Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ellison, Rogue, & Sleazy SF Paperbacks: How Are They Connected?


Those of you who are fans of Harlan Ellison's work over the decades might already know this, but in the very late 1950s and very early 1960s, author Harlan Ellison worked as an editor at Rogue magazine in Chicago. Rogue was a Playboy-wannabe whose only claim to fame was that it briefly had Harlan Ellison as a staff editor. That might be putting it a bit strongly, because it made its mark in other ways, including as the publisher of many short stories by leading science-fiction authors. Another editor was Frank M. Robinson, a writer whose works include a favorite book of mine, The Dark Beyond the Stars. (Just to overload you with trivia: Robinson, who is gay, later wrote the Playboy Advisor column in Playboy before moving to San Francisco, where he worked with Harvey Milk at one point.)

Where was I? Oh, yes.

Over at Germany's Nerdcore web site, I stumbled across a short note about a paperback line that was produced by Rogue's publisher and was apparently (according to that site's source, Earl Kemp) started by Harlan Ellison. Apparently, Rogue publisher William Hamling produced a series of books that evolved into a mix of science-fiction (and other fantastic genres) with sex.

Says Kemp:
[T]there was a constant attempt to insert some science fiction elements into some of the novels, or something at least a bit on the fantastic side. And, with each of these attempts, whenever Hamling would discover it, he would object and reinform us that our books were about real people doing real things and nothing fantastic or otherworldly could ever be allowed to interfere with that.
Did that stop us? No.
As time passed and things began to change, Hamling relaxed his hold on the covers and then, eventually, turned their production over exclusively to the art department. ... And sales took off.
So, consider this your R-rated (I assume; I've never seen any of these books) science-fiction story of the day. Kemp's own web site has a small gallery of some of the classic cheesy covers.
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