I don’t know a lot about Pamela Sargeant. But I knew one thing when I saw The Alien Upstairs on eBay: I didn’t have a copy. And I wanted one.
Who wouldn’t? Big spooky house, spunky heroine in the foreground wearing a sun hat, vast stretches of blasted heath… erm, I mean unmowed lawn. Anyway, it sure looks like a modern gothic novel. Except for the honkin’ big spaceship hovering stealthily in the clouds, where it thinks no one can see it.
And the marvelous What the hell is going on? look our heroine is sporting. You just know she’s going to get to the bottom of things, like a good gothic romance heroine should. You go, spunky lady with strange fashion sense.
Sarah and Gerard were dreamers — two young lovers fighting to make something of their lives in an America battered by depression and despair.
Then a mysterious stranger came to stay in their small, rural town, a handsome, enigmatic being from another world who promised to lead them to a realm beyond their wildest imaginings. But was he an angel, come to rescue them from the harsh reality of their lives, or a darker being, bent on a strange and terrible purpose?
The Alien Upstairs. An awe-inspiring tale of worlds beyond our own by the author of Watchstar and The Golden Space.
The Alien Upstairs was published in February 1985 by Bantam Books. It is 165 pages, priced at $2.75 in paperback. The too-cool cover is by Wayne Barlowe. I bought an unread copy on eBay for $1 (plus shipping.) Don’t be jealous, there are plenty more copies available.
Back in September, I wrote a Vintage Treasures article about Clifford D. Simak’s Cemetery World. Simak is one of my favorite authors and much of his work — especially his early pulp fiction from the 30s and 40s — is tragically long out of print.
While I was researching the article, I discovered to my delight that Wildside Press had produced several slender volumes reprinting some of Simak’s pulp short stories, as part of the Wildside Pulp Classics line. I mentioned two: Hellhounds of the Cosmos and Other Tales From the Fourth Dimension and Impossible Things: 4 Classic Tales. As soon as I was done with the article, I ordered a copy of the former. The paperback edition was just $6.99 and it was hard to resist. It’s hardly the comprehensive Complete Short Stories I might wish for, but it did include the title story, a novelette from the June 1932 Astounding Stories that had been uncollected and out of print for nearly 80 years. And that was pretty cool.
When the book arrived, I was very pleased with it. It’s an oversized trade paperback with a glossy cover and quality paper. As I expected, it’s quite short — 142 pages — but it includes four complete tales, and the price is right. It also includes an (uncredited) introduction, as well as a nice review of Simak’s career and the themes common in his work.
Naturally, I went back on the hunt to see what else Wildside had produced in a similar vein. It wasn’t long before I found collections for Leigh Brackett (Black Amazon of Mars and Other Tales from the Pulps), Fredric Brown (Daymare and Other Tales from the Pulps), E. Hoffmann Price (Satan’s Daughter and Other Tales from the Pulps), H. Bedford-Jones (The House of Skulls and Other Tales from the Pulps), Ray Cummings (The Fire People: Classic Science Fiction from the Pulps), Murray Leinster (The Runaway Skyscraper and Other Tales from the Pulps), and many others. Most were priced from $10-$15 or less (much less, for the digital editions).
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Dungeons & Dragons was the first roleplaying game I encountered – 35 years ago this month, as it turns out – and, except for a stretch during the 1990s, when I foolishly cast it aside, it’s remained my favorite RPG ever since. Nevertheless, it was never my only roleplaying game. Indeed, once my friends and I had been bitten by the RPG bug, we soon tried our hands at pretty much any game we could find.
In those heady days, we played a lot of games, not merely because we had voracious appetites for all things roleplaying, but because there were so many RPGs from which to choose. From our perspective, it seemed as if there were new roleplaying games appearing on hobby store shelves every month, even if an examination of the timeline of RPG releases reveals otherwise. At any rate, there were certainly more games released than we could possibly afford to buy, let alone play. Consequently, after periods of experimentation, we tended to stick toa handful of games that became our standbys. It was to these games that our hearts belonged and that we spent untold hours playing together.
