Vintage Treasures: The Alien Upstairs by Pamela Sargeant

Thursday, December 18th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Alien Upstairs-smallI don’t know a lot about Pamela Sargeant. But I knew one thing when I saw The Alien Upstairs on eBay: I didn’t have a copy. And I wanted one.

Who wouldn’t? Big spooky house, spunky heroine in the foreground wearing a sun hat, vast stretches of blasted heath… erm, I mean unmowed lawn. Anyway, it sure looks like a modern gothic novel. Except for the honkin’ big spaceship hovering stealthily in the clouds, where it thinks no one can see it.

And the marvelous What the hell is going on? look our heroine is sporting. You just know she’s going to get to the bottom of things, like a good gothic romance heroine should. You go, spunky lady with strange fashion sense.

Sarah and Gerard were dreamers — two young lovers fighting to make something of their lives in an America battered by depression and despair.

Then a mysterious stranger came to stay in their small, rural town, a handsome, enigmatic being from another world who promised to lead them to a realm beyond their wildest imaginings. But was he an angel, come to rescue them from the harsh reality of their lives, or a darker being, bent on a strange and terrible purpose?

The Alien Upstairs. An awe-inspiring tale of worlds beyond our own by the author of Watchstar and The Golden Space.

The Alien Upstairs was published in February 1985 by Bantam Books. It is 165 pages, priced at $2.75 in paperback. The too-cool cover is by Wayne Barlowe. I bought an unread copy on eBay for $1 (plus shipping.) Don’t be jealous, there are plenty more copies available.

Sample the Best of the Pulps with Wildside Pulp Classics

Thursday, December 18th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Black Amazon of Mars-small Far Below and Other Horrors-small Hellhounds of the Cosmos-small

Back in September I wrote a Vintage Treasures article about Clifford D. Simak’s Cemetery World. Simak is one of my favorite authors, and much of his work — especially his early pulp fiction from the 30s and 40s — is tragically long out of print.

While I was researching the article, I discovered to my delight that Wildside Press had produced several slender volumes reprinting some of Simak’s pulp short stories, as part of the Wildside Pulp Classics line. I mentioned two: Hellhounds of the Cosmos and Other Tales From the Fourth Dimension and Impossible Things: 4 Classic Tales. As soon as I was done with the article I ordered a copy of the former. The paperback edition was just $6.99, and it was hard to resist. It’s hardly the comprehensive Complete Short Stories I might wish for, but it did include the title story, a novelette from the June 1932 Astounding Stories that had been uncollected and out of print for nearly 80 years. And that was pretty cool.

When the book arrived, I was very pleased with it. It’s an oversized trade paperback with a glossy cover and quality paper. As I expected, it’s quite short — 142 pages — but it includes four complete tales, and the price is right.  It also includes an (uncredited) introduction, a nice review of Simak’s career and the themes common in his work.

Naturally, I went back on the hunt to see what else Wildside had produced in a similar vein. It wasn’t long before I found collections for Leigh Brackett (Black Amazon of Mars and Other Tales from the Pulps), Fredric Brown (Daymare and Other Tales from the Pulps), E. Hoffmann Price (Satan’s Daughter and Other Tales from the Pulps), H. Bedford-Jones (The House of Skulls and Other Tales from the Pulps), Ray Cummings (The Fire People: Classic Science Fiction from the Pulps), Murray Leinster (The Runaway Skyscraper and Other Tales from the Pulps), and many others. Most were priced from $10-$15 or less (much less, for the digital editions).

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Recycling the Trash of War

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Playing on a tank in Ethiopia.

Playing on a tank in Ethiopia.

Last week we looked at some of the arms and armor of the Abyssinian Empire. With the holidays coming up, I decided to do something a bit more peaceful. On my trips through Africa I noticed a huge amount of detritus from its various wars. I was impressed at how the people adapted this stuff into something more useful. A lot of the spare metal is picked up and sold for scrap. Old battlefields once littered with burnt-out tanks get cleared out, only a few rusting hulks being left behind.

