Retro Review: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Edmond Hamilton’s Galaxy

Saturday, April 25th, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

SFBC edition (1977)

… square jawed heroes… solutions worked out through — mostly — superior guts backed up by awesome Harrington-grade firepower

He remembered his father, the Valkar of years ago, teaching him from a great star-chart on the wall of the ruined palace.

“The yellow sun that neighbors the triple-star just beyond the last rim of the Darkness only to be approached from zenith or the drift will riddle you –”


Yes, as an escape from the current sadness-of-the-canines, I’ve been reading Edmond Hamilton. Ironic really, since Hamilton’s an author with rockets on the cover, square jawed heroes within, and solutions worked out through — mostly — superior guts backed up by awesome Harrington-grade firepower.

Actually, Hamilton’s politics evolved with the century.

His early books are all about paternalistic bureaucracies and mighty empires. His later books are more questioning, with bureaucrats as antagonists, and Imperialism something one might sensibly turn one’s back on.

(I’m torn here, because I want to say more, cite examples, but I don’t want to spoiler the books for you. If you like vintage SF, and haven’t read Hamilton, then you’re in for a treat. Imagine if EE Doc Smith could actually write. )

All that said, reading Hamilton for politics is like listening to Hendrix for theme and variation — it’s there if you insist on looking for it, but the visceral impact is much greater.

I think of Edmond Hamilton as Hubble Telescope fanfiction.

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Sci-Fi’s Difficult Genius: The New Yorker on Gene Wolfe

Friday, April 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Soldier of the Mist-smallPeter Bebergal — who penned a thoughtful analysis of Michael Moorcock for The New Yorker back in January, “The Anti-Tolkien” — is at it again. This time, he takes a look at the often challenging work of Gene Wolfe.

He kicks off the article with some insightful comments on the 1986 fantasy Soldier of the Mist, the first novel in Wolfe’s Latro trilogy, centered on the adventures of a Roman mercenary with a perplexing ailment.

Having suffered an injury during the Battle of Plataea, a Greco-Persian War skirmish, Latro has no memory of his past. Each night, he writes the day’s events on a scroll; the next morning he reads the scroll to bring himself current. Latro has to carefully choose what he is going to write down: he is limited by time, because when he sleeps he loses his memory again, and by the medium, because there is only so much papyrus. It is hinted that Latro’s wound was caused by the meddling of the gods… It could be the case, however, that Latro’s wound causes him to hallucinate.

On the phone from his home in Peoria, Gene Wolfe explained to me recently that Latro’s memory loss does not make him an unreliable narrator, as many critics assume. Instead, Latro might reveal only the truth that matters. Latro must ask himself, Wolfe said, “What is worth writing, what is going to be of value to me when I read it in the future? What will I want to know?” These are questions that Wolfe has been asking himself, in one form or another, for decades. His stories and novels are rich with riddles, mysteries, and sleights of textual hand.

Read the complete article online here.

One Picture = One Thousand Words . . .?

Friday, April 24th, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Huff price 1About a month ago Gabe Dybing wrote an excellent post in which he, among other things, praised my Dhulyn and Parno Novels (thanks again, Gabe). I obviously don’t quarrel with anything he had to say, but there was one observation that made me raise my eyebrows, and that was his take on the cover art. The whole post is worth reading (not just the part about my books) but what Dying has to say about my covers is important not just for me, but for any of us involved in the writing and reading of books. Looking at the art from the sales perspective, what it is about the cover that encourages a reader to buy a book, Dybing has two caveats. First, he feels the characters are too “posed,” in that they’re “battle-ready” when nothing is in fact happening. Second, he objects to the photo-realism, since it could restrain the readers in imagining the characters for themselves. As it happens, he feels the artist, Steve Stone, did capture Dhulyn pretty well, except for her skin colour, and her “wolf smile.”

Huff PriceInteresting bit about that. The artist chose his models from modeling/acting agency photos to match the physical descriptions I’d provided to my editor/publisher, Sheila Gilbert at DAW. It wasn’t until the models arrived for the session that Stone realized the woman was black. I know, it does make you wonder what the photos were like, but that’s not a question I can answer. The situation was explained to her, and apparently the model/actress didn’t mind being depicted as a woman from a race noted for the pallor of their skin and the redness of their hair.

As for the wolf’s smile, you don’t really want to see that. Ever. Trust me.

On the whole, I think I’ve been very lucky with my cover art, but before I go on I have to confess a couple of things. First, I have almost no visual memory (except for faces), and don’t really respond to visual cues. Off the top of my head, I couldn’t describe to you the cover of any book, not even the ones I’ve read over and over. Okay, I can recognize the Tenniel drawings from Alice in Wonderland, the original art from the Chronicles of Narnia, and the Dali illustrations from a recent edition of Don Quijote, but there I’m thinking about the artists, not the books. And even there I’m pretty sure I couldn’t tell you what was on the covers.

