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Pyramid Books

Entry updated 25 November 2020. Tagged: Publisher.

US paperback publishing company founded in 1949 by Almat Magazine Publishers. In its early years it specialized in "racy" novels and Westerns, but it soon began to publish sf, beginning with a reprint of Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1956; vt Tomorrow's World 1956) by Evan Hunter writing as Hunt Collins. Its early offerings were divided between original work and reprints (the latter often with sensational titles substituted for the hardcovers'), with a few nineteenth-century classics such as Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone (1868) that could be marketed as thrillers. A short-lived imprint, Pyramid Giants (evidently modelled on Bantam Books' Bantam Giants), offered titles longer than mass market paperbacks' then-brief standard.

By 1957, the year that D R Bensen (whom see for details) became editor, Pyramid was reprinting sf with some regularity, including Theodore Sturgeon's The Synthetic Man (1950; vt The Dreaming Jewels 1957) and George O Smith's Hellflower (1953). Because Pyramid tended to license rights from small publishers (Avalon, Greenberg, Gnome), its editions were the first to bring these titles – which soon included novels by Arthur C Clarke and E E Smith, as well as two important early collections by Robert A Heinlein, Waldo and Magic, Inc. (coll 1950) and 6 X H (coll 1959 as The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag; vt 1961) – to a wider audience.

Pyramid soon began publishing original sf with Algis Budrys's Who? (1958) and The Falling Torch (1959) as well as Anthologies by Judith Merril and Groff Conklin. By the end of the fifties it had largely ceased publishing hardcover reprints, perhaps because its editorial budget did not allow it to compete with larger houses such as Signet Books, Dell Books, and Avon Books, who between them reprinted the lion's share of the titles published by Doubleday, G P Putnam's Sons, and Charles Scribner's Sons (by then the major hardcover publishers in the US, the smaller houses having disappeared).

As a publisher of sf and (very occasionally) fantasy, Pyramid saw its period of greatest influence in the following decade, when its original titles included Venus Plus X (1960) by Theodore Sturgeon, Naked to the Stars (1961) by Gordon R Dickson, The Stainless Steel Rat (1961) by Harry Harrison, Cordwainer Smith's The Planet Buyer (1964) and The Underpeople (1968) – the two halves of the novel later assembled elsewhere as Norstrilia (1975) – Space Opera (1965) by Jack Vance, The Zap Gun (1967) by Philip K Dick, and Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (coll 1967), along with important collections by Sturgeon and Avram Davidson's first three novels: Joyleg (1962) with Ward Moore, Mutiny in Space (1964) and Masters of the Maze (1965). Its sf list, although small compared to those of Ace and Berkley, was if anything more select – surprising when one considers that sf was never Pyramid's focus and that its advances were small.

Bensen's sharp editorial eye and his willingness to follow an author's first novel with a story collection – for example Harry Harrison's War with the Robots (coll 1965) and Cordwainer Smith's Space Lords (coll 1965) – served him well, though he remained constrained by commercial conventions regarding titles and length: the decision to publish Cordwainer Smith's Norstrilia manuscript as two novels of some 150 pages each was probably his, and the counter-cultural trilogy comprising The Butterfly Kid (1967) by Chester Anderson, The Unicorn Girl (1969) by Michael Kurland and The Probability Pad (1970) by T A Waters was prudently published as stand-alone novels. Writing in 1968, Bensen recalled that his annoyance with the publisher's readiness to change the titles of acquired novels to ones more redolent of "real science fiction" led him to devise two quintessentially sf titles, Space Opera and The Zap Gun, and commission Vance and Dick respectively to write them.

By the end of the decade, perhaps due to the departure of Bensen in 1967, Pyramid became notably less active in publishing new sf titles, although its practice of going promptly back to press for titles that sold decently, and a tradition of handsome art direction (regular cover artists included Ed Emshwiller, Jack Gaughan, and John Schoenherr), kept its backlist, full of prominent authors whose newer works it could not afford to acquire, in print. During this period it employed such freelance editors as Roger Elwood and Byron Preiss, and published original novels by Barry N Malzberg, Chad Oliver, Edgar Pangborn and Marta Randall. Its most prominent sf projects of the seventies were probably the uniform edition of the works of Harlan Ellison (1975-1976) and The Harlan Ellison Discovery Series (1974-1977) of new novels by mostly young writers.

In 1974 the company was sold to Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, which renamed it Jove Books. Under this imprint it published a small amount of sf, most notably the first four volumes of George R R Martin's New Voices anthology series (anth 1977-1981). In 1979 Jove was sold to Berkley Books (the last two volumes of Martin's series appeared under the Berkley imprint, just as the last two of the Harlan Ellison Discovery series were published as by Jove/HBJ). While Berkley continued to publish some titles on Pyramid/Jove's list, the imprint was dissolved into its new owner.

Pyramid Books will be remembered both for the important novels and collections it first published and for its introduction of writers such as Heinlein, Clarke and E E Smith into paperback. The numerous printings, always in uniform editions, of E E Smith's Skylark and Lensman novels (all under the byline 'E. E. "Doc" Smith') kept alive an author who might otherwise have fallen into obscurity. [GF]

see also: Piers Anthony; Paul Edwards; James Steranko.

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