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Alignment Chaotic AWESOME: 1st Edition Deities and Demigods (Part 1)

Monday, April 14th, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

Deities_&_Demigods_(front_cover,_first_edition)One of the most fun, crazy, and controversial tomes to come out of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was, without a doubt, Deities and Demigods (1980).

More wide-ranging (and less Eurocentric) than Bullfinch’s Mythology and Hamilton’s Mythology combined, here was a smorgasbord of most of the world’s major (and not-so-major) mythologies, presented as a one-stop shop for your player-character to choose a god or otherworldly entity to pledge fealty to and/r worship.

The vitriol of the religious right aside, Deities and Demigods did have its more thoughtful critics. In game terms, the early editions were kinda silly. Even though they assigned crazy-huge hit points and breathtakingly strong armor classes to the gods, said deities still had stats that could be overcome by powerful enough characters. As one critic observed, the book essentially turned the world’s deities into higher-level “monsters” to defeat — “bosses” for your 20th-level party to challenge. No room here for some metaphysical idea of a being that exists above corporeal, material reality and therefore cannot be “hurt” by a sword with a high-enough bonus modifier.

Later editions of Deities and Demigods (or Legends and Lore, as it was known for a time) ameliorated this “big boss” mentality by introducing the concept that some gods that characters physically encountered were but avatars, “aspects” or physical incarnations of gods who, being immortal and transcendent, could not really be killed.

That’s cool. Still, it is kind of fun — in a juvenile way — to leaf through Deities and Demigods asking such questions as “Who would win in a fight: Zeus or Odin?”

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: Lilith by George MacDonald

Monday, April 14th, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

Lilith Back Cover HRLilith
George MacDonald
Ballantine Books (274 pages, September 1969, $1.25)
Cover art by Gervasio Gallardo

Lilith was the fifth volume in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. The cover is one of the darkest in the series to date. The back cover shows the inside of an attic. I normally post an image of the back cover, but I won’t here. It’s almost a monochrome and it’s dark.

In many ways, Lilith was different from the few that came before it. For starters, it was written from a decidedly Christian worldview and there were passages in it that seemed allegorical to me. Lilith was certainly the most metaphysical of the books I’ve read in the series so far. There were several conversations about identity and how a person can know who they are.

A favorite practice of literature majors everywhere is to try to determine symbolism in works and to dissect them for hidden meanings. The structure of Lilith certainly lends itself to this type of thing and, not being an English major, I’m not going to attempt much of that here.

George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a Scottish pastor who retired early to devote himself to literature, although he continued to preach in a lay capacity at times. Much of his output consisted of novels that were set in what for MacDonald was contemporary times, but also contained poetry, collections of sermons, and fairy stories. There are two other volumes by MacDonald in the BAF series: the novel Phantastes and Evenor, a collection of three novellas.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: All The World’s A Stage

Monday, April 14th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Speck_PagetSnake

Sidney Paget’s well-known drawing from The Speckled Band

There are two Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that have a gothic feel to them. The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of four novels featuring Holmes and the best-known story of the sixty which Doyle wrote. The other, the ninth short story to feature Holmes, is “The Speckled Band.”

A creepy mansion; exotic animals roaming loose, gypsies, an imposing stepfather, eerie whistles in the night and the mysterious death of a daughter some years before: it has all the trappings. Doyle himself listed it as his favorite story and I’m not going to ruin it here. If you haven’t read “The Speckled Band,” you should go do it right now. Well, after you finish this post.

Doyle wrote several plays, two of which featured Sherlock Holmes. The Crown Diamond was and remains a poor one (as does “The Mazarin Stone,” the Holmes short story it mirrors).

But the other, born of financial necessity, was a big hit.

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The Collections of Michael Shea: Polyphemus

Monday, April 14th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Polyphemus Michael Shea-smallAs much as I respect and admire Michael Shea’s fantasy novels — and many of them are magnificent — I think he did his best work at short length. And I believe his best collection, by a pretty fair margin, is his 1987 Arkham House volume Polyphemus.

I was so impressed with it — really, I was so impressed with a single story, the amazing novella “The Autopsy” — that before I even finished reading the whole volume, I thrust it into the hands of my friend Neil Walsh, the future editor of SF Site. (I never did get it back and eventually had to buy a new copy. But I don’t mind. As the saying goes, never loan books. They should be gifts.)

But I don’t think you should have to take my word for it. Here’s the distinguished Mr. John Hocking, whose taste in fantasy fiction, as we know, is impeccable, with a two-sentence review of “The Autopsy,” as quoted in Mark Rigney’s 2013 article “The Most Terrifying Short Stories Ever?

Creeped me out as badly as anything I ever read. Most ghastly creature ever put on the page.

Amen to that.

