Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Doom that Came to Sarnath by H. P. Lovecraft

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

Lovecraft Sarnath frontThe Doom that Came to Sarnath
H. P. Lovecraft
Ballantine Books (280 pages, February 1971, $0.95)
Cover art by Gervasio Gallardo

The Doom That Came to Sarnath was the second volume of H. P. Lovecraft stories published under the BAF imprint. It served as a bridge between the Dunsanian fantasies of The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath and the Cthulhu Mythos related titles that followed.

Many of the stories in this volume weren’t published until years after they were written or were published in amateur press publications of the day. These days we’d call them fanzines. The contents include the aforementioned Dunsanian fantasies, some traditional horror stories, and some early Mythos tales. Also included are a few prose poems and one selection of Lovecraft’s verse.

Rather than give a brief description of each of the 20 items in the book, I’ll highlight some of the ones I liked best, then offer some general thoughts. Carter broke the selection up into groups loosely based on either chronology or theme. I’m not that organized.  I’m also not a Lovecraft scholar, so I’m not going to comment much on the specific chronology  of the stories or try to get into the nitty gritty of Lovecraft’s authorial evolution.

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Vintage Treasures: Paradox Lost by Fredric Brown

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Paradox Lost Fredric Brown-smallIt’s strange to think that I didn’t really discover Fredric Brown until last year. Sure, before that I could probably name one or two of his most famous stories (including the Star Trek episode “Arena,” which doesn’t really count), but I didn’t truly learn to appreciate him until I brought a battered paperback with me on a flight back from Las Vegas last October. A week later I wrote about it, saying:

The Best of Fredric Brown is one of the best short story collections I’ve read in years. Brown is frequently compared to O. Henry for his gift for twist endings and the comparison is apt. Even when you’re on the alert, Brown manages to constantly surprise and delight you in a way that very few authors — in the genre or out — can pull off… I can’t remember the last time I’ve had as much fun with a single collection.

It’s good to know I can still find unexpected treasures in my own library.

Now, if you’re a Fredric Brown fan, the logical way to collect him these days is by purchasing From These Ashes from NESFA Press, which contains his complete short fiction in one gorgeous and economical volume — and is still in print.

Of course, you know how I feel about that. It takes all the fun out of it. You want to really appreciate Fredric Brown? You painstakingly track down his eight collections, like a normal person. Starting with Paradox Lost, because it has a dinosaur on the cover. Duh.

Paradox Lost (full title: Paradox Lost, and Twelve Other Great Science Fiction Stories) was published in 1974 by Berkley Medallion. It contains many of his finest stories, including the brilliant and oh-so-slightly-terrifying “Puppet Show,” “It Didn’t Happen,” “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” and ten others, plus a thoughtful introduction by his wife Elizabeth Brown (the only place where it appears). The book is 176 pages, priced at 95 cents; the cover is by Vincent DiFate. It is out of print. There is no digital edition, but copies in good condition start at under a buck at Amazon.

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.


The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Ellery Queen’s Misadventures of SH

Monday, October 20th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Misadventures_CoverYou’ve probably heard the name ‘Ellery Queen,’ but you may not know that it’s actually the name for joint efforts by cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee. They were important players in the mystery field for decades, with Dannay being a notable Sherlockian.

In 1943, Dannay planned The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, an anthology of parodies and pastiches. Unlike today, Holmes anthologies were unheard of back then. Due in large part, as we’ll see, to the management of the Doyle Estate by Sir Arthur Conan’s sons, Adrian and Dennis.

The book, by Ellery Queen, was unveiled at a Baker Street Irregulars gathering in 1944. I gave a taste what dealing with Doyle’s two sons could be like in my post on “The Man Who Was Wanted.” There’s more of the same in this tale.

Adrian heard about the collection and went off in his usual rage, telegramming his brother Denis (also a wastrel) in Spain. Denis cabled the Estate’s law firm and instructed them to demand that Queen and the publishers, Little, Brown and Company, stop publication and withdraw all copies. They were also to be sued for damages.

To quote Denis’s cable to the lawyers: “It is obviously a flagrant example of that very sort of piracy, striking at the very roots of the literary value of the property which my father left to his family, against which we have fought together in the past…books which will completely devaluate and ruin the whole value of the Holmes property, including films, radio and stage.”

