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Armchair Fiction: Making Vintage Pulp a Priority


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We’d like to take a moment to introduce AbeBooks bookseller Armchair Fiction. It’s no secret we at AbeBooks love retro pulp fiction, whether it comes in the form of monsters, dames, or any other. So it stands to reason that we just love Armchair Fiction and their work. The Medford, Oregon-based bookseller exists to keep pulp alive and put it back into the hands of the fans by reprinting classic, nostalgic science-fiction and horror (and most recently, mystery) titles. Not only that, but they also recreate the original cover art, thus preserving the original look and feel of the book, making it much more affordable than an original collector’s copy, and having a lot of fun while doing it.

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Armchair’s parent company, Sinister Cinema, has been in business since 1984 and specializes in DVDs of nostalgic films, again leaning towards genres such as sci-fi, mystery, horror and B-westerns. Fans’ enthusiasm for their products meant the next logical step was to branch out into paperback books. So in 2010, that’s what they did, and we’re so glad. So far, Armchair Fiction has put out over 250 books.

Read on for an interview with Greg Luce of Armchair Fiction.

AbeBooks: Why Armchair Fiction – how did you come up with the name?

Greg Luce: It’s funny, both the names Sinister Cinema and Armchair Fiction originate from the Portland, Oregon area, though I never lived in Portland. Sinister was named after an old TV show that aired back in the ’70s, while Armchair Fiction was named after my favorite bookstore in the Portland area: Armchair Books–a place that was loaded with old paperbacks and comic books! It was a book and comic collector’s dream come true.

Abe: How did you come up with your business model?

GL: Since Sinister Cinema was already in place, we simply added the Armchair line to our existing business. When I looked around the book scene in 2009 and 2010 I was surprised by how much nostalgic sci-fi was no longer available in the literary marketplace. I decided to target this genre, partly because it seemed the logical thing for a specialty house like us to do, and partly out of a love for this kind of fiction. I truly love making these old works available again.

Abe: What is unique and special about your business?

GL: Boy…I could write pages. Let’s just say that Armchair Fiction is a nostalgic sci-fi fan’s delight. A place to find many forgotten works without having to pay through the nose for an old battered original pulp magazine or paperback. Probably 50-60% of the stories we reprint haven’t been published in many years, often since first publication, so it’s almost like having new stuff for fans to read. The science fiction paperbacks and magazines of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50 served as our inspiration.

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Abe: Can you tell us about your passion for books?

GL: I’d always been a horror and sci-fi movie nut when I was a kid. Then one day my pal and neighbor came over with a couple of tattered Ace Science Fiction Doubles he’d picked up in an old second hand store downtown. I fell in love with them instantly and wanted more! The place he bought them from was called C and I Furniture in Pendleton, Oregon. It wasn’t really a furniture store, so much as just mountains of used secondhand junk. It was an amazing place and right when you walked in the main entrance there was a massive set of shelves filled with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of musty old paperback books. They sold for a nickel apiece–sometimes a dime. The place just reeked with that old paperback smell. I loved it. That’s where it all started for me. The Mars Monopoly by Jerry Sohl was the first Ace Double novel I ever read. It just blew the Hardy Boys out of the water. Sorry, Frank. Sorry, Joe. I’ve been reading sci-fi ever since.

Abe: What are some of your favorite books in your collection?

GL: There are a lot. One of my favorites is Milton Lesser’s Forty Days Have September. It’s a GREAT aliens-secretly-on-Earth tale. J. F. Bone’s Special Effect is one of the most unique science fiction short novels I’ve ever encountered. And I mustn’t forget our Horror and Sci-Fi “Gems” short story collections, which I absolutely love putting together. The Fiddler’s Fee by Robert Bloch is one of the best classic horror tales I’ve ever read. It’s in Horror Gems, Vol. Seven. We just started coming out with Mystery Doubles, as well. The Deadly Pick-Up by Milton Ozaki is paired with James Causey’s “Killer Take All!,” the latter of which is perhaps the most engrossing mystery tale I’ve read.

Abe: What is the weirdest book you’ve ever come across?

GL: If you like bizarre, really out of this world stuff there are always our Shaver Mystery collections by Richard S. Shaver. This stuff is really wild. Shaver’s stories, while written in fiction-form, are supposedly “true.” (choke, cough, gag!) Shaver claims that he discovered a vast network of underground caves filled with all kinds of unearthly creatures (he calls them “Deros” in his stories) who are basically waiting to take over the surface world again. They’re constantly bombarding us with dangerous “rays.” It turns out that the years Shaver claimed he was in the “caves” were actually years he spent in a mental institution. His editor and pal, Raymond A. Palmer, published just about everything Shaver sent to him at Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures back in the 1940s. While the stories initially boosted circulation, they caused such a stir that Palmer eventually had to leave Ziff-Davis Publications. We just released The Shaver Mystery, Book Six earlier this month. Shaver is truly the Edward D. Wood of the nostalgic science fiction scene.

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Abe: Are your sales online only, or do you have a brick & mortar space as well?

GL:
We’re pretty much online only. Armchair and Sinister are both run out of a small facility, with two storeys filled with tons of books, videos, and 16mm film prints. Help! There are four of us running the whole show. My wife thinks I’m a little nutty, but she’s pleased with the results.

Abe: What are some of your own favorite books and writers?

Maggie, Armchair Fiction's yellow Lab

Maggie, Armchair Fiction’s yellow Lab in Residence

GL: There’s no question that one of my favorite authors is Robert Silverberg. When growing up I thought his The Planet Killers was one of the best things I’d ever read. It wasn’t anything too deep–just extremely well-written sci-fi intrigue. Andre Norton was another of my favorites. I loved her The Stars are Ours and The Last Planet. When it comes to horror there are many great authors, Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Algernon Blackwood (ever read The Willows? Wow!), Carl Jacobi etc. But let’s face it, the best horror short stories ever written are found in the works of Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, and in Stephen King’s first two short story collections, Night Shift and Skeleton Crew. Amazing stuff. I also love ragtime piano, the British Invasion (Dave Clark Five!), and the New York Yankees, too. Weird, Huh?

Riley, fuzzy mascot #2.

Riley, fuzzy mascot #2.

Abe: What else?
GL: Well….we don’t have a bookstore cat; but we do have a couple of very lovable bookstore dogs–a wonderful Yellow Lab named Maggie (above), and a cute little completely, totally, and utterly spoiled Havanese named Riley (right). I’m about to put together our annual Armchair/Sinister Catalog, which is due out in another month, and they love to lay at my feet while I’m working on it. There are no curses on any of our books that I know of, nor any of our movies for that matter; but sometimes when I think of how all-consuming this business is I think of the old line from Universal’s Frankenstein: “You have created a monster and it will destroy you!”

I can truly say that Armchair Fiction and Sinister Cinema are hobbies run amok. It’s a helluva lot of work, but it’s very rewarding. I’ve been very blessed.

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