Chaotic and Lawful Alignments in Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

ThreeHeartsI’m willing to bet that Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions published in 1953 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (and Anderson’s close friend and frequent collaborator Gordon R. Dickson’s St. Dragon and the George, published likewise in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction at about the same time – later republished as The Dragon and the George) owes quite a bit to Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. And Anderson doesn’t disguise this, for he at least once overtly references Twain’s historical romance when he has his protagonist, Holger Carlsen (a “Carl” again!), unconvincingly scare away a band of barbarians by using his tobacco pipe to blow smoke out of his mouth. The work further encourages comparisons to Twain’s book through Holger’s use of other “Enlightenment” tricks in a secondary world, and Anderson uses bookends reminiscent of Twain’s. Anderson’s bookends here are worth a closer look.

Holger Carlsen’s history, as relayed by an unspecified narrator, funhouse-mirrors Anderson’s personal history. In a book profiling Supernatural Fiction Writers, Ronald Tweet reports that Anderson was born to Danish parents and lived in Denmark for a while previous to WWII. Holger of Three Hearts and Three Lions is a Dane who, after wandering Europe, starts attending an Eastern university in the U.S. When WWII breaks out, he goes back to Denmark, where, through fairly compressed and elliptical telling, the narrator says that Holger eventually ends up in a pistol fight with Germans. At this point, “all his world [blows] up in flame and darkness.” And Holger finds himself in a fantasy world.

In light of Anderson’s own biographical information, one is tempted to believe that much of this work is the result of a highly personal fantasy, a kind of daydream out of which many fantasies certainly must arise. I’m sure that most of us have fantasized about being an important person in an important place – If only we could get there, somehow!

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Second-hand Magic, Part II

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Magic ShopLast week, I wrote here about the Avram Davidson–edited 1983 anthology Magic For Sale. I looked at the book’s fifteen stories, and tried to think about the nature of tales about magic stores. I thought I saw a few patterns. And then my girlfriend pointed out that she owned another anthology about magic stores: 2004’s The Magic Shop, edited by Denise Little. Having now read that book, I think it makes for an interesting contrast with Davidson’s collection.

The two anthologies have some very obvious differences. Davidson’s was published in 1983 and drew on stories from across 85 years, meaning he could select from a murderer’s row of classic sf and fantasy writers: Sturgeon, Leiber, Ellison, Yolen, Bester, Wells, Davidson himself, and many others. Little’s collection was published in 2004, and the stories were all written for that book. And you can’t help but notice that while Magic For Sale had only one woman contributor (and one female lead), 11 out of 15 writers in The Magic Shop are women.

I didn’t think there was much to choose from between the two books, on the whole, though I thought more of the humour in The Magic Shop worked. But for the moment I’m less interested in quality and more in characteristics. How did things change over time? Or did they? I thought some things are very different from book to book, some much the same, and — this was the surprising bit to me — some things only became obvious to me when I read the two books together.

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Unbound: Flipping the Pages of Reality

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

UnboundFor those of us who love books, they are often like windows into their own vibrant, living worlds. The idea that these stories contain a magical power to transport the reader to a new world, not merely figuratively but also literally, has shown up before, perhaps most prominently in The Neverending Story. In recent years, the idea of storybook worlds being tied to our own have become the driving force behind the popular television series Once Upon a Time. And, of course, many magical systems throughout fantasy literature have involved words of power.

Jim C. Hines has contributed one of the most intriguing interpretations on this theme in his Magic Ex Libris series. The first two books, Libriomancer and Codex Born, have been previously reviewed by our very own Alana Joli Abbott, but here’s the quick recap:

Isaac Vainio is a libriomancer, a magician with the ability to tap into the magic of books, drawing objects from them into the real world. His particular interest is science fiction and fantasy, allowing him to manifest anything from a lightsaber to a laser assault rifle to healing potions.

Magic has its limits, though. Isaac, with more skill and tenacity than common sense, has pushed beyond those limits more than most other libriomancers. So much so that he has come directly into contact with a dark presence that exists within books, a consciousness called the devourers, which has existed on the periphery of magic for centuries.

