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The Original Bug-Eyed Monster: Astounding Stories, May 1931

Sunday, July 13th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Astounding Stories May 1931-smallPulps are my weakness. I discovered them when I was just 12 years old, in Jacques Sadoul’s marvelous art book 2000 A.D. Illustrations From the Golden Age of Science Fiction Pulps (which I discussed back in May). That book sparked a lifetime interest in pulp magazines, where American science fiction was born.

Of course, I was too young to have purchased or read any pulp magazines myself in 1976. Pulps died out in the 1950s, killed off by wartime paper shortages and changing economics. So I’ve relied on the collector’s market to supply me with magazines — an expensive proposition, especially if you’re a completist.

Over the years I’ve gotten more discriminating in my collecting. I dearly love Planet Stories, Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, Thrilling Wonder, Unknown, Air Wonder Stories, and many other pulps. But my favorite is Astounding Stories (later Astounding Science Fiction), the magazine which — under legendary editor John W. Campbell — ushered in the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction, discovering Robert A. Heinlein, A.E. van Vogt, Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, and many, many others. Campbell became editor with the October 1937 issue, and he quickly transformed the entire field. 

Curiously, the most expensive and in-demand issues of Astounding aren’t from Campbell’s reign, however. They’re from its first three years, 1930-1933, the period known as the Clayton Astounding, when it was owned by Clayton Magazines. That’s their symbol, the little blue pennant, in the top right of the cover at left.

Very little fiction from the Clayton period is remembered today — and if you’ve never heard of the Clayton Astounding, you’re not missing much. The magazine’s early editors, like most of the American public, didn’t really understand science fiction, and mostly filled the magazine with thinly disguised westerns in space, and early space operas. But the covers… ah. They’re a very different story.

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Original Fantasy? In a Video Game? It’s About Time

Sunday, July 13th, 2014 | Posted by Connor Gormley

Dark Souls-smallThere he was; a sliver of midnight set against the deeper black of the room behind him. The Black Knight. When he moved, he moved with the easy lope of the master, the practised ease of the warrior. There was silence in the moonlit hall, silence save for the cold metallic chink of his armor and the hammering of my own heart.

He was twice my height, broad of shoulder and clad entirely in black armor. A sword, five feet in length, gleamed in his right hand. He didn’t seem to have a face; no flesh peeked from the slits of his face plate, there was nothing quite so fragile, instead a sulphurous yellow gas twisted and swirled, burning through the thick shadow of the hall. My hand tightened around the hilt of my sword, tightened so that my knuckles went white, so that my skin went taut.

Then, before I knew it that great black blade was arcing through the air towards me, splitting the thin rays of moonlight as it raced towards my heart. I only just parried it with my shield, then it was coming back again, this time from left to right, and I threw myself to the floor, rolling back out of reach and sprang back up again, already deflecting perfectly timed blows, expertly aimed thrusts.

Already I was being forced backwards, driven back into the darkness, back into the cold. Every strike sent pain rippling up my arm; every blow brought me closer to death, to defeat; I could already see that sword diving through my flesh, already feel its kiss on my skin. Desperate now, I struck back, and felt his armor give way, felt my sword hew through bone, felt his ghostly flesh shudder and saw black, oily, blood crawl from his chest. No sound escaped the Knight’s lips, but its sulphurous yellow eyes seemed to burn that bit brighter, all before his sword came crashing against my shield once more.

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Old Favorites: Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni

Saturday, July 12th, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Deryni rising I don’t usually fan or geek out about stuff – my credentials in geekdom are rarely questioned, but I was thinking the other day about my influences and and in what direction I might want them to go.

I’ve been reading a lot of space opera and really hard sci-fi lately, mostly Alastair Reynolds with a side of Stephen Baxter, as I get ready to start a new novel. But hard sci-fi and fantasy are just setting. Any plot structure can fit inside them. Baxter is a lot of adventure. Reynolds is very noir.

dragon 78That got me to thinking about what stories I enjoyed and why. One of the appeals of Game of Thrones is how it’s a giant soap opera. Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men was similarly soapy, as was the reimagined Battlestar Galactica.

And that reminded me of how much I loved Katherine Kurtz’ Deryni series as a teen. The Kingdom of Gwynedd, a human world of the Middle Ages with a scattering of persecuted psionic families, has always seemed to me to be one of those surprisingly under-appreciated corners of fantasy.

The only reason I’d ever heard of it was because of issue #78 of Dragon magazine, which was an issue psionics devoted to psionics in AD&D and one of the articles featured the characters of Kurtz’ Gwynedd in role-playing terms. I looked for her books at my local second-hand store as soon as I could.

