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

Saturday, February 28th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Echoes of Valor III-smallAnd so we come to the end of our all-too-brief series on Karl Edward Wagner’s ambitious and highly regarded sword & sorcery anthologies. Echoes of Valor III was published in paperback by Tor Books in September 1991, just three years before poor Karl drank himself to death in 1994.

The three Echoes of Valor books are perplexing in some regards, especially for collectors. Wagner had taken a huge step towards literary respectability for Robert E. Howard in 1977, by compiling and editing the definitive three-volume hardcover collection of the unexpurgated Conan for Berkley: The People of the Black Circle, Red Nails, and The Hour of the Dragon. It’s clear that he intended Echoes of Valor to accomplish the same feat for a wider rage of his favorite writers, by assembling the defining collection of their best heroic fantasy in hardcover — and with non-fiction commentary that treated them to genuine scholarship.

It didn’t quite work out that way. The first volume of Echoes of Valor appeared only in paperback in 1987, and it had no non-fiction content at all. It was also burdened with a Ken Kelly cover that pretty obviously had originally been intended for Tor’s Conan line — I wouldn’t be surprised if most book shoppers in 1987 mistook it for just another Conan pastiche, and didn’t give it another glance.

With the second volume, Echoes of Valor II, Wagner finally got the book he’d aspired to. It appeared in hardcover in 1989 with an original cover by Rick Berry, and no less than eight non-fiction pieces (autobiographical sketches, forwards, and author appreciations) from four distinguished writers: C.L. Moore, Forrest J. Ackerman, Sam Moskowitz and Wagner himself.

Echoes of Valor II was one of the first books to treat sword & sorcery as serious fiction, and the hardcover format meant that Tor was able to sell it into libraries and schools across the country. It was a groundbreaking book for the genre. So it was a bit puzzling when Echoes of Valor III appeared three years later — exclusively in paperback, and with only one brief essay from Sam Moskowitz.

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Take a Visual Tour of the Early SF and Fantasy Pulps in Futures Past #1

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Futures Past 1926-smallI have a great curiosity about the beginnings of science fiction and fantasy in the United States — particularly what’s known as the Gernsback Era, beginning when Hugo Gernsback founded Amazing Stories in 1926, and virtually created modern science fiction. Nearly simultaneously, Weird Tales (founded in 1923) was publishing the first stories of the greatest fantasists of the 20th Century: Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith.

So I was delighted to discover a brand new magazine devoted to covering the birth of modern science fiction: Futures Past: A Visual History of Science Fiction, edited by Jim Emerson. The first issue of this 64-page, full color magazine, subtitled 1926: The Birth of Modern Science Fiction, appeared in July 2014, and is now available in e-book PDF format. Future issues will cover the whole field of science fiction — including magazines, books, movies and conventions — year by year, in an attractive and easy-to-read format.

Here’s the description of the entire undertaking from the publisher:

Welcome to one of the largest and most ambitious projects ever attempted in the field of science fiction.  In the pages of Futures Past we will be covering, in detail, the birth and development of modern science fiction over its first 50 years – from 1926 to 1975. Designed in a yearbook format, each issue of Futures Past will cover all the works, people, organizations and events in detailed chronological order.

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A Neglected Classic from the Golden Age of Sword & Sorcery: H. Warner Munn’s Merlin Cycle

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 | Posted by Tony Den

Merlins Godson H Warner Munn-smallI first encountered H. Warner Munn by chance. Or maybe he encountered me, and it was more than pure chance.

I started reading fantasy and science fiction in high school, when a friend recommended Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight books. I dutifully took the first one out of the public library and soldiered through it. I was impressed enough to decide to start broadening my narrow literary horizons. The problem was that, in South Africa in the 1980′s, the big book sellers stocked a pretty limited selection of genre titles, and the more specialized sellers were few and far between.

The solution was for my friend Graham and I to take a bus to the city center after school, and explore some of the independent and more specialized shops. One in particular has a vast array of genre books, and to this day I lament its eventual closure.

I encountered a myriad of unknown authors and works on that shop’s shelves. One that particularly intrigued me – although not enough to part with my pitifully small amount of cash – was The Misplaced Legion, by Harry Turtledove. I never saw that book on the shelves again.

Fast forward a decade and a bit and, lo and behold, the internet was here and much exploring was done. I dredged my memory — while whittling away at my employer’s internet bandwidth — looking for bits and pieces to fill out my book and RPG collections. Memory failed me somewhat, however, and when I attempted to recall that vague, impressive book from the ‘80s, I remembered it as… The Lost Legion. I no longer had a clue to the author’s name, either.

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Vintage Treasures: Somewhere a Voice by Eric Frank Russell

Saturday, February 14th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Somewhere a Voice Eric Frank Russell-smallI cover a lot of different writers with these Vintage Treasures posts. Some are authors I’ve long cherished, and some are folks I’ve never read. Frequently they’re books I’ve been curious about for a long time, and sometimes they’re simply odd discoveries from recent collections I’ve acquired.

But I think the most rewarding are those where I take a look at writers I’ve long overlooked. That’s the case with Eric Frank Russell, whom I really knew for a single story, “Dear Devil,” which I read in Terry Carr’s great anthology Creatures From Beyond many years ago — a great story, true, but a single story nonetheless. So I’m discovering him for the first time now by reading collections of his pulp science fiction, such as Men, Martians, and Machines and Six Worlds Yonder, and they are delightful.

I went searching for more in my library and found Somewhere a Voice, a 1966 Ace paperback that has now been out of print for nearly five decades. A great pity, I think, since Russell’s stories still speak to a modern audience and I’m convinced he would easily find readers today.

In the meantime, I can do my part to fight against the cruel modern neglect of Eric Frank Russell by spending a few moments talking about him here, and that’s what I’m going to do. Plus, I’m going to throw in a few pulp magazine covers, because it’s Saturday morning and I have nothing better to do.

Let’s start with the text from the back of the book, because that saves me the effort of describing it myself.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, June 1951: A Retro-Review

Sunday, February 8th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Galaxy June 1951-smallHere’s a review of a magazine issue that Matthew Wuertz has already covered here in his excellent ongoing traversal of Galaxy from its beginning … but I happened to read it and John O’Neill assures me that another (not necessarily dissenting) view is always welcome.

This is from the first year of Galaxy‘s existence. To me it reflects an magazine increasingly confident of its place. The cover doesn’t illustrate any story: it’s by Ed Emshwiller, titled “Relics of an Extinct Race”, and it depicts lizard-like aliens investigating rock strata containing remnants of human civilization.

The back cover advertises a book called The Education of a French Model, which was the memoirs of “Kiki de Montparnasse” (real name Alice Prin), who was somewhat famous as a nude model, and mistress of, among others, Man Ray, in the early part of the 20th Century. Her memoirs featured an introduction by Ernest Hemingway, which the ad happily trumpets. Other ads were for Saran Plastic Seat Covers, and for weight reducing chewing gum (called Kelpidine!), and other than that for books.

Interior illustrations were by Elizabeth MacIntyre, David Stone, David Maus, and “Willer” — this last a somewhat transparent (and, I would have thought, unnecessary) pseudonym for Ed Emshwiller (who usually signed his word Emsh). I note that except for Emshwiller the names are all unfamiliar, suggesting that H. L. Gold may have been looking for “new blood.” (For that matter, Emshwiller was “new blood” himself, a Gold discovery who had only begun illustrating for the SF magazines that year. It’s just that he’s the one of these illustrators who became a legend.)

Elizabeth MacIntyre is interesting as one of very few women SF illustrators in that era (the only other one I can think of offhand is the great Weird Tales artist Margaret Brundage). Todd Mason suggests, I think sensibly, that both the different set of illustrators and the unexpected advertisements can be attributed to Galaxy‘s publisher, World Editions, which had wider ambitions than just publishing SF.

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Hitchhiker’s Guide to Edmond Hamilton: Who did Douglas Adams Really Read?

Sunday, February 1st, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page


…how is it that Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reads like a rip-roaring Silver Age Space Opera with added humour and satire?

Douglas Adams famously wasn’t an SF fan — apparently he “only got to about page 10″ of most SF books (source) .

How odd, then, that Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reads like a rip-roaring Silver Age Space Opera with added humour and satire.

Douglas Adams always told the same story about the birth of his magnum opus:

One night in 1971 a 19-year-old English hitchhiker named Douglas Adams lay drunk in a field in Innsbruck, Austria. He had with him a borrowed copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe by Ken Welsh.

No mention of reading widely in the genre.


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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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