AD&D Figurines: Youth In a Box?

Monday, December 15th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

DSC04791A few weeks back, a friend (quite unexpectedly) handed me the boxed set of AD&D miniatures pictured at right. I say “unexpectedly” because so far as I know, this friend had no idea that I ever played D&D. Nor were the figures intended for me; the note she enclosed made it clear the box was for my fourteen-year-old son, “just in case.”

My son was marginally interested, but not seriously so. I, however, was kind of downright sorta hypnotized.

Confession: I never gravitated to miniatures. My twin objections were, first, that the figures never, ever looked the way I pictured either my characters or those of my fellow gamers, and second, they were small enough that painting them to my own exacting standards was next to impossible.

I had Testor’s model paint, of course (most boys I knew in the late seventies and early eighties did), so accessing a mouth-watering color palette wasn’t the issue.

Application, however: yipes!

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Vintage Treasures: Gateway to Elsewhere by Murray Leinster / The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. van Vogt

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Gateway to Elsewhere-small The Weapon Shops of Isher-small

And now we come to one of my favorite Ace Doubles: Murray Leinster’s Arabian Nights fantasy Gateway to Elsewhere, paired with the classic science fiction novel The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. van Vogt.

Of the two, Gateway to Elsewhere is significantly lesser known. It was Leinster’s first fantasy novel, although he’d previously published two SF novels, The Murder of the U.S.A. (as Will F. Jenkins, in 1946) and The Black Galaxy (in Startling, March 1949). Gateway to Elsewhere originally appeared in a two-part serial in the seventh issue of the small circulation digest Fantasy Book in 1950/51 under the title Journey to Barkut. The entire novel was reprinted in the January 1952 issue of Startling Stories, still under the title Journey to Barkut, with a handsome cover by Earle Bergey (see below).

Two years later, it appeared as half of Ace Double D-53, with the new title Gateway to Elsewhere, and a splendid cover by Harry Barton.

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Vintage Treasures: The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick / Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Cosmic Puppets-smallWe’re back to looking at Ace Doubles.

This month, I have a special treat for you. A 1957 pairing of two major science fiction writers, both early in their careers, which resulted in a very collectible paperback: The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick, published back-to-back with Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton.

Let’s start with The Cosmic Puppets because, while Dick was never as popular as Andre Norton while he was alive, over the past three decades his fame has grown steadily, to the point where he’s now considered one of the most important SF writers of the 20th Century. The Cosmic Puppets was his fifth novel, and appeared here for the first time (in this form, anyway). While Sargasso of Space is a popular and important SF novel — for reasons I’ll get to shortly — The Cosmic Puppets is the primary reason this paperback commands real interest among collectors.

The Cosmic Puppets is a tale of alien invasion… although, as usual for Dick, it disregards most of the typical conventions of an alien invasion story. Some readers consider it Dick’s most approachable novel (although that doesn’t mean you won’t close the book with a lot of questions.) It’s also the Dick novel that skirts closest to pure fantasy.

The novel opens almost like a Twilight Zone episode, as our protagonist returns to his home town, only to discover that the inhabitants have no memory of him at all. Here’s the summary from the 1957 Ace edition.

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Somalia’s Forgotten Past: The Prehistoric Painted Caves of Somaliland

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

DSC_1188

When we think of Somalia, we usually think of the endless civil war and the rise of the militant Islamist group Al-Shabab. That’s all that gets in the news, after all. But Somalia has a rich past that’s been all but forgotten thanks to its sad present. Back in 2012, I went in search of it.

I visited Somaliland, an independent state that makes up the northern third of the former Somalia. While it remains unrecognized by any other nation, it has established a viable government with free and fair elections, a growing economy, and the rule of law. Visiting Somaliland gives outsiders a chance to get to know Somali culture and see some of the best prehistoric painted caves in Africa.

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See Westeros the Way George R.R. Martin Intended in The World of Ice & Fire

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Dragonstone

Dragonstone

If you’ve been watching HBO’s Game of Thrones, then you’ve already been treated to some spectacular sights.

