24 Aug 2004

Paul R. Potts

I decided to take abebooks.com for a spin and see what they could do for me. I was particularly interested in tracking down some long out-of-print juvenile science fiction books that I read as a child; I wanted to give them to my son, Isaac.

I quickly found, and ordered, the following:

Ted White, Secret of the Marauder Satellite

James R. Berry, Dar Tellum: Stranger from a Distant Planet

Alfred Slote, My Robot Buddy

Eleanor Cameron, The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet

Sylvia Louise Engdahl, Enchantress from the Stars

I also found a couple of books for me: a cookbook I used to have called Vegetarian Suppers, with some excellent recipes; an out-of-print programming text called Functional C, and a copy of the trade paperback edition of Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast (late Heinlein, not his best writing, but it holds a special place in my heart because I read the first part of the book serialized in Omni magazine and then saved up my allowance to buy it).

I placed this order on the evening of August 14th, so the vendors got the orders on the 15th. The last book arrived today, the 24th. That’s nine days to receive eight books from used bookstores all over the country!

I’m really impressed. I was expecting it to take at least two weeks to get everything, and wondering what I would do to track down the one or two books that would, I thought, most likely never show up, but which I’d get billed for anyway. What a pleasant surprise!

I bought Dar Tellum from Scholastic Book Services when I was in perhaps third grade; I can’t remember anything about my teacher, the classroom, or the kids. I remember that I was miserable, so I probably took refuge in books. I remember the newsprint order sheets and saving my allowance to buy a few carefully chosen books. Among them were also some turkeys like the Benji movie adaptations, and some science fiction that was not terribly good, like A.E. Van Vogt’s pulp Planets for Sale; I decided not to bother tracking that one down.

And I remember this book. Holding it is like looking through a tunnel to a day thirty years ago. It is all here: the psychedelic green-and-black illustrations, the weird lilac color of the title, and the soulful pair of eyes on the front cover. (It helped that I thought I looked, with my platinum blonde hair and blue eyes, a lot like the protagonist). The storyline is about telekinesis, channeling, and global warming: this book is copyrighted 1973. It is a strange and subversive story about civil disobedience and keeping secrets from adults. I feel very proud to be able to pass it on to my son, and very glad that this little piece of my formative years still exists in the world. This book shaped me.

So, I highly recommend abebooks.com. It leaves me wondering if there might be some way I could earn some money and assist some of the local used bookstores in getting their inventory listed. They are clogged with stuff they can’t move; Cross Street Books in Ypsilanti, for example, is almost impossible to browse, with books crammed in every available space, piles on the floors blocking access to the shelves, and narrow aisles impossible to negotiate; you feel like you will be crushed by falling books. Surely getting all the stuff they can’t move up on abebooks.com would help? I’m living proof that someone will want a book, but the hard part is delivering obscure and relatively worthless (in a monetary sense) books to buyers. It looks like abebooks.com has solved that problem.

Meanwhile, global warming is real; where is Dar Tellum when you need him?

Here’s my son’s book report. He’s ten. I should mention that his reading level is very high but his writing level is a bit sub-par; we’re working on that. It is one of the reasons we took him out of school and started home-schooling him. This is a huge improvement over last year. This is his second attempt at a book report; yesterday’s was terrible, so he’s rewritten it. We may ask him for one more try.

Dar Tellum is a character from the planet sidra. Dar Tellum is like a ghost, a thing, technically. He is also telepathically connected to Ralph.

Ralph is a kid who daydreams a lot. He is the kid who meets Dar Tellum. He is the main character.

Ralph meets Dar Tellum. Ralph learns the world is in danger. Ralph gets the idea. Ralph puts the idea in Dad’s briefcase. Ralph and Dar Tellum save the world.

The books writing style is about eight year-old level. The story is interesting, to an extent. The age level is nine, about. The illustrations are good, but have too little color. I recommend it very much to any body who wants a introduction to science fiction.

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