Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Shadow of Fu Manchu, Part Two

Saturday, August 30th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Shadow of Fu ManchuShadow ZebraThe Shadow of Fu Manchu was serialized in Collier’s from May 8 to June 12, 1948. Hardcover editions followed later that year from Doubleday in the U.S. and Herbert Jenkins in the U.K. Sax Rohmer’s eleventh Fu Manchu thriller gets underway with Sir Denis Nayland Smith in New York on special assignment with the FBI. He is partnered with FBI Agent Raymond Harkness to investigate why agents from various nations are converging on Manhattan. Sir Denis suspects the object of international attention is the special project being handled by The Huston Research Laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Morris Craig. However, Smith initially chooses to keep the FBI in the dark on this matter until he is certain.

The Si-Fan has succeeded in closing in on The Huston Research Laboratory by drawing a net around parent corporation Huston Electric’s director, millionaire Michael Frobisher and his wife, Stella. The Frobisher marriage is not a happy one. Michael lives in fear that his flirtatious wife is unfaithful to him and Stella is likewise tormented by a series of neuroses. The family physician, Dr. Pardoe recommends an eminent European psychiatrist and Nazi concentration camp survivor, Professor Hoffmeyer to treat Stella Frobisher. Both Mr. and Mrs. Frobisher are concerned that Asians have been spying on them, going so far as to break into their home and infiltrate their country club. As their marriage is not a healthy one, neither husband nor wife confide in the other, but rather let their paranoia grow until their nerves have frayed. What neither suspects is that Carl Hoffmeyer is really Dr. Fu Manchu in disguise.

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Vintage Treasures: Horrors Unknown, edited by Sam Moskowitz

Thursday, August 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Sam Moskowitz Horrors Unknown-smallI think of Sam Moskowitz primarily as an SF historian, perhaps the greatest the field has ever known.

His book The Immortal Storm, a history of early fannish feuds, is still read and discussed today, and his numerous biographical articles on 20th Century SF writers — published in an assortment of SF digests in the 50s and 60s — were eventually collected into two popular books, Explorers of the Infinite and Seekers of Tomorrow. He was a tireless advocate for SF, and was famously the chairman of the first World Science Fiction Convention in New York City in 1939 at just nineteen years of age. He was so strongly associated with early pulp SF, primarily as a collector and genre evangelist, that Isaac Asimov dedicated Before the Golden Age to him.

But Moskowitz was also an editor of no little note, with some two dozen titles to his name. I recently stumbled on one of his first horror anthologies, Horrors Unknown (1971), which collects early 20th Century short fiction from Edison Marshall, Fitz-James O’Brien, Ray Bradbury, and many others — including a Jules de Grandin novelette by Seabury Quinn, a Northwest Smith novelette from C. L. Moore, and an incredible round-robin Cthulhu Mythos tales by none other than H. P. Lovecraft, C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long.

Two more horror anthologies followed this one: Horrors in Hiding (1973; edited with Alden H. Norton) and Horrors Unseen (1974). The latter was his final anthology. Sam Moskowitz died in 1997, at the age of 76.

Sam wrote fascinating and detailed introductions — author appreciations, really — for each story, and his love and knowledge of the field shine through in every one.

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Vintage Treasures: Big Planet by Jack Vance

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Startling Stories September 1952-small Big Planet Jack Vance Ace-small Big-Planet-Ace-1978-small

I’m embarrassed to admit that I became a Jack Vance fan only late in life. I blame a misspent youth.

I first discovered him through his short fiction — especially “The Dragon Masters” and “The Moon Moth,” two brilliantly imaginative tales of far-off worlds. But I was slow to discover his novels and I’ve spent the last few years trying to catch up.

The one I want to read next is Big Planet, his 1952 novel of a massive but technologically backwards world known simply as Big Planet, settled over the centuries by a host of criminals, malcontents, and outcasts from Earth. Claude Glystra is sent to Big Planet to investigate rumors of a dark plot against Earth, but his ship is sabotaged and crash-lands 40,000 miles from his destination. Glystra and his crewmates must undertake an impossible journey on foot across a dangerous landscape filled with aliens, human colonies isolated for centuries, and the treacherous agents of his enemies.

Big Planet was Vance’s first major SF novel, and it is one of the classic adventure fantasies of the 1950s. It has been reprinted over a dozen times. I have several different paperback editions — and they are, in fact, very different. All I have to do is figure out which one to read.

