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Category: Vintage Treasures

Vintage Treasures: Sandkings by George R.R. Martin

Vintage Treasures: Sandkings by George R.R. Martin


Sandkings (Timescape/Pocket Books, December 1981). Cover by Rowena Morrill

Writing is a notoriously poor-paying profession. In 2017, after eleven months of work, I sold my first novel to Houghton Mifflin for $20,000 — about $10,000 below the poverty line for a family of five in Illinois. And I felt lucky to get it, believe me.

So when someone like George R.R. Martin earns $9 million a year as a fantasy novelist, it generates a lot of wonder and amazement. And in some corners, envy and resentment. For George — who’s dedicated his career to SF and fantasy, and was famous for hosting hundreds of fans every year at the genre’s social highlight, the Hugo Loser’s Party at Worldcon — I think the resentment culminated in 2021, when Natalie Luhrs’s essay “George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into the Sun” was nominated for a Hugo Award. George, who was the Toastmaster for the Hugos in 2020, has not attended a Worldcon since.

In light of the fact that The Winds of Winter, sixth novel in the series, in now roughly a decade late, there’s also been a grumbling reevaluation of Martin’s magnum opus, Game of Thrones, with fans bitterly divided over everything from the final season of the HBO series to whether the series is worth starting at all.

To me, this whole exercise is misguided. Regardless of how you feel about the vast media franchise Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin’s reputation as one of the most vibrant and groundbreaking authors of genre fiction was irrevocably established four decades ago with a string of brilliant short stories, including the Hugo-Award winners “A Song for Lya,” “The Way of Cross and Dragon,” and, especially “Sandkings,” one of the finest SF stories ever written.

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Vintage Treasures: Strange Monsters of the Recent Past by Howard Waldrop

Vintage Treasures: Strange Monsters of the Recent Past by Howard Waldrop


Strange Monsters of the Recent Past (Ace Books, July 1991). Cover by Alan M. Clark

Howard Waldrop passed away in January of this year, and his death was a major loss. It’s common, especially for writers, to be praised as a unique talent, but in Waldrop’s case there may be no more apt description. He had an entirely unique voice. There was no one else like him.

Waldrop left behind a single solo novel and over a dozen collections, but I think the one I treasure the most was his fourth, Strange Monsters of the Recent Past, published by Ace Books in 1991. It was one of the very few to appear in mass market paperback (the other was the Locus Award-winning Night of the Cooters, reprinted by Ace in 1993).

Strange Monsters of the Recent Past contains some of his most acclaimed short fiction, including the long novelette “He-We-Await,” from Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and his famous retelling of the labors of Hercules set in the Jim Crow south, the Nebula, World Fantasy and Locus Award-nominated novella A Dozen Tough Jobs.

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Five Tours in the Galactic Security Service: Backflash (Simon Rack #3) by Laurence James

Five Tours in the Galactic Security Service: Backflash (Simon Rack #3) by Laurence James


Backflash (Sphere Books, January 1975). Cover by Bruce Pennington

Here’s another review of an obscure (at least to me!) 1970s SF novel. I found it on the free table at Boskone this year. It is slim, and I knew nothing about it or the author, so I figured it was worth a look.

Laurence James (1942-2000) was a British writer and editor, who published dozens of books between 1973 and his all too early death. He wrote in a number of fields, but mostly SF, and he was probably best known for a long series, Deathlands, which still continues with some 150 books published to date. James wrote over 30 novels in the series, most of the first 33 or so, which appeared between 1986 and 1996. All of the books (to this date) are published as by James Axler. I was completely unaware of these books or any other work by James until now.

The Simon Rack series comprises five volumes published in 1974 and 1975. Backflash is the third. It appears (though as I haven’t read the others I’m not sure) to be mostly a flashback to the first Simon Rack adventure by internal chronology (and perhaps that’s the reason for the title.) It opens with Commander Simon Rack of the Galactic Security Service confronting a madman who has stolen an experimental weapon and gone on a killing spree. As he corners him, the madman shoots — and it appears that the weapon’s effect includes messing with the brain’s sense of time, and Rack starts to experience his past life, on the planet Zayin.

