The public domain is a beautiful thing. My wife and I were in a Barnes & Noble recently (yes, an actual brick and mortar store) and I somewhat ill-advisedly bought a stack of books. This purchase was ill-advised not because of the content of the books, but because I spent probably two to three times as much money as I would have if I had stayed home and been a sensible boy and bought them all on my Kindle. We can save the debate of physical book versus e-book for later (I have a real love for paper books, and I’m not sure I’ll ever fully make the switch to e-readers), but when frugality is your goal, e-books generally take the cake. Especially when they’re free.
I bought a copy of the Martian Tales trilogy by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which is comprised of A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, and The Warlord of Mars, the first three books in his long Barsoom series. It was a nice Barnes & Noble trade paperback with a pretty picture of the red planet on the front. All three collected in one volume. I’m halfway through the first book. I just realized today, stupidly, that all three of these works, which were originally published in 1912, 1914, and 1918, respectively, are in the public domain. I suppose I knew this on some level, because after all, Barnes & Noble is only able to publish these titles under their in-house imprint because they’re public, but what hadn’t occurred to me at all is the fact that I could download all of them for free on my Kindle instead of paying for a print version.
Project Gutenberg is a great online resource for e-books, as they provide all of their text in a variety of e-book formats, including both Kindle and iPad (ePub) formats. A general search for “science fiction” produces a good list of books, including works from Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, H. Beam Piper, Robert Silverberg, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Philip Jose Farmer, E.E. Smith, Cory Doctorow, Poul Anderson, and more. Obviously, due to their dates, some of these are works that were gifted to the public domain by their contemporary authors.
This doesn’t even take into account all of the free e-books out there that are offered for free consumption by authors who retain copyright — you’ll notice that more and more writers are making older books available for free online.
You can also search Amazon for free Kindle versions of public domain books; here’s a list of SFF titles. What are your favorites? Any obvious ones I’ve missed?