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What Would it Look Like to Pull a Watchmen on Planetary Romance? Part II

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

carson aWhen we last left our intrepid blogger (me) two weeks ago, he was blogging (very roughly) about the superhero genre, pre- and post-Watchmen, and the kind of light that Alan Moore’s Watchmen shone onto superhero comics. I did this because I think Moore did something very special and I wondered if it could be done to other fields, especially planetary romance.

I ended on a cliffhanger. And now, Part II….

I said last time that most of the traditions of the superhero genre were born in a very brief period between 1938 and 1945. In fact, the elements of the superhero tradition come part and parcel from the larger pulp tradition, which contained westerns; gritty and occasionally lurid detective stories; and planetary romances like Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, John Carter of Mars, and Carson Napier of Venus.

The planetary romance tradition was powerfully tailored to its key market: white male American teens and men. If you were an under-appreciated teen with hero or power fantasies, pulp was your thing.

The heroes were young, white, smart, good looking, physically able, self-deprecating, and commanding. They confronted immediate perils (like a monster) or vast dangers (like an invasion), often single-handedly, or from a position of inspiring leadership.

And the opponents the hero fought were most often one-dimensional, morally-destitute cardboard placeholders for savage (non-whites) in our world, a view consistent with racial views of the late 19th century.

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Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Shadow of Fu Manchu, Part One

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Doubleday ShadowShadow JenkinsThe Shadow of Fu Manchu was serialized in Collier’s from May 8 to June 12, 1948. Hardcover editions followed later that year from Doubleday in the U.S. and Herbert Jenkins in the U.K. The book was Sax Rohmer’s eleventh Fu Manchu thriller and was also the last of the perennial series to make the New York Times bestseller list.

The story had its origins in a Fu Manchu stage play that Rohmer had developed for actor Basil Rathbone. The project had failed to get off the ground, but became instead the first new Fu Manchu novel in seven years. Sadly, during these seven years, the property had begun to fade from the public eye.

It had been eight years since the character last appeared on the big screen (in the popular 1940 Republic serial, Drums of Fu Manchu) and eight years since the well-received Shadow of Fu Manchu radio series (from which the planned stage play and later novel borrowed its title) had left the air. Detective Comics had long since finished reprinting the Fu Manchu newspaper comic strip as a back-up feature for Batman. As far as the public was concerned, Fu Manchu was a part of the past that seemed far removed from the world that had been transformed by the Second World War.

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The 1939 Retro Hugo Award Winners Announced

Saturday, August 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Sword in the Stone T. H. White-smallBack in April, we told you about the nominees for the 1939 Retro Hugo Awards, for the best science fiction and fantasy first published 75 years ago.

The Hugos were first awarded at the 11th World Science Fiction Convention in 1953. The 1939 Retro Hugo Awards celebrate the finest work published in 1938, which fans would have voted on at the very first Worldcon in New York in 1939 (if the Hugos had existed in 1939).

The Retro Hugos were awarded at Luncon 3, the The 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, held from Thursday, August 14th through Sunday, August 17th, in London, England. The 2014 (non-Retro) Hugos will be awarded tomorrow in a ceremony just before the close of the convention.

The Retro Hugo awards were presented by Mary Robinette Kowal and Rob Shearman.

Without further ado, here are the winners:

Best Novel:

The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White (Collins)

Best Novella:

“Who Goes There?” by Don A Stuart [John W. Campbell] (Astounding Science-Fiction, August 1938)

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Collecting Lovecraft

Saturday, August 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

HP Lovecraft Ballantine Paperbacks-small

Last month I wrote about the first Arkham House books I ever bought, the beautiful 3-volume 1964 edition of the complete stories of H.P. Lovecraft. It was a splendid purchase, and a great introduction to the master. But, as I mentioned last month, collecting Lovecraft can be a lot of fun, and that initial purchase robbed me of the joy of tracking down his fiction in paperback. Until I finally decided to do it anyway.

Now, if you’re going to start collecting Lovecraft in paperback (and why wouldn’t you?) I recommend starting with the 1958 Avon paperback Cry Horror!, originally released as The Lurking Fear. That’s a terrific little book.

Of course, it’s just one book, and one that’s pretty easy to find, really. Amazon has copies starting at $7.95, and eBay has around a dozen copies, starting at $6.99. You want more of a challenge than that, don’t you?

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Vintage Treasures: Sturgeon in Orbit by Theodore Sturgeon

Friday, August 15th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Sturgeon in Orbit-smallA few weeks ago, I wrote about my surprise in finding a Theodore Sturgeon collection I hadn’t known existed: To Here and the Easel, a handsome Panther Books paperback from 1975 that never had a US edition.