Right away, I found two Kurtz’ two core trilogies, the Deryni series (Deryni Rising, Deryni, and High Deryni) and the Camber series (Camber of Culdi, Saint Camber, and Camber the Heretic) and even after only the first one, I was hooked.

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New Treasures: The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler

Saturday, July 12th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Shadow Throne-smallGood morning, campers! And welcome to another marvelous Saturday morning. It’s raining here at the Black Gate rooftop headquarters in downtown Chicago, but that’s okay. The city could certainly use the rain — even if it did mean we had to scramble to put umbrellas over all the desks.

We don’t know the meaning of the word ‘weekend’ here at Black Gate. Our tireless quest to bring you the latest news, reviews, gossip and innuendo means that the office has been packed all morning (and most of the previous night). Ottawa correspondent Derek Kunsken has assembled a stack of Katherine Kurtz paperbacks (and, curiously, an old issue of Dragon magazine), and is putting the finishing touches on his Saturday afternoon column. Matthew David Surridge is here — but then, that guy is always here. And Connor Gormley is over in the corner, making notes on a bunch of video games. I’m sure we’ll see the fruits of their labor in the next few days.

As for me, I’m just here to pick up some of the mail before driving back home to St. Charles. I have a Dungeons and Dragons game with my kids scheduled after lunch — the same campaign I wrote about last summer. They’re deep in the heart of Gary Gygax’s G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, and it looks like the final battle against the mighty giant chief Chief Nosnra could finally occur today. Don’t wanna be late for that.

But there’s a handful of eye-catching new releases in the mail, and I’m tempted to take a few home. The most interesting to me is Django Wexler’s The Shadow Throne, the sequel to The Thousand Names.

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Vintage Treasures: Martians, Go Home by Fredric Brown

Friday, July 11th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Martians-Go-Home-smallThe last time I talked about Fredric Brown, I called The Best of Fredric Brown one of the best short story collections I’ve read in years. Brown is best remembered today for his short stories — including  “Arena,” “Puppet Show,” and “The Geezenstacks” — but his novels are also fondly remembered.

Martians, Go Home is probably his most famous. A shorter version originally appeared in the September 1954 issue of Astounding; it was expanded a year later for publication in hardcover by E. P. Dutton. Set in the distant future of 1964, it begins as SF writer Luke Deveraux opens the door of his desert cabin in a drunken stupor to find a little green Martian, a one-creature invasion who proceeds to make Deveraux’s life hell. Richard A. Lupoff called it “one of the most charming bits of SF-whimsy ever written.” Here’s the description from the back of the 1976 Ballantine paperback.


Luke Devereaux was a science fiction writer, holed up in a desert shack waiting for inspiration. He was the first to see a Martian… but he wasn’t the last!

It was estimated that one billion of them had arrived — one to every three human beings on Earth — obnoxious green creatures who could be seen and heard, but not harmed, and who probed private sex lives as shamelessly as they probed government secrets.

No one knew why they had come. No one knew how to make them go away — except perhaps, Luke Devereaux. Unfortunately he was going slightly bananas, so it wouldn’t be easy. But for a science fiction writer nothing was impossible…

The cover painting by Frank Kelly Freas became one of his signature works, used as the cover of Astounding, two paperback editions, a calendar, and Freas’s art book (see the various versions here.)

Martians, Go Home was published by Ballantine Books in September 1976. It is 163 pages, originally priced at $1.50. It is currently out of print, but available in digital format from Hachette and audio book from Skyboat Media.

Welcome To The Commonwealth: John Myers Myers’ Silverlock

Friday, July 11th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

SilverlockLast week, I was talking about L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s Compleat Enchanter and it occurred to me that one of the great pleasures of that work is encountering familiar myths, persons, and fictional events in a new guise and from a new perspective. It’s also a bit intimidating, from the point of view of a writer, to realize just how thoroughly de Camp and Pratt had to know their source materials.

It doesn’t take very long to go from these thoughts to the great masterwork of this type, John Myers Myers’s Silverlock. On the surface, the book tells the story of  A. Clarence Shandon – re-christened Silverlock due to a white streak in his hair –  on his journey of self-discovery after being shipwrecked on the shores of the Commonwealth.

It doesn’t take long, in fact he’s still in the water,  for the well-read person to begin to find a certain quality of familiarity in the narrative, to figure out that Shandon has made landfall in the Commonwealth of Letters. From the very first, every  person he meets, every place he goes, everything that happens to him, alludes to some piece of literature. Every single person, place, or thing. What adds to the pleasure is that Shandon himself has no idea of what’s happened to him. His degree is in business administration.

