March 25, 2007

This is the second part of what you might call a grumblings trilogy. This'll be a little on the esoteric side, but please bear with me.

There was once a book publisher called Phantasia Press. They produced various science fiction- and fantasy-based limited editions, such as David Brin's Uplift series and even a few books in Asimov's Robot series. While the company itself may technically still be considered "in business", they haven't published anything since the mid 1990s. I have three of their numbered books - Startide Rising, The Uplift War, and And the Gods Laughed.

Anyway, a few years ago I was doing some internet surfing and decided to see what Startide was going for. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Phantasia had not only published a numbered run, but a lettered as well.

This...angered me in a way that's hard to describe. See, Phantasia never solicited any lettered editions of any of their books. At least, not to my knowledge. And I have some proof of this via a flyer advertising the release of Uplift, which I've also learned enjoyed a lettered run. This flyer makes absolutely no mention of a lettered version, only the numbered and a relatively small amount of trades.

To add insult to injury, I learned just a few weeks ago that a lettered edition of Gods was also produced. Once again, I have Phantasia's solicitation flyer and there's no mention of a lettered edition. I can only assume there're other Phantasia books that were graced with lettered runs.

Why does this make me steamed? Because up until now, I thought I owned the uber editions of these three books. I've even bragged about it to admiring friends. Now, I feel somewhat foolish and deceived. Why were these editions seemingly kept under wraps? Why were they apparently not offered for sale to the average Joe? Even if they were never intended for general sale, as a simple courtesy their existence should've been revealed to the collecting public.

You have to understand that these books are VASTLY different than the numbered editions. These aren't simply inscribed with letters instead of numbers. They are night and day, practically indescribable. Do a search on Abebooks and you'll see what I mean.

Which leads me to the crux of this rant. If you're going to produce a lettered version of a desired book, don't be coy about it. Document its existence on the solicitation. Even if it's not going to be sold to the public, let people be aware that - HELLO! - an even more lavish version will be produced.

Look at it like this - what if you walked into an art gallery and was immediately captivated by a piece that you just had to hang on the wall above your fireplace? You talk with the gallery owner, negotiate a price, and walk away with, at the time, a satisfying purchase, mounted and framed and ready to display. There's a limitation identifier on the bottom-right with a 46/300 inscription.

Some weeks later, you visit the gallery again and see the same piece, but this time it's been mounted in a much more lavish frame. Plus, there's a sheet of non-glare, non-scratch, UV-protective glass for a cover. To add insult to injury, the artist has signed and serialized it on a special illustrated plate just underneath the piece with a declaration of this being one of only 26 presented in such a fashion.

Suddenly, your #46 of 300 doesn't seem all that hot anymore. This was a great piece and you wanted it displayed in the best manner offered by the gallery. Why did the owner not mention anything about the much higher quality 26-edition run? Was he keeping it a under wraps? Where's the sense in that?

Here's another example that's currently plaguing the home video industry - the double, triple, and sometimes even quadruple dip. When a DVD is released nowadays, you never know if another even better version isn't around the corner. If you were unaware that an "ultimate" edition was in the works for a film that you loved enough to plunk down money to buy and you purchased the non-ultimate "deluxe" release, wouldn't you be a little pissed if a month or two later the ultimate version suddenly appeared, without warning, on the rack of your local video store? I know I've been caught several times and it ISN'T pleasant.

The crux of all this is be honest with the public. Don't sell me a numbered book while secretly working on an even better edition in your underground laboratory. It's not nice and it creates a highly uncomfortable feeling of being lied to about how a book will ultimately be presented. The last thing the collecting community needs is more FUD* being passed around.

So, I'm now faced with the maddening task of deciding if I'm going to keep my adolescent numbered Phantasia books or sell them in the hopes of generating enough capital to purchase their far more developed lettered parents, which aren't at all cheap at this point (we're talking thousands).


*FUD = Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt