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March Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_1551226jPhPhKow (1)This is really the March and first week of April short story roundup. While Swords and Sorcery Magazine came through with two new tales, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly did not come out in a timely enough fashion to suit my schedule. Then Beneath Ceaseless Skies spent all of March publishing science fantasy issues. It’s all right if you’re inclined to read that sort of stuff, but I’m here to write about fantasy, preferably of the heroic kind.  Actually, most of those stories in BCS really do look all right, but the arrival of a new story by Raphael Ordoñez in the April 3rd issue made me include it in this week’s post.

I joke about Beneath Ceaseless Skies’s neglect of heroic fantasy in favor of steam punk or sci-fi, but don’t ever make the mistake of thinking I don’t love the folks over there and everything they’re doing for speculative short fiction. Every two weeks, they publish a very well-polished magazine with stories by great writers from all over the sci-fi/fantasy spectrum. There are few platforms getting as much new material out in front of the public (and for as little money). And if, like me, you don’t like what’s in one issue, there’s a great chance you’ll find something in the very next one.

So, after all that praise, let me start off with a story from BCS #144 I didn’t love: “Golden Daughter, Stone Wife” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, a writer unfamiliar to me. In a world peopled by exiles from some unknown calamity, in a country ruled by the Institute of Ormodon, a woman mourns the loss of her golem-daughter.

Hall-Warden Ysoreen Zarre has been sent to retrieve the remains of a golem from Erhensa, an exiled sorceress. All golems, whomever makes them, belong to the Institute. Having learned of the thing’s existence when it “died,” the Warden was dispatched to collect it. For the Institute, it is something to be studied and understood. Erhensa, though, considered the golem a daughter and is reluctant to submit to the Institute’s demands. Her maneuvers around the Warden comprise the rest of the story.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1951: A Retro-Review

Friday, April 11th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction October 1951-smallGalaxy began its second year of publication with the October 1951 issue. With contributions from both Asimov and Heinlein, it continued to show the strength of its fiction content.

“The C-Chute” by Isaac Asimov — A disparate group of space travelers become prisoners when their ship is stormed by enemy aliens. The Kloro secure the men in a room and leave only two of their own to pilot the ship back to their territory, where it can be prepared for battle.

Not content to sit idly by and become prisoners of war for an indeterminate amount of time, the men formulate a plan. Someone could suit up and go outside the ship, walking the hull to the steam tubes, in order to re-enter the ship at the control room, hopefully surprising the enemy pilots. The only dilemma is figuring out which of the men has the wherewithal and courage to succeed.

There was a lot of point-of-view shifting throughout the story, allowing the reader to enter the mind of each character. I thought this was done well and honestly there was greater variety in these characters than what Asimov produced in his novel The Stars, Like Dust.

“Pleasant Dreams” by Ralph Robin — Chief Watcher Gniss invites a childhood friend to witness how his group uses technology to spy on criminal suspects. Through the telepathic instrument, they can witness the suspects’ dreams, allowing them to learn of co-conspirators without the need for interrogation.

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John W. Campbell on Tolkien, Conan, and Sword & Sorcery

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The August 1968 issue of Analog Science Fiction, with Sword & Sorcery creeping up on Science Fiction

The August 1968 issue of Analog Science Fiction, showing Sword & Sorcery creeping up on Science Fiction

Gordon van Gelder, the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, has posted a fascinating excerpt from The John W. Campbell Letters, Volume 1. The excerpt is from a September 7, 1967 letter to Analog author and Hugo Award winning writer Gordon R. Dickson, author of Dorsai! and Soldier, Ask Not, and it captures the frustrations of the top SF editor in the country as he senses his audience being lured away by the growing popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The swords-and-sorcery and Tolkien have displaced science fiction almost completely. Why? Well, partly — but I think a small part — is the current leaning to escape-from-reality, LSD etc. to the undisciplined world of my opinion is as good as any other, and don’t tell me there’s a Universe’s Opinion I’ve got to accept, willy nilly.

But the larger item, I suspect, is *human beings want heroes.* Real heroes. Not common-men-who-proved-under-stress-they-could-struggle-through. The swords-and-sorcery yarns are all based on superhuman heroes — and it’s clearly obvious the readers love ‘em.

Now in as much as it’s the readers who pay for the magazines, it damn well behooves us to give ‘em what they want — and they obviously want super-heroes on the Conan order. They want for Frank Herbert’s Dune, with his super-hero. They used to go with all-out enthusiasm for Jack Williamson’s really-not-very-good “Legion” stories.

Now if the fans want — and they evidently do! — swords-and-sorcery type yarns, then we had damn well better give ‘em the type of thing they want, or get out of the way for someone who will.

Campbell never published much fantasy in Analog, but he did champion adventure-oriented science fantasy in the late 60s, like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern stories (the first of which, the Hugo Award-winning “Weyr Search,” appeared in Analog in October 1967). It would be interesting to take a closer look to see if there was any noticeable editorial shift in this period.

Read the complete excerpt in Gordon’s Facebook post.


The Future of the Magazine of the Future: On the Return of the SFWA Bulletin

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014 | Posted by JaymGates

SFWA Bulletin 203-smallRight about now, the new SFWA Bulletin should be starting to hit mailboxes. The first SFWA electronic Bulletin won’t be far behind. It’s a new era for the Bulletin and one I’m really excited about.

The Bulletin is one of those magazines that’s a particular challenge to edit. The SFWA membership is relatively small, but wildly varied in its needs and interests. Our members range in experience from a couple of years of sales to 50+ years of publishing, in markets from small magazines to Big Six publishers. We could probably put out ten different versions of the magazine and still miss a few needs.

Finding the balance so that everyone gets something, but a cohesive product is still put out, is a hearty challenge. The pool of potential authors is one of the richest in the industry, as we are also able to reach into the scientific, entertainment, and artistic communities for relevant content, but that has to be balanced against highlighting what the membership has to offer.

The revamped Bulletin will, we hope, be a force in the modern market, offering benefits and information for authors at every stage of the business. Content will range from SFWA-oriented information to in-depth journalism on a variety of subjects.

Issue 204 is chock-full of information about SFWA and the writing business, from interviews to budget breakdowns, and even a honey badger cartoon. Tansy Rayner Roberts and I edited this special issue, with significant groundwork from long-time editor Jean Rabe. It will be our go-to handout for the next few years, offering a concentrated look at what SFWA has to offer, as well as remaining a useful resource for years to come.

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Tom Reamy, the Iron Throne, and George R.R. Martin’s Plan to Stay Ahead of HBO: The Game of Thrones Issue of Vanity Fair

Monday, March 17th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Vanity Fair Game of Tthrones-smallYou know your HBO fantasy series has hit it big when it makes the cover of culture and fashion magazine Vanity Fair.

The April issue, on sale now, features a cast photoshoot by star photographer Annie Leibovitz and a feature on the making of the show written by Jim Windolf. But more interesting is a wide-ranging interview with author George R.R. Martin which covers, among other things, the true scale of the Iron Throne and Martin’s plan to stay ahead of the rapidly-progressing show.

The season that’s about to debut covers the second half of the third book… But there are two more books beyond that… A Dance with Dragons is itself a book that’s as big as A Storm of Swords. So there’s potentially three more seasons there, between [A Feast for Crows] and Dance, if they split into two the way they did [with Storms]. Now, Feast and Dance take place simultaneously… You can combine them and do it chronologically. And it’s my hope that they’ll do it that way and then, long before they catch up with me, I’ll have published The Winds of Winter, which’ll give me another couple years. It might be tight on the last book, A Dream of Spring, as they juggernaut forward.

