Friday, November 22, 2013

Graham Stone - Australian Bibliographer

I was saddened to hear of the death last Saturday of Graham Stone. Graham (1926-2013) was a legendary Australian bibliographer, book collector and book dealer.  His is best known for his Australian Science Fiction Bibliography and Notes on Australian Science Fiction.  He has also brought back into print rare works of Australian science fiction and fantasy.  He didn’t publish his books through commercial publishers but printed and bound them himself, and was a member of the Australian Bookbinding Society.


Here is an unpublished interview I did with him a few years ago on one of his trips to Canberra.

A Life with Books: An Interview with Graham Stone

You were born in Adelaide?
Yes, the beautiful city of Adelaide. What a dump! My recollections of Adelaide are 50 or 60 years out of date.  I’ve only been back there a few times, and briefly.  It’s very much homogenised – much the same as other Australian capitals.  But when I lived there at an early age I knew that it was, to put it kindly, a backwater.  I’ve put down my thoughts on conditions in Australia before the war several times, and I won’t repeat them here.

How long did you live in Adelaide?
Up to the age of fourteen. 

Did your first experience with fiction magazines begin in Adelaide?
Yes, my early reading in boys’ magazines.  I’ve set down some memories which have been published in part in several places over a long period.  One of my current projects is to put all that in order and update it.  It should amount to a book.

Briefly, I started reading the pre-adolescent English boys’ weeklies, and there was quite a bit of primitive science fiction in those.  I haven’t been able to pin down dates, but I remember the first interesting thing was a serial in The Champion – probably in 1933, when I was seven years old – called The War of the Planets.  All I can remember is that it had intrepid rocketeers mixed up in a war between, I think, Mars and Venus.  It introduced to me space flight and rocket propulsion, which was a complete novelty.  The concept of communicating between worlds and travelling between worlds, and the concept of non-human intelligence was something new and fascinating to me.  And I thought, “This is what I want to read.”

There was also Terror from the Stratosphere, which was in The Triumph, another of the boys’ weeklies.  There were a number of these periodicals all published by the same firm.  There was a whole industry with writers grinding out material.  I haven’t seen too many examples of the very early boys’ periodicals, but I have seen examples from about 1911, and several from the 1920s and 1930s. 

There were other odds and ends from this time.  I remember the comic strip, Mandrake the Magician, running in the Women’s Weekly in 1933 or 1934.  A lot of this stuff involved magic, which isn’t all that interesting.  The first episode that I read had a brain transplant – a human brain transplanted into a gorilla. 

As for books – there was juvenile science fiction at that time, but I didn’t see any of it.  However, there were two Wells’ novels that were in the house, The Invisible Man and Food of the Gods.  There was Verne, but he was already quite dated.

While I was in Adelaide, the last of the boys’ weeklies that I read was The Modern Boy.  It was quite a bit different to the others – it was up-to-date and emphasized things that were going on in the 1930s.  I followed it religiously for several years, and I was especially interested in the serials involving Captain Justice.  It closely resembled other adventure serials that were popular at the time, such as Doc Savage in the American pulps.  You had stereotyped characters - a scientific genius, a general handyman, a smart-arse teenager and so on.  If you picked up The Modern Boy at any time the odds were that there would be a Captain Justice serial running. There were robots, dinosaurs in Antarctica, inter-planetary flight and so on.

In 1936/7 Buck Rogers ran in the New Idea in competition with Mandrake the Magician in the Women’s Weekly.  There was a lot of interest in Buck Rogers and it ran for a long time and got away from the original concept.  It didn’t start off as a comic strip, but as two prose stories in Amazing in 1928/9.  The interesting thing is that the title of the original story was Armageddon 2419, which suggests to me that it was first written in 1919 and took a while to find a publisher.  It starts off with Rogers just after the First World War; he pokes around a mine, gets entombed, is overcome by gas and is miraculously preserved in a coma for 500 years.  He wakes up to find the Americas, and the world, have been taken over by Mongols.  The comic strip actually starts well into the series, which is when I started reading it.