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The Best Pulp Horror and Weird Tales: The Fantasy Catalog of Hippocampus Press

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Burnt Black Suns-small Ghouljaw and Other Stories-small The Wide Carnivorous Sky-small

When I returned from the World Fantasy Convention in Washington last November, the first thing I did was write about all the great discoveries I made in the Dealer’s Room.

I’m not just talking about rare and wonderful old books (although those were pretty damn cool, too.) I mean the smorgasbord of small press publishers who’d come from far and wide to display an incredible bevy of treasures, piled high on table after table after table. Seriously, it was like walking through Aladdin’s Cave of Wonders, except air conditioned and with decent carpeting.

One of the great discoveries I made was Hippocampus Press, a small publisher founded by Derrick Hussey in New York City in 1999. Their table was groaning under the weight of dozens of fabulous collections, horror anthologies, entertaining and informative journals, and stranger and more marvelous things. They specialize in classic horror and science fiction, with an “emphasis on the works of H. P. Lovecraft and other pulp writers of the 1920s and 1930s,” as well as critical studies of folks like Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and William Hope Hodgson.

I brought home a copy of their 2014 Simon Strantzas collection, Burnt Black Suns, and told you about it here. Today I’d like to take a few moments to re-create what it was like to stand in front of the Hippocampus table and take in their extraordinary output, the product of over a decade of tireless dedication to classic weird tales (and great cover design.)

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The Fantasy and Science Fiction Films of Thomas Edison

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

The original Frankenstein's monster from the 1910 Edison film.

The original Frankenstein’s monster from the 1910 Edison film.

In the annals of early silent film, the name Thomas Edison stands out prominently. The American inventor racked up a series of firsts–building the first film studio in the U.S., registering the first copyright for a film in the U.S., making the first sound film in the U.S. (and arguably the world), and many other innovations.

Edison Studios was launched in 1894 and ran until 1918, when an antitrust lawsuit led Edison to sell the company. In that time, the studio’s host of directors made almost 1300 films. The vast majority were shorts, with the earliest efforts being “actualities” such as The Sneeze (1894) and the historically interesting Sioux Ghost Dance (1894). For the first few years of film, simply seeing people moving on screen was enough, but soon audiences wanted stories. Edison Studios churned out dozens of shorts a month, most of them rather forgettable comedies or dramas as well as a few Westerns such as the very first in the genre, The Great Train Robbery (1903).

A few, however, broke new ground in fantasy, science fiction, and horror. The most notable are The Night Before Christmas (1905), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1910), A Christmas Carol (1910), Frankenstein (1910), A Trip to Mars (1910), and the powerful The Land Beyond the Sunset (1912). Click the links to watch the movies. None are longer than 13 minutes. Spoilers are coming.

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Philip Sandifer’s Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons: An Analysis of Theodore Beale and his Supporters

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Rabid Puppies logo-smallAuthor Philip Sandifer (The Last War in Albion, TARDIS Eruditorum) has a fascinating take on the ongoing 2015 Hugo controversy, pointing out that debating with the Sad Puppies is a waste of time — not because they don’t have a point, but because they are largely irrelevant. Theo Beale’s Rabid Puppies slate largely dictated the outcome, and it’s Beale ‘s agenda that will shape the outcome in future years.

Relatively unreported — and indeed misreported in most coverage of this, is the fact that the Sad Puppies largely failed… In the only category in which both Beale and Torgersen proposed full slates, Best Short Story, Beale’s nominees made it.

Sandifer’s thesis is that the Sad Puppies, and the groundswell of fans who’ve gathered to support it, are the popular face of a much more tightly controlled effort by Theo Beale.

As we’ve seen, it’s not really Torgersen who is most important here; it’s Theodore Beale…. The Rabid Puppies were the slate that actually dominated the Hugos nominations, but the Sad Puppies give every appearance of having been actively constructed to allow them to… Regardless of Torgersen’s intentions, the practical result is that he’s providing the politely moderate front for a movement that is in practice dominated by Theodore Beale…

Torgersen makes much of empowering fans, saying that the slate “is a recommendation. Not an absolute,” and stressing that “YOU get to have a say in who is acknowledged.” Beale, on the other hand, discourages his readers from exercising any personal preference, saying of his recommendations that “I encourage those who value my opinion on matters related to science fiction and fantasy to nominate them precisely as they are.”

Read the complete article here.

Get Ready For Six More Best-of-the-Year Volumes

Monday, April 20th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Imaginarium 3 The Best Canadian Speculative Writing-smallLast week I wrote a brief Future Treasures piece on the upcoming crop of Year’s Best anthologies, Get Ready For 11 Best-of-the-Year Volumes, scheduled to be released in the next six months. I covered the big books in the pipeline, including ones from Rich Horton, Paula Guran, Jonathan Strahan, Gardner Dozois, John Joseph Adams, and others.

As comprehensive as that list was, since it went live I’ve been contacted by several folks in the know who’ve pointed out that I missed a number of volumes. Without further ado, here are six additional Best of the Year volumes scheduled to be released this year.