That book re-ignited my interest in Theodore Sturgeon, whom I consider one of the finest short story writers to dabble in SF and fantasy in the 20th Century. And it reminded me that I have by no means exhausted the Sturgeon titles I already have in my collection.

So this week I pulled another one off my shelf — the 1978 paperback edition of Sturgeon in Orbit, which I’ve never read before. It collects a fine sample of Sturgeon’s work from the early 1950s, the era of flying saucers, national paranoia, and a newborn fear of nuclear Armageddon. It features mysterious alien invaders, noble scientists facing terrifying choices, and stranger things.

The unusual cover, by Stanislaw Fernandes, was a departure for Sturgeon, whose books usually featured abstract space scenes. This one features… well, I’m not sure really. A runway model wearing three capes and a swami headdress, who looks like she’s about to level up. I get it.

Whatever the case, it’s a nice, slender volume that promises to be something I haven’t enjoyed in a while – a very quick read. So far, it’s been a lot of fun and I look forward to finishing it this weekend.

Here’s the description from the back of the book.

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The Long-Awaited Return of Bulldog Drummond

Friday, August 15th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Dead Mans GateEven more than the sinister Dr. Fu Manchu, Bulldog Drummond has become more and more obscure with each passing decade. The original ten novels and five short stories penned by H. C. McNeile (better known by his pen name, Sapper) were bestsellers in the 1920s and 1930s and were an obvious and admitted influence upon the creation of James Bond. Gerard Fairlie turned Sapper’s final story outline into a bestselling novel in 1938 and went on to pen six more original novels featuring the character through 1954.

While the Fairlie titles sold well enough in the UK, the American market for the character had begun to dry up with the proliferation of hardboiled detective fiction. By the time Fairlie decided to throw in the towel, the long-running Bulldog Drummond movie series and radio series had also reached the finish line. Apart from an unsuccessful television pilot, the character remained dormant for a decade until he was updated as one of many 007 imitations who swung through a pair of campy spy movies during the Swinging Sixties. Henry Reymond adapted both 1960s screenplays for a pair of paperback originals, but these efforts barely registered outside the UK.

Fifteen years later, Jack Smithers brought Drummond out of retirement (literally) to join up with several of his clubland contemporaries in Combined Forces (1983). Smithers’s tribute was a sincere effort that found a very limited market to appreciate its cult celebration of the heroes of several generations past. Finally thirty years later, Drummond is back in the first of three new period-piece thrillers from the unlikely pen of fantasy writer Stephen Deas. In a uniquely twenty-first century wrinkle, the three new thrillers are being published exclusively as e-books by Piqwiq.

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My Inspiration: Black Canaan

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 | Posted by Elwin Cotman

Black Canaan-small

He was clad in ragged trousers, but on his head was a band of beaten gold set with a huge red jewel, and on his feet were barbaric sandals. His features reflected titanic vitality no less than his huge body. But he was all Negro — flaring nostrils, thick lips, ebony skin. I knew I looked upon Saul Stark, the conjer man.
– “Black Canaan,” by Robert E. Howard

A poor man, a black man, but still a king. A king with a realm he carved out himself.

In my first story collection, The Jack Daniels Sessions EP, there is a novella about a young boy who sees dead people. Very original, I know. The gist is that he has shamanist powers that have lain dormant in his genes. At one point, he is told a story about a plantation shaman who empowered the slaves with his magic, enabling them to sabotage the farm. There is also a legend about runaways joining up with Indians in the swamp, my own riff on the Black Seminoles. The boy’s exposure to his African roots is an uncomfortable one for him, sometimes physically so, as it is a part of his lineage he had no awareness of.

The episodes of slave revolt are based on history. It was also history I had to seek out myself. The teaching of black history in schools is such an insidious con job, it angers me to write about it. Fifty years ago, there were downtrodden blacks, then good white people passed laws and they could sit at a lunch counter. One hundred and forty-six years ago, there were slaves, then good white people passed a law and they were free. (Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot that slavery ended 500 years ago, or 600, or whatever it is now.)

The most we learned about slavery in elementary school was the cakewalk, and that as a form of cornpone entertainment, not the satire on whites that it was. American history classes largely leave out the stories of blacks’ role in their own liberation. They also leave out any information on Africa, continuing the stereotype of the continent as a savage place, not the fertile land of kingdoms it was prior to colonization.

Ironically, one of my earliest introductions to black liberation was a story by someone decried as a racist, Robert E. Howard’s “Black Canaan.”

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