Stewart Cowley (ISBN 0 600 32990 9)
One of the great joys of being my age is that the books I remember with fond nostalgia from childhood libraries have been appearing in secondhand bookstores for a few years now. These dimly remembered tomes are either library cast-offs or the result of persons older than me culling their shelves I suppose, but I am happy to be the beneficiary either way. I was recently rooting through the shelves of a secondhand bookstore in small town New Zealand to discover my favourite of Stewart Cowley’s Terran Trade Authority books. Yes, I realise I could have bought a copy online long ages ago, but that undermines the joy of unexpected discovery now doesn’t it?
The TTA books, as they are often abbreviated to, were a weird and delightful concept. Young and up and coming SF artists provided illustrations and/or reprints from book covers, and the author, Stewart Cowley, did what he could to weave short stories around the illustrations… this resulted in a strange and mixed group of stories and many illustrations that don’t quite seem to make sense in the same universe (the explanation for the weirder ship designs of course is that they are the creation of aliens of weird biology). The imaginative flourish of these books astounded me as a teenager and I very much feel the same rush of wonder flicking through it now.
The TTA books were quite a possibly unique as a publishing project. Starting with someone else’s concept designs and writing a series of stories around the illustrations is a strange enough start, but the books are also entirely written using the conceit that they are books contemporary with the 23rd century and are non-fiction works of that future era. In Spacewreck, Cowley does a good job of mimicking the sort of ‘world’s greatest mysteries’ books that can still be found in piles occupying space in remaindered bookstores today.
The feel of the glossy paper, the very smell of the book, it is a landscape of nostalgia. Whether you would find the TTA books enthralling having not experienced them when younger, I cannot easily say, but if you do dimly remember these titles from your own childhood I can highly recommend rediscovering them. They are just as pulpy and colourful and overblown as I remembered. Time and memory have not exaggerated the weird illustrations and slightly overblown language. They are precisely as alive and vibrant as I my inner fifteen year old recalls.