I was also fascinated by his comments on the death of the brilliant Tom Reamy, whom we profiled in Black Gate 15:

Tom died of a heart attack just a few months after winning the award for best new writer in his field. He was found slumped over his typewriter, seven pages into a new story. Instant. Boom. Killed him… Tom’s death had a profound effect on me, because I was in my early thirties then. I’d been thinking, as I taught, well, I have all these stories that I want to write… and I have all the time in the world… and then Tom’s death happened, and I said, Boy. Maybe I don’t…

After Tom’s death, I said, “You know, I gotta try this. I don’t know if I can make a living as a full-time writer or not, but who knows how much time I have left?…” So I decided I would sell my house in Iowa and move to New Mexico. And I’ve never looked back.

Read the complete interview here.


March/April Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction now on Sale

Sunday, March 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

F&SF March April 2014-smallI’m so far behind reading Fantasy & Science Fiction. Seriously. I need to take a long vacation just so I can catch up.

Now, I know reading F&SF is ultimately a time-saver. When I did have time to keep up, it always pointed me towards the hottest new fantasy writers on the market. Believe me, considering all the bad fantasy novels I’ve read (or tried to read) in the last few years, if I’d just spent half that time reading F&SF, I would have known which writers to try instead.

Well, I suppose I’ll have a nice stack of magazines to read when I’m retired.

Jamie Lackey at Tangent Online is more disciplined than I am… not only has she read the latest issue, she had time to write a lengthy review. Here’s her thoughts on Sarah Pinsker’s contribution:

“A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide” by Sarah Pinsker opens when Andy wakes after a farming accident to find that his arm has been replaced by a prosthetic. As he works at getting used to his new appendage, he realizes that the arm thinks that it’s a stretch of road in Colorado. It’s a unique concept, and the prose is beautiful. As Andy deals with his new arm’s sense of self, he also gains more understanding and acceptance of his own place in the world.

This issue contains stories by Gordon Eklund, Ron Goulart, Albert E. Cowdrey, Ted White, and many others.

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Monthly Short Story Roundup – February

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

So February’s come and gone, a bunch of new stories have been published, and some were very good. With five stories from five different authors, it’d be an exciting month if I loved all of them, but at least there were more hits than misses.

oie_1122436ENJGqRjjLet’s start with the February issue of Curtis Ellett’s Swords and Sorcery Magazine. It’s Issue #25 and first of the magazine’s third year of publication. That’s over fifty stories published — fifty new works of heroic fiction out there for free! Lots of writers are getting to see their first published stories — some good, some fair, some poor — out in front of eyeballs and in position to get feedback.

Even if I sound like a broken record every month (Dad, what’s a record?), I can’t urge everybody enough to check this and the other web ‘zines out and let the editors and writers know what you think. This is how the genre will continue to grow and evolve. As readers, we can do our part by supporting these magazines and these writers.

Issue #25, is equal bits weak and and strong. First, the weak: ”The Wedding Gift” by Neil W. Howell. It’s a story of the moments around the arrivals at the church of a royal bride and a royal groom, told from the perspectives of several different observers. There are the war veterans now serving as guards outside the church. Then there’s the embittered mother of the bride, a disappointed and defeated queen.

They and others weigh in on the events that have led to the wedding, which is really only a plan to end a generation-long war and unite two kingdoms in peace. Into this hopeful moment comes a terror that may or may not be an accident and leads to unforeseen conclusions.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, September 1951: A Retro-Review

Friday, March 7th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction September 1951-smallGalaxy concluded its first year of publication with this issue. Horace (H. L.) Gold notes some interesting stats in his opening remarks. He mentions that about 60 stories were selected from submissions of about 3,000. That’s a 2% acceptance rate, which is better than Duotrope reports for some professional magazines today.

Still, if you’re an author planning to travel back to 1951 to try your chances on getting into Galaxy, bear in mind that you’re up against some of the founders of science fiction. It’s you vs. Heinlein; you vs. Damon Knight. That might prove more difficult than inventing a time machine.

The Puppet Masters (Part 1 of 3) by Robert Heinlein — Slug-like aliens attach themselves to human hosts and take control of their minds. They begin an invasion by controlling key individuals, city by city, steadily working their way toward the President of the United States.

