Tell Me Why

Monday, March 30th, 2015 | Posted by Thomas Parker

The Dark Tower The Gunslinger-smallSomeone please tell me. Why? Why do we do this to ourselves, we devotees of science fiction, horror, and (especially) fantasy? What did we do to deserve this? What crime did we commit in some previous existence that we now have to expiate with such bitter tears? Judge, I deserve to know! I demand answers!

But… I see that you too have questions, like, “What the hell are you talking about?”

Let me explain. I just finished The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King. Seduced by the very cool Michael Whelan cover, I bought this damn thing in 1988 when it first came out and this week I figured it was finally time to read it.

There can be no rational explanation for my behavior, as the book is only the first of seven volumes that King wrote to tell this story (not counting a standalone book that he added after the main sequence was finished), and of course (of course!) they get longer and longer. This one was not much over 200 pages, but apparently King soon shook off his delirium and said “What am I doing? I’m STEPHEN FLIPPING KING!!!” and the succeeding volumes rapidly ballooned to 600 pages, 700… until the final book, 2004′s The Dark Tower, tipped the scales at almost 1,100 pages.

Considering that I’m still waiting on George Martin to put up or shut up before death (his or mine) intervenes, and finish A Song of Ice and Fire, vindicating all of us who’ve already hacked our way through over 4,000 pages of that cursed tale, starting another ambitious, multivolume phonebook series is sheer, unadulterated insanity.

Why? WHY?! Why do we do this to ourselves? People who read westerns or mysteries know no such madness. Oh, they have series all right, but not like we do. Manacling ourselves to extended epics that take up half their writers’ and readers’ lives, built out of mile-high stacks of ever-expanding, elephantine tomes – this seems to be the particular curse of fantastic fiction readers. (I won’t even go into the fact that the 1988 edition I read has been rendered obsolete by a revised edition that King published in 2003; it took him so long to write the sequence that he felt the style of the first book didn’t fit with the rest any more. Thanks Steve, but by God, this is the one I paid my $10.95 for twenty seven years ago, and this is the one I’m reading!)

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What Really Happened at the First Siege of Orleans? And, Where Does Dark Age History Come From?

Saturday, March 28th, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

Copy of Final Cover

I borrowed a trick from Bernard Cornwell and plunged my hero into the thick of all the epic battles.

When I was writing Shieldwall: Barbarians! I borrowed a trick from Bernard Cornwell and plunge my hero into the thick of all the epic battles. That’s how Prince Hengest and his Jutes ended up at the Siege of Orleans.

No, not the Battle of New Orleans. And not the one with the Maid in it either.

This one was much much earlier – AD451 – when Orleans was Aurelianum. There was however a hero in a dress, if that’s an appropriate way of referring to a bishop’s vestments.

Here’s what happened:

King Attila with perhaps 100,000 Huns, Lombards, Gepids, Ostrogoths, renegade Romans and other riffraff pushed through the patchwork remnants of Roman Gaul, knocking over cities for supplies, until he reached Orleans.

Then he went away again.

Oh, was that anticlimactic?

You want to know the detail of what happened?

Hah! Sorry, the Dark Ages should really be called the “Historiographically Challenged Period”, meaning the ages are “dark” because we have difficulty seeing what was going on.

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New Treasures: Clarkesworld: Year Seven, edited by Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Clarkesworld Year Seven-smallThese annual Clarkesworld anthologies are a tremendous bargain. The individual magazines are $3.99 each, but these volumes collect all the original fiction for a full 12 months in a handsome package for just $16.99.

If you haven’t tried Clarkesworld, you’re missing out on one of the most vibrant and celebrated SF and fantasy magazines on the market. It is a three-time winner of the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine, and in 2013 it received more Hugo nominations for short fiction than all the leading print magazines (Asimov’s, Analog, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) combined. Last November the magazine was awarded a World Fantasy Award.

Clarkesworld Year Seven collects original fiction from many of the most exciting writers on the market, including Genevieve Valentine, Aliette de Bodard, James Patrick Kelly, E. Catherine Tobler, E. Lily Yu, and many others.

The book also serves as a fund-raiser for the magazine, and every purchase helps support one of the finest magazines out there.

This year’s edition contains a whopping 36 stories. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Vintage Treasures: Not Without Sorcery by Theodore Sturgeon

Saturday, March 21st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Not Without Sorcery 1961-small Not Without Sorcery-small

Theodore Sturgeon’s first short story collection was Without Sorcery, a handsome hardcover published in 1948 with an introduction by Ray Bradbury. As you can imagine, it’s a tough book to find these days, even for collectors.

