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New Treasures: Space Opera edited by Rich Horton

Saturday, May 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Space Opera Prime Books-smallHallelujah! Rich Horton’s Space Opera anthology is finally here. And it’s massive.

I’ve been waiting for this book since it was announced over six years ago, back in April of 2008. Rich shared his proposed table of contents at the time (and it was groundbreaking enough to be picked up as a news story at places like SF Signal, and listed at ISFDB), but the volume was eventually canceled. I thought that was the end of it, until I saw it back on the Prime Books schedule last year.

I am delighted to finally have it in my hot little hands. The project has become much more ambitious over the years. Did I mention it was massive? Rich’s original TOC listed 11 stories — the finished product has twice that many, from authors like Greg Egan, James Patrick Kelly, Chris Willrich, Kage Baker, Jay Lake, Alastair Reynolds, Ian McDonald, Aliette de Bodard, Robert Reed, Ian R. MacLeod, and many others.

Rich also provides a fascinating introduction, exploring the genesis of the term “space opera” in early SF and the way perceptions of it have changed over the years — as well as a survey of overlooked classics. Here’s a taste:

The term space opera was coined by the late great writer/fan Wilson (Bob) Tucker in 1941, and at first was strictly pejorative… Even so, much work that would now be called space opera was written and widely admired in that period…. most obviously, perhaps, the work of writers like Edmond Hamilton and, of course, E.E. “Doc” Smith…

It may have been Brian Aldiss who began the rehabilitation of the term with a series of anthologies in the mid-70s: Space Opera (1974), Space Odysseys (1974), and Galactic Empires (two volumes, 1976). Aldiss, whose literary credentials were beyond reproach, celebrated pure quill space opera as “the good old stuff,” even resurrecting all but forgotten stories like Alfred Coppel’s “The Rebel of Valkyr,” complete with barbarians transporting horses in spaceship holds. Before long writers and critics were defending space operas as a valid and vibrant form of SF…

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Galaxy, September 1972: A Retro Review

Friday, May 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Rich Horton

Galaxy September 1972-smallI don’t usually look at magazines quite this recent in these reviews… though now that I think about this, this issue appeared well over 40 years ago! It’s a fairly significant issue in context, though coming from a period in Galaxy’s history usually disparaged.

This period was the editorship of Ejler Jakobsson, which extended from 1969 to 1974. He succeeded Frederik Pohl, and preceded Jim Baen, two extremely important figures in SF editing. Indeed, the only other editor of Galaxy before Pohl was H. L. Gold, yet another absolutely central SF editor. So Jakobsson was bound to have a hard time being compared to that crowd. A number of writers complained that Jakobsson was an editorial meddler (ironically, the same complaint was often made of Gold).

I confess I have never thought much of Jakobsson’s reign myself. I began reading Galaxy in October 1974, shortly after Baen took over. And I loved Baen’s Galaxy. The few issues of Jakobsson’s I’ve seen before this one have been rather dull.

I often have read words to the effect that he knew little or nothing about SF, but that’s not quite true. He was Finnish and emigrated to the US in 1926, aged 15. In the ’40s, he worked on the magazines Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories, and indeed edited the latter for a couple of years starting in 1949. But he had been out of the field since that time – so perhaps it was more accurate to say he knew little about then contemporary SF.

He did have a couple of important assistants: Judy-Lynn Benjamin was Managing Editor and Lester Del Rey was Features Editor. (Del Rey and Benjamin married later, of course, and co-founded the Del Rey Books imprint.)

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C.S.E. Cooney’s “Martyr’s Gem” Acquired for Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014

Monday, January 20th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014We were very pleased and proud to hear reports this morning that editor Rich Horton has acquired C.S.E. Cooney’s novella “Martyr’s Gem” for his annual collection, The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014.

Yay!! Drinks are on us!1

“Martyr’s Gem” was originally published in Ann Leckie’s online magazine GigaNotoSaurus in May of last year. Giganotosaurus publishes one longish fantasy or science fiction story every month, including the Nebula nominees “All the Flavors” by Ken Liu, and “The Migratory Pattern of Dancers” by Katherine Sparrow. If you can’t wait for the book, you can read the complete “Martyr’s Gem” here.

