The Solar Pons – Fu Manchu Connection

Friday, October 24th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

200px-OTSolarPonsOmnibusExpoloits_of_solar_ponsMy colleague Bob Byrne has already introduced many new readers to August Derleth’s wonderfully tongue-in-cheek exploits of the unlikely-named Sherlock Holmes-inspired consulting detective, Solar Pons of Praed Street.

Derleth loved tossing in nods to mystery works outside of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional universe. These included three memorable encounters with Sax Rohmer’s insidious Dr. Fu Manchu.

“The Adventure of the Camberwell Beauty” was the first of the appearances to see publication in 1958. The story presents an unnamed Dr. Fu Manchu hiring the celebrated consulting detective to recover Karah, his beautiful young ward who has been abducted by his archenemy, Baron Corvus. The tale is set in the early 1930s and although the first chronicled, it is not our heroes’ first encounter with the Devil Doctor.

Structured as a tribute to Rohmer’s 1933 novel, The Bride of Fu Manchu, the story reveals Karah (named for Rohmer’s Karamaneh) as the granddaughter of the Devil Doctor. Showing a nice bit of fidelity to Rohmer’s early tales, the unnamed Doctor resides in an underground Thames-side lair in Limehouse.

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Vintage Treasures: The Gods Hate Kansas by Joseph Millard

Saturday, October 11th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Gods Hate Kansas-smallWith my Vintage Treasures posts, I like to showcase the best overlooked fantasy of the past half century or so. American fantasy is an enormously rich genre, but it also has a notoriously short memory, and there are countless buried treasures to rescue from undeserved obscurity.

Of course, sometimes I like to forget all that and just showcase the weird.

Joseph Millard was an American pulp science fiction writer who published nearly a dozen short stories between 1941 and 1943, and then apparently gave up writing for good. Most of his stories appeared in magazines like Thrilling Wonder Stories, Amazing Stories, Fantastic Adventures, and other pulps. He died in 1989.

In November 1941, he published his only novel, The Gods Hate Kansas, in Startling Stories magazine. It was reprinted a decade later in the November 1952 issue of Fantastic Story Magazine, and then appeared in paperback in February 1964 from Monarch Books, with a brilliantly gonzo cover by Jack Thurston, featuring a raygun-wielding hero riding bareback on a little red number and giving the business to an earnest-looking bug-eye monster. I love this cover with a fierce passion, and I thank Joseph Millard for making it all possible. (Click the image at left for a mondo-sized version.)

The cover isn’t the only brilliant thing about this novel. There’s also the title. Why do the gods hate Kansas? What the hell did Kansas do, anyway? It’s one of those questions that brings you back to the paperback rack next to the checkout lane for a second look. Just 40 cents and the answer could be yours.

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Frayling Tackles his own Yellow Peril

Friday, October 10th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Yellow PerilSerialFuManchuThe centennial of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu character is a topic I have covered both for the anniversary of the Devil Doctor’s first appearance in the story, “The Zayat Kiss,” in 1912 and the publication of the first novel (really a fix-up of stories), The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, in 1913.

While Rohmer and the character are largely forgotten outside of pulp circles today, the legacy of the criminal mastermind is alive and well in film and comics. The concept of the Yellow Peril from an era when the broad term Oriental grouped together people from parts of Eastern Europe with all of Asia and the Middle East may sound anachronistic, but given the continued delicate relations between the Middle East and the West, those same fears personified are still the stuff of fiction and paranoia well over a century on.

Sax Rohmer did not invent the criminal mastermind, nor was he the first to capitalize on the Yellow Peril for works of fiction. What he did do was create an archetype that managed to embody and transcend the fears of a “foreign other” to instead personify the fear of Western society falling to a superior intellect operating under a completely different set of values. Rohmer did this better than anyone before and while Fu Manchu as a name may seem ridiculous, the concept of the character is still with us from James Bond films to the media’s portrayal of terrorist leaders in the 21st Century.

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One Shot, One Story: Clark Ashton Smith

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Larry Bird Michael Jordan-smallThe other day, I was talking to a friend of mine who happens to be a pastor, and I took the opportunity to ask him a deep theological question: “If you had to choose one player to take one shot, with eight tenths of a second on the clock and the game on the line — to save your life – who would you choose?” (My friend, in addition to being an ordained minister, is also, like me, a devoted acolyte in the Church of the NBA.)

This is of course the sort of dangerous question that led to the Reformation and the Thirty Year’s War. Happily in this case no violence ensued, though his pick was Larry Bird and mine was Michael Jordan. Hey, if he wants to die while I live, that’s his business. (It helps a little that the first choice of each was the second choice of the other.)

What does this have to do with “Adventures in Fantasy Literature,” the avowed purview of Black Gate, you ask? Just this — it got me thinking about one of my favorite fantasists, one whom not enough lovers of the fantastic are acquainted with: Clark Ashton Smith. There are one hundred and fourteen stories in the five volumes of The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith. If I had a reader, willing but uninitiated, and had to pick one of those stories to introduce Smith with, (to save my life!) which one would it be?