The paperback edition, released 13 long years later, dropped five stories and the introduction, and was re-titled Not Without Sorcery. It became Sturgeon’s tenth collection and was released in two editions, from Ballantine (in 1961, with a rather drab cover by an unknown artist) and Del Rey (in 1975, with a far more interesting cover from artist Darrell K. Sweet.) 1975 was the last time the book saw a mass market edition; it remained out of print for 35 years, until Kessinger Publishing did a facsimile reprint edition in 2010.

Sturgeon was a Campbell writer through and through, and all eight stories in Not Without Sorcery appeared in the two pulp magazines John W. Campbell edited: Astounding Science Fiction, and its sister magazine Unknown Worlds. The stories were published over a two-year period, 1939-1941. I’ve assembled some of the original covers below, because I can never resist an excuse to showcase pulp magazines.

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Amazing Stories, August 1967: A Retro-Review

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories August 1967-smallI have recently covered a lot of issues of Amazing (and Fantastic) from the Cele Goldsmith/Lalli era, which extended (officially) from December 1958 through June 1965. The two magazines were then sold to Ultimate Publishing, owned by Sol Cohen. Cohen (and managing editor Joseph Ross) immediately instituted a policy of publishing mostly reprints of stories previously published in Amazing/Fantastic, which lasted until Ted White took over in 1969. (White’s issues still featured reprints for a while, but by the time I was buying the magazine (in 1974) the cover would proclaim “All Stories New – No Reprints.”)

Joseph Ross (and Cohen) were briefly succeeded as editor by Harry Harrison and then by Barry Malzberg, both of whom (as I understand) resisted Cohen’s reprint policy. To make things worse, Cohen refused to pay the authors for reprinted stories (technically legal under the terms Amazing had originally bought the stories under). The then new organization SFWA took exception, and threatened a boycott, after which, I believe, Cohen agree to pay at least a nominal fee.

After Amazing and Fantastic stopped publishing reprints (and even before), Ultimate published a variety of dreadful magazines with different titles like Great Science Fiction Stories, and Thrilling Science Fiction, that were all reprint. (Again, all from inventory owned by Ultimate.)

I remember buying one early in my reading career – I thought I had found a brand new SF magazine, and was crushed to realize it was all mostly shoddy reprints. (There was a decent John Campbell story, probably “Uncertainty,” which appeared in the July 1974 Science Fiction Adventure Classics.)

Anyway, I happened to buy one of the Cohen/Ross era Amazings, mainly because it has a rather obscure Jack Vance story that I had not read. And I figured it would be interesting to compare it to Lalli’s Amazing. What is interesting is that, viewed objectively and ignoring the fact that most of the stories are reprints, this is quite a good issue, with at least one very fine story that has been largely forgotten.

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Vintage Treasures: Book of the Isle by Nancy Springer

Friday, March 13th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The White Hart-small The Silver Sun-small The Sable Moon-small

I have to admit that I was always confused by this series. For several decades, to be perfectly honest.

The problem was that I could never quite figure out what order the books were meant to be read in — or even how many there were. I never did sort it out it on my own… in my first draft of this article, I arranged them in the wrong order, and I was convinced I was missing a volume. (I wasn’t.) I eventually had to turn to ISFDB and Wikipedia to get a definitive answer.

Anyway, the end result was that I never read them, despite having the entire series on my shelves (filed in the wrong order) for over 30 years. I guess it’s true what they say: books are like pretty girls… if they make you feel awkward and stupid, you rarely ask them out.

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An Astounding Science Fiction Testimonial

Friday, March 13th, 2015 | Posted by John Boston

Astounding Science Fiction February 1958-smallI started reading Astounding with the February 1958 issue. 1958 was the last good year under editor John W. Campbell.

Consider the short fiction:

L. Sprague de Camp’s “Aristotle and the Gun”
Charles V. de Vet and Katherine MacLean’s “Second Game”
Fritz Leiber’s “Try and Change the Past”
Jack Vance’s “The Miracle Workers”
Clifford D. Simak’s “The Big Front Yard”
Rog Phillips’s “The Yellow Pill”
Katherine MacLean’s “Unhuman Sacrifice”
J.F. Bone’s “Triggerman”

(Also Randall Garrett’s “The Queen Bee,” but we won’t think about that right now.)

The serials: two substantial ones by Poul Anderson, “The Man Who Counts” (a/k/a War of the Wing Men) and “We Have Fed Our Sea” (a/k/a The Enemy Stars), Hal Clement’s admirable if clumsy Close to Critical, and another Anderson, very lightweight but appealing to a 10-year-old, “A Bicycle Built for Brew” (The Makeshift Rocket).