The third book, Unbound (Amazon), brings this conflict between the libriomancers and the devourers to a head. Isaac begins the book at about the lowest point imaginable. Not to give away too many spoilers from the end of Codex Born, but Isaac has no access to his magic and has been ostracized from the Porters, the magical society founded and led by the near-immortal sorcerer Johannes Gutenberg. (Yes, that Johannes Gutenberg. Like John O’Neill, reading keeps him young.) But this doesn’t prevent him from trying to hunt down more information about the devourers.

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Future Treasures: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Nine, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Nine-smallJonathan Strahan’s The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year has been at new publisher Solaris for two years now, and things seem to be tickety boo. Which is great, since I really look forward to this volume every year, and I don’t need any additional stress and uncertainty in my life. I get enough of that worrying about whether Community is going to get canceled again.

Strahan has crammed 28 stories into his latest anthology, which may be a record, I dunno. How am I gonna find time to read them all? Man, I desperately need a day planner. And a couple of personal assistants who don’t complain when I send them for coffee.

In any case, authors this year include Garth Nix, Kelly Link, Ellen Klages (twice!), James Patrick Kelly, Joe Abercrombie, Paolo Bacigalupi, Eleanor Arnason, Genevieve Valentine, Michael Swanwick, Ken Liu, Amal El-Mohtar, Greg Egan, and over a dozen others. Strahan released the complete table of contents on his blog last month, and it looks fantastic:

1. “Tough Times All Over” Joe Abercrombie
2. “The Scrivener” Eleanor Arnason
3. “Moriabe’s Children” Paolo Bacigalupi
4. “Covenant” Elizabeth Bear
5. “Slipping” Lauren Beukes
6. “Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (The Successful Kind)” Holly Black
7. “Shadow Flock” Greg Egan
8. “The Truth About Owls” Amal El-Mohtar

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From Poul Anderson’s Vault of the Ages to the End of All Things

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

VaultoftheAgesEven though this survey seeks to showcase, specifically, Anderson’s fantasy works, I want to begin with what may be argued to be his first novel: Vault of the Ages.  It moreover wouldn’t be all that hard to argue that this work is fantasy, anyway. Perhaps it’s historical fantasy – a kind that anachronistically depicts a medieval northern tribal culture in the future. It’s undeniably post-apocalyptic, and many of these works are not only fantasy but escapist fantasy at that. Who hasn’t been locked into a frustrating, mind-numbing job – a stereotypical office job, for instance – and thought, “If only I had some real problems with which to deal with right now, like zombies, or road warriors, or radioactive mutants”? Who hasn’t secretly yearned for the chance to see what they truly are capable of, to pit their meager store of talents against all that the dangerous world might offer, and who hasn’t secretly concluded that they would do just fine – they would just have to get a gun, of course, and stockpile some food – and take out that weirdo next door, first thing!

Not only would I classify Anderson’s first novel as belonging to the species of post-apocalyptic literature, but I’d also call it mundane science fiction, because none of the science in here is extrapolative. In fact, it can be argued that there is no “science” here at all, because the gist of the science is the salvage of iron, to be hammered into common swords and shields, out of radioactive cities. And gunpowder which is hidden in the – you guessed it – Vault of the Ages.

I also might classify this as a boy’s novel, because it begins with an overly informational account of actual time capsules in Atlanta, Georgia and in New York City. It’s hard to see what purpose this introduction might serve other than didacticism, and this consequently suggests an audience that often is perceived to be in need of didacticism. Moreover, the main characters are routinely called “boys,” which, intentionally or not, because of the way in which these characters gleefully and energetically hurl themselves into very scary, very potentially fatal situations, lends this work the character of an adventure novel aimed at Boy Scouts. In other words, for me, this book is short in emotional realism. We shall have to talk about Viking age perspectives in time, but even taking this into account, the boys’ worldviews and actions seem wantonly cavalier.