That didn’t stop my eye from wandering. Over the years, there were a number of games I picked up simply because they looked cool – so cool, in fact, that I didn’t actually care whether or not I’d ever get the chance to play them with my friends. Nowadays, I tend to look askance at such behavior. I find something perverse in treating a game simply as reading material, which is why I’ve been slowly paring down my collection only to those games I actively play or am likely to play in the foreseeable future.
And yet, hypocrite that I am, I’ve made a few exceptions over the years. My shelves are home to a handful of games I’ve never actually played (nor am I likely to), but that I keep around because I find them inspiring nonetheless. In my defense, each of the three games I discuss below is one that I’m not at all convinced can be played as written, at least not easily (a claim that will no doubt result in a flurry of comments from indignant middle-aged men regaling me with tales of their decades-long campaigns using one or more of these RPGs).
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I haven’t had the opportunity to read much to my kids around the fireplace this holiday season, as suggested by Thomas Parker in his BG article Ghost Stories for Christmas.
But I have been sneaking a peek at my collection of Wordsworth’s Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural (or TOMAToS, for short) myself. As I’ve observed before, it’s the perfect line of books if you’re looking for great Victorian horror tales — and Thomas is right that cold wintry nights are the perfect time to be settling down under a blanket with a book of ghost stories.
One thing I appreciate about the Wordsworth TOMAToS books is that they’ve introduced me to several authors I likely would never have discovered on my own. M.R James, William Hope Hodgson, Wilkie Collins, Edith Nesbit… I was certainly familiar with their work. But Henry S. Whitehead? William Fryer Harvey? May Sinclair? I would not have discovered them if Wordsworth hadn’t made collections of their work available in an inexpensive and attractive format as part of the Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural. H.D. Everett is another fine example. Here’s the back cover blurb from her collection The Crimson Blind and Other Stories.
Mrs H.D. Everett was the last in a long line of gifted Victorian novelists who knew how to grip the reader through the invasion of everyday life by the abnormal and dramatic, leaving the facts to produce their special thrills without piling on the agony. “I always know,” says one of her characters, “how to distinguish a true ghost story from a faked one. The true ghost story never has any point and the faked one dare not leave it out.” From the chilling horror of “The Death Mask” to the shocking violence of “The Crimson Blind,” from the creeping menace of “Parson Clench” to the mounting suspense of “The Pipers of Mallory,” these thrilling stories were enthusiastically received by readers and critics when they first appeared, and are sure to delight and terrify the modern reader in equal measure. With their haunting influences, their permeating scents, their midnight apparitions and unexplained sounds, they plunge us, along with the hero or heroine, into a state of increasing nervous excitement.
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In the nineteen fifties, thousands of American boys thrilled to the television adventures of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Frankie Thomas, Jr, offspring of acting parents, had been in the business for two decades when he starred in the adaptation of a popular comic strip.
It was a hit, spawning comics, books, a radio show, toys, et al. As with all shows, it ran its course and came to an end. Thomas went on to become one of America’s foremost bridge experts. That’s the card game, not the things that span waterways. His Sherlock Holmes, Bridge Detective, was a popular book on the subject (as was its sequel).
When I started branching out beyond Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, I think that Thomas was the very first Holmes pastiche writer that I read.
Keep in mind that around 1980, pastiches were relatively uncommon. You bought Holmes books at actual bookstores: no Amazon. Indie-press Holmes stories were rather rare and hard to find. There wasn’t a self-publishing industry to speak of. So, avid Holmes fans gobbled up paperbacks by L.B. Greenwood, Richard Boyer, and Frank Thomas. Yep: same guy.
In 1979, Sherlock Holmes and the Golden Bird came out, followed the next year by Sherlock Holmes and the Sacred Sword.