Then the bottom dropped out. The only short fiction in 1959 on a level with the 1958 items cited were Ralph Williams’ “Cat and Mouse,” Chad Oliver’s “Transfusion,” A. Bertram Chandler’s “Familiar Pattern” (undeservedly obscure), and Theodore L. Thomas’s “Day of Succession” — and that’s being generous.

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Representations of the Amazon in Poul Anderson’s Virgin Planet and in DC’s Wonder Woman

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

Legolas_portrait_-_EmpireMagBut first, I’d like to ask readers a very important question:

Do Tolkien’s Elves have pointy ears?

This came up after my last post, in which I wondered why Anderson and Tolkien (and many other fantasy writers) agree that elves are tall and have pointy ears. After reading this, Frederic S. Durbin contacted me to say,

Does Tolkien ever say that the elves have pointed ears? To my knowledge, he never does. Please correct me if I’m wrong! This is a bone I had to pick a few years back, when some writer somewhere described hobbits as having “hairy toes and pointed ears.” I think this misconception about Tolkien’s elves and hobbits has come from artwork. Artists need to have a way of making magical races look different from humans, so they go for the ears. We need Spock to look different from humans in a cheap and easily-reproducible way from day to day in the studio, so we give him pointed ears. People have been seeing illustrations of pointy-eared elves and hobbits for so long that they’ve begun to believe Tolkien described them that way. I don’t think it’s true. (Again, I’m willing to stand corrected if someone shows me a passage!)

So there you have it, folks! Please help! Is there a passage anywhere in Tolkien’s writings that suggest that Elves (or even Hobbits) have pointy ears?

And now let’s turn our attention to Poul Anderson’s Virgin Planet.

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Adventures In History: George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman

Monday, March 9th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

First FlashmanA few months back, I was (ever so gently) castigated for not giving proper credit to the screenwriter of the Michael York / Oliver Reed rendition of The Three Musketeers. That man was George MacDonald Fraser, he who wrote the Flashman books, a series into which I had never delved.

That has now been corrected, and just in time, too: no lesser a light than Ridley Scott (Alien; Blade Runner) is developing a reboot of Flashman with 20th Century Fox. As the fool on the hill once opined, everything old is new.

So let’s set aside fantasy for just a moment and allow for historical action-adventure as a sideline of the vast cultural behemoth that is now Black Gate. Swords, after all, form a big part of heroic fantasy, and in Flashman (first published in 1969, never out of print), swords of many types are on display and put to use. Lances, too. Plus primitive rifles, dueling pistols, and cannons.

The only thing missing? The heroism of our anti-hero, Harry Paget Flashman. He’s a survivor, and an accurate judge of other people’s character and abilities, but beyond that, he’s the very definition of reprehensible. He’s a cad, a coward, and an unrepentant racist; he’s treacherous, larcenous, and vindictive besides. Let’s leave off his appalling treatment of women, at least for now, and accept him for what he’s best at: looking sharp in military regalia. Ah, if only looks could kill…

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Lawrence Schick Expands on the Origins of TSR’s The Known World

Sunday, March 8th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Gods Demi-Gods & Heroes-smallThe “Known World” D&D Setting: A Secret History,” Lawrence Schick’s fascinating look behind the scenes at the home-grown adventure world that eventually became TSR’s famed Known World campaign setting, one of the earliest published settings for Dungeons and Dragons, was our most popular article last month, read by thousands of old school gamers.

Interest in the piece continues to be high and last week James Mishler, who painstakingly produced color versions of Lawrence’s original hand-drawn maps, conducted a detailed Q&A with Lawrence on his blog, Adventures in Gaming V2. The questions range from how much inspiration Tom Moldvay and Lawrence drew from the original D&D supplement Gods, Demigods & Heroes for their pantheon, to the influence of Lin Carter and Michael Moorcock. Here’s a snippet.

You mentioned an “ancient, pre-human civilization.” Do you recall any details about this? Related, do you recall if Tom Moldvay’s creation, the Carnifex of M3: Twilight Calling, were based on the Dragon Kings from Lin Carter’s Thongor series?

The pre-human civilizations were misty, with contradictory legends about them. Tom’s Carnifex were not based on Carter’s Dragon Kings, IIRC. (Neither of us thought very highly of the Thongor novels, though we admired Carter’s work as an editor.)

The influences from Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith are fairly obvious. But what, if any influence of Moorcock can be found in the Original Known World? Were the alignments of the OKW strongly in the Moorcock tradition?

We weren’t all that big on alignment, actually — it seemed to us, even then, to be an oversimplification that was more restrictive than it was useful. Moorcock’s real influence on us was the example of his anti-heroes, which freed us up to put moral choices in the hands of the players, rather than hard-wiring the world into good vs. evil.

Read the complete Q&A here.

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