Now this might strike you as a bit overwhelming, or even a bit tedious, but it isn’t. Shandon himself, without being aware of it,  provides the key to enjoying the book:

At times the mind works on two levels at once, and it was so with mine on this occasion. Half of it was giving itself gleefully to the moment, while the other half was revolving a new idea. What had impressed me was that this friar was well-informed and had a lot of fun out of that fact alone…  I glimpsed the concept that to know a thing for itself could be a source of joy. Take the song we were bellowing. It was easy to appreciate, but I would have had more chuckles out of if I had known, as the others did, about the personages involved.

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Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part Four – “The Third Round”

Friday, July 11th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

510+vaEqotL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_20974339Sapper’s The Third Round (1926) marked a return to the more humorous tone of the first book in the series. Not only the humor, but the premise of that initial book is invoked with the decision to again build the plot around a spunky female whose doddering old father has fallen prey to heinous villains. All trace of The Black Gang (1924) and its doom-laden paranoia over England likewise falling prey to a communist revolution has been removed. In its place we have Hugh Drummond once again eager to escape the boredom of everyday life and engaging in comical banter with friends and foes alike.

The starting point for the adventure this time is the impending nuptials of Algy Longworth, Hugh’s old friend who has finally been reduced to the silly ass familiar from the stage play and film adaptations. The catalyst for Algy’s descent into idiocy is his having fallen head over heels in love to the extent that he now horrifies his friends by reciting poetry. So serious is his obsession with the girl of his dreams that he has become a literal walking disaster shunned by all who know him.

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Goth Chick News: The United States of Horror: There Is No Escape

Thursday, July 10th, 2014 | Posted by Sue Granquist

A few days ago, one of my highly confidential sources shared a map posted on Imgur by a creative but anonymous user. Even if you’re not familiar with Imgur, you’ve likely seen content from it on your social media page. In its own words, Imgur is a warehouse for “the most viral images of today, sorted by popularity.”

You know, stuff like this:


The map in question is a really cool visual representation of my favorite genre’s geography and clearly took a significant amount of research – I mean, a horror movie really took place in Idaho?

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The 2014 World Fantasy Awards Ballot

Thursday, July 10th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

A Natural History of Dragons A Memoir by Lady Trent-smallThe 2014 World Fantasy Awards Ballot, listing a bunch of books I haven’t read yet, has just been released.

The ballot is compiled by the voting attendees of the World Fantasy Convention, all of whom clearly read a lot more than I do. Seriously, where do you people find the time? Don’t you have blog posts to write, like normal people?

Once again, the coveted Life Achievement Award is being given to two recipients: Ellen Datlow and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. I think this is a new trend. Last year, it was awarded to Susan Cooper and Tanith Lee. (I’ve read their books; at least that’s something.)

The winners in every other category will be selected by a panel of judges. Here’s the complete list of nominees, with links to the online stories (where available) and our previous coverage:

Life Achievement

  • Ellen Datlow
  • Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

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The Family That Slays Dragons Together, Stays Together: Fantasy MMOs

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

Ultima_OnlineIf you’re a gamer, you probably already know about MMOs (or Massive Multiplayer Online games). These video games feature huge worlds where thousands of people can play together at the same time. I’ve been playing MMOs for almost twenty years now and I think they’ve added a new wrinkle to the fantasy universe, an experience unlike anything else.

My history with MMOs began in 1997 with a little game called Ultima Online. I first heard about it in a gaming magazine and was blown away by the concept. I had already been a huge fan of tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, so the idea of playing a fantasy-based video game with all my friends was thrilling.

The reality was even better than I imagined. I could create an original new persona (called an avatar) and use that character to enter an open-ended game world filled with monsters, dungeons, cities, magic, and (best of all) lots and lots of real people playing their own avatars all around me.

Sure, I loved exploring the lands of Ultima Online, delving into creepy cave systems, fighting other players in the forests, and doing the usual adventure-type stuff, but two elements of UO really grabbed my attention.

The first was the crafting system. Instead of slaying monsters (and other players) for loot, you could also gather natural resources and use them to create new items, and then sell them to other players. I spent so many hours happily mining pixelated ore and selling it off to blacksmiths. Yes, you heard me correctly. I spent my leisure time in an artificial world performing manual labor. It sounds crazy, but I was in love with the idea of a game economy based on player participation.

But I didn’t spend all my time digging holes in fake mountains, because I’d also discovered guilds. A guild is like a club — a social organization of players who (usually) share the same interests. Much of my enjoyment in UO came from forming and maintaining a guild, and by doing so I met a lot of new friends. We adventured together, saved up funds to buy a “guild hall” (a glorified clubhouse), and generally hung out.

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