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Vintage Treasures: To Reign in Hell by Steven Brust

Vintage Treasures: To Reign in Hell by Steven Brust


To Reign in Hell (Ace Books, May 1985). Cover by Stephen Hickman

In 1983 all my friends in Ottawa were talking about the debut novel by a young fantasy writer from Minnesota. The book was Jhereg, and it launched Steven Brust’s career in a major way. A caper tale (told from the criminal’s point of view) in a world of high-stakes court intrigue, Jhereg became an instant fantasy classic. As Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote years later here at Black Gate,

Jhereg reads like a fantastic and slightly off-kilter version of a Golden Age crime story. The focus is on Vlad’s ingenuity and the puzzle of how to kill the thief. That plus the witty banter, snarky sidekicks, and some action here and there kept me captivated.

All eyes were on Brust when his second novel appeared. Although most of us expected more tales of adventure set in the world of Dragaera, that would have to wait until Yendi — the first of a great many sequels in what eventually became one of the most successful and long-running series in modern fantasy — arrived a few months later. Brust’s actual second novel was To Reign in Hell, a fantasy retelling of Milton’s Paradise Lost, and it proved Brust would have an extraordinary fantasy career.

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Vintage Treasures: Hammer’s Slammers by David Drake

Vintage Treasures: Hammer’s Slammers by David Drake


Hammer’s Slammers (Ace Books, April 1979). Cover by Paul Alexander

David Drake passed away on December 10, 2023, and his death was a major loss to the field. In addition to his considerable accomplishments as a writer — with dozens of novels and collections to his credit — he made significant contributions as an editor and publisher.  He edited dozen of volumes for Ace, including the Space Anthologies with Marty Greenberg and Charles Waugh, and The Fleet and Battlestation shared universe series with Bill Fawcett. For Baen he edited three volumes of Men Hunting Things, Armageddon, and much more. He founded the Carcosa small press with Karl Edward Wagner — and in fact every time David stopped by the Black Gate booth at conventions over the years, the two of us invariably ended up talking about Karl.

But without question David’s most significant creation was Hammer’s Slammers, a long-running SF series that followed the adventures of the mercenary Colonel Alois Hammer and the tank regiment that bore his name. Alongside David Weber’s Honorverse, Hammer’s Slammers was the most popular military science fiction series of the late 20th Century. Including spin-offs and related volumes, the series ran to over a dozen volumes between 1979 and 2002.

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Andre Norton: Gateway to Magic, Part II

Andre Norton: Gateway to Magic, Part II

Andre Norton’s two-book series Judgment on Janus and Victory on Janus
(Fawcett Crest, December 1979 and January 1980). Covers by Ken Barr

Part I of Andre Norton: Gateway to Magic is here.

Two other fun books by Norton that I read between ages 12 and 16 were Judgment on Janus and Victory on Janus. In Judgement, a down and out young man named Naill Renfro ends up on the planet Janus, which is ruled by a group of religious fanatics from Earth. There are artifacts on Janus from a native civilization, which is thought extinct, and Renfro finds one but is contaminated by it and begins to mutate. Turns out, he’s mutating into a native of the planet, a changeling, if you will. He flees into the vast forest of Janus.

When I first read this book, I was caught up in the rousing adventure, which had elements of the Sword & Planet genre. Only with a later read did I realize all the things going on underneath the surface, the condemnation of religious fanaticism and racism, and the criticism of a corporate world of excess. I came around to that way of thinking myself many many years later. She was ahead of her time here.

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Adventure in the Magellanic Cloud: The Mote in Time’s Eye by Gérard Klein

Adventure in the Magellanic Cloud: The Mote in Time’s Eye by Gérard Klein


The Mote in Time’s Eye (DAW, January 1975). Cover by Josh Kirby

This is the latest in a series of posts I’m doing covering relatively obscure SF novels of the ‘70s and ‘80s. This novel was first published in French in 1965, but as it didn’t appear in English until 1975, I figure it fits this series.