There’s a marvelous animated excerpt narrated by Ms. Cooney, “The Epic of Shursta Sharkbait,” here. Sara Norja at Such Wanderings pretty much summed up our feelings when she said:

It’s a gorgeously written story with characters that jumped off the screen and will linger in my mind for a good while, I suspect. The island culture she’s created is fascinating and vibrant. Sharks and gemstones! Bantering, loving sibling relationships! A society where men and women are pretty equal! An interesting oral storytelling culture and stories-within-stories! I love pretty much everything about this novella. Go forth and be immersed!

It’s fairly unusual for a 19,000-word novella to make it into a Year’s Best volume, so this is something to celebrate. Rich Horton’s volumes are our favorite Year’s Best anthologies out there; the 2014 edition is due in May. We covered the 2013 edition here.

We published C.S.E. Cooney’s novella “Godmother Lizard,” which Tangent Online called “a delightful fantasy… [it] entranced me from the beginning,” and the sequel “Life on the Sun” — which Tangent called “bold and powerful… this one captured a piece of my soul. Brilliant.”

1. Must be of legal drinking age. Must realize we’re joking. Offer not valid outside the continental U.S.A. Or anywhere that serves alcohol.

Satellite, December 1956: A Retro-Review

Saturday, November 30th, 2013 | Posted by Rich Horton

Satellite Science Fiction December 1956-smallThis is one of a great many ’50s digests. It began publication in October 1956 as a bimonthly, and became a monthly in 1959 for its last four issues (the last was May). 18 issues total. (Apparently the June and July issues were assembled at least to some degree.)

The publisher was Leo Margulies, and the editor for the first two issues was Sam Merwin, who had done good work with Startling Stories/Thrilling Wonder Stories.

According to the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, Margulies took over after that– although the ISFDB credits Cylvia Kleinmann for a number of the later issues. I tend to trust the SFE here, especially with Malcolm Edwards and Mike Ashley responsible for the entry.

That said, Kleinmann (Margulies’ wife) was also for a time editor of Mike Shayne’s Mystery Magazine (also published by Margulies) so very possibly she was the editor, or perhaps it was a collaborative effort, and, as Todd Mason notes, Margulies had a long history of fronting anthology projects (under his name) that were actually edited by others.

Frank Belknap Long edited the final four 1959 issues, which were letter-sized instead of digest.

For most of its run, Satellite featured “A Complete Novel in Each Issue” (according to the SFE, to compete with paperback novels). Based on the TOCs I’ve seen, these really were reasonable-length novels for the day – in the range of 40,000 words.

The December 1956 issue, the magazine’s second, has a promising TOC – stories by the likes of Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, Gordon Dickson, Algis Budrys, and Michael Shaara among others. Indeed, the first few issues of the magazine were pretty promising, though it never really became a top market.

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Amazing Science Fiction, December 1959: A Retro-Review

Monday, November 18th, 2013 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Science Fiction December 1959-smallHere’s an issue from very early in Cele Goldsmith’s tenure (and very early in my life, I might add – this issue presumably appeared about a month after I did). It was in fact the first issue of Goldsmith’s second year at the helm.

The cover is by Leo Summers, illustrating (not too accurately) Alan Nourse’s novel Star Surgeon, which appears complete in this issue. Above the magazine title is the title of another story, “Knights of the Dark Tower,” without mention of the author, as was Amazing’s curious habit. Interior illustrations are by Summers, Virgil Finlay, and Mel Varga (with one uncredited).

The editorial, by Norman Lobsenz, celebrates Walter X. Osborn, a man living in the Philippines who was then 85 and had been reading Amazing since its beginning. Osborn’s favorite story? Possibly “The Green Man Returns,” by Harold M. Sherman from December 1947. His least favorite? The Shaver mysteries.

S. E. Cotts’ book review column, The Spectroscope, is extremely short. The one novel covered is Seed of Light, by Edmund Cooper, which Cotts criticizes for being too ambitious. But high praise goes to two anthologies, The World That Couldn’t Be, edited by H. L. Gold, and Mary Kornbluth’s Science Fiction Showcase, which she put together with Fred Pohl’s help (Pohl insists she picked the stories, though – he just helped clear the rights) after Cyril Kornbluth’s death.