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A lot of people were talking about Richard Cowper’s The Road to Corlay just as I was discovering fantasy in the late 70s. It appeared in the UK in 1978, and was published in paperback in the US by Pocket Books in 1979, with a striking cover by Don Maitz (above left). It was nominated for the British Fantasy Award in 1979, and both the Nebula and Balrog awards in the US a year later. It also placed 7th on Locus’s annual lists for Best SF novel.
I wasn’t even aware it was a series until many years later, as I gradually stumbled on the sequels. Volume two, A Dream of Kinship, was published in 1981, and A Tapestry of Time followed in 1982. The cover artist of the second volume is unknown, but Don Maitz returned for the third book (above right). Click on any of the images for bigger versions.
Richard Cowper was a pen name for John Middleton Murry, Jr, a UK author who died in 2002 — of a broken heart, according to his friend Christopher Priest, following the death of his wife Ruth four weeks earlier. He wrote several other SF and fantasy novels, the most famous of which was probably The Twilight of Briareus (1974); his other titles included Clone (1972), Time Out of Mind (1973), Worlds Apart (1974), and Profundis (1979). I found the complete trilogy in the estate of my sister-in-law Mary, who passed away in May, and brought it home with me to read for the first time. We shared an interest in SF and fantasy, and these books remind me of her.
Ah, Galaxy. My old friend. I wonder if this is how readers felt by the time the April, 1952 issue rolled out. Officially labeled as Volume 4, Number 1, this issue marked the completion of 18 months for the magazine. You can tell a lot about a magazine by that point in time, especially if it’s hitting newsstands every month. And I think readers could tell that this was something amazing.
“Accidental Flight” by F. L. Wallace — Medical advancements can save people with profound injuries, but in some cases, the patients can’t recover into “normal” status. They might be amputees, lack vital organs, or have any variety of conditions that makes them unsuitable to join the rest of society. These people live on an asteroid, cared for and guarded by medical staff. And though they don’t wish to rejoin society, they do wish to leave their asteroid in order to explore the stars.
It’s interesting to see a cast of characters with disabilities. The story moves well, and I think (or perhaps hope) that this fiction touches on the theme that all people have value, despite what limitations a society may perceive. Wallace later expanded this tale into a novel titled Address: Centauri, published by Gnome Press in 1955, and as Galaxy Novel #32 in 1958 (see below).
“Katahut Said No” by J. T. M’Intosh — A computer system on Earth helps the Economic Center determine unviable towns on Venus. After all, there are only a limited amount of resources available, and the latest analysis shows one of the towns must die. The people would be dispersed elsewhere, and efficiency would increase. Unfortunately, the computer picks Katahut, the first settlement on the planet. And the citizens of the town do not wish to comply.
I liked the politics around this story — how one man tries to rally the town to fight the decision and what that may mean for all of the settlements. But the zinger was the final sentence.
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Stephen Jones has been editing an annual Best New Horror collection since 1990. The first five volumes were co-edited with Ramsey Campbell; since 1995 Jones has edited them solo. The 25th volume, now retitled The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 25, was published by Robinson back in October.
Now PS Publishing is celebrating 25 years of Best New Horror by re-releasing the first two volumes in this groundbreaking series, with brand new comic-inspired covers by Lee Elias and Ken Bald. The first volume won both the 1991 British Fantasy Award and the 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology. They contain short fiction by Robert R. McCammon, Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Ligotti, Karl Edward Wagner, Peter Straub, K.W. Jetter, Jonathan Carroll, Ian R. MacLeod, Kim Newman, Gene Wolfe, and dozens of others.
The 25th Anniversary Edition of Best New Horror volumes 1 and 2 were edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell and published in trade paperback in September and October of this year. They are priced at £11.99 and £12.99 respectively. Get more information, including the complete table of contents and snaps of the gorgeous wraparound covers, at the PS Publishing website here and here.