It seems George R.R. Martin is not content to let HBO be the final word on the visual splendor of Westeros, however. His new book The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones, released this week, gives Game of Thrones fans the chance to see visions of Martin’s world that are much closer to what he intended.

In an interview at The Huffington Post, Martin explains why there are so many pictures of castles:

I wanted accurate versions of these castles. We’ve had a number of different artists draw them on covers and on the fantasy like cards and games, and some of them have been beautiful images but not necessarily accurate to what I described.

The World of Ice & Fire, co-authored with Elio M. García, Jr. and Linda Antonsson, who run the site Westeros.org, isn’t just an art book, however. It’s a comprehensive history of the Seven Kingdoms — all the battles, betrayals, and back-room deals that lead to the events of Martin’s novels. It includes full family trees for Houses Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen; detailed histories of the cultures of Westeros; and more than 170 pieces of original art and maps, many in full-color.

See five high-resolution images from the book at The Huffington Post article here. The World of Ice & Fire was published on October 28 by Bantam Books. It is 336 pages, priced at $50 in hardcover and $19.99 for the digital edition.


Robert Silverberg on Cannon Propulsion in Space

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Original Science Fiction Stories February 1959-smallIn my Sunday article on The Art of The Original Science Fiction Stories magazine, I called out the bizarrely goofy February 1959 cover (right), illustrating “Delivery Guaranteed” by Calvin M. Knox (Robert Silverberg). It’s the kind of gonzo image that only could have fit on a 1950s science fiction digest; but I was dying to know if Bob’s story actually had an intrepid couple piloting a cannon-powered wooden raft in space, and how the cover came about. Bob was gracious enough to answer; here’s what he said:

I often worked with Ed Emsh to produce cover/cover story combos for [editor Robert] Lowndes. Ed would come into the office with an idea, I would wrap a plot around it, Ed would go home and paint a picture, and I would write the story. It was Ed who thought a cannon might be sufficiently Newtonian to provide reaction mass in space; I agreed in delight, and that was how “Delivery Guaranteed” happened. (Randall Garrett sometimes wrote cover stories too, and one time Ed turned in a painting showing the drive room of a spaceship, with his signature, EMSH, on the base of the biggest gizmo. Randy promptly dubbed the gizmo “the Remshaw Drive” and made it clear that the four visible letters were part of the manufacturer’s label.)

I also asked about the cover of the November 1955 issue, illustrating Clifford D. Simak’s “Full Cycle,” which was re-used on the March 1959 issue of Double-Action Detective and Mystery Stories. (See the full article for details.)

In the case of the Simak/Silverberg story, Bob Lowndes was just being thrifty toward the end of the life of his magazine group, and recycled that Simak painting to use with my story in his crime mag a couple of years later.

Read the complete article here. And thanks to Robert Silverberg for being gracious enough to solve those mysteries for us!


Alien Quakes, Space Birds, and Door-to-Door Salesmen in Space: The Art of The Original Science Fiction Stories

Sunday, October 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Original Science Fiction Stories May 1956-small The Original Science Fiction Stories January 1957-small The Original Science Fiction Stories November 1958-small

I recently bought a small collection of The Original Science Fiction Stories, a 1950s digest magazine that lasted for only 36 issues. I paid $18 for a dozen issues (including shipping), which was more than I usually pay for SF digests — but still a bargain, especially considering the great shape they were in. I was willing to pay a little more because I’ve had a hard time finding copies. Analog, Galaxy, F&SF — they’re all pretty easy to obtain in the same vintage. But Original Science Fiction Stories has done a good job of eluding me.

When they finally arrived, I was immediately struck by the cover art. It was vibrantly colorful and frequently gorgeous. But more than that, it was downright playful. Most SF magazines of the era took themselves very, very seriously, with intrepid, square-jawed explorers and sleek spaceships on their covers. But The Original Science Fiction Stories featured much more prosaic images, frequently showcasing less-than-heroic characters. They featured very ordinary-looking space pioneers reacting to an alien earthquake, a man on a remote planet hiding from a door-to-door salesmen, and a space-suited explorer dealing with an unexpected alien threat — a bird pecking at his air hose (all images above by Emsh).