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Fantastic Universe, September 1959: A Retro-Review

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Fantastic Universe September 1959-smallHere is probably one of the less-remembered digest SF magazines of the 1950s. Fantastic Universe was founded in 1953 and lasted until 1960, publishing 71 issues overall… it was a bimonthly briefly then a monthly until its demise (with a missed issue or two along the way). Thus it survived the collapse of the pulps in about 1955, and the American News Company disaster in 1957 or so, and even Sputnik. That’s not a bad run, all things considered.

But what does historian of the field Mike Ashley say of it (in Tymn/Ashley, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Weird Fiction Magazines):

Fantastic Universe was born at the height of the SF magazine boom in 1953, and perhaps the most surprising fact about it was that it survived the boom and appeared regularly throughout the rest of the 1950s.  Because if FU had any distinguishing feature it was its remarkable lack of memorable or meritorious fiction.

Ouch!

Alas, a skim through the TOCs of its run supports that notion: the most memorable stories were perhaps “Short in the Chest,” by “Idris Seabright” (Margaret St. Clair); “The Large Ant,” by Howard Fast; “Be My Guest,” by Damon Knight; and Robert Silverberg’s “Road to Nightfall.”

Add a couple of stories more famous for either their novel expansion, or the movie version: Algis Budrys’ “Who?” and Philip K. Dick’s “Minority Report,” and a couple decent but minor stories each by Poul Anderson and Jack Vance, oh, and say Walter Miller’s “The Hoofer” and Avram Davidson’s “The Bounty Hunter.” There was a short Borges story in translation as well (before Borges was all that well known in the US). Not all that much to show for 71 issues: even these stories I mention are solid works but not their authors at their very best.

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Destination Barsoom, Nehwon, Narnia: A Few Thoughts in Defense of Escapism

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 | Posted by Nick Ozment

wardrobe

The wardrobe that inspired C.S. Lewis. Collection of Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College.

I memorized all of John Carter and Tarzan, and sat on my grandparents’ front lawn repeating the stories to anyone who would sit and listen. I would go out to that lawn on summer nights and reach up to the red light of Mars and say, “Take me home!” I yearned to fly away and land there in the strange dusts that blew over dead-sea bottoms toward the ancient cities. — Ray Bradbury (“Take Me Home,” The New Yorker June 4, 2012)

A couple weeks ago, friend and fellow Black Gate blogger Gabe Dybing texted me with a proposition. “Read chapter one of Maker of Universes,” he typed, “and if you’re interested let’s talk about doing a survey of the series together.”

World of Tiers is probably Philip José Farmer’s most renowned series next to Riverworld, which I read a few years back. Currently I’m reading the Dungeon books, a shared-author series of six novels set in another world created by Farmer. Did I want to add this to my plate? Gabe piqued my interest by noting that the protagonist is an older English professor, somewhat disillusioned, who wants to escape — a character with whom we would feel some personal sympathies.

And so I read the first chapter, and the survey is on. In coming weeks we will be reviewing the books together — interspersed, I’m sure, with Gabe’s own Wednesday survey of the fantasy works of Poul Anderson and my own eclectic ranging far and wide across the spec-fic landscape.

But before we begin that undertaking, here is a prologue of sorts, a few thoughts I jotted down after reading the first chapter of Maker of Universes (1965). My thoughts, you will see, apply broadly to all “escapist” fiction…

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Book Tour Tips for (Self-Published) Authors

Monday, February 16th, 2015 | Posted by Patty Templeton

book tourMy adventure begins sixteen tons of sundowns ago… maybe say, November-ish, when the Clarendon Hills Public Library in Illinois asked me to be a featured reader at their No-Shush Salon. They wanted an author for early 2015. My first response (which I thankfully didn’t send) was no. Grateful that they thought of me, but no way. Who can afford to travel 5 hours one-way for one reading?

And then, THEN! In a cosmic crapshoot of hell yeah, another Chicago reading series, Tuesday Funk, contacted me. They wanted me for a reading several days after No-Shush.

When the universe shimmies at you, you wink back. I said yes to both.

