Italy (1983). (I can’t find any copies of Oasis online to link to, unfortunately.)

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Middle East Anthology of Prose and Verse (1946) is, er, exactly that. It includes Lawrence Durrell, John Jarmain, Bernard Spencer, Keith Douglas and Olivia Manning, among others. The book lacking a dustjacket is Personal Landscape (1945), like Oasis above, an anthology drawn from the pages of the magazine of the same name, which includes, er, Lawrence Durrell, John Jarmain, Bernard Spencer, Keith Douglas and Olivia Manning, among others.

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From verse to prose – three novels from the 1930s and 1940s. Priddy Barrows (1944) is Jarmain’s only novel – he was killed in WWII. I wrote about it here. Copies of both Priddy Barrows and his poetry collection are, it seems, now impossible to find. At First Sight (1935) is Nicholas Monsarrat’s second novel, and This Is The Schoolroom (1939) is his fourth (but my copy is a 1947 reprint).

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Finally, a couple of books about bathyscaphes. Seven Miles Down (1961) is the only book written specifically about the voyage of the Trieste to the floor of Challenger Deep in 1960. I wrote about it here. 2000 Fathoms Down covers descents in a bathyscaphe by the two authors during the 1940s and 1950s.


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Dare more

When I wrote my post on the Hawk Books reprints of the Dan Dare strips, I didn’t bother including the other Dan Dare books I own. So here they are. There is one not shown, however: Dare by Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes, which I have spent the past month looking for but have yet to find. No doubt I’ll stumble across it within hours of this post going up on the blog…

Anyway, more Dan Dare books, see:


This is the one started it all for me. As you can see, it’s a bit tatty. But then it is thirty-five years old and it did get chewed by mice at one point… It contains ‘The Red Moon Mystery’ and the first part of the Terra Nova trilogy, ‘Safari in Space’.

A pair of annuals from two of Dare’s later reincarnations. On the right, 2000 AD’s Dare from 1980, and on the left the relaunched Eagle’s Dare from 1987. Neither are especially good.

The beginning and possibly the end: Dan Dare began life in Eagle, and his last appearance was in a six-part mini-series in 2007 written by Garth Ennis. I thought the Ennis Dare very disappointing, so much so that I never bothered to buy the second “collector’s edition” volume containing issues 4 to 6.

A novelisation of one of the Dare stories. It’s not very good. A collection of lesser Dan Dare stories from Eagle. And a non-fiction work on him, which I must get around to reading one of these days.

Two books about Dare’s creator, Frank Hampson. Tomorrow Revisited, published by PS Publishing, is actually a revised and expanded edition of The Man Who Drew Tomorrow.


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The Trigan Empire

I remember sitting in the school library back in the late 1970s, reading Look and Learn, which the school had on subscription. I chiefly read the magazine for one reason: The Trigan Empire. At that time, it was drawn by Oliver Frey and then Gerry Wood. The Trigan Empire had actually begun in Ranger in 1965, and the moved across to Look and Learn in 1966, where it remained until 1982 when the magazine ceased. It was was originally written by Mike Butterworth and drawn by Don Lawrence. The latter quit in 1976 after discovering that the strip was being syndicated throughout Europe and he was receiving nothing for it. But back when I was at school, I wasn’t aware of Lawrence’s work, and it wasn’t until my parents bought the book below one Christmas that I discovered the true Trigan Empire.

This Hamlyn omnibus reprints some of the earlier stories from the strip, including the one describing the founding of the empire. The stories, however, are not complete.

Between 2004 and 2009, the Don Lawrence Collection in the Netherlands reprinted all of Lawrence’s Trigan Empire strips in handsome leather-bound volumes. Each volume includes an essay on one aspect of the strip’s world. There are twelve volumes. To be honest, the stories are often quite crap – as they were for Dan Dare – but the art is gorgeous – again, as it was for Dan Dare. If Dan Dare inspired a generation of British boys in the 1960s to become sf fans, then the Trigan Empire did the same in the 1970s.

In 2008, Book Palace Books published a full-colour catalogue of Trigan Empire art from the Look and Learn archives which was available to buy. Prices ranged from £200 to £4000. I didn’t buy any, but the catalogue itself is very nice.


