It’s Good to be Minding the Stars with The Early Jack Vance, Volume 4, edited by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Minding the Stars The Early Jack Vance Volume 4-smallI’ve been heartily enjoying The Early Jack Vance volumes from Subterranean Press, which collect the hard-to-find early pulp SF and fantasy from one of the greatest writers of the genre, Jack Vance.

The first two, Hard Luck Diggings (2010) and Dream Castles (2012), are now sold out and out of print — and rapidly raising in price. They collected fiction from the very start of Vance’s career, the late 40s through the late 60s.

Two more volumes are now in print, with one more due in March. Minding the Stars, the fourth volume, spans the years from 1952 to 1967, collecting four long novellas and four short stories, originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, Future Science Fiction, Fantastic Universe, Amazing Stories, and other fine publications. Here’s the complete table of contents:

Introduction by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan
“Nopalgarth” (Originally published as The Brains of Earth, Ace Double, 1966)
“Telek” (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1952)
“Four Hundred Blackbirds” (Future Science Fiction, July 1953)
“Alfred’s Ark” (New Worlds SF, May 1965)
“Meet Miss Universe” (Fantastic Universe, March 1955)
“The World Between” (Future Science Fiction, May 1953)
“Milton Hack from Zodiac” (Amazing Stories, August 1967)
“Parapsyche” (Amazing Science Fiction Stories, August 1958)

The opening story, “Nopalgarth,” was originally published as half of an Ace Double in 1966, under the title The Brains of Earth. Vance collectors may recognize it as one of three novellas published in a slender collection from DAW in September 1980, under the title Nopalgarth (see below).

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See the Complete Table of Contents for Dozois and Martin’s Old Venus

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Old Venus-smallOne of my favorite anthologies of last year was Old Mars, a pulp-inspired tribute to “the Golden Age of Science Fiction, an era filled with tales of interplanetary colonization and derring-do,” edited by Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin. When I blogged about it last January, Gardner sent me this tantalizing message about their next project:

Glad you enjoyed it… If you liked this one, keep an eye out for Old Venus from the same publisher; same kind of thing, although I think it’s even stronger than Old Mars. Pub date is sometime in 2015.

Well, that sounded promising. A year later, a lot more detail has emerged about Old Venus, including the complete table of contents and the following book description:

From pulp adventures such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Carson of Venus to classic short stories such as Ray Bradbury’s “The Long Rain” to visionary novels such as C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra, the planet Venus has loomed almost as large in the imaginations of science fiction writers as Earth’s next-nearest neighbor, Mars. But while the Red Planet conjured up in Golden Age science fiction stories was a place of vast deserts and ruined cities, bright blue Venus was its polar opposite: a steamy, swampy jungle world with strange creatures lurking amidst the dripping vegetation. Alas, just as the last century’s space probes exploded our dreams of Mars, so, too, did they shatter our romantic visions of Venus, revealing, instead of a lush paradise, a hellish world inimical to all life.

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Forgotten Father

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015 | Posted by James Maliszewski

merrittThe tastes of one generation are not necessarily those of another and literature is no more exempt from the alienating power of time than any other form of art. Realizing this doesn’t make it any less surprising when one encounters an artist wildly popular in his own day but largely unknown in the present. Such an artist was Abraham Grace Merritt, who was born today in 1884.

A journalist, editor, and writer, Merritt’s short stories and novels were highly regarded before the Second World War. Among his most ardent admirers was H.P. Lovecraft, who, in a letter to R.H. Barlow wrote of his having met the man in person:

I was extremely glad to meet Merritt in person, for I have admired his work for 15 years. He has certain defects — caused by catering to a popular audience — but for all that he is the most poignant and distinctive fantaisiste now contributing to the pulps. As I mentioned some time ago — when you lent me the [Dwellers in the] Mirage installment — he has a peculiar power of working up an atmosphere and investing a region with an aura of unholy dread.

HPL would later, along with Robert E. Howard – whose own birthday later this week is certainly deserving of commemoration – collaborate with Merritt on a round-robin story called “The Challenge from Beyond.” It’s not a particularly noteworthy piece, for any of the writers involved, but it’s evidence that, once upon a time, Merritt was at least as highly esteemed as Lovecraft and Howard, two writers whose literary stars have risen since their lifetimes, in contrast to their older colleague.

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Murray Leinster and the Moon

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015 | Posted by Tony Den

I first encountered Murray Leinster’s work when Black Gate published his classic pulp story “The Fifth-Dimension Catapult” in BG 9.

While the story was enjoyable, it didn’t resonate much with me at the time. The key I suppose was that his name stuck in my mind, and as time went by, and as I followed the Black Gate blog, I began to appreciate the many treasures I had been missing out on — purely through consuming mostly contemporary fiction.

Resolving to remedy this oversight, I decided to pay more attention when scanning flea market stands and the shelves of book exchanges. My Ace Double collection (something else I owe to Black Gate) started to grow exponentially, and eventually I came across a Murray Leinster novel: Four from Planet 5.

Four from Planet 5Amazing Murray Leinster

It’s a thin volume, which seems to have been par for the course back in the days before the fat-fantasy trend. It was published by Fawcett in 1959 under their Gold Medal imprint and runs to 160 pages, with cover art by the prolific Paul Lehr. Some research indicates that the story was published a few months earlier in Amazing Science Fiction Stories, September 1959, under the title “Long Ago, Far Away.”

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Vintage Treasures: Echoes of Valor II, edited by Karl Edward Wagner

Sunday, January 18th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Echoes of Valor II-smallKarl Edward Wagner continued his sword-and-sorcery anthology series with Echoes of Valor II, published in hardcover by Tor Books in August 1989, two years after the release of Echoes of Valor.

Wagner settled into an established pattern with this volume. The first one had been unusual for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it contained only novellas — three big stories by Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and Henry Kuttner. Not that you can go wrong with Howard, Leiber, and Kuttner, but the next two books in the series offered a more varied table of contents.

Echoes of Valor had also been bare bones from an editorial standpoint. Not even an introduction, let alone commentary on the stories. Wagner rectified that with Echoes of Valor II, which included new and reprinted story intros and author retrospectives by C. L. Moore, Sam Moskowitz, Forrest J. Ackerman, and Wagner himself. This seems more what Wagner had in mind for EoV, which he clearly intended to be a definitive S&S anthology series.

In fact, it’s probable that the first volume was put together much more hurriedly than the last two. Not only was it missing the editorial content that would be the hallmark of the series, but it went straight to paperback. Echoes of Valor II appeared first in a handsome hardcover edition, and was reprinted in paperback in February 1991.

This one contains a rich assortment of classic S&S and heroic fantasy, including a Conan tale by Robert E. Howard, a Jirel of Joiry story and two Northwest Smith tales from C. L. Moore, a Venus novella by Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury, and a Hok the Mighty novella by Manly Wade Wellman… along with fascinating articles on how some of the stories came together.

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The Shock of the Old: The Professor Jameson Space Adventures by Neil R. Jones

Saturday, January 17th, 2015 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Amazing_Stories,_April_1937-smallFew things are more exciting than finding an unheralded new author or reading an impressive new book fresh off the press. It is exhilarating to be present at the advent of a significant new work, to witness the beginning of an important writer’s career, or to feel yourself at the cutting edge of a genre. That sense of exploration and discovery is at the very heart of science fiction and fantasy.

These genres we love have roots that reach deep into the past, though, some of those roots extending into the cheap pulp magazines of the 20′s and 30′s, venues that at the time — and for long after — were utterly disreputable; anything that had even a whiff of such seamy origins was utterly damned in the eyes of critics.

Today’s top writers have moved far beyond those simple beginnings, and their finest works exhibit a thematic sophistication and literary polish that their progenitors can’t match, even as the best of those pioneers have finally achieved a hard-won respectability (penny-a-word pulpsters like Leigh Brackett and H.P. Lovecraft escaping the lurid confines of Planet Stories and Weird Tales to appear between the staid covers of the Library of America?! It’s about time.)

Writers like Neil Gaiman, China Meiville, and Susanna Clarke are expanding the boundaries of what can be accomplished with what is decreasingly called genre fiction, and for that we should all be grateful. Sometimes though, I must confess that I am compelled to put aside the careful work of the current generation for a while, because I just need a jolt of unadulterated pulp, and nothing else will do. (I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t around for the pulps, much as I wish I had been, so I have to rely on paperbacks, most of which are themselves now as old as I am, or older.)

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Vintage Treasures: Horrors Unseen, edited by Sam Moskowitz

Thursday, January 15th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Horrors Unseen-smallAbout six months ago I bought a small collection of vintage horror paperbacks on eBay (see the whole set here). It was a delightful batch of books, mostly anthologies and short story collections from the 60s-70s, and I’ve been gradually working my way through it.

I previously covered Night Fear by Frank Belknap Long, Carl Jacobi’s Revelations in Black, and Anthony Boucher’s The Compleat Werewolf, from the same set.

Horror anthologies are still published today, of course, and we’ve covered several recent examples right here. But over the years the market has shrunk enough that they are nowadays exclusively published in hardcover, or (at best) trade paperback. The days of the cheap paperback horror anthology, when a wide range of titles crowded the shelves, are long over. I miss them.

Sam Moskowitz was a well-known editor with some 25 anthologies to his name, and Horrors Unseen was the last. It was the third in a loose series which started with Horrors Unknown (1971) and Horrors in Hiding (1973; edited with Alden H. Norton). Sam was a pulp enthusiast, and these books are crammed full of classic horror tales from the pulps — this one includes the first reprint of C. L. Moore’s “Daemon” from Famous Fantastic Mysteries, and other reprints from Imagination!, Colliers, and other places.

Horrors Unseen was edited by Sam Moskowitz and published in June 1974 by Berkley Medallion. It is 208 pages, originally priced at 75 cents. It has never been reprinted, and there is no digital edition, but it’s not a rare book and copies are available online for $2-3. The cover artist is not credited, but it sure looks like Vincent di Fate.

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The Shade of Klarkash-Ton

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 | Posted by James Maliszewski

None strikes the note of cosmic horror as well as Clark Ashton Smith. In sheer daemonic strangeness and fertility of conception, Smith is perhaps unexcelled by any other writer, living or dead.

casSo wrote another great writer of cosmic horror, H.P. Lovecraft. Even given the Old Gent’s tendency toward hyperbole when extolling the virtues of his colleagues, I find it hard to disagree, particularly on this, the 122nd anniversary of Smith’s birth in Long Valley, California.

Of the “Big Three” – Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith – who wrote for Weird Tales during the 1920s and 1930s, CAS is the only one to have lived long enough to have died of old age and yet he’s also probably the least understood and celebrated. That’s a great pity, not just because he’s probably my favorite of that glorious triumvirate, but also because his works are quite unlike any other fantasy or science fiction writer before or since. Jack Vance probably comes the closest to conjuring up the shade of Smith, but there are lots of subtle differences between the two authors that make such a comparison facile.

For one, Smith considered himself primarily a poet rather than a writer of fiction. Even his most straightforward prose pieces possess a poetic character to them that transcends his florid vocabulary and indulgence in archaisms. There’s an incantatory rhythm to his writing that demands it be read aloud; I frequently find myself doing just that when I read a Smith story. It’s a very strange and powerful thing. Rarely have I encountered a writer whose written words so cried out to be spoken (intoned?). When you do so, the experience is like few others in literature. Smith’s writing is luxurious and appeals to all his reader’s senses, including the mind’s eye – that part of the imagination that doesn’t just conceive of people and things and places that have never existed but that strains at the edges of infinity. I find myself at a loss to describe precisely what I mean, but then that’s part of my point. Smith’s work often gives voice to the ineffable in ways that are both exhilarating and terrifying. Few others writers I have encountered can do that.

I make no secret of the fact CAS is my personal favorite of the Big Three of Weird Tales and the one whose works I most wish I could emulate. Though I strive mightily against it, I fear that my own writings evince a style more in keeping with the antiquarian Lovecraft than with the otherworldly poetry of the Bard of Auburn, though not for lack of trying. Smith’s genius is elusive and not easily reproduced.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Hard Boiled Holmes

Monday, January 12th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

HBH_MurderBy now, readers of this column (all three of you) know that I’m ‘all-in’ on Sherlock Holmes and Solar Pons. But I am also a long-time hard boiled fiction afficionado. I’ve got a section of the bookshelves well-stocked with private eye/police novels and short stories, from Hammett and Daly to Stone and Burke.

Now, I wouldn’t bet my house on the premise of the following essay, which first appeared in Sherlock Magazine back when I was a columnist for that fine, now defunct periodical. But I believe that I make a more compelling argument than you thought possible at first glance. The roots of the American hard boiled school can be seen in Sherlock Holmes and the Victorian Era. Yes, really.

And if any of the hard boiled heroes mentioned catch your fancy, leave a comment. I’ll be glad to tell you more about them. Without further ado, I bring you “Hard Boiled Holmes.”

“But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”

Raymond Chandler wrote these words in his essay, ‘The Simple Art of Murder.’ Ever since, the term ‘mean streets’ has been associated with the hard-boiled genre. One thinks of tough private eyes with guns, bottles, and beautiful dames. But was it really Chandler who created those words to describe the environment that the classic Philip Marlowe operated in?

Is it possible that it was Victorian London that gave birth to the mean streets, which would later become famous as the settings in the pages of Black Mask? Could it be that Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe were followers in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes?

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Start Off the New Year With Strange Tales

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Strange-Tales-Wildside-Pulp-Reprint-smallerSanta was good to me this year. Lots of great paperbacks, some Warhammer 40K audio dramas, two graphic novels… and a copy of Strange Tales #6, cover dated October 1932 (the Wildside reprint edition, of course.)

Nothing like getting a famous pulp magazine for Christmas. This one contains a novella by Victor Rousseau and short stories by Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, Hugh B. Cave, Sewell Peaslee Wright, and Henry S. Whitehead, among others. I even know who Henry S. Whitehead is, thanks to my recent post on the Wordsworth edition of Voodoo Tales: The Ghost Stories of Henry S. Whitehead (and yes, I felt smug when I spotted him on the TOC). There’s even an essay on True Tales of the Weird by Robert W. Sneddon. The reprint includes all of the interior artwork by Amos Sewell and Rafael Desoto. Here’s the complete table of contents:

“The Hunters from Beyond” by Clark Ashton Smith
“The Curse of Amen-Ra” by Victor Rousseau
“Sea-Tiger” by Henry S. Whitehead
“The Dead Walk Softly” by Sewell Peaslee Wright
“Bal Macabre” by Gustav Meyrink
“Strange Tales and True,” essay by Robert W. Sneddon
“The Infernal Shadow” by Hugh B. Cave
“The Artist of Tao” by Arthur Styron
“In the Lair of the Space Monsters” by Frank Belknap Long
The Cauldron (Letters)

We covered several of Wildside’s pulp reprints in December. Strange Tales #6 is about 148 pages, priced at $14.95. Wildside’s has replicas of issues 4, 6, and 7 for sale as pulp reprints here.

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