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Art of the Genre: The Artistic Mystery of The Temple of Elemental Evil and the Turmoil of 1985 TSR

Sunday, October 19th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Parkinson does an awesome cover, but don't just this book by that or you'll be disappointed

Parkinson does an awesome cover, but don’t judge this book by that or you’ll be disappointed

Back in 1985 I was fourteen and had recently entered the gaming hobby as a hardcore fan and not a passing-fancy type player. It was during my plunge into the hobby that I began grabbing up whatever I could get on my monthly trips to the ‘big city’ of Lafayette, Indiana. During one of these outings with my mother, who would entice me to go to the Mall or any other boring errands she had by offering to also take me downtown to Main Street Hobbies, that I acquired T1-4, The Temple of Elemental Evil.

It was my first ‘super-module’, and although I’d missed the chance to get most of the original-run TSR modules from 1979-82, I was thrilled to grab this new breed module by Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer. Little did I realize at the time what it took to actually produce this module. I mean, by 1985 Gary was already on the chopping block at TSR and the company was ready to undergo a massive changeover that would result in AD&D 2E, and the ‘downfall’ of the company as we knew it. Times, as they say, were a’changin.

Now I can’t speak for the inner workings of how this module was made, but it is well documented that Gygax himself began work on T2: The Temple of Elemental Evil after he’d completed T1: The Village of Hommlet in 1979. However, probably due to the company’s rapid expansion and then his departure to Hollywood to work on the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, his work was never completed by his own hand. Enter Frank Mentzer, who completed the module, and finally allowed it to see the light of day six years after players had been introduced to the story line in T1.

When I purchased it, I wasn’t ready to run such a complex dungeon crawl, and so I turned the module over to my friend Mark, who ran me through it over the course of our summer vacation. I well remember running four characters in the adventure, and I’m sure Mark had the same number of NPCs, the bulk of it played on the floor of the downstairs living room at my mother’s house.

It wasn’t until 1988 that I actually ran the module myself, this time with my friend Murph, who was helping me develop my own gaming sandbox of The Nameless Realms. It was another epic ‘run’, and afterward, I put the module away and have thought of it fondly ever since.

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Re-reading Michael Moorcock’s The History of The Runestaff: What I Missed the First Time Around

Saturday, October 18th, 2014 | Posted by Connor Gormley

The History of The Runestaff UK omnibus-smallI don’t do re-reads, not often anyway. I’m usually too busy fighting neo-Nazis in the far future and wrestling dinosaurs on Mars. (You know, normal, everyday sort of stuff.) I decided to make an exception for The History of the Runestaff, however, mostly because I realized I had been recommending the thing to friends for years, but hadn’t touched it since I was twelve, when one of my friends dug the omnibus edition out of some weird corner in our school’s library, plopped it into my hands and mumbled something about multiple universes.

I remember staring, wide-eyed, at the thing, fascinated; the Conan covers might have been brutal and bloody and prominently featured big burly men, but this was strange, this was something different entirely; its pulsing yellows and light greens were alien, steeped in the psychedelia of the sixties (which, as the inside of the book told me, was when the books were written), it completely dashed away my expectations, crushed them under an iron-clad boot, made my little eyes wide. It contrasted brilliantly with the pulsing purples and browns and blacks of the Conan covers, its swirling surrealism was as far away from Frazetta as I had been.

Despite all that, I didn’t get around to actually reading it until a few months later, when my friend convinced the librarian to delete the book from the school files and I, somehow, managed to get him to trade me it for a copy of some other book. So it wasn’t until a few months later that I discovered that it wasn’t actually that different from Conan, anyway.

The History of The Runestaff was what introduced me to sword and sorcery, what truly opened the gate to Fritz Leiber, Edgar Rice Burroughs, David Gemmel, Jack Vance, Karl Edward Wagner, and so many others; it was, ultimately, what led me here. If there’s anything I’m going to re-read, I thought, it should be this.

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Vintage Treasures: The Book of Paradox by Louise Cooper

Saturday, October 18th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Book of Paradox Louise Cooper-smallWell, this is a surprise.