One of the things on the good side of the Donald A. Wollheim ledger is his willingness to publish SF in translation. This was one of four novels by Gérard Klein that DAW books published. (Perhaps half a dozen translated short stories appeared in various places.)

Gérard Klein was born in 1937. He began publishing SF at the age of 18, and he seems to have mostly stopped in the mid-70s. He has also been a significant anthologist, and a critic, receiving the Pilgrim Award in 2005 for his scholarly work. His day job was as an economist. He is still alive, now 86 years old.

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Vintage Treasures: To the Resurrection Station by Eleanor Arnason

Vintage Treasures: To the Resurrection Station by Eleanor Arnason


To the Resurrection Station (Avon, October 1986). Cover by Tom Kidd

Eleanor Arnason is a familiar name to anyone who’s been reading short science fiction for the past four decades. Her first story appeared in New Worlds 6 in 1973, and since then she’s published dozens of acclaimed tales in most of the major markets, especially Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Tales of the Unanticipated, and many fine anthologies. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Nebula Award five times, including “The Potter of Bones” (Best Novella, 2003) and “Stellar Harvest” (Best Novelette, 2000), both published in Asimov’s SF.

Her novel output has been a little thinner, though still highly acclaimed. Her fourth novel, A Woman of the Iron People, won both the inaugural James Tiptree Jr. Award in 1991, and the 1992 Mythopoeic Award. But today I want to talk about her first science fiction novel, the quirky and original far-future tale To the Resurrection Station.

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The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein

The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein

In the town where Kicsi grew up there was a rabbi who could work miracles. It was a small town, and borders — Hungarian, Czech, Russian — ebbed and flowed around it like tides. Once, Kicsi remembered, she went too far from home and came to a place where the people spoke a different language. In the distance, on the horizon, stood the mountains, fat and placid as cows.

The Red Magician (1982) by Lisa Goldstein is a young adult, magical realist novel about a Jewish girl, during, and after the Holocaust. The author, herself the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, won a National Book Award for paperback original. The book, while short by today’s dreadful standards, is a compelling meditation on willful blindness in the face of great horror, misplaced vengeance, and the harrowing effects of survivor’s guilt.

Kicsi, which means little in Hungarian, lives with her family in a small town completely isolated from the evil smothering much of Europe. We meet her as she listens in on a conversation between her father, Imre, and the town’s rabbi. The rabbi threatens anyone who doesn’t remove their child from the town school with a curse. The school, in defiance of traditional belief, teaches Hebrew. The language, the rabbi insists:

will be spoken only when the Messiah comes and we return to the Holy Land. That is to say, when God wills it. Until then Hebrew is to be spoken only in prayer.

As punishment, the rabbi curses anyone connected to the school to be tormented by forty demons for forty days and nights. Imre insists that he isn’t scared of any curse and that his daughters will continue to attend the school Fortunately, a stranger arrives in the town, first appearing in the synagogue on Friday night.

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Vintage Treasures: Night’s Black Agents by Fritz Leiber

Vintage Treasures: Night’s Black Agents by Fritz Leiber


Nights Black Agents (Berkley Books, May 1980). Cover by Wayne Barlowe

Nights Black Agents was Fritz Leiber’s first first collection — and in fact his first book. It was originally published in hardcover by Arkham House in 1947, when Leiber was 37 years old.

It collects six stories published in Weird Tales and Unknown Worlds, plus one tale from a fanzine, and three new stories — including the long Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novella “Adept’s Gambit.” Needless to say, it was very successful, and enjoyed a series of hardcover and paperback editions that kept it in print for over three decades.

Nights Black Agents launched Leiber’s writing career, and he followed it with some three dozen more collections (and many novels) before his death in 1992.

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