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Vintage Treasures: The Horror Horn by E. F. Benson

Saturday, October 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Horror Horn E.F. Benson-smallIs Bruce Pennington the finest cover artist in publishing history?

Probably. I talked at length about my own interest in his art — and how we licensed two of his paintings as covers for Black Gate – in The Lost Art of Bruce Pennington. Over the years, I’ve collected much of his work and seen a great deal more online and in various art books, but from time to time I’m still surprised to see a previously undiscovered Pennington cover on a hard-to-find book (as I was with the Panther edition of Fritz Leiber’s Night Monsters back in January.)

So you can understand my delight last week when I stumbled upon The Horror Horn on eBay, a 1974 collection by British horror writer E. F. Benson. It had a marvelously macabre cover by Bruce that I’d never laid eyes on before. In fact, I didn’t even know this book existed. The bidding stood at 5 bucks, with less than two days to go.

Well, you know how reluctant I am to pay more than $8 – $10 for a paperback. It’s rare indeed that the patient collector has to pay more than that for anything. But this was an exception, and I submitted my bid for $14 and sat back to see what happened.

In the meantime, I did a little homework on E. F. Benson. We’ve never really mentioned Benson here before (although he’s popped up in horror collections from time to time, including Otto Penzler’s magnificent The Vampire Archives and Henry Mazzeo’s Hauntings: Tales of the Supernatural), and that’s probably an oversight.

Benson, who died in 1940, was an English novelist and short story writer, with 68 novels to his credit and 10 collections published in his lifetime. He was a frequent Weird Tales contributor and he also appeared regularly in British publications like Hutchinson’s Magazine and The Illustrated London News.

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Danger: Here There Be Dragons (and Clever Children!)

Monday, October 13th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

paperbagPossibly the most rambunctious children’s author out there is Robert Munsch, whose characters drive bus loads of pigs to school, vanish beneath layers of permanent markers, and scream in the bath with sufficient volume to summon the police.

All of his (uniformly excellent) picture books employ elements of fantasy, but only once, to my knowledge, did he and his regular collaborator, illustrator Michael Martchenko, depart entirely our real and rational world long enough to include that nemesis of humanity: the green-scaled, fire-breathing dragon.

Yes, it’s The Paper Bag Princess, one of the best kids’ books I know, rife with hilarious prose, ebullient artwork, and the pluckiest heroine this side of Dorothy Gale. Who says girls can’t have adventures?

The plot is a model of efficiency. Princess Elizabeth lives in a castle, and she’s got riches and a boyfriend, Roland, whom she expects to marry. Curly blonde Roland sports a crown and a tennis racket, and just to be sure we get the idea, Martchenko adds a butterfly cloud of hearts around Elizabeth’s smitten head.

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Art of the Genre: Photographs from a Long Lost Lake Geneva

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Cartographer Dennis Kauth wants a piece of Larry Elmore's beautiful mind!

Cartographer Dennis Kauth wants a piece of Larry Elmore’s beautiful mind!

Over the past four years, I’ve struck up a friendship with Nick Parkinson, son of the late fantasy and D&D artist Keith Parkinson. We both live in San Diego and it is always nice to share thoughts on the sweeping industry of games as a whole.

One thing very few people understand who look into fantasy art is that the bulk of all artists DO NOT play RPGs.  Of the ‘Big Four’ for TSR (Elmore, Easley, Parkinson, and Caldwell), only Keith actually played Dungeons & Dragons.

Todd Lockwood was a D&D player until he started working at TSR in the late 1990s and he often speaks about how the ‘magic was gone’ once he started actually designing the game. That is a subject I’ll look at another day, however, although it is intriguing.

Anyway, I’m getting a bit off target here, so let me refocus. Nick and I had a conversation where I was looking to acquire a few old character sheets from ‘famous’ players for an io9 article a friend was writing and he said he’d just seen some of his father’s old sheets when he’d moved a few months before.

A week later, I didn’t get the character sheets, but he did send over a nice grouping of old TSR photographs and I was very interested to see the ‘process’ of how these great creators worked together to make some of the famous images we all know and love.

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