A few weeks back, I purchased a collection of vintage paperbacks on eBay for around 50 cents each (the same collection I found Orbit 3 in, which I wrote about on Wednesday.) You never know what you’re going to find in these things, and buried near the bottom of the box was a 1973 sword & sorcery paperback titled The Book of Paradox, with a typically alluring Frazetta cover. I was setting it aside when I caught the author’s name, in tiny print under the title: Louise Cooper.

Wait a minute. Louise Cooper, author of the 12-volume Time Master novels, and the Indigo series? I had no idea she wrote sword & sorcery.

Turns out The Book of Paradox was her first novel. Originally published in hardcover in 1973, when she was just 20 years old, it launched her career. She became a full-time writer in 1977, and in her 30-year career published more than eighty fantasy novels. Looks to me like Dell just had no idea how to categorize her in 1973, so they just threw her in with their S&S line. The book has a fairly typical cover blurb: “An occult odyssey through the Tarot to an inner world beyond the portals of death.” Here’s the back cover text:

A hypnotically fascinating Tarot adventure to a psychedelic nether realm of mysterious fantasy where lies are truths and truths have no meaning… where terror is real and reality is always questionable…and where a valiant hero must become The Fool to succeed on a perilous quest for love through changing worlds of eternal night.

Myth, mystery and magic abound in a mesmerizing novel of considerable imaginative talent.

Louise Cooper died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 57 in 2009, leaving behind a rich legacy of much-loved fantasy. The Book of Paradox was published in paperback in February 1975 by Dell. It is 236 pages, with a cover price of $1.25. The cover is by Frank Frazetta. It has never been reprinted, and there is no digital edition.


The Fantasy Roots of Fan Fiction

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Conan of the Isles-smallMy fifteen year-old daughter is a voracious reader. I thought I read a lot, but I’m not even in her league. She reads fairy tales, a great deal of YA fantasy, and a smattering of horror. Just a few days ago, she asked me where to find Stephen King in our library. I wonder if that means she’s finally going to stop re-reading The Hunger Games.

But mostly what she reads is fan fiction. I mean, a ton of fan fiction. She reads it online on her Kindle, curled up on her bed. Walking Dead fanfic, Buffy fanfic, Harry Potter fanfic, Fairy Tail fanfic… I know all this because every time she reads something she really likes, she comes bounding downstairs to breathlessly relate the details. Having trouble communicating with your teenage daughter? Here’s a tip: shut the hell up and listen when you’re drying dishes, or trapped with her on a long road trip. I think I can name every character on The Walking Dead, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an episode.

Anyway, the point is, my daughter treats fanfic with the same respect and enthusiasm as published fiction. It’s fully legitimate to her. There’s also a certain sense of ownership — her friends read fan fiction, but she doesn’t know any adult who does, so there’s a generational divide. Fanfic belongs to her generation, the way Dungeons and Dragons and Star Wars belonged to mine. Part of her love for fan fiction stems from the fact that her generation is the first to really discover it.

Except it’s not, of course. Not really. Yes, the explosive growth in the fan fiction community is relatively new, but the phenomenon is not. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, and it all stems from a comment Fletcher Vredenburgh made in his review of Lin Carter’s Kellory the Warlock:

Most of his fiction, rarely more than pastiches of his favorite authors (Howard, Burroughs, Lovecraft, and Dent), never garnered enough attention to be republished…  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.

I think this is fairly astute. I think Lin Carter might be more appreciated today if he were reassessed for what he truly was: an imaginative and extremely prolific fanfic writer. The same is true of many other writers, in fact, who are long out of print and in danger of being forgotten, including L. Sprague de Camp, Andrew J. Offutt, August Derleth, and even folks like Karl Edward Wagner.

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Vintage Treasures: Orbit 3, edited by Damon Knight

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Orbit 3 Damon Knight-smallI enjoy reading vintage anthologies for pretty much the same reason I enjoy reading modern anthologies: they’re a great way to discover terrific new writers. Or in this case, terrific old writers.

Plus, they’re cheap. In any decent used bookstore, you can usually find at least one or two old SF anthologies priced less than a buck. (If you’re not sure what a “used book store” is, exactly, never mind. It’s even easier to find cheap anthologies on eBay, if that helps you.)