Smith is a writer who can benefit from such an introduction; though he was one of the “Three Musketeers” of Weird Tales in its 1930′s heyday, he remains much less known than the other two-thirds of the trio. You could fill a phone book with the names of imitators of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, but, as Ray Bradbury said, Smith is “a special writer for special tastes; his fame was lonely.”

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Vintage Treasures: Down to a Sunless Sea by Lin Carter

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Lin Carter Down to a Sunless Sea-smallWe’re big fans of Lin Carter here at Black Gate. He was one of the most influential figures in 20th Century fantasy, chiefly as the editor of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy (BAF) line of paperback reprints, the six volumes of The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories, and the groundbreaking Flashing Swords! sword & sorcery anthologies. He was also one of the hardest working professionals in the genre. Carter edited a BAF volume every single month between May 1969 and April 1974 (65 total), and in the same time period produced over a dozen novels and numerous short stories.

Although his own fiction output was prodigious, Carter is remembered today chiefly as an editor rather than a writer. In his fond review of Carter’s 1984 novel Kellory the Warlock back in March, Fletcher Vredenburgh gave us a blunt assessment of his skill as a writer:

Poor Lin Carter: perhaps the greatest champion heroic fantasy ever had, an editor with few equals, one of the the most knowledgeable fan boys in the world, but a poor writer. I think he would have liked his stories and novels to be remembered more fondly than they are. I believe Kellory the Warlock proves he had the potential to have been a better writer…

Most of his fiction, rarely more than pastiches of his favorite authors (Howard, Burroughs, Lovecraft, and Dent), never garnered enough attention to be republished… Carter was no master stylist and it can get a little irritating. Most of the time, he was trying to create fun, quick reads that were recreations of his favorite writers. In a way, he was writing fan fiction; it’s just that he got his published.

Personally, I’ve always been curious about Carter’s Mars novels, since they seem to be more fondly remembered today than much of his other fiction. I’ve always assumed they were Burroughs pastiches, but the Author’s Note to the final volume, Down to a Sunless Sea, makes it clear that they were actually inspired by the Queen of sword-and-planet fiction, the great Leigh Brackett herself.

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Vintage Treasures: The Outlaw of Torn by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Saturday, October 4th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Outlaw-of-Torn-Ace-smallTruth be told, I’ve never been much of a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I think he’s a taste you acquire young or not at all, and I missed the window by not reading any ERB before I turned 25. Talk about a wasted youth.

Of course, it’s entirely possible I simply haven’t read the right book yet. If I were going to be shipwrecked on a desert island tomorrow, and I just happened to get tipped off in advance, I would probably grab a copy of The Outlaw of Torn to bring with me. I’ve wanted to read it ever since I laid eyes on it many years ago, and I’ve had it recommended to me many times by ERB fans since.

At seventeen he was the greatest swordsman in England. At eighteen his reputation as a fearless outlaw had spread throughout the land and there was a tremendous price upon his head. At nineteen he was the leader of a fierce band of more than a thousand men, from nobleman to serf, the only requirements being willingness and ability to fight and an oath to obey the Outlaw of Torn.

Who was this Norman of Torn, the fame of whose daring exploits was ringing throughout the land? Where did he come from? Was he of noble blood or was he of commoner origin?

Through savage combats the Outlaw fights his way in his love for the beautiful daughter of the most powerful baron in England to find the secret of his birth.

On the other hand, our resident ERB expert Ryan Harvey didn’t think too much of The Outlaw of Torn, calling it “stodgy and drearily artificial; it lacks the zest of the best of Burroughs’s work” in his feature review. And Ryan has rarely steered me wrong. I suspect he’d suggest a different book for my ill-fated voyage. (Of course, a true friend might also suggest a different travel agent…)

The Outlaw of Torn was originally serialized in New Story Magazine starting in January 1914, and published in hardcover by McClurg in 1927. The Ace paperback edition above was published in 1965; it is 255 pages, priced at $0.75. The cover is by the great Roy Krenkel, Jr. (Click for bigger version.)

Collecting Lovecraft, Part II

Saturday, October 4th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Lovecraft Ballantine Paperback collection-small

It’s almost too easy to get the complete works of H.P Lovecraft. Barnes and Noble, just for example, sells a handsome single-volume complete edition of his work (all 1112 pages!) for just $18. So why on earth would you ever want to spend your time and money collecting vintage paperbacks containing only a fraction of his complete works?

I made a half-hearted attempt to answer that question in the first article of this series, Collecting Lovecraft. Collecting is an emotional hobby, not a rational one, so trying to fathom the collecting urge purely on a rational basis is only going to get you so far. In truth, it usually boils down to something as simple as fondness for cover art, or nostalgia for the particular edition that first introduced you to an author.

Above you can see a colorful assortment of Lancer and Ballantine paperback editions of H.P. Lovecraft originally published between 1967 and 1973: The Colour Out of Space (1967), Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, Volume 2, edited by August Derleth (1969), The Shuttered Room and Other Tales of Horror, by Lovecraft and Derleth (1973), The Survivor and Others by Lovecraft and Derleth (1971), and The Spawn of Cthulhu, edited by Lin Carter (1971). Truthfully, I’m not too fond of these covers, and they don’t hold any particular nostalgia for me — they were all out of print long before I discovered Lovecraft. So why was I so determined to buy them?