I moved around in Adelaide – my father died in 1937, in the depth of the depression.  He was a PMG phone technician and had regular work, but my two older brothers were out of regular work right up until the war.  My mother had some superannuation, which was a pittance, and she tried various ventures, including running a residential at Semaphore, which was a particularly run-down part of Adelaide.  This was in 1937.  There were two local libraries that had some interesting books, particularly Edgar Rice Burroughs. 

They weren’t public libraries in the sense that we know now.  There were two kinds of libraries: the institutes, which were derived from the earlier Mechanics Institute or School of Arts libraries, and commercial rental libraries, which were just a shop front – you walked in and there were shelves everywhere and three signs up, always the same – Mystery, Romance, Western.  My mother ran just such a place as her next venture.  Anyway, this place was obviously run by someone who knew something – there were a lot of books of interest to me, and there was a shelf of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  I read most of the works of Burroughs in just a few months – it’s a marvel that I survived it!

After that I had pretty much exhausted Burroughs.  There was Dennis Wheatley, and above all an early work of a writer better known as John Wyndham, who in those days used the name John Beynon, with the repulsive title Planet Plane.  This was a first-trip-to-Mars novel with the classical Mars of desiccation, deserts, canals, with a few Martians hanging on, and also some robots, which he called “machines.”  Very dated now, but it was hot stuff then and I was greatly impressed with it.  A few months later I spotted a magazine which featured on its cover what was obviously a sequel.  It was Tales of Wonder, the first English sf magazine, though it was half American in content.  From then on I started looking for similar magazines and I was off and running.  That’s how it all began.

When did you leave Adelaide?
I’d had a trip to Sydney at the end of 1936 – an el-cheapo bus tour.  My brothers had both moved to Sydney in search of work.  We had an uncle there who had a small clothing factory and he gave my older brother a job as a rep.  My other brother couldn’t get a regular job in Sydney and he took off and eventually got work as a miner at Mt Isa.  So I had been to Sydney and I saw it as the height of civilisation and wanted to live there.  At the end of 1939 my mother gave up running the library and she asked her brother to give her a job, which he did.  She worked for him for a couple of years, until 1941.  I don’t know how you could do this during the war, running a clothing factory, but he obviously went broke!  She then worked for David Jones for a couple of years, until early 1944.  Then she went back to Adelaide, dragging me with her. 

She hated Sydney and thought it was crude, vulgar, and American.  But I loved it – it was inundated with American pulp magazines.  I was only into sf, but there were millions of them!  The shop front lending libraries overlapped with regular newsagencies.  Often a place would be both – a newsagent that loaned books for a small fee.  These places usually had tables stacked high with pulp magazines.  They were remainders, unsold copies that were dumped in Australia.  The copies that didn’t sell in America were sold as waste paper, they were loaded in ships as ballast, came out here and were taken up by Gordon and Gotch, Woolworths, and the newsagents.  This had been going on through the depression and there were literally millions of these things, of which sf was only a small part.

Is that when you started collecting?
I’ve gone hot and cold on collecting.  At the present time I’ve got next to nothing.  I’ve sold a lot of stuff that I should have kept.  The few things I’ve kept include the first issue of Amazing Stories, which was the holy grail of science fiction collecting, and I got a tolerable copy.  I’ve also kept a copy of the first issue of Astounding Stories of Super Science, which ended up as Analog.  I’ve also kept a 1931 issue of Amazing, which has the first part of Space Hounds of IPC, and the reason I have is that it is inscribed by Smith to Robert Heinlein. 

Where did you get that?
After Heinlein visited Sydney in 1954 – he met the Sydney sf group- he sent us a stack of magazines.

Also, I’ve kept the August 1937 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, the first American SF magazine I saw, and which has a lovely cover of a magnificent dinosaur; a reprint of All-Story magazine with the complete Tarzan of the Apes; and Wells’s The Time Machine – a first edition, but later issue, and not a very good copy, so it’s not worth a fortune.  At auction it might get a few hundred.  But that’s about all.  It’s a pity because I should have kept a lot of the Australian stuff.  Once I decided to let everything go, I let everything go. 