I admit I haven’t tried very many of Damon Knight’s Orbit volumes. But after making my way through most of the major SF anthologies of last century — The Hugo Winners, the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Before the Golden Age, Dangerous Visions, the Carr and Wolheim’s Year’s Best volumes — I think I’m ready to branch out a bit.

While Orbit routinely showcased some of the finest science fiction and fantasy writers of the 20th Century — including folks like Gene Wolfe, R. A. Lafferty, Philip Jose Farmer, and Knight’s wife, Kate Wilhelm — it also had something of a reputation for being on the cutting edge of the controversial New Wave. It wasn’t at all unusual to find readers loudly deriding the sometimes plotless, experimental fiction within, or criticizing fiction they disliked in letters columns around the industry as “too much like that Orbit stuff.”

Nonetheless, the series was quite popular. It ran for 21 volumes (not including a huge Best of Orbit collection) from 1966 to 1976, and helped cement’s Knight’s reputation as one of the best editors in the field. He took a lot of chances with Orbit, both in the fiction he chose and the authors he championed, but over and over again it seemed to pay off. While most editors worked hard to attract big names, Knight seemed to think nothing of having three quarters (or more) of his table of contents staffed entirely with newcomers. It must have made it difficult to attract buyers, but it certainly kept the series constantly fresh.

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Red Queen, White Queen by Henry Treece

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Red Queen White Queen Henry Treece-smallThe setting for Henry Treece’s Red Queen, White Queen (1958) is Britain in 60 AD during the bloody uprising of Queen Boudicca of the Iceni against the Romans. RQWQ is the third book in his Celtic Tetralogy. I reviewed the fourth book, The Great Captains, his down-to-earth vision of King Arthur, last year. The other two volumes are The Golden Strangers, about the Copper Age settlement of Britain, and The Dark Island, set during Caractacus’s war against Rome.

Gemellus Ennius, a young Roman junior officer, has been transferred to Britain after five years’ service in Germany, arriving just after the onset of Boudicca’s revolt. Already she has burned the towns of Camulodunum, Londinium, and Verulamium, killing over seventy thousand Romans and allied Britons.

When her husband died, he left his kingdom to Boudicca as well as to the emperor, in contravention of Roman laws. Not only did Rome refuse to recognize the will, but it sent soldiers to beat her and rape her daughters. Then the moneylenders called in the tremendous debts her husband had incurred and enslaved the Iceni. Boudicca became a ferocious creature forged by the cruel hands of Rome.

… Boudicca strode towards them a couple of paces and stood, her legs wide apart, staring down at them, from the wooden dais by the altar.

A short brown frieze jacket laced with thongs held her heavy breasts. From waist to ankle her legs were encased in tight-fitting trousers of deer hide. Her feet were bare and rather large. Gemellus noted that they were very red and calloused, not like the dainty feet of the Lady Lavinia, for example.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Michael Stone’s Streeter

Monday, October 13th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

The Low End of NowhereJust after I moved to Colorado Springs, a Denver private investigator named Michael Stone released his first book about Streeter, a bounty hunter in the Mile High City. The Low End of Nowhere had a very cool cover by Owen Smith, who would provide three more for A Long Reach, Token of Remorse, and Totally Dead.

Then, nothing: After four very good novels, Stone simply quit writing. It was as if he’d suddenly passed away. Over the years, I tried to find some news of him on the web but came up empty. He just seemed to lose interest in being a writer in 1999.

That’s a shame, because the Streeter books are quite good. They are very much in the style of the old pulpsters, but with a light touch. Stone clearly appreciated those who had gone before him, like Hammett and Nebel. But his character was no Mike Hammer or Race Williams. There’s finesse in the writing that reminds me of Joe Gores and his DKA novels.

Steeter (we never learn any other name) is physically imposing, having played football at a small division one school for two years before a fight with tragic consequences derailed that life plan. He was working as a bouncer and an accountant (how many of those have you read about?) when he ended up getting a job as a bounty hunter.

He lifts weights daily, fighting a slowly losing battle against the aging process. He even buys some hair-restorer but promptly puts it in a bathroom drawer, afraid to use it. Streeter isn’t a superhero: he’s a guy who works hard at working hard.

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