Subterranean Conundrums

Every now and then, when it comes to buying stuff indulging in collectorial practices, the imaginary line I draw in the imaginary sand is smudged by an imaginary eraser. As a result of which the aforementioned line becomes the kind that would give Cecil Radcliffe a severe case of the runs, followed by the chills.

Case in point: offerings from Subterranean Press. I have whittled down my purchases to the barest necessary, but my resolve was tested earlier this month, when it was announced that Joe Hill’s latest collection of short stories, Full Throttle, would have a SubPress limited/signed release. Seeing as how my waffling over NOS4A2 did my blood pressure no good in the past, I knew I would go for it. But it took about a week of gritting my teeth and wringing my hands before I actually ventured to lay down $175 for the pleasure of owning a copy of the book, sight unseen, numbered and signed by Messrs Hill and McKean, he of Sandman renown. But the limiteds of 20th Century Ghosts and Heart-Shaped Box are biblionicorns of the kind that make hearts and wallets bleed, and I would rather not take a chance with a Hill book.

It also did not hurt that the Suntup Press limited edition of Hill’s Horns just came to Papa about 2 weeks ago, after a wait of about half a year. I confess to owning the PS Publishing signed/limited edition that came out in 2010, but Suntup’s version was too hard to pass on. The line in the sand that I drew for signed limited editions was that I would only buy one if the original author was among the signers, and Horns met the criteria, while Haunting of Hill House and Rosemary’s Baby did not. Not that I did not have severe crises of conscience, but the line held. It did not however hold for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, one of my favorite works by the man. Suntup’s edition, not out yet, but sold out in pre-orders, has an introduction and an autograph by Joyce Carol Oates. McCarthy is notorious for not signing his books, specifically The Road, which he has apparently signed a few copies for his son alone.

What really rubbed the line this week was the announcement that Tamsyn Muir’s first book Gideon The Ninth would have a limited release via Subterranean, and copies would go on sale on Tuesday morning. Now here was the situation:

  • The only thing I knew about the book was the phrase “lesbian necromancers in space”
  • It wasn’t out yet, so I could not read it
  • Reviews had come in from a coterie of distinguished authors, including Warren Ellis, VE Schwab, Charles Stross, Robin Sloan, and Max Gladstone (whose This is How You Lose the Time War is what I am reading Right. Now)
  • I happened to get to the Tor website, which had a preview of the first chapter of the book. And by the time I got to the phrase “stupendous work of a titty nature”, I was sold.

Or rather, I was coerced into depositing 85$ for the pleasure of owning a copy of the book signed by the writer herself, courtesy of SubPress.

Which should make me feel terrible vis a vis the Great and Terrible Sullying of the line that guides my buying habits, but you know what?

The book fucking sold out in two days. Had I waited a day more to buy it, I would have been gnashing my teeth by now and breathing slow and deep trying to keep calm.

To make up for this psychological distress, here’s a bunch of pictures of the magnificent Joe Hill book from Suntup Press.

Books, Myself

On Stephen King Rarities #3

I know, I know, a third post on the same topic seems like a momentous occasion. My previous attempts to serialize any thematic content have crashed and flamed –– search for ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’, as an example. But this will be the last post on Stephen King collectibles, I swear. At least for now.

The Third Book

The Shining, Subterranean Press

Illustration by Vincent Cheong

I believe I have talked about The Shining and all that it led to at least seven times on the blog, so no more of that. Once I began my journey into SK collectible territory, there was no doubt this book had to be part of the collection. But this is where reality and the intricacies of the market come into play.

The limited signed edition was published by Subterranean Press, a Michigan-based specialty press that I have talked about in the past. This edition came with a bit of controversy before and during its publication. The original illustrator (Gabriel Rodriguez, of Locke and Key fame) was replaced by Vincent Chong. Early copies shipped out to buyers had significant issues such as rubbing, spotting, and color transfer problems. The publisher had to issue a dust jacket and send it out to buyers, along with a gift card for a future purchase and replacement tray-cases for copies that had the color transfer issue. (Details here)

The Subterranean limited release has 750 copies, signed by King and Chong. The book and the tray-case are beautiful, high-quality deckle-edged paper and print quality. The cover is minimalist, with beautiful patterns on a background of blue. Chong’s illustrations pop out on the color pages, and there was even an accompanying sketchbook that contained preliminary pencil pieces.

But the lack of any extra material is a disappointment. No preface, no afterword, no essay, or deleted material. What really got my goat is that as part of the Doubleday Years reprints that a different publishing house, Cemetery Dance was bringing out, this book got a different, unsigned deluxe release, one that was more desirable than the SubPress version. Why? An email from CD explains:

We have some AMAZING news to share. As you know, Stephen King has graciously allowed us to restore his long lost, 40 page prologue called “Before the Play” to the beginning of the book. It has never appeared in any edition of THE SHINING anywhere in the world and may never be reprinted again.
In the weeks since the book sold out, something even more incredible has happened. A collector named Jon Page contacted us because he had something very special in his collection: an earlier draft of the manuscript, when it was still called THE SHINE, which had been sent around to Hollywood production studios to sell the movie rights before the book was published.
This manuscript includes HUNDREDS of sentences, paragraphs, and even scenes not included in the final book we all know and love. Of particular interest is a four page section toward the end known as “After the Play,” which even Stephen King believed had been lost forever because he didn’t have a copy in his archives.
Thanks to Jon’s amazing discovery, and Steve’s generous permission, all of this Deleted Material will now be included as Bonus Section in our special edition of THE SHINING, which you already have on order. You do not need to do anything to confirm you are receiving this material, it will be in every copy of our edition.
Adding this material will take about two weeks of additional production time, but it means this version of the book will be as definitive as possible, which should make it an even bigger hit with collectors for years to come. A HUGE “thank you” goes out to Jon and Steve for making this addition to the book possible.