As you can see in the picture above, one of the tanks that was left behind has been turned into the local jungle gym. This photo was taken in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia near the Eritrean border. The tank was probably a casualty of the bitter war between the two countries. These kids are Eritrean refugees from a nearby refugee camp, whose only playground is a symbol of what made them refugees in the first place.

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Future Treasures: When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

When the Heavens Fall-smallI just received Tor’s Spring 2015 catalog and it’s crammed full of great-looking titles. I’ve only perused about a third, and I’ve already flagged some promising titles. Right at the top of the list is the opening volume in a new epic fantasy series featuring dark gods,  necromancy, and a very dangerous book….

If you pick a fight with Shroud, Lord of the Dead, you had better ensure your victory, else death will mark only the beginning of your suffering.

A book giving its wielder power over the dead has been stolen from a fellowship of mages that has kept the powerful relic dormant for centuries. The thief, a crafty, power-hungry necromancer, intends to use the Book of Lost Souls to resurrect an ancient race and challenge Shroud for dominion of the underworld. Shroud counters by sending his most formidable servants to seize the artifact at all cost.

However, the god is not the only one interested in the Book, and a host of other forces converge, drawn by the powerful magic that has been unleashed. Among them is a reluctant Guardian who is commissioned by the Emperor to find the stolen Book, a troubled prince who battles enemies both personal and political, and a young girl of great power, whose past uniquely prepares her for an encounter with Shroud. The greatest threat to each of their quests lies not in the horror of an undead army but in the risk of betrayal from those closest to them. Each of their decisions comes at a personal cost and will not only affect them, but also determine the fate of their entire empire.

The first of an epic swords & sorcery fantasy trilogy for fans of Patrick Rothfuss, Marc Turner’s When the Heavens Fall features gritty characters, deadly magic, and meddlesome gods.

When the Heavens Fall will be published by Tor Books on May 19, 2015. It is 544 pages, priced at $27.99 in hardcover and $14.99 for the digital edition.

Sing, Muse: Ody-C Provides a Hundred New Twists on an Ancient Tale

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

ODY-C-1-CoverI love Classical literature. I have since the third grade, when I first picked up a copy of D’Aulaire’s Greek Mythology. That love drove my choices in schooling until fairly recently, and there was no work I enjoyed more than Homer’s Odyssey.

You may have noticed.

I also love comic books. I’m much more of a dabbler on that front, but I’m always looking for a new book to follow.

So when I heard that Image Comics was putting out Ody-C, a gender-bent Sci-Fi version of the Odyssey, I was excited. Actually, I think I squealed, screamed on Facebook, and immediately made plans to blog about the title here. This past weekend, I finally sat down and read through the premier issue.

And I still don’t know what I think. So while I will tag this a review, call it more a series of impressions and a place for discussion, while I wait for the next issue (which will be available December 24th).

Now, when I say I don’t know what I think, that doesn’t mean that I don’t like it. I think I do. In fact, I think I’m going to love it. But Ody-C is so deeply, intensely strange that it is taking me a long time to wrap my brain around it. Matt Fraction and Christian Ward have come up with a work that is thoroughly alien, shocking, and surreal.

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Lawrence Schick on “Dash and Daring Never Go Out of Style”

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Outlaw Angus Donald-smallLawrence Schick has posted an intriguing article on modern swashbucklers over at The Huffington Post.

I am a connoisseur of old swashbuckling stories, the kind of historical adventure tales that were arguably the western world’s most popular form of fiction in the hundred years from the publication of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe in 1820 to Johnston McCulley’s first Zorro novel in 1919… and I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to go back to the 19th century to find a thrilling swashbuckler. A strong story boldly told never truly goes out of fashion, and there are some excellent novelists working today whose stories hearken back to the old swashbucklers, but whose writing is thoroughly modern.