“The Autopsy” has been reprinted over a dozen times, in such places as David G. Hartwell’s monumental horror collection The Dark Descent (1988), The Best of Modern Horror (1989), The Best Horror Stories from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (1990), Aliens Among Us (2000), Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s massive anthology The Weird (2012) — and just this month it appeared in the e-book edition of Lightspeed magazine.

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Vintage Treasures: Sentinels of Space by Eric Frank Russell / The Ultimate Invader edited by Donald Wollheim

Sunday, April 13th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Sentinels of Space-smallWe’re back  with our journey through the Ace Double line, this time with one of the earliest volumes in the series: Eric Frank Russell’s SF novel Sentinels of Space, coupled with a Donald Wollheim anthology The Ultimate Invader. It was published in paperback in 1954.

Eric Frank Russell is one of those writers I’m not nearly as well-versed in as I should be. I read his brilliant short story “Dear Devil” in Terry Carr’s YA anthology Creatures From Beyond in the mid-seventies, when I was in Junior High, and that’s all it took for his name to stick with me.

“Dear Devil” — rejected by all the major magazines until Bea Mahaffey pulled it from the slush in 1950, while filling in for the hospitalized Ray Palmer at Other Worlds — established Russell as a major name and it also cemented the 26-year-old Mahaffey’s rep as an editor. She remained as co-editor of Other Worlds when Palmer returned and also edited his magazines Science Stories and Universe Science Fiction in the late 50s.

Russell wasn’t terribly prolific. He wrote only eight novels between 1939 and 1965, plus a posthumous collaboration with Alan Dean Foster, Design for Great-Day (1995), published 17 years after his death. I’m sure there’s a fascinating story behind that — I’ll have to ask Alan next time I run into him at a convention.

His two most famous works are probably his first novel Sinister Barrier, which so impressed John W. Campbell that he reportedly founded Unknown magazine just to get it into print, and “Allamagoosa’ (Astounding, May 1955), the first short story to win the Hugo Award.

My favorite Eric Frank Russell anecdote occurred while I was selling vintage paperbacks in the Dealer’s room at the 2012 Worldcon here in Chicago (Howard’s detailed report is here.) Jo Walton — who won a Hugo the next day for her novel Among Others — was browsing my books when she suddenly let out a shout of glee.

She explained why in a funny and delightful post a few months later at Tor.com., titled “The Book You Don’t Know You’re Looking For.”

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Last Chance to Win a Copy of The Collected Edmond Hamilton, Volume Four from Haffner Press

Sunday, April 13th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Collected Edmond Hamilton Volume Four-smallIn a moment of weakness earlier this month, I decided to give away a copy of the long-awaited fourth volume of The Collected Edmond Hamilton from Haffner Press. Too late to back out now. How do you win one, you lucky dog? Just send an e-mail to john@blackgate.com with the title “Edmond Hamilton” and a one-sentence review of your favorite Hamilton novel or short story. And don’t forget to mention what story you’re reviewing.

That’s it. One winner will be drawn at random from all qualifying entries and we’ll publish the best reviews here on the Black Gate blog.

But time is running out — the contest closes April 18. If you need more inspiration. we recently covered several Edmond Hamilton books — including Starwolf and The Best of Edmond Hamilton — and we reprinted his very first story, “The Monster-God of Mamurth” (from the August 1926 issue of Weird Tales) in Black Gate 2.

Haffner’s archival-quality hardcovers  — including The Complete John Thunstone by Manly Wade Wellman; Henry Huttner’s Detour to Otherness, Terror in the House: The Early Kuttner, Volume One, and Thunder in the Void; Leigh Brackett’s Shannach – The Last: Farewell to Mars; and Robert Silverberg’s Tales From Super-Science Fiction — are some of the most collectible books in the genre and you won’t want to miss this one.

All entries become the property of New Epoch Press. No purchase necessary. Must be 12 or older. Decisions of the judges (capricious as they may be) are final. Not valid where prohibited by law. Or anywhere postage for a hefty hardcover is more than, like, 10 bucks

The Reign of the Robots, The Collected Edmond Hamilton, Volume Four was published by Haffner Press on December 30, 2013. It is 696 pages, priced at $40 in hardcover. There is no digital edition. Learn more here.


A Classic Moral Panic: The BBC on The Great 1980s Dungeons & Dragons Panic

Friday, April 11th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

D&D boxed sets-smallIf you’re as old (and as good-looking) as I am, you probably remember the occasional media hysterics surrounding Dungeons and Dragons in the late 70s and early 80s. Reports of teens committing suicide after playing D&D, getting lost in steam tunnels, turning to devil worship… it got to be almost routine by the mid-80s. You didn’t even pay attention after a while.

It certainly caused problems for some gamers, though. I knew of a few who were forbidden to play D&D by their parents. My own parents certainly heard the reports, but my Dad had a practical solution… he asked to sit in on a game. He rolled up a character named Drawde (Edward spelled backwards) and trooped down in the dungeon with us.

