Monday, September 13, 2010

Mars Needs Lawyers! (A Rare Book Adventure)

SCHACHNER, Nat. Space Lawyer. NY: Gnome Press,1953.
Cover by Ric Binkley.
“Nat Schachner’s first science fiction novel in book form is delightfully different reading for the thousands of readers who are becoming tired of the many involved and stereotyped stories of science fiction being published today. With deft skill and an irresistible humor he tells an intriguing story of the legal problems that are bound to crop up when man has finally opened up the new frontier out in space; but it is essentially the captivating tale of the space lawyer’s ingenious use of legalism in space to triumph over his opponent, Old Fireball” (Dust jacket blurb).
“Old Fireball” is space lawyer Kerry Dale’s former employer, Simeon Kenton, owner and president of Space Enterprises Unlimited whose “spaceships fastened their flags on the spongy marshes of Venus, on the desolate wastes of Mars, on rocky asteroids and mighty Jupiter itself.” It’s torts on Titan, litigation, and petitions on Pluto from Gnome Press. But it is one of the ironies of the space lawyer’s lot that in space no one can hear oral arguments, much less scream. The upside, however, is a minimum of solar windbags. The downside? Undue hardship on Uranus; the space lawyer’s job is a pain in the ass. The exclusionary rule, alas, prevents further disclosure of the plot, leaving me in forma pauperis as a book reviewer.

Forgive the following statement; there’s no way around it: Gnome was a small publisher. Established in 1948 by science fiction fans Martin Greenberg and David A. Kyle in New York, it survived a hand-to-mouth existence for fourteen years before ceasing publication in 1962. In its early years Gnome published books by authors who would become giants in the genre, ogres if you will, including Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy (1951-53), Robert A. Heinlein's Sixth Column (1951),  Robert E. Howard’s Conan series (1950-55), L. Ron Hubbard's Typewriter in the Sky (1951), and Arthur C. Clark’s Sands of Mars (1952) and Against the Fall of the Night (1953). Gnome Press published screenwriter Leigh Brackett's The Starmen (1952), and books by L. Sprague de Camp, and Frederik Pohl.

Nathaniel Schachner (1895-1955) was an attorney and chemist who compounded Space Lawyer for Astounding Stories  in 1941. His first published work appeared in Wonder Stories Quarterly in 1930. In addition to writing under his own name he used the pseudonyms Chan Corbett and Walter Glamis. Schachner, when not lost in space, could be found writing non-fiction historical titles, including Aaron Burr, A Biography (1937); The Medieval Universities (1938); Alexander Hamilton (1946); The Price of Liberty (1948), an unofficial history of the American Jewish Committee; and Thomas Jefferson (1951), a biography in two volumes.

Space Lawyer is not a great book. It is barely good. Chromo-spectrograph analysis revealed little color and less humor frequencies than advertised. But it does address a major lacuna in science-fiction literature, the near complete absence of personnel beyond space warrior, space doctor, space systems analyst, spaceship captain, etc. etc. After finishing Space Lawyer you will slap your head with the of course! realization that, not only does outer space need lawyers, it needs accountants, dentists, plumbers, real estate agents, insurance salesmen, tailors, taxidermists, day-traders, and, perhaps the most egregious of omissions, space librarians and rare book dealers and collectors in space. Attention budding science-fiction writers: Opportunity knocks (but in space you can't hear it).


The saga of finding Space Lawyer provides an object lesson in the value of book fairs. I’d have never discovered the book had I searched for it on the Net; you can't find what you don't know exists. But this past weekend, at the Santa Monica Book Fair, it delivered itself unto me via display in the booth of Vic Zoschak’s Tavistock Books. My eyes were arrested by the title, I picked the book up, marveled at its loopiness, chuckled, and put the book back on its easel.

I brought three people over to check it out and urged them to buy it. I walked that aisle another six or seven times, and stopped by the booth to look at the book another six or seven times before I realized I was hooked; this book was a keeper and I was powerless to resist its wacked-out charm. Zoschak, perhaps because he had an elephant-sized frog in his throat secondary to a horse-sized case of  hoarseness, did the sage thing, salesmanship-wise, and kept quiet to allow collector-neurosis  to run wild and consume me. The buy hawk on my left shoulder went toe to toe with the buy dove on my right shoulder and plucked him, but good. Space Lawyer was Circe and I succumbed to her song. I shoulda ducked the sucker punch.

Yet I do not regret my temporary insanity; every time I look at the book my brain breaks out into a smile that spans both cerebral hemispheres. It’s the satisfying reward of a book collector who found gold in an octavo-sized slab of lead, the alchemy of book collecting - high-brow, low-brow, no-brow - at its best.

A publisher's logo worth the price of the book: 
Reader-astronaut riding a book-rocket blasting into Outer Space.



  1. Steve, after reading this description you wrote of SPACE LAWYER, I belated realized what a bargain you got! Ha!

    PS. There is at least one gun-totin' librarian in space: Adele Mundy. See

    All best,


  2. The problems that lawyers in the real world faces are probably more challenging than that faced by the space lawyers. Lawyers, to be competitive in the real world, must take lessons from their senior colleagues. Or must go through books written my experienced lawyers.


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