Why are some of the best books and videos out of print? At least some of my all-time favorites are. I can’t figure it out, unless it’s just a taste thing. But here are some of the best entertainment (in my mind anyway) that is currently out of print…

Philip Marlowe, Private Eye

This was one of the first shows that HBO ever produced, and though some of the production is cheap/cheesy, pound-for-pound I think this is the best Raymond Chandler adaptation ever (Robert Mitchum’s Farewell, My Lovely, another forgotten gem, comes in second in my opinion). The main reason I say this is because I think Powers Boothe captures Marlowe better than anyone else. I know a lot of people think Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep is the quintessential Marlowe, but though I like that movie, to me Marlowe seems too much like Bogart playing Marlowe, and maybe even Bogart making Marlowe into Bogart.

The episodes of Philip Marlowe, Private Eye are adapted very faithfully from Chandler’s short stories, rather than his novels, which makes for a nice short running time and a lot of variety in the plots. The period sets and scenery are bathed in the kind of rich, dark colors that I love so much and most of the supporting characters/actors are at least interesting, if not always accomplished.

When I was writing this I discovered that the show is now available on Amazon Prime, which is great because for a while you could only get the DVDs used for an exorbitant price or watch the episodes on YouTube (which have been taken down now, probably because Amazon Prime is now guarding the copyright).

Suspend your modern sensibilities, ignore the occasional weak action and acting, and enjoy the good writing and faithful period feel. And if Marlowe seems tropeish or clicheish, remember that he was actually the first of the hard-boiled private detectives that have been copied and parodied so much. It’s not a trope, it’s a tradition. And it’s not cliche, it’s classic.

Rocketman: King of the Rocketmen

I talked about why this comic series / graphic novel is so great in this blog post, so I won’t say much here, except that the paperback graphic novel is so rare now that it’s going for $65 on Amazon.

Again, I don’t understand how something I think is so great can become so obscure. But I guess it’s the “way of the world”… many of the best (and truest) things (and people) are not actually popular.

Constantin Vadim Trilogy by Donald James

I bought Monstrum at a thrift store because I thought the cover looked good and it sounded like an interesting premise…a future Moscow ravaged by civil war and a serial killer who may be more than he (or she) seems. The author is a historian who is an expert on Russia, so all that happens in the novel is probably possible. Despite quite a bit of anti-heroic behavior from the anti-hero, twists and turns kept me turning the pages. You can get a copy (for really cheap) here.

The two sequels are not so easy (or cheap) to get, because all three books are (yep) out of print. Donald James died years ago and didn’t write many books, so I guess the marketing for these was very limited or non-existent for a long time. But I actually found all of them interesting enough to read to the end, which is rare for me to do. I’m constantly borrowing or buying books and not getting too far into them before losing interest, but these kept my attention.

Starhunter 2300

I guess this one may be available on Amazon and/or Netflix now too, but for a while, like Philip Marlowe, it only existed on rare used DVD sets and YouTube uploads. Joss Whedon’s Firefly borrowed so much from this show that I’m surprised there hasn’t been some kind of copyright lawsuit (maybe it will happen now, since Joss’s blood is in the water recently). Also like Marlowe, this one has some cheap/cheesy elements, but the design is cool and the plots (most of them anyway) are genuinely interesting. The weapons and costumes, and some of the sets, are especially good.

The Peacer Series by Dave Swavely

It’s an absolute crime that these two great books are out of print (except the ebook versions)!

Speaking of crime, Silhouette is about a man who is investigating a crime that he himself may have unknowingly committed. A future world that is unlike ours, but profoundly possible. Atmosphere and action reminiscent of William Gibson, Blade Runner, The Matrix, and Minority Report, but different enough to be fresh. A story that plays with your expectations until you won’t know what to expect. And a style that is too tight to be pretentious, but filled with vivid and memorable visual images.

Silhouette is a rousing adventure and a riveting mystery that will keep you guessing until the last page, and behind it all, a captivating exploration of the meaning of life and death. At first reading its visual images will fix themselves in your mind as if you have seen them on film, and later the ideas represented by those images will haunt your heart. Swavely wants to entertain and excite his readers, but he is also trying to turn our minds toward more important matters. In this novel, he succeeds in reaching both goals.

Kaleidocide, the sequel, is more of the same but much longer and on steroids. There’s also a prequel story on the Macmillan website here.

The Stars My Destination graphic novel by Alfred Bester and Howard Chaykin

The Stars My Destination has long been one of my favorite all-time novels. It’s the basic plot of Counte of Monte Cristo set in a future world, but other than that it’s oh-so-unique–especially the clipped, frenetic writing style…I’m not sure anyone has ever even approximated it. Bester wrote this, The Demolished Man (also great), and a bunch of short stories in the 50s, and then he found himself adrift in the drug-addled sixties and wrote some weird stuff that wasn’t nearly as good. But this novel is as golden as golden-age gets!

The graphic version of the novel (pictured) is out of print and very hard to find. Howard Chaykin’s art is a great complement to the classic text. This is one of my prize possessions…I re-read it every year or so, and find it interesting that Dave Swavely’s Kaleidocide (mentioned above) is dedicated to Bester and Chaykin and written as an homage of sorts to this graphic novel.