The letter column features Bob Anderson, John Hitt, Ray Hahn, Jacqueline Brice, James S. Veldman, Paul Matthews, and Bobby Gene Warner (no names familiar to me, though Warner, as I recall, showed up in another Amazing lettercol from this period). No real controversies. Lots of Praise for Murray Leinster’s “Long Ago, Far Away”.

There is one “Complete Novel”, and 6 short stories, one of them a very brief vignette.

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Amazing, March 1961: A Retro-Review

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories March 1961-smallThis is a pretty strong issue of Amazing, overall. Really strong list of authors. The cover is interesting – not so much the illustration, a decent and quite accurate Leo Summers painting illustrating James Blish’s “A Dusk of Idols.” What intrigued me were the words.

Sure enough, “A Dusk of Idols,” by James Blish, adorns the cover. Makes sense. But atop the title, we read “Playboy and the Slime God.” That’s an Isaac Asimov story. Wouldn’t you think they’d have promoted Asimov’s name? But no. I can’t figure that one out.

Interiors are by Summers, Ivie, Morey, and the great Virgil Finlay. The editorial is by Norman Lobsenz as usual, and it promotes the next issue – which is to be a special All-Reprint issue, consisting of classic Amazing stories selected by Sam Moskowitz. (Sigh … I know people defend his research, and I have no dispute with that, but I do dispute his taste.)

Anyway, the issue does seem to feature some significant stories – an early Bradbury, Eando Binder’s “I, Robot,” an ERB reprint, Nowlan’s Armageddon – 2419, and pieces by Starzl, Hamilton, and Keller. Lester Del Rey’s Fact Article, “Operation Lunacy,” essentially addresses the Mutual Assured Destruction doctrine, a little presciently, it seems to me.

S. E. Cotts’s book review column, The Spectroscope, is rather harsh on balance towards two anthologies, Judith Merril’s The Year’s Best S-F, Fifth Annual Edition and Robert P. Mill’s Decade of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Cotts opens by complaining that “there are more kinds of anthologies than you can shake a stick at… of one particular author’s output, or from one particular magazine, or on one particular subject… year’s best, year’s worst, or the year’s zaniest.”

Of Merril’s book Cotts begins kindly enough: “As far as the stories are concerned, it is the best yet.” And particular praise goes to newer writers, Daniel Keyes for “Flowers for Algernon,” Carol Emshwiller for “Day on the Beach,” and “an English author, J. G. Ballard” for “The Sound Sweep.”

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Amazing Stories, January 1962: A Retro-Review

Saturday, July 20th, 2013 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories January 1962-smallThis seems to me a fairly significant issue of Amazing, in its way, though  it doesn’t feature any of the really significant Goldsmith discoveries (no Zelazny, no Le Guin, no Bunch); nor are any of the stories lasting classics. But all of the writers are reasonably well-known, and it does feature one somewhat important sort-of-debut, as well as a near farewell.

The cover is by Ed Emshwiller, illustrating Ben Bova’s “The Towers of Titan.” (His wife Carol appears in form-fitting spacesuit.) There is a back cover illustration too, in black-and-white, by Virgil Finlay, for the serial, Mark Clifton’s “Pawn of the Black Fleet.” Interiors are by Finlay, Emshwiller, Adkins, Summers, and Kilpatrick.

The letter column, “… Or So You Say,” has letters from Ken Winkes, H. James Hotaling, and Bob Adolfsen, none of the names familiar to me, discussing among other things the question of whether serials are a good idea.

The book review column, The Spectroscope, by S. E. Cotts, reviews Daniel F. Galouye’s Dark Universe (very favorably – and indeed the novel became a Hugo nominee), Lester Del Rey’s Winston juvenile Moon of Mutiny (very unfavorably), Arthur C. Clarke’s non-fiction collection The Challenge of the Spaceship, John C. Lilly’s Man and Dolphins, an account of the author’s research on dolphins and in particular their intelligence and capacity for language (Cotts reveals himself as rather a skeptic in this area); and also a curious review of an Ace Double, Kenneth Bulmer’s No Man’s World backed with Poul Anderson’s Mayday Orbit.