A government agency, led by the Old Man (as he’s called), works alongside two of his best agents, code-named Sam and Mary. The three of them try to capture a live specimen in order to learn more about the threat and to convince the President to quarantine vast areas of the country. But with so many controlled government leaders assuring the President that there is no danger, it seems impossible to defeat the puppet masters.

I’m familiar with this story from one of its movie adaptations. This story set a standard for parasite-controlling creatures. It’s a frightening concept, not too far from the notion of zombies; in both cases the individual is lost, reduced to involuntary responses.

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The Return of The SFWA Bulletin

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

SFWA Bulletin 203-smallIt’s been a rough twelve months for The Science Fiction Writers of America Bulletin.

Early last year, issue #200 drew complaints for some generally tasteless remarks on female editors from columnists Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg (and a cover that did nothing to allay concerns that SFWA was still presided over by an Old Guard unwelcoming to women). The problems compounded in later issues as Resnick and Malzberg mocked and trivialized those who raised the issue, and C.J. Henderson praised Barbie for maintaining “quiet dignity the way a woman should.” In June, editor Jean Rabe stepped down and the Bulletin went on hiatus.

Compounding the problem, the recent petition to protect the magazine from perceived censorship and the evils of political correctness put the spotlight back on the missing Bulletin. (And, naturally, in the midst of a fierce debate on whether sexism inside SFWA was a real issue, a member used the SFWA boards at SFF.Net to launch a sexist attack on ex-SWFA officer Mary Robinette Kowal.)

Now SFWA reports that the long-delayed issue 203 has gone to the printer. Guest-edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts, who was ably assisted by Production Editor Jaym Gates, this issue is described as “an outreach tool for conventions and other events.”

While Resnick and Malzberg are noticeably absent, the issue does contain interviews with Eileen Gunn, Adam Rakunas and 2013′s Norton winner E.C. Myers, and contributions from Sheila Finch, Richard Dansky, James Patrick Kelly, Cat Rambo, Ari Asercion, Michael Capobianco, Russell Davis, M.C.A. Hogarth, Nancy Holder, and Erin Underwood, and many others.

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Monthly Short Story Roundup – January

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_113212RNKI9Hm5Well, it’s that time again, and here I am with another batch of new heroic fantasy and S&S short fiction reviews.

Nothing outside of Swords and Sorcery Magazine and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly caught my eye this past month and the stories they offered are the usual mixed bag, varying in quality from mid-range to very good. In a perfect world, some of these writers could make a living just writing short stories.

I love short stories. Growing up, a large part of my genre reading was made up of anthologies from brilliant editors like Lin Carter and Terry Carr. Their short (by contemporary standards) volumes introduced me to dozens of great authors, established and new.

oie_114255fABYaSsMIn Lin Carter’s The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories: 2, for example, the authors ranged from Tanith Lee and Fritz Leiber to Caradoc Cador and Paul Spenser. If one story stunk, there was a very good chance the next one wouldn’t. It was a rare anthology that had nothing to offer.

I’m not saying anything new when I say a ten- or fifteen-page story can be as powerful as a novel. I’d recommend Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” to anyone doubting that. As for excitement, how many five pound books can match the urgency and ferocity of Robert E. Howard’s “Beyond the Black River”? Sure, there are times I enjoy being swept up in a six- or seven-hundred page book, but I’d mostly rather read twenty or thirty good individual tales. When the rare new heroic fiction story collection comes along, like Strahan and Anders’ Swords & Dark Magic or Davis and Saunders’ Griots, I don’t hesitate to toss it in my Amazon cart.

And that’s why I love the various magazines (and the work their editors do each issue). Just counting Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Swords and Sorcery Magazine, I’m guaranteed at least six new stories a month. In the months Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is published, that’s an additional four or more.

Over the course of a year, that’s a lot more stories than even Lin Carter edited together in the same amount of time. Which makes me a very happy fan.

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