In poker, holding a double ace makes for a strong but beatable hand. In the literary world, holding a double Ace novel can be a winner every time. From the early 50’s through the late 70’s using an innovative marketing format, Ace Books published a series of single books containing two separate novels. Dedicated to the genres of Science Fiction, Mystery and Westerns, the double books were a brilliant way of getting their product out to the public.
Printed back to back, each novel had its own unique cover. After reading one novel, you simply turn the book over 180 degrees and begin reading the second novel. Actually, the reader must flip the book top to bottom because you will find that the text is upside down, the conclusions of the two novels meet in the middle of the book.
Called “Tête bêche” (per Merriam-Webster: of or relating to a pair of stamps inverted in relation to one another either through a printing error or intentionally), the art of binding multiple books together is nothing new. Also known as a “dos-à-dos” or back-to-back book, the format has been around for hundreds of years and allows the publisher to save on binding materials as well as marketing time and space. It’s a pretty neat idea.
From a reader’s perspective, it was an economical way to obtain a variety of fiction. It also opens up opportunities to discover authors one might not have done otherwise. Just consider these books very short anthologies. Instead of a dozen short stories, you get two lengthy-short stories. Some of the double novels from Ace Books included multiple entries by the same author, but most of them were merely genre related with an occasional theme persuasion.
It seems a majority of the novels on the market today are in the 300 plus pages range. Granted, the word count varies with printing styles over the years, but a lot of the older fiction often came in around 100 to 150 page mark. In comparison, many of these shorter novels would have fallen under today’s definition of a novella. With that in mind along with the insurgence of cost effective e-publishing, perhaps more of today’s publishers will take a step back in time and bring back the double novel.
Some of the covers alone on these double books were worth the price of admission. With artwork well representative of the classic pulp fiction of the time, the creative images offered the reader the same sense of the awe they could expect within the pages. The bonus factor being, you get two separate pieces of cover art. But if you’re a traditionalist with a fondness for a biography or summery normally found on the back cover or dust jacket, don’t despair. Most of standard literary information is still included in the pages prior to the beginning of the story.
Economics aside, the double novels produced by Ace Books were pure works of art. Oh, and there were some pretty good stories inside them too. If you’re one who takes pleasure in just kicking back and enjoy brief literary adventures as well as some of the classics, then you just can’t beat holding a double Ace in your hand. Since I recently discovered a local book seller with a small collection of these on their shelf, I look forward to going all-in and sharing my thoughts on some of these winners in the future.