Part five of three parts?

A reader recently called to ask why I don’t include more science fiction in the newspaper’s periodic supermarket paperback book reviews.

“Why don’t you include more science fiction in the newspaper’s periodic supermarket paperback reviews?” he asked.

Why indeed…

(Or is that “Why not indeed”?).

The problem, I explained shortly after the reader hung up, is not that I don’t respect science fiction. The genre is right up there with the best alcoholic private eye paperbacks and tales of misunderstood vampires.

No, the problem is that most science fiction being produced today seems to be written in an endless series of sequels.

God forbid an author should simply write a successful “Swamp Serpents of Saturn” and then go on to create something entirely different, such as “Cyborg Warriors from the Death Moon.”

Oh, no. If “Swamp Serpents” sells, that author is going to ride the wave until it crashes into a galactic worm hole just east of Alpha Centauri.

If one volume of space-dwelling swamp serpents will put money in the bank, 11 or 12 volumes should pay for the hot tub and new seat covers for the Mercedes.

Why is this a problem?

Because supermarket paperbacks never, ever appear in any discernible order.


An unsuspecting reader, looking for some extraterrestrial escapades to while away a lazy summer day, might opt for a supermarket paperback copy of “Cyborg Warriors from the Death Moon” only to get home to find out that he’s actually purchased “Cyborg Warriors from the Death Moon – Volume Four: The Paramorph!”

Alas, our shopper has been dropped somewhere in the middle of a galactic epic with no way to figure out exactly how he got there or when his paperback odyssey will end.

Is volume four the last, next-to-last or just the middle of this ongoing science fiction saga?

Remember, this volume was purchased at a place where one may also stock up on underarm deodorant and paper towels. Supermarket paperbacks move off the shelves almost as quickly as canned okra and the chances of finding volume one or volume five of the Cyborg Warriors’ epic are just about nil.

Worse, if the paperback in question hasn’t moved as quickly as its rack mates, our reader may find himself with an out-of-print sequel to an even more out-of-print initial volume.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned difficulties also apply to supermarket paperback book reviewers.

Originally published June 3, 2001

If I’m foolish enough to pick up volume three of “The Hexenbesen Paradox” and recommend it to our readers, it will be gone from supermarket shelves by the time they get there. Or they’ll latch onto volume five and be thoroughly baffled.


That’s when my phone will begin ringing:


“You know the part you wrote about where the asteroid disappears and all the alligators die? You do? Good, because I couldn’t find that chapter anywhere and the queen was already dead. Whaddya tryin’ to pull, pal?”


And that’s why you don’t see a lot of supermarket science fiction paperback book reviews in this column.