When did you get involved in science fiction fandom?
This is curious in a way.  In Adelaide you had to search for magazines, but I found some.  I read every word down to the ads.  Thrilling Wonder Stories had a Science Fiction League Department which had a few pages of reports on what local fan groups were doing.  One particular issue had a request for contacts to start a local branch in Adelaide by John Gregor.  Somehow I missed that – if I’d seen it I surely would have contacted him.  However, I did know through Wonder that were a few fans in Sydney, but I didn’t follow up at that time. 

I didn’t do anything until late in 1940 when I found a bookseller who had a lot of stuff that he was sitting on.  I should explain that this was September/October 1940.  All the US stuff had stopped coming in June due to the currency restrictions, and import procurement control had been introduced.  A lot of stuff would not get approval for import.  Anything that wasn’t essential was prohibited.  From then on the existing stock of stuff dwindled and most of it was destroyed for waste paper.  This guy, Nash, ran a bookshop at the Spot opposite the Randwick Ritz Theatre.  He hung on to his magazines because he knew they would be worth something one day.  I’d been getting stuff from him and he asked me if I knew two guys who lived around the corner from him.  I got their addresses, wrote to them, and immediately got a letter from one of them, Bert Castellari.  He was glad to see me – he was delighted to meet anyone who had heard of sf.  There were so very few of us.

Who was involved at that early time?
Bert and Ron Levy.  They lived in adjoining streets, almost back to back.  Their club was the Futurian Society of Sydney.  The first meeting of that club was the 5 November 1939.  The same group had been meeting previously through 1939 under the name of The Junior Australian Science Fiction Correspondence Club.  They were all teenagers at that time.  For reasons not clear to me they decided to start a new club, perhaps they decided to give up on the idea of a correspondence club, there were so few known outside Sydney.  The idea behind the name, the Futurian Society of Sydney, was to show which side they supported in the current controversy in the United States, which is described in a later book, The Immortal Storm by Sam Moskowitz, which describes the shebang in exhaustive detail.  The Sydney group favoured the New York Futurian faction of Wollheim, Pohl, Kornbluth etc. 

By the time I met Bert there was an interregnum.  There had been a meeting which had broken up in confusion without fixing a date for the next meeting.  All the executives had resigned and the remaining members were left wondering about the future of the thing. 

Anyway, I met Ron Levy, Bert’s friend, and we had a really good meeting at Bert’s place.  There was also Bill Veney and Bruce Sawyer.  It wasn’t a proper meeting, but it had been arranged that everyone be invited to Bill Veney’s place to get things started again.  That was the first proper meeting I went to.  It was later called the First Conference and was attended by most of the members at that time.  So, it started again and staggered on.  But there was a lot of pointless bickering over points of order and so on, but we saw each other all the time and exchanged stuff.

Who was regarded as worth reading by members?
We ran a poll of the best writers and had nominations for the best story of 1939.  It was dominated by E. E. Smith, who was someone mentioned a lot, Jack Williamson, and Eric Frank Russell (not to be confused with the local fan Eric Frederick Russell).  Of course, a lot of leading figures just beginning at that time – Sturgeon and Heinlein.  Simak had been writing for a few years.  As for books, we knew of Wells, Burroughs and a few more, but books weren’t important.

The society had a successful library didn’t it?
There was a library that ran for years and ended up in my hands.  By the 1970s nobody was interested in it.  I made it available but nobody wanted it and I sold it off.

The society also produced publications, didn’t it?
Individuals published stuff.  The society only produced one small item in the war period.  Bert mostly, and other people from time to time, published the Futurian Observer, which was a single fortnightly sheet and reported such news as there was.  There were others who published fanzines.  Vol Molesworth produced several titles, originally called Luna, then Cosmos.  It consisted of a few pages of miscellaneous stuff.  This was through 1939 and 1940.  The foundation members were Molesworth, Veney, Castellari, Levy, and Eric and Ted Russell.  Other early members didn’t stick.