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Second-hand Magic, Part I

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Magic For SaleAt a science fiction book sale not too long ago, I picked up an anthology from 1983 called Magic For Sale. There was something irresistibly appropriate in buying the book second-hand: edited by Avram Davidson, it’s a collection of stories for the most part precisely about the magic that lies within the second-hand. About purchasable goods with something in them beyond cost and explanation. About shoppers who find more than they expected. About supernatural bargains, each with its own twist.

Mostly. It’s actually difficult to find a plot description that fits all the stories in the book. Many involve strange old shops (that may or may not be present when a shopper returns), but many don’t. Most involve somebody buying something, but several are about decisions not to buy, or even simply about a customer escaping a shop more-or-less intact. Virtually all involve magic, except one or two that are, at least superficially, science fiction. So in some ways it’s quite a mixed bag.

And then again, in other ways it isn’t. Tonally, the stories feel quite similar, which might be a function of Davidson’s tastes as editor. But it’s interesting to wonder how much the similarity has to do with the nature of the book’s theme: the moment of transaction, the buying (or not) of the odd and dangerous. The way that the unnatural enters everyday life. Often, in horror and dark fantasy, critics like to talk about the “irruption” of the supernatural into the real; but the relevant definitions of irrupt have to do with something breaking in by force, and that’s exactly what doesn’t happen here, in most cases. Mostly, these stories are about making deals, and whether a character chooses to accept the deal they’re given, and what happens as a result. Mostly. One way or another, certain themes tend to emerge.

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Poul Anderson and the Northern Mythic Tradition: An Introduction

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

WaroftheGodsI first met Poul Anderson in the little, northern-Iowa town of Decorah, which is fitting, because Decorah has a very large Scandinavian population and takes evident pride in its Scandinavian heritage.

Only in a figurative sense, alas, do I say that I met Poul Anderson. Though, in the time in which I first read War of the Gods, there had been the slightest possibility that I might have met him, for Wikipedia reports that Anderson passed away on July 31, 2001, and the time in which I first became aware of his work was in 2001.

I read War of the Gods because of Dag Rossman (a professor at Luther College and a fellow fantasist likewise inspired by the Nordic mythic tradition) and a fantasy book club that he hosted. I didn’t stay with the club long, because I had to drive across the Minnesota-Iowa border from Lanesboro on back roads that were cold, desolate, and perilous during the winter months, and I had young children at the time, and sitters were always difficult to find – particularly because I was spending most of my money on publishing, with Nick Ozment, Mooreeffoc Magazine. Getting introduced to War of the Gods was the chief experience I took away from that book club – that and a copy of Tim Powers’s Expiration Date, which I always meant to return to the lender. Sorry, guy, if you happen to find me here.

War of the Gods struck me like a hammer-bolt out of the sky. How did I not know, I asked myself, that this book existed? Such is the way of many discoveries. Because, as I cast my memory back over the years, I realize that I should have known. I remembered a too-tall-for-his-age, very blonde, and (to my eyes, at least) somewhat ungainly kid whom I often had regarded with curiosity from afar. This was because I had noted, as so many in our tribe are astute at noting – particularly in those days when geek culture had not yet gone mainstream – that this guy read comic books and fantasy novels and science fiction novels. But I realized that I had no means with which to start a conversation with him, because he wasn’t reading what I was reading. Moreover, this kid’s first name was Poul. Perhaps because of his unusual name, perhaps because of his size, this kid, when I spied him from afar, was always solitary, and perhaps he preferred it that way. But he certainly seemed reasonable and social enough when I finally spoke to him, having come across him in the wilds of Eden Prairie (the parking lot of Lund’s grocery store may very well be “wild,” in the suburbs). Poul told me that Poul Anderson’s novels were awesome, that I should read them, that they were about Vikings and Norse mythology. He also said that I should be reading Walter Simonson’s Thor comics for Marvel, incidentally.

And then I never spoke to him again. And, unfortunately, I never took his recommendations.

Until much later, of course. Now, obviously, both of these oversights have been remedied.

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