Back in August the New York Times published a fascinating article about Zero Freitas, the Brazilian millionaire collecting every vinyl record ever made. I don’t mean one copy of every record, I mean every single piece of vinyl with music on it in the world. He’s amassed millions so far. I distinctly remember the first time I read the piece, I nodded along and thought, “Yeah, I get it.”

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Vintage Treasures: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Voyage of the Space Beagle by van Vogt, A. E. Mission Interplanetary-small The Voyage of the Space Beagle 1963-small

And now we move to one of the great SF classics of the Golden Age: A. E. van Vogt’s The Voyage of the Space Beagle, the tale of an intrepid crew of space explorers and their adventures on distant and deadly worlds, frequently cited as an obvious influence on both Star Trek and Alien.

But first, a few words about A. E. van Vogt, one of the greatest and most prolific writers of SF’s Golden Age, whom we haven’t discussed much at Black Gate (probably because he didn’t write a lot of fantasy). I read his classic novel Slan (1946) at an early age, and it had a big impact on me, pulpy and simplistic as it was. Van Vogt wrote nearly 40 SF novels between 1946 and 1985 — including the classics The World of Null-A (1948), The Weapon Shops of Isher (1951), and The War against the Rull (1959) — and published two dozen short story collections. He received the 14th Grand Master Award by The Science Fiction Writers of America in 1995.

Van Vogt has taken something of a beating from modern critics for his pulpy style and rather sloppy plotting, but he had many ardent fans, including Philip K. Dick, who said:

There was in van Vogt’s writing a mysterious quality, and this was especially true in The World of Null A. All the parts of that book did not add up; all the ingredients did not make a coherency. Now some people are put off by that. They think that’s sloppy and wrong, but the thing that fascinated me so much was that this resembled reality more than anybody else’s writing inside or outside science fiction.

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Beautiful Women, Alien Landscapes, and Santa Claus: An Ed Emshwiller Gallery

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Science Fiction Quarterly February 1957 Ed Emshwiller-smallEd Emshwiller was one of the greatest cover artists our genre has ever known. He painted hundreds of covers for many SF digests and paperbacks, primarily Galaxy, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the Ace Double line, starting in 1951 and continuing through the late 70s. His covers were filled with beautifully detailed alien settings, sultry and mysterious women, strange technology, and eye-catching fashions — frequently all at once, as in the cover of the February 1957 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly at left (click for bigger version).

The Geeky Nefherder blog has posted a gorgeous gallery of 75 Emsh cover paintings, including some of his very best work. Many of the images are available in high-resolution (click each one to see the high-res pic).

Warning: You could easily waste a lot of time on this site (I know I did).

The gallery includes cover art from Space Stories, Galaxy, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Fantastic Story, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Startling Stories, Planet Stories, Astounding Science Fiction, Infinity, The Original Science Fiction Stories,  Future Science Fiction, Venture, Science Fiction Quarterly, Super-Science Fiction, IF, and Amazing Stories — as well as classic covers for Andre Norton’s Daybreak — 2250, Galactic Derelict, and Star Born, Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time, Frank Belknap Long’s Space Station #1, Murray Leinster’s The Black Galaxy, Poul Anderson’s Virgin Planet, John Brunner’s Threshold of Eternity, and many others.

Even if you’re already an Emsh fan, you’re sure to appreciate having so much great art by the master together in one place. And if you’re not, this site will make you one.

See the complete gallery here. (And thanks to Charlie Jane Anders at io9 for the tip!)

New Treasures: The Casebook of Sexton Blake, edited by David Stuart Davies

Monday, September 22nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Casebook of Sexton Blake-smallI continue to accumulate these Wordsworth Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural whenever I can, as I find them consistently entertaining and well worth the price.

When I wrote about Mark Valentine’s anthology The Black Veil & Other Tales of Supernatural Sleuths, in the comments Paul R. McNamee remarked on an additional volume I wasn’t familiar with:

I just picked up their Casebook of Sexton Blake this week… it is surprisingly thick – 545 pages. 7 classic Blake stories by different writers between 1907 – 1923. A succinct introduction goes over Blake’s history – an evolution from Baker-Street-Residing-Pipe-Smoking-Holmes-ripoff to his own niche of catch-all pulp adventurer. I wanted to try these classic tales before delving into some James-Bond-mode stories from the early 1960s that a friend (Charles R. Rutledge) had sent me… When I ordered Blake Amazon was displaying the gray cover, but they sent me crimson – which has complete new artwork, I might add, not just a color scheme change.

I was intrigued enough to order a copy of The Casebook of Sexton Blake myself and it arrived last month. Paul is quite correct. There are seven pulp tales within, by six different authors. My copy had the crimson cover, with artwork by Nathan Clair, shown at right (click for bigger version), although there was a first edition paperback with more pulp-inspired artwork (see below).

It didn’t immediately help me understand who this Sexton Blake fellow was though, or why the seven stories within were written by six different authors. That was curious, to say the least. The Wikipedia entry for Blake cleared that up, however.

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