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DUMBO Bookstore Brings Out Of Print Sci-Fi Classics Into the Future

By Janet Upadhye | September 27, 2012 10:47am

DUMBO — Singularity & Co., a DUMBO bookstore, is attempting to rescue out-of-print science fiction novels from the strong arm of obscurity. They say the plan is simple, they will choose one novel a month, track down a lost copy and scan it into ebook form.

And if they have to, they will purchase copyright and publish the title, while respecting the author and history of the book.

"We want these lost gems to be in digital format where they can be enjoyed by a large audience, as they were meant to be," said Ash Kalb, lawyer and co-founder of Singularity & Co.

Singularity & Co.'s first success was the republishing of Robert Cromie's A Plunge into Space, first released to the public in 1890. The story tracks the mission of a space ship built in Alaska that travels to Mars and finds a sort of Utopia.

"This book was extremely significant in the history of the genre, yet not well-known," Kalb said. "It has all the concepts that are vital for a science fiction novel."

Those concepts include space travel, building spacecrafts, meeting alien culture, and conversing with said alien culture. And according to Kalb, the twist at the end of the book was recreated in many storylines throughout the next century, including Moon and Star Trek.

The tiny shop also rescued The Torch by Jack Bechdolt, 1948, a story about a "fantastic adventure in post apocalyptic New York."

But problems arose on the third mission: to track down and save Mister Stranger's Sealed Packet by Hugh MacColl, 1889.  The team drove 1,000 miles to a university that owned a copy. Though the book was no longer under copyright protection, the team had to deal with a university bureaucracy that wouldn't allow the book to be scanned.

But the team wouldn't quit and eventually located another copy on a forgotten shelf of an episcopal church in Pennsylvania.

"The book nearly fell apart in our hands," Kalb said. "It stained our fingers brown."

But with permission they were able to scan the treasure and make it available to readers.

A one-year membership to Singularity & Co. costs $29.99 and gives users the rights to download salvaged sci-fi books straight from their site. Lifetime memberships are also available. And according to Kalb, a few thousand members have signed up since the project began in April.

"Rescuing beloved, forgotten, fondly remembered, out-of-print and otherwise lost sci-fi books by bringing them into the digital domain is more than a labor of love," stated Singularity & Co.'s webpage. "It’s our way of celebrating visions of futures past that shaped the way we live now."

New candidates for rescue include titles such as Planetary Agent X by Mack Reynolds, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow by Jeff Sutton, and Death is a Dream by E.C. Tubb. Members can vote on which book they'd like to read next on the website.