Science Fiction isn’t something you do by half measures. Talk to any science fiction fan and they’ll probably be slightly offended by the use of the word ‘fiction’ itself. For them, the foreign worlds, fantastic characters and epic stories are very much real, which is why original science fiction novels are so incredibly popular. Hordes of websites and online message-boards are dedicated to finding and discussing sci-fi literature, particularly those that have been taken out of print, because once a book ceases to be published, its value, both financially and among the sci-fi community, rockets.
Some of the books on this list are classics and others are novels that went largely unnoticed when originally published, but shot to stardom the minute they were taken out of publication. There is something mystical about the rarity of out of print books that sci-fi fans just can’t get enough of: here are 10 of the most popular!
1. The Hobbit [J.R.R Tolkien]
The second edition of The Hobbit, published a few months after the original in 1937, was distinctive in that it contained 4 additional colour illustrations from the author, making it somewhat ‘limited edition’. This was further enhanced in 1940 after the German bombing of London when 327 originals were destroyed, leaving behind only 1,877 copies. This edition remained a collectors’ item as no more copies of this edition were ever republished, despite the book itself going on to find immense success, with online bookseller AbeBooks selling one copy in 2006 for $3,000.
2. Rage [Stephen King]
Image: The Dark Tower
Writing under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman, Stephen King’s 1977 novel ‘Rage’ details the adolescent anger and frustration of high school student Charlie Decker, culminating in him shooting his teachers and taking his class hostage. Controversy followed twenty years later when 14 year old Michael Carneal killed three students at a youth prayer group in Kentucky, with police discovering a copy of the book in his locker.
King asked his publisher to take it out of print immediately, writing in 2007 that the book was “Now out of print, and a good thing”. He has since gone on record stating that Rage and some of his other college-era writings would have seen him “tabbed as mentally ill” were they written today.
3. Masques [Patricia Briggs]
Today, Patricia Briggs is known as an award winning science fiction writer, with her last novel ‘Iron Kissed’ reaching #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. However, her beginnings in the literary world were much more humble. Published in 1993, her first novel ‘Masques’ about a shape shifting weaponsmistress was so poorly received that it was actually taken out of print, with Briggs’s career almost coming to a premature end as a result.
Today however, with her work having gradually grown in popularity, ‘Masques’ has become somewhat of a collectors’ item, with copies regularly selling for $200.
4. Codex Seraphinianus [Luigi Serafini]
Written over a period between 1976 and 1978 by an Italian artist, architect and designer, the Codex Seraphinianus is perhaps best described as an encyclopaedia for an unknown world, complete with diagrams. It is written in an as yet undecipherable language, and its images depict unusual variations of nature as is seen on earth, such as a two headed rhino.
The book itself has become hugely coveted as a result of its irregular printing schedule. Originally released in two volumes in Italy, single volume issues sprung up in the US, Germany and the Netherlands in the 1980s, with an Italian re-release coming in 2006, although copies of the original remain especially sought after today.
5. The Ship That Sailed to Mars [William Timlin]
In 1923, British-born South African-based architect William Timlin used his artistic expertise to produce ‘The Ship That Sailed to Mars’, an illustrated novel about a collection of dwarves and elves who join together to travel to Mars. 48 pages of calligraphy-like, printed text are interspersed with 48, mounted colour images. Only 2,000 copies were originally published, with 250 being sold in New York for around $12. Such is the rarity of the novel today, an original copy was recently sold for an enormous $3,995.
6. Survivor [Octavia Butler]
Published in 1978, ‘Survivor’ formed part of Butler’s ‘Patternist Series’, a collection of novels detailing a secret history extending from Ancient Egypt to a hypothetical future. Of the whole series, ‘Survivor’ (the plot of which details a colony of humans who, fleeing from an world-wide plague, find themselves on a strange planet) was the only novel not be reprinted, the last edition of which was a German language version printed in 1984. ‘Survivor’ has therefore become increasingly sought after, despite Butler’s own claims that the novel is the “least favourite” of her works.
7. Turnabout [Andy Mangels]
After cult science fiction teen drama ‘Roswell’ left television screens for good in 2002, a series of novels were commissioned to tie up loose ends from the show’s third series as well as going beyond what was seen on the television. The final novel in this series, ‘Turnabout’, is the final chapter of the Roswell story.
Only published in small numbers, the book fast achieved a cult following like the TV show itself, with fans desperate to see the end of the storylines and characters that developed during the show. For a relatively recent book, online prices of over $200 illustrate how sought after this novel is.
8. The Return [E.C. Tubb]
Image: Fantastic Fiction
In 1967, science fiction author E.C Tubb began writing a series of novels known as ‘The Dumarest Terra’, each detailing the different attempts of the protagonist, Earl Dumarest, to discover the location of and means to return to his home planet of Earth. ‘The Return’, the thirty second book in the series, was originally published under a different title in 1986 and was eventually released under its new name in 1997, which was intended to be the last in the series. With fans having had to wait for eleven years for the next installment, the demand was such that second hand copies sell for over $100 today.
9. Dark Carnival [Ray Bradbury]
Ray Bradbury’s series of short stories were originally published and met with critical acclaim in 1947, however Bradbury refused to allow their republishing. With only 3,112 copies worldwide, original ‘Dark Carnival’ copies were very rare and very much sought after. Finally, in 2001, Bradbury allowed a limited edition to be released, complete with five more stories and an introduction from the author. With only 700 copies published this time around, the book remains very much a rarity in both of its original and updated forms.
10. 1984 [George Orwell]
Image: Manhattan Rare Books
George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel was originally published in 1949, with each copy accompanied by a green or red dust jacket. The book’s subsequent rise to prominence (it is often considered the finest novel of tis genre) meant original copies became particularly sought after, especially as those complete with dust jacket were few and far between.
The novel is, of course, widely published today, but back in 2006, a copy of its first edition, albeit in ‘good condition’, was nonetheless sold for an incredible $8,258!