He points to several recent titles, including William Dietrich’s Ethan Gage books, and a sparkling new translation of Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. He also enthusiastically recommends the Outlaw Chronicles by British author Angus Donald:

The titular outlaw in the series is none other than Robin Hood, the original swashbuckler himself… The books in this series are fast-paced, the characters are memorable and well-drawn, and the dialogue is crisp and modern. But Donald’s Robin Hood isn’t Scott’s merry and chivalrous rogue, he’s a much more dangerous man: he’s a charismatic but ruthless renegade knight with a grudge against the aristocracy, and the author’s portrayal of the hard life of a band of medieval outlaws rings true…

The author has done his homework, and his depiction of the bloody work of combat in the 12th century is in equal parts thrilling and horrific. This is solid historical adventure that doesn’t shy away from the nasty realities of life in the Late Middle Ages: Donald tells it as it was.

Lawrence Schick’s most recent post for us was Compiling The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure. Read the complete article at The Huffington Post.

The Coolest RPGs I’ve Never Played

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 | Posted by James Maliszewski

jorune2eDungeons & Dragons was the first roleplaying game I encountered – 35 years ago this month, as it turns out – and, except for a stretch during the 1990s, when I foolishly cast it aside, it’s remained my favorite RPG ever since. Nevertheless, it was never my only roleplaying game. Indeed, once my friends and I had been bitten by the RPG bug, we soon tried our hands at pretty much any game we could find.

In those heady days, we played a lot of games, not merely because we had voracious appetites for all things roleplaying, but because there were so many RPGs from which to choose. From our perspective, it seemed as if there were new roleplaying games appearing on hobby store shelves every month, even if an examination of the timeline of RPG releases reveals otherwise. At any rate, there were certainly more games released than we could possibly afford to buy, let alone play. Consequently, after periods of experimentation, we tended to stick toa  handful of games that became our standbys. It was to these games that our hearts belonged and that we spent untold hours playing together.

That didn’t stop my eye from wandering. Over the years, there were a number of games I picked up simply because they looked cool – so cool, in fact, that I didn’t actually care whether or not I’d ever get the chance to play them with my friends. Nowadays, I tend to look askance at such behavior. I find something perverse in treating a game simply as reading material, which is why I’ve been slowly paring down my collection only to those games I actively play or am likely to play in the foreseeable future.

And yet, hypocrite that I am, I’ve made a few exceptions over the years. My shelves are home to a handful of games I’ve never actually played (nor am I likely to), but that I keep around because I find them inspiring nonetheless. In my defense, each of the three games I discuss below is one that I’m not at all convinced can be played as written, at least not easily (a claim that will no doubt result in a flurry of comments from indignant middle-aged men regaling me with tales of their decades-long campaigns using one or more of these RPGs).

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New Treasures: Gifts for the One Who Comes After by Helen Marshall

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Gifts for the One Who Comes After-smallRecently I’ve talked at length (or “droned on and on,” as a few friendly readers have commented) about wandering through the Dealer’s Room at the World Fantasy Convention and discovering the splendid books produced by many of the most dynamic and exciting small press publishers in the industry, including  ValancourtHippocampus Press, Chizine, Prime Books, Taychon Press, and many more.

Of course, the Dealer’s Room isn’t the only way to discover fabulous new titles. Another is to talk to your fellow attendees and see what they recommend. Or you can attend the marvelous reading series put on by the convention. Or if you’re very lucky — as I was with Helen Marshall — you can do both. After hearing multiple rave review of her second collection, Gifts for the One Who Comes After, from panelists, authors, and fellow attendees, I was able to change my schedule  at the last minute and slip into Helen’s reading — where I was thoroughly delighted. I dashed down to the Dealer’s Room and bought her book immediately. She is a major new talent, and you should investigate her work as soon as possible. I know I am.

Ghost thumbs. Microscopic dogs. One very sad can of tomato soup.