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Dan Dare

I’m fairly sure my first introduction to Colonel Dan McGregor Dare of Spacefleet was in the early 1970s, when my parents bought me a Dan Dare annual one Christmas. (No, I’m not old enough to remember Eagle, where Dare originally appeared.) The annual contained two stories, ‘The Red Moon Mystery’ and ‘Safari in Space’ – and they’re still my favourite Dare stories. We were living in Oman at the time, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t buy it there. Anyway, I treasured that book for years.

And then, during the early 1990s, I was in London visiting friends, and in a remaindered book shop on Charing Cross Road I found the seventh volume of a series of Dare reprints published by Hawk Books. I bought it, but never saw any of the other volumes in the series. When I returned to the UK to live in 2002, I decided to complete the series. It took me several years, and quite a bit of money, but I eventually did it. The last one I purchased was volume 4 Prisoners of Space in early 2009.

And here’s the full set…

 There are actually two editions of the first volume. I have the second edition, the 10th anniversary edition of the original. The Red Moon Mystery, volume 2, is one of Dare’s best stories.

 The Man from Nowhere, volume 6, and Rogue Planet, volume 7, is a two-parter and are one of the better stories.
 While Dare was away helping aliens on their home world in Rogue Planet, the Mekon conquered the Earth using robots – but Reign of the Robots, volume 8, is a bit silly, to be honest. The Terra Nova trilogy, volume 9, is one of my favourites. Since this was the most expensive volume to buy, it must be everybody else’s favourite too.
 The last three volumes cover stories written and drawn after Hampson handed over the reins and, sadly, neither the design nor the stories are as good as when he was in charge.
 Back in the day, you could actually buy replica Spacefleet uniforms. In fact, there was a huge amount of merchandising for Dare – everything from button badges to tin spaceship models. All before my time, of course. You often see items available on eBay for silly money. There’s even a novel, Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future by Angus P Allan, published in 1977. The book is illustrated with black and white line-drawings of panels from the comics, but as a novel it’s a bit rubbish.

Dan Dare has been resuscitated a number of times. In 1977, he appeared in the first issue of 2000 AD, and lasted until 1979. The strip has yet to be published as a trade paperback omnibus, which is really annoying. I do have a 2000 AD Dan Dare annual from 1980, but it’s not very good. The Eagle comic was relaunched in 1982, and featured Dan Dare as its flagship strip – but this was a grandson of the original Dan Dare. The new Eagle folded in 1994. In 1990, Grant Morrison scripted a new Dare, set in Thatcherite Britain, which was serialised in the Revolver comic. It was later republished as a trade paperback. In 2008, Virgin comics published a seven-issue Dan Dare mini-series written by Garth Ennis. I have an omnibus of the first three issues but wasn’t impressed. New Dare stories have also appeared in Spaceship Away, a magazine dedicated to Dare, and which has to date published twenty-seven issues. We won’t mention the terrible CGI television series.

Also worth noting is a “biography” written by Daniel Tartarsky, which was published in 2010: Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future: A Biography. Titan Books have also published a series of Dare reprint volumes, which are smaller in size than the Hawk Books versions. They’re also still in print. And it appears that Haynes will be publishing an Owner’s Workshop Manual on Spacefleet Operations in June of 2013. It’s already on my wishlist.


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Lovely Lowryness

I mentioned a week or so ago that a new author had joined my collectibles list: Malcolm Lowry. After finishing his Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place, I was immediately a fan and went onto abebooks.co.uk to hunt down first editions. And here are the first ones I’ve bought:

Lowry died in 1957 and only saw two of his books published – his debut Ultramarine and the novel for which he is famous, Under the Volcano. He left behind a number of manuscripts and hundreds of poems, which his wife and others edited and then arranged to be published.

Ultramarine (1933)
Under the Volcano (1947)
Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place (1961)
Selected Poems of Malcolm Lowry (1962)
Lunar Caustic (1968)
Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend is Laid (1968)
October Ferry to Gabriola (1970)
The Collected Poetry of Malcolm Lowry (1992)
The Voyage That Never Ends: Fictions, Poems, Fragments, Letters (2007)

As well as the four first editions in the photographs, I also have Lowry’s first three books as battered Penguin paperbacks from the 1960s. Much as I’d like a first edition of Under the Volcano, they cost upwards of £700, so they’re a bit out of my range…

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