A group of members, Levy, Dwyer and one or two others, produced a magazine called Zeus, which consisted of miscellaneous, rather primitive humour.

One member was David R. Evans who was born in rural Wales and learned English only at school. He was older than the other members and was interested in writing and had stories published in cheap magazines.  He was into weird, supernatural and science fiction.  He struck up a correspondence with Bob Bloch, who sent him copies of Weird Tales, which of course you couldn’t get here because it was banned.  There were a lot of complaints in the mid-thirties about US magazines, especially horror, and there was a list of titles that was specifically banned, and Weird Tales got in there mainly because of the artistic nudes on the cover.

Evans had a letter in Amazing in early 1939, and that was how he was contacted by the society.  Being older and having some idea of what was what it was only natural that he immediately took a leading part in the society.  However, it didn’t go so well and it was thought by some other members that he was the main source of everything that went wrong, quite wrongly I thought.  At the First Conference it was decided that members should be screened by a committee to see if they were suitable - this was a polite way of expelling Evans.  But he remained friends with members and a regular group used to meet at his place on Sundays through 1940/41.

The publication that really dominated the group was Ultra produced by the Russell brothers, which was much more substantial than the other fanzines.  The first two issues were carbon copied, but then they liberated a stencil duplicator from the Boy Scouts, and after a few experiments got it to work.  This made things a lot easier.  It ran for 2 and a bit years – 30 issues – and each issue ran to 20 or more pages.  Various stuff, some of it worth while. 

Also, at this time there was the first activity out of Sydney.  Warwick Hockley produced a number of issues of Austra-Fantasy in Melbourne.  Don Tuck also commenced activity in Hobart.

When did you get involved in the Australian book collectors society?
1947.  After the war the currency control was still on, so we resorted to various fiddles for getting science fiction.  There were basically two possibilities.  We got hold of a fan in the US who is interested in something Australian and did a swap.  The other way was to go through England, which was the same situation but a lot looser and was able to get stuff in. 

Sometimes, the authorities loosened up and you could get American books through Angus and Robertson, then things would tighten up again.  Through A&R I came into contact with other collectors who were doing the same thing. 

Walter Stone (no relation) started the Book Collectors Society and was the leading figure for many years.  He got interested in Arkham House books.  He brought in a number of those.  Another who was particularly interested in fantasy was Stan Larnach.  They used to have a regular gathering on Friday night in a coffee shop.  You could go in, have a coffee, and sit there chatting until 11 o’clock, and the Book Collectors had a regular table.  Not to be outdone, the Futurian Society started a regular Thursday night gathering of the society which continued in various locations for some years.

We got exposed to serious book collecting through the Book Collectors Society – we found out what it was all about.

What book collectors do you recall?
Well, I’ve mentioned Stan Larnach, who was an early member of the Book Collectors Society.  He was in the Anatomy Department at the University of Sydney for many years, and was an expert in Aboriginal craniology.  He was a voracious reader and book collector, and was especially interested in Gothic and Penny Blood literature.

Ron Graham was a well-off business man who accumulated a world-class science fiction collection, which was eventually donated to the University of Sydney library.  His collection of pulps was one of the best in the world and included complete runs of science fiction magazines.

Leon Stone (again, no relation) was a great amateur journalist and a historian of that movement.  He accumulated a large library of books, including a lot of Penny Bloods and boys’ weeklies.  The tragedy was he lost the lot in a fire that burnt down his house in 1961.

David Cohen was born in London and came to Australia in the late 1930s.  I met him when he was heavily involved in science fiction fandom in the 1950s, but I lost contact with him after that.  After he died I was called in to assess the collection he had left behind.  Damp had destroyed a lot of stuff, but there were still some important items, including the first issue of Amazing that I have.  There were also runs of Weird Tales and Unknown, but if he had specialty press books like Gnome Press or Arkham House, they had already been sold off. 



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