If I didn’t know better, I’d swear Lin Carter’s Thongor of Lemuria novels were a deliberate exercise in camp. The first two novels in the seven book series, Thongor And The Wizard of Lemuria (1965) and Thongor And The Dragon City (1966), are so frenetic and exaggerated there are times it’s difficult to believe they were intended to be taken seriously. I struggle to believe that Carter hadn’t meant for me to laugh when I read that Thongor distrusted magic because of his “clean healthy, Northlander blood.”
But I do know better. Much has been written (some of it by me) about Lin Carter’s love for heroic fantasy and his efforts to emulate his favorite writers in his own books. The Thongor stories read like he took Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, smooshed them together with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter novels, then cranked everything up to eleven. But, and this is true of his Lovecraft Mythos fiction too, he mimics the style of his literary heroes without ever conveying the substance that gives power to their work to this day.
To give Lin Carter his due, Wizard of Lemuria is his first published novel and Dragon City his third in only two years. In those ancient times, there was little new swords & sorcery of the mighty barbarian type being written. Michael Moorcock and Fritz Leiber were tweaking (and tweaking the nose of) the genre and Karl Edward Wagner and Charles Saunders were still kids. The big boom was right around the corner, but it hadn’t happened yet. He took the chance and stepped up to create the sort of stories he wanted to see and that’s something I will always respect.
One of the earliest reviews at my site, Swords & Sorcery: A Blog, was of Thongor And The Wizard of Lemuria (so, yes, for those of you who’ve read it, I have indeed read it a second time). It was harsh and a little intemperate. I’ve since decided that reviews of that sort don’t serve any real purpose. I also don’t want to pick on someone who can’t fight back. I want my reviews to promote the good books and understand why the weak ones fail and encourage better writing.
Like August Derleth and Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter’s too readily bad-mouthed these days (except when the stupendously important Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series is mentioned). I don’t think his fiction is read that much anymore and I feel I owe him at least the courtesy of that. So I’m going to plow through the series and report back to you, Black Gate‘s faithful readers.
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I’ve recently gotten hooked on the Travis McGee novels of John D. MacDonald (1916-1986), reading The Deep Blue Good-by (1964) and Nightmare in Pink (1964) in quick succession. I’m stoked that there are 19 McGee novels awaiting me, but I can already make one salient observation about the main character based on these first two outings: he has the mind of a science-fiction writer. I was not surprised at all, in fact, to learn that several of his creator’s early stories and novels were science fiction.
McGee is a “salvage consultant”: basically, he’s an unemployed (by choice) beach-bum who makes his home on the Busted Flush, a 52-foot houseboat he won in a poker game, which is mostly docked in slip F-18 at Bahia Mar (a site about as well-known to crime-fiction fans as 221B Baker Street). When the funds get low, he takes on a case. He’s a cynical guy; he doesn’t want to get emotionally involved with people, but the problem is he does have a strong sense of honor and integrity (much to his own chagrin, since he sees this sort of romantic chivalry as woefully outdated). So he does invariably get involved and, well, I’ll let him speak for himself: “This emotional obligation did not fit me. I felt awkward in the uncomfortable role. I wished to be purely McGee, that pale-eyed, wire-haired girl-finder, that big shambling brown boat-bum who walks beaches, slays small fierce fish, busts minor icons, argues, smiles and disbelieves, that knuckly scar-tissued reject from a structured society, who waits until the money gets low, and then goes out and takes it from the taker, keeps half, and gives the rest back to the innocent.”
He’s an introspective guy, somewhat philosophical in his rejection of industrialized urban society, and for a narrator delivering page-turner suspense, he often digresses into ruminations about society’s failings and his own shortcomings and disillusionment. Far from bogging the story down, these imaginative digressions have made McGee one of the most memorable and celebrated characters in twentieth-century American fiction. And in his creative metaphors, he shows a strong streak of the dystopian mind.
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