Dueling Rakes, Mysterious Women, and the Goblin Aristocracy: The Queen’s Necklace by Teresa Edgerton

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_1605134EiRbubaPThe Queen’s Necklace (2001) by Teresa Edgerton (with its title borrowed from Alexandre Dumas) is a perfectly splendid swashbuckling adventure in an Age of Reason-like world as it teeters on the precipice of collapse.

For five thousand, years Goblins using powerful magical gems ruled the world, keeping Humans enslaved and uneducated. Fifteeen hundred years ago, Humanity rose up and slaughtered most — but not all — of the Goblins. Now a millennium of plotting by the Goblin aristocracy is about to culminate in their return to power in a wave of chaos and destruction.

The Queen’s Necklace (TQN) is one of the many (too many!) books that’s sat unread for years on my shelf. Ocassionally the thought would occur to me to pull it down and finally give it a go, but I never followed through. When I reread and reviewed Edgerton’s earlier novel Goblin Moon this summer, she suggested I give The Queen’s Necklace a try, mentioning that it was possibly going to be reprinted in the autumn. So I figured, what the heck, I had bought it with every intention of reading it at some point, so why not now? And I’m glad I did.

While not connected to Goblin Moon and its sequel, The Gnome’s Engine, TQN occurs in a similar Enlightenment setting. There are perfumed fops, dueling rakes, mysterious women, and equal parts quackery, science, and magic.

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These Robots Are Revolting: Magnus, Robot Fighter 4000 A.D.

Sunday, September 14th, 2014 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Magnus the Robot Fighter Volume 1-smallI had thousands of comic books when I was a kid (heck, I’ve got thousands of them now), but I never had a single Gold Key book — I avoided them like the plague. I didn’t like their painted covers; I didn’t like their series based on flop Irwin Allen TV shows like Land of the Giants and Time Tunnel; I didn’t like that Superman or Green Lantern were nowhere to be found in their stories.

I wheedled hard to get that twelve or fifteen cents (that’s what comic books cost in my day, Sonny), and was determined to be discriminating with it. Yes, even as a kid, I was a snob — a trash snob, but a snob.

Recently, however, in a spirit of scientific