Helen Marshall’s second fiction collection offers a series of twisted surrealities that explore the legacies we pass on to our children. A son seeks to reconnect with his father through a telescope that sees into the past. A young girl discovers what lies on the other side of her mother’s bellybutton. Death’s wife prepares herself for a very special funeral.

In Gifts for the One Who Comes After, Marshall delivers seventeen tales of love and loss shot through with a profound sense of wonder. Dazzling, disturbing, and deeply moving.

Gifts for the One Who Comes After was published by ChiZine Publications on September 16, 2014. It is 268 pages, priced at $16.99 in trade paperback, and $9.99 for the digital version. The cover art is by Erik Mohr.

November Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Whelp, it’s well into December and I’m only getting to the November roundup now. My apologies, and here goes.

oie_146527XTeMGO0FLast month, I promised I’d let you know about Fantasy Scroll #3. Despite its name and its side-of-a-van-worthy covers, the magazine continues to be mostly science fiction or non-heroic fantasy. When you buy something with a cover like the one to the left of this paragraph (<—), and you don’t get a lot of swordplay, demons, and wizards, you might feel like you bought a pig in a poke. Maybe they’ve got plans to mix things up a little more in the future. There are two S&S out of thirteen stories in Issue #3, but I’m definitely hoping for more per issue in the future.

That said, the magazine managed to get a Piers Anthony story, “Descant.” It’s a love story set to music about an intelligent king and princess. There are some awkward sentences and overall I found it a little boring. But it doesn’t have any puns, so it’s got that going for it.

James Beamon’s very funny “Orc Legal” is about the prison and courtroom travails of an orc named Anglewood. He’s been jailed pretty much for being an ex-evil henchman. He takes on the defense of a centaur charged with lewd behavior in order to finish the community service part of his sentence. No Atticus Finch, he uses any tool, from obfuscation to outright threats, to win his client’s acquittal. Beamon has a lot of fun with all the orc stereotypes, and gets a few well-deserved digs at snooty elves as well. I like a funny story that’s actually funny, and this one definitely is.

The First First Fire” by Alexander Monteagudo is a very short story. Ralo, the first man ever appointed First Fire — essentially the tribal wizard –is normally a peaceful man. But a caravan from his home, the village of Pempansie, has been attacked by slavers. While warriors defeated the slavers, everyone knows they’ll be back. This brief tale describes how the young magic user decides what to do in the face of the threat to his family and friends. There’s not much here, but I enjoyed it and would be happy enough to see more of the character.

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Keep Your Blaster Close: The Many Horrors of Outbreak: Deep Space

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Outbreak Deep Space-smallBeing at the Games Plus Fall Auction can be an exhilarating experience. Take my discovery of Outbreak: Deep Space, just as an example.

There I am, sitting in the second row of the auction on October 4th, ninety minutes into the auction, wondering if I’ve blown my budget already. I’ve just made the decision to add up my purchases when the auctioneer holds up a brand new copy of Outbreak: Deep Space and starts the bidding at $5.

What the heck is that?, I think. And then, I have no idea, but it looks fantastic.

I immediately hold up my bidding card. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one to be intrigued by this strange gaming artifact. About a dozen bidders have their cards in the air, and the auctioneer quickly runs the price up to ten bucks. This is how you get in trouble, I remind myself. Bidding like mad on a book when you have absolutely no idea what it is. 

But my card stays in the air. The bidding hits 15 bucks, then blows past it. The cards around me are starting to waver and drop.

This thing could be on sale at Amazon for $10. Just because you’ve never seen a copy doesn’t mean it’s hard to find.

But I keep my card in the air. It’s a sharp-looking and professional bound hardcover — my instincts tell me it’s going to cost a lot more than 10 bucks to track down a copy if I miss out on this one. And besides… there’s more going on now than just bargain hunting. It looks like a science fiction horror RPG, and a very professional one. I’m deeply curious and willing to pay more than $15 for the opportunity to find out what it is.

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