This was in addition to a foreword by King, and an afterword by Mick Garris, the director of the TV adaptation of the book. The TV miniseries, by the way, was King’s attempt to outdo Kubrick’s version, which he hated. The Cemetery Dance edition was also illustrated by Don Maitz and Glenn Chadbourne, and all in all, looked just as fancy as the SubPress edition. Except, like I said, it was unsigned. Well, there was an ‘Artist Edition’ signed by the illustrators, but no King signature.

So this is where one needs to make hard choices –– what truly is a ‘definitive’ version? Is it the author’s endorsement? Or is it something that contains all paraphernalia associated with a work? The heart says the former, the head the latter. I did end up buying the Subterranean Press version on eBay. Even got a limited UK edition of Doctor Sleep to go with it, signed by Stephen King with only 200 copies published. But oft in the gentle night, ere slumber’s chains have bound me, I find myself looking at Cemetery Dance listings on eBay. To sum it all up in a thousand words:

Umm yeah.

The Subterranean Option

I love e-books and e-readers.

With that out of the way, I also love physical books. Not in the ‘real books smell awesome!’ kind of buzzfeed-happy hippy activism that seems to be going around nowadays, nope. I would prefer that the physical version of a book be something that brings its personality to life. It would have to be the kind of entity that needs to be on a shelf, as an extension of my own love for the contents of the book itself. A volume that feels good to possess, re-read and show off.  Paperbacks do not quite cut it, and I find that given a choice between an ebook and a paperback, I would prefer the former – just to avoid clutter. But if it is a book I love, and if there is an edition that screams at me to buy it, that’s when the wallet comes out. (he said, taking his pipe out of his mouth and with a sip of his chardonnay)

Subterranean Press is a small-press publisher from Michigan that publishes limited edition printings of (mostly) fantasy and science fiction titles. These are copies that come designed with a lot of care and attention, and the lettered editions in particular set enviable standards. Of course, the prices reflect both the exclusivity and the attention that the publishers lavish upon these books. Which tends to limit my spending quite a bit, not a bad thing at all. They are not the only ones doing this – there’s a whole other bunch of publishers such as Cemetery Dance, Centipede Press, and PS Publishing that do nearly the same thing. Here’s a site where you can read more about these editions. But it is SubPress that I have a special fondness for, and not without good reason.

For one, this company has been publishing the works of Joe Hill, one of my favorite authors at the moment. My first purchases with them were editions of Horns, and the first two volumes of Locke and Key. Horns was a beautifully slip-cased “trade” edition, because the limited eds had sold out by then, and I got it signed by Hill at a Wonder Con 2012, soon after. The two Locke and Key volumes came with the scripts, just the second example I have seen of comic-scripts being bundled with the comics themselves, the other being the first two Absolute volumes of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I have been meaning to get the limited edition of Hill’s first book – Heart-Shaped Box, but the crazy eBay prices deter me. Last year, when NOS4A2, Hill’s vampire opus was due to be released, I kept a close eye on the SubPress release, meaning to buy it as soon as the pre-orders went up. Alas,. I was traveling outside the country, and by the time I was back, all 750 copies were gone. When the books finally shipped, after-market prices went through the roof. I could only gnash my teeth as copies sold for upwards of 300$, on a cover price of 125$. I did keep a close eye on eBay auctions and the occasional sane market-place dealer (Bett’s Books, for example. One of my favorite booksellers because their prices are pretty reasonable, specifically for Stephen King limited eds. But even they did not have a SubPress copy of NOS4A2 under 200$) Nope, nada, zilch.

Until last week, when I happened to check the SubPress newsletter just as it came in. And this is what it said: (under the heading A Surprise)

Twenty-two Copies of NOS4A2 Up for Grabs

Important Note: We pulled the last copies of NOS4A2 out of our collectors room. If you’ve already purchase a copy, you are not eligible to purchase another. (When the buy button disappears from the NOS4A2 page, it means all the copies are sold out.)


Needless to say, before you could say “SHAZAM!”, I jumped on the page. With the speed of Mercury, I entered my credit card details and clicked on the BUY button with the power of Zeus. It took the courage of Achilles after the transaction failed the first time, to realize that it was not because the 22 copies were sold out, but I had entered the wrong expiration date on my card. The wisdom of Solomon came to my rescue, and I repeated my exercise. Boom, tish!

A few days later, the glorious package landed up on my doorstep. It does require a bit of the strength of Hercules to pick the oversized volume, and I am saving the stamina of Atlas for when I re-read it. I have to, the book has an alternate ending and a novella that comes with it, and by golly, I love it enough to reread it. Also, while the other SubPress Hill books were illustrated by Vincent Chong, the illustrations in NOS4A2 are  by Gabriel Rodriguez, Hill’s collaborator and co-creator of Locke and Key. Rodriguez not only designs the lurid cover, but also a bunch of full-color character illustration bookplates scattered throughout the book, and black-and-white chapter illustrations. Icing on the fucking cake, man.