Tuesday 3 February 2009


I recently read and was disappointed by Brian Aldiss's Dracula Unbound. Aldiss is one of the great British science-fiction writers, and has written a lot. Unfortunately, among the classics (Greybeard, The Brightfount Diaries, Frankenstein Unbound (to which Dracula Unbound is a sequel)), there are some duds, and this is one of them.

It should have been a bit of fun, with time travel, vampires, Bram Stoker as a character, syphilis as unexpected metaphor, etc, but ended up deeply flawed and sporadically stupid (vampires as the descendents of pterodactyls?) to the point of not being enjoyable (and when you've both already travelled in time, AND have JUST unveiled your newly invented time machine, would you not suspect the fossilised 65-million-year-old human remains found by one of your employees were not some previously undiscovered lost race but, just maybe, time travellers?).

Anyway, this is not a book review site, so what I actually came here to write about was the cover:

It's OK as these things go: moody if uninspired. The real problem, though, is that they've misspelled the author's name. It's Aldiss with two Ss.

This edition is from House of Stratus, a weird little publisher I can't really get to grips with. They launched in 2001 with a vast panoply of previously out-of-print titles available as print-on-demand books: some were classics (H. G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, etc), some were once-popular middlebrow bestsellers fallen into obscurity (C. P. Snow, Nevil Shute, Nicholas Monsarrat), and some were period trash (Sapper, Edgar Wallace). Since then they seem to have lost the rights to most of their list, though some of the books dropped from their catalogue are still available, and every now and then their website goes missing. It's this sort of thing that makes me suspect my pipe dream of setting up as a republisher of lost classics would see me end up a gutter-dwelling penniless beggar.


Lucy Fishwife said...

We have a current Penguin edition of Lolita on the shelf, with the author's name on the spine as Nabkov. If even the big players can't be arsed to proof the jackets, the smaller presses haven't got a prayer... I know what you mean about HofS; every now and then I get encouraging emails from them saying what stock they have available, and then it's impossible to order it. More annoyingly they have the rights to all the Jennings books, thus rendering the more reliable small presses (Jane Nissen et al) unable to take over and issue them.. From what I gather they've gone bust and been bailed out several times, and I always seem to catch them in between bailouts.

JRSM said...

Blimey--which edition is that? The Penguin Red version? I must put it on here!

That explains the House of Stratus shenanigans: they did have quite a lot of good stuff, but it mostly seems to have vanished. Looking at what authors they have left, it's hard to see them turning much of a profit. Very odd behaviour.

Anonymous said...

Your assessment of House of Stratus as "a weird little publisher I can't really get to grips with" is spot on. I am aware of them really only through their sterling work on reissuing Nevil Shute (I say sterling, without having actually read any of his work, but even if his books aren't literary touchstones, they are cultural ones, so it's good to have them available), but the editions are very odd, large format paperbacks with odd quality covers and paper. If they are, as you say, print-on-demand quality then that would explain it. (Speaking of which, I was sorely disappointed when a couple of months ago I finally saw a Faber Finds edition in the flesh. Horrible.) Most of all, I could never work out of HoS were a UK or US-based publisher. Why that should have bothered me I don't really know.

"It's this sort of thing that makes me suspect my pipe dream of setting up as a republisher of lost classics would see me end up a gutter-dwelling penniless beggar."

Ah well, what you want to do there then is first of all become a gutter-dwelling penniless beggar, and then set up said publishing house, and the only way is up.

JRSM said...

Yes, it's thanks to House of Stratus that I finally got my hands on 'On the Beach', without which no post-apocalypse library can claim completeness. And I think your plan about starting from beggary is the way to go!

Dave Lovely said...

I'd always be suspicious of a publisher whose name suggested that they purveyed some sort of dodgy aftershave. Unless of course, they really went for the full-on padded shoulder 70s vibe, in which case, they'd be cool. But they don't, and they're not.

JRSM said...

But they do use that late-80s/early-90s Macintosh font: Chicago, I think it was called.

Anonymous said...

So House of Stratus have relinquishes, or lost, the rights to Nevil Shute, who will come into Vintage Classics from October 09. Not all of the books have covers yet but the ones which do are rather nice, sort of like a cross between the Vintage Somerset Maughams and Nathan Burton's Pat Barker covers. See here.

JRSM said...

They're bringing out a LOT at once, aren't they? More Shutes in print than Maughams, which seems something of a surprise. Nice covers, though, you're right.