E. E. “Doc” Smith created two legendary series of super-science goshwow fame back in the 1930s, the Skylark of Space and the Lensmen. He wove complication onto complication as he made the series span the universe and thousands of years of time. One side branch to the Lensmen starred “Storm” Cloud, the only man who could control a duodecaplylatomate bomb to snuff out the deadly atomic vortices, earning him the title of Vortex Blaster. I’m not kidding: this is exactly what they don’t write ‘em like anymore. Even when he did write ‘em like that, this was considered somewhat second-rate, meaning that “Vortex Blaster” appeared in the July 1941 Comet Stories, “Storm Cloud on Deka” in the June 1942 Astonishing Stories, and “The Vortex Blaster Makes War” in the October 1942 Astonishing Stories, bracketing the publication of Second Stage Lensman, which did appear in Astounding.
Smith never really stopped turning out space operas, but by 1960 he was a name from the past waiting to be rediscovered. And so Lloyd Eshbach put the stories together into a volume called The Vortex Blaster, rewritten and expanded by Smith, for his Fantasy Press. Oops. Fantasy Press folded after printing up a press run of all of 341 copies. Eshbach went to Greenberg, who printed a smaller than usual run of 3000 copies. Most of them were bound in light blue boards with yellow lettering. In 1962, the leftovers of that run, thought to be 500 copies, were bound in gray cloth with red lettering on the spine.
As a desperation move, Greenberg considered taking whatever unbound pages were sitting in storage and binding them with a paper cover instead of the usual boards or cloth, similar to what he had done with the Armed Forces trade paperbacks a decade earlier. Apparently the economics of distributing an unattractive, manifestly cheap product didn’t make any more sense than any of his other schemes because he never went ahead. However, six copies were bound just to see what they would look like. Answer: not much.
Six copies. Six never sold or distributed experimental internal copies. You’d think that these would be rarer than hundred-caret diamonds, not merely the hardest-to-find and priciest of all Gnome Press items, but of all the million items in the science fiction field. Assuming that they still existed at all!
And you’d be wrong. Once upon a time all that would be true, before the magic of the Internet. Today, as I write these words, all you have to do is enter a search and not one, but two copies of this scarcest of all Gnome Press titles pops up, being sold by two different dealers. Amazing.
I know where a third copy is. I have it. Perhaps the least prepossessing valuable artifact you’ll ever see. The binding is a stiff gray paper. The front cover is mere black type, with no illustrations or even a logo. The spine and rear cover are blank.
Anyone out there who would care to admit owning any of the other five (or maybe there are more!) should contact me. Together we’d make up one of the world’s most exclusive clubs.
But no such honors for Greenberg. Although he published other titles after the first run of The Vortex Blaster, you can say that here is where Gnome Press ends, with a whimper of a failed copy of a book written by a man who blasted away entire star systems and juggled the fate of billions. It’s not entropy that eventually gets us all: it’s irony.
The Vortex Blaster, by E. E. Smith, Ph D., 1960, title #81, 191 pages, $3.00, 3000 copies printed, 1960, 500 bound 1962.
Cover design by W. I. Van den Poel. “First Edition” stated on copyright page. No printer listed. Back cover: 32 titles. Gnome Press address listed as P. O. Box 161, Hicksville N.Y.
Variants, given in CURREY
1) CURREY (A1) Hardback, blue boards, yellow spine lettering, bound 1960
2) CURREY (A2) Hardback, gray cloth, red spine lettering, bound 1962
3) CURREY (A3) Gray wrappers, lettered in black