Wilde Stories: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction, ed. Steve Berman (Lethe)
Heiresses of Russ: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction, ed. Steve Berman (Lethe)
Imaginarium: The Best Canadian Speculative Fiction, edired by Sandra Kasturi (ChiZine)
The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror, edited by Liz Grzyb & Talie Helene (Ticonderoga)
The Year’s Illustrious Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Nisi Shawl (Aqueduct Press)
Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2013, edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein (Kaleidoscope)

This brings the total to 17… and it still doesn’t include several announced titles, such as the new Night Shade series edited by Neil Clarke, The Best Science Fiction of the Year (first volume to be released in 2016), and Steve Haynes’ Best British Fantasy (no word on a 2015 volume.) If you’re a fan of short genre fiction, the next six months will be very good to you indeed.

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Conan of Venarium

Monday, April 20th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Turtledove_Venarium2I’ve got a couple Holmes-related posts in the works, but am not done researching any of them (no, I don’t just make up my posts as I go: I actually put some thought into them; even if  it may not always appear so). Fortunately, I’ve got no shortage of other areas of interest that I can use to fill the gap (I still haven’t figured out how to get a baseball-related post here. Although, if I still had my copy of that Daryl Brock book.  Maybe something on W P Kinsella.).

The esteemed Ryan Harvey used to review Conan pastiches here at Black Gate. I am absolutely a Robert E. Howard and Conan fan. Perhaps you read this recent post? So, looking to indulge my non-mystery interest (I really want to write something on Tolkien’s Nauglamir, but it’s not even outlined yet), I turned to Conan.

Harry Turtledove is best known for his alternate history novels. I’ve read little Turtledove, so I can’t expound on them. However, one that I did read and enjoyed very much was The Guns of the South, which involves time-travelers bringing Robert E. Lee AK-47s, changing the outcome of the American Civil War (it’s better than it sounds). I definitely enjoyed it more than his other alt-Civil War book, How Few Remain.

Back in 2003, Turtledove joined the list of authors putting out Conan pastiches for Tor Books. Fans of Conan know that this line was quite hit and miss. Conan of Venarium was the 49th and last of the Tor originals, coming six years after the previous entry.

You can read Ryan’s review of that one, here. I’ll include a quote that I think sums up his thoughts on Venarium’s predecessor:  ”I am glad to report that Conan and the Death Lord of Thanza is superior to Conan and the Mists of Doom. Unfortunately, that still ranks it as the second worst Conan novel I’ve read.”

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Fantasy Literature: Murder Hobos, Sad Puppies, and Change

Saturday, April 18th, 2015 | Posted by Edward Carmien

Will Murder Enemies for Food

You cannot step twice into the same rivers.
Heraclitus of Ephesus

In my personal history, role-playing games, or back then Dungeons & Dragons, presented a fantasy milieu straight out of Tolkien and Leiber. The heroes — characters — fought enemies, took their treasure, and hoped for bigger and better enemies and bigger and better treasures. The rules created an expectation that high-level characters would seek political power, ultimately retiring from a lifestyle now mockingly or cheerfully (depending on one’s orientation) called that of the “Murder Hobo.” In short, characters hoped to graduate from “Murder Hobo” to “Murder Duke.”

How amusing to hear that term, which seems to spring from the recent past (2011? Anyone?) and see it unlock a whole understanding of a genre that did not previously exist. For while gamer blogs and discussion lists alternately bemoan or celebrate the Murder Hobo habit, there is an entirely different interpretation. The idea that fantasy RPG, D&D-style characters in general definition are homeless wanderers who kill and steal reveals a perspective on the whole concept of fantasy role-playing games that is distinctly contemporary.

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New Treasures: Icefall by Gillian Philip

Friday, April 17th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Icefall Gillian Philip-smallTwo years ago we reported on the release of Gillian Philip’s Firebrand, the first novel in her popular Rebel Angels series. It was followed by Bloodstone (2013) and Wolfbane (2014).

Now Tor Books has released Icefall, the fourth and final book, which brings the tale to a climactic close. If (like me) you wait until all the books are available to binge on the series everyone is talking about, now’s your chance.

Death stalks Seth MacGregor’s clan in their otherworld exile. Kate NicNiven is close to ultimate victory, and she is determined that nothing will keep her from it. Not even the thing that took her soul: the horror that lurks in the sea caves. But Kate still needs Seth’s son Rory, and his power over the Veil. And she’ll go to any lengths to get him. Seth’s own soul is rotting from the wound inflicted by Kate, and survival for his loved ones seems all he can hope for. But might a mortal threat to his brother’s daughter force him to return to his own world to challenge Kate? And will Rory go with him? Because Rory suspects there’s a darkness trapped in the Veil, a darkness that wants to get out. But only one Sithe knows how near it is to getting its way: Seth’s bound lover, the witch Finn. Nobody gets forever. But some are willing to try…

Icefall was published by Tor Books on March 24, 2015. It is 445 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital version. The cover is by Steve Stone.

See all of our recent New Treasures here.

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