Cotts modestly praises No Man’s World as “plain uncomplicated entertainment” – no real argument there from me – but he dismisses Mayday Orbit as a “minor trifle” – in itself not an absurd judgment, but if it is a minor trifle then so too surely is No Man’s World!

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New Treasures: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2013 Edition

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

grunge border and backgroundWell, look at that. My favorite Year’s Best anthology has arrived — and earlier than I expected.

This is the fifth volume of Rich Horton’s Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy. Rich did a handful of volumes of Year’s Best Fantasy and Year’s Best SF before combining them into one fat mega-volume starting in 2009. I much prefer these generously-sized tomes. They rest nicely in my lap, and pin me to my reading chair.

This year, Rich selects thirty-three short stories and novelettes from a wide range of magazines — Analog, Asimov’s SF, Interzone,, Beneath Ceaseless Skies,, Lightspeed, Weird Tales, Clarkesworld, F&SF, Interzone, Eclipse Online, Electric Velocipede, Tin House, and others — as well as anthologies, including The Future is Japanese, The Mammoth Book of Steampunk, and Robots: The New A.I.

His contributors include Ursula K. Le Guin, Linda Nagata, Jay Lake, Kelly Link, Robert Charles Wilson , Genevieve Valentine, Elizabeth Bear, Aliette de Bodard, Robert Reed, Christopher Rowe, Naomi Kritzer, Michael Blumlein, Catherynne M. Valente, Lavie Tidhar, and many others.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Fantastic Stories, October 1964: A Retro-Review

Thursday, June 6th, 2013 | Posted by Rich Horton

Fantastic Stories October 1964I continue my peregrinations through the Cele Goldsmith Lalli years at Amazing/Fantastic.

This issue features a George Schelling cover. I don’t know if there are Schelling fans out here – but I have to say I found it quite poor, with absurdly stiff human characters, a particularly strange looking female character, a quite inaccurate representation (as to size) of the Tharn antagonist, and also not representing the scene it apparently depicts very well. Other than that… it’s kind of colorful.

(Click on the image at left to get a full-size version).

Curiously, the cover features no author’s name – only the title of the serial, “Seed of Eloraspon,” and the description: “Magnanthropus returns in a new novel.”

The interiors are by Arndt, Schelling (rather better than the cover), Finlay, and Andragna.

The ads are mostly Ziff-Davis house ads, with one full page ad for the Rosicrucians. The editorial, as usual by editorial director Norman M. Lobsenz, is about progress towards a real life version of Donovan’s Brain (and many other stories). The only other feature is a single column on what’s “Coming Next Month.”

The fiction:


“Beyond the Ebon Wall,” by C. C. MacApp (18,700 words)

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 1961: A Retro-Review

Thursday, April 18th, 2013 | Posted by Rich Horton

Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction July 1961Now to an early ’60s issue of F&SF. This one has an Ed Emshwiller cover, illustrating Brian Aldiss’s “Undergrowth.” It is billed as an “All-Star Issue,” which I find curious, as several of the writers are what I would call “Little-Known.”  I’ll get into that a bit later.

The features: No interior illustrations, of course. There is of course Isaac Asimov’s Science article, “Recipe for a Planet,” which goes into great detail on the components of the Earth.

There is a Books column by Alfred Bester. He discusses a couple of Dover editions of Jules Verne, as well as a film about him (The Fabulous World of Jules Verne). He treats Kingsley Amis’s New Maps of Hell (with approval, expressed in no detail, and accompanied by a recommendation for Lucky Jim, “the funniest first novel since Pickwick Papers” [(Which later first novel might be added? A Confederacy of Dunces?]). He follows with three reviews of short story collections, by Knight, Nourse, and Pohl.

That tells us something, doesn’t it? How likely would  a review column today be to cover not a single current novel, but three collections?

And I suppose Feghoots can be called a feature, too. This issue features number XLI in “Grendel Briarton’s” series. I have enjoyed my share of Feghoots over time, but this one is awful, and not in a good way, concerning intelligent gnus. Really, one thinks, surely Mills (or whoever was editing F&SF at any particular time) could have rejected the really bad Feghoots. Bretnor had to know better. (“Grendel Briarton” was a pseudonym, and an acronym, for Reginald Bretnor.)

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