It was a decent enough session, actually, although my brother Mike and I exchanged a few wide-eyed glances as Dad started busting in dungeon doors. My older sister Maureen tagged along, and even my Mom joined in for a while. I remember Maureen found a +1 ring and when I explained it protected her from attack, she sauntered to the front of the party and started talking smack to the next group of orcs they ran in to.

She got peppered with arrows, and my father had to come to her rescue. She hung out in the rear after that. “Anyone want to buy a magic ring?” she asked.

We never had another family session of D&D. But my father was apparently satisfied that the game wasn’t leading Mike and I towards eternal damnation and we were never questioned after that, even as the press reports about the game got crazier. I think I still have Dad’s character sheet somewhere.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1951: A Retro-Review

Friday, April 11th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction October 1951-smallGalaxy began its second year of publication with the October 1951 issue. With contributions from both Asimov and Heinlein, it continued to show the strength of its fiction content.

“The C-Chute” by Isaac Asimov — A disparate group of space travelers become prisoners when their ship is stormed by enemy aliens. The Kloro secure the men in a room and leave only two of their own to pilot the ship back to their territory, where it can be prepared for battle.

Not content to sit idly by and become prisoners of war for an indeterminate amount of time, the men formulate a plan. Someone could suit up and go outside the ship, walking the hull to the steam tubes, in order to re-enter the ship at the control room, hopefully surprising the enemy pilots. The only dilemma is figuring out which of the men has the wherewithal and courage to succeed.

There was a lot of point-of-view shifting throughout the story, allowing the reader to enter the mind of each character. I thought this was done well and honestly there was greater variety in these characters than what Asimov produced in his novel The Stars, Like Dust.

“Pleasant Dreams” by Ralph Robin — Chief Watcher Gniss invites a childhood friend to witness how his group uses technology to spy on criminal suspects. Through the telepathic instrument, they can witness the suspects’ dreams, allowing them to learn of co-conspirators without the need for interrogation.

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Forgotten Treasures of the Pulps: Tony Rome, Private Eye

Friday, April 11th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Miami HaleMiami PBOThe paperback original (PBO to collectors) was the immediate successor to the pulp magazine as the home of pulp fiction. Marvin Albert was one of the bright lights of the paperback original market for detective fiction.

Albert’s work is revered in France, where he is considered a master of the hardboiled form, but he is largely forgotten stateside since his work lacks the literary polish of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler and was never shocking like Mickey Spillane. Albert may not have broken new ground, but he did excel at crafting hardboiled private eye stories in the classic tradition from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Much like Max Allan Collins or Michael Avallone, he also supplemented his income by adapting screenplays as movie tie-in novels for the paperback original market. Oddly enough, Albert specialized in bedroom farces for his movie tie-in assignments, in sharp contrast to his tough guy crime novels and westerns.

Albert utilized a number of pseudonyms during his career (although many of these titles were reprinted under his real name towards the end of his life). He published three hardboiled mysteries featuring a tough private eye called Tony Rome in the early 1960s. The books were published under the byline of Anthony Rome, as if to suggest the tales being told were real cases.

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Vintage Treasures: The Scroll of Man by John Dalmas

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Scroll of Man-smallThis month, I’ve been trying out books by authors I’ve never read before and today it’s time to try the American SF writer John Dalmas.

John Dalmas was born in Chicago in 1926; his first published story was The Yngling, which appeared (in two parts) in the October and November issues of Analog Science Fiction in 1969. Since then, he’s published some 27 novels, including his latest, The Signature of God, which appeared as an e-book last year. He turns 88 this year and maintains a fairly active blog here. (That’s the spirit, Dalmas! Don’t let any of those younger SF writers give you crap.)

Dalmas is probably best known for his Regiment books from Baen, a military SF series which began with The Regiment in 1987 and continued for five more novels. But I settled on The Scroll of Man because it has a cool cover with a regal blue cat and a young lady with some impressive headgear, zapping her lazy kitty with a mini lightning bolt. I wish I could do the same thing when my cat won’t budge from my recliner, let me tell you. You show ‘em, princess lady.

“I hit the ground and lay there, feeling close-cropped grass against my body. A moment earlier I’d been kicking along on skis across the Yukon flats in a Siberian training project. But this looked like some sort of temple garden, it was a summer night, and I was naked and unarmed.

“And two large golden eyes were watching me from the shadows.”

The Guardian had sent out a call for a great warrior. Now She had one… only he was from three million years in the past.

Okay, I have no idea what any of that is about. My guess, princess lady is The Guardian. I don’t know how the cat figures into events, but I bet it deserved the lighting bolt. Cats. You can’t trust ‘em.

The Scroll of Man was published in 1985 by Tor. It is 255 pages, priced at $2.95. It has never been reprinted and there is no digital edition. The colorful cover is by Ramos.


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