Too many futures

The heavy-duty shelves where I kept the bulk of my science-fiction library collapsed. Rather than replace the shelves, I’ve decided that it’s time to cull the collection. This won’t be easy; discarding books is something I just don’t do. However, I’m unlikely ever to read most of these again, and there’s no point in hanging on to them. I need to grit my teeth and haul at least two-thirds of them to Goodwill this weekend.

So, what stays, and what goes?

Some decisions are easy. All of R.A. Lafferty, all of Gene Wolfe, all of Philip K. Dick stay on my shelves. The multitudinous Roger Elwood anthologies can all go, every single one. Ray Bradbury, Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, Cordwainer Smith all stay. Ditto Poul Anderson, William Tenn and John Sladek. George R.R. Martin goes.

Others are more difficult. Early Alfred Bester, before his disappearance, was very good; after his return, he was a different, lesser writer. I’ll keep the older books and discard the later ones. Much of Samuel Delany goes not to Goodwill but straight to the trash, but I’ll hang on to his Driftglass collection. I’ll probably keep all of Ursula K. Le Guin, even though nothing she wrote after The Lathe of Heaven has held my interest. Similarly, I’ll keep all of Joanna Russ, though it’s mainly the Alyx stories that I reread.1 Frederick Pohl’s short story collections stay, but all his novels except perhaps Gateway are expendable. And so on, and so on.

And then there are the anthologies. I have lots of anthologies. Let’s see…. The Judith Merrill best-of-the-year volumes are of historical interest and contain surprises β€” I discovered George P. Elliott’s “Among the Dangs” and Muriel Spark’s “Portobello Road” in #7. The Carr, Wollheim and Carr/Wollheim annuals are where I first encountered many of my favorite writers, including Lafferty and Wolfe. These stay. The many other year’s best anthologies are less useful and ultimately probably not worth the shelf space. Other anthologies go to Goodwill unless there is a particular story I like in one that I don’t have elsewhere, though I might hang on to Damon Knight’s Orbit series.

The sorting should occupy my evenings for the rest of the week.


  1. R.A. Lafferty on Russ: “From some people we come to expect the really extraordinary every time.”

5 thoughts on “Too many futures”

  1. I went through this just before grad school. My solution was simpler: I took everything to the library I grew up with and where I discovered sci-fi as a child.

    Years later I can’t express how it felt one day to see a young boy checking out one of MY books. And to recognize others on the shelves

    1. I had a friend do that, and it failed, because most libraries sell off the majority of donated books rather than shelve them. The last time I went inside the library where I used to check out armfuls of old-school SF and fantasy, they only had things printed in the past 5 years or so, mostly media tie-ins. Most of their space was given over to being a community center and computer lab.

      I have an old Heinlein juvenile on my shelves that was originally bought by a library, culled from their collection for their annual book sale, bought by me, borrowed by my sister for a friend, sold to a used book store, bought by someone else, donated to a library, sold to a used book store, and bought by me again (ten years later).

      I also have the SF novel I stole from my second-grade teacher’s classroom library, but I suspect she didn’t really mind…


  2. Save me the anthologies you don’t want? Or any short story collections? They’re the only things I can hope to find time to read anymore πŸ™

  3. My friend, I feel your pain. There’s nothing harder to me than chucking books, and my own library desperately needs reordering. Even so, at this point I can’t bear the idea of actually giving any volumes up, but will probably simply move the I-definitely-won’t-read-this-again-or-didn’t-read-it-in-the-first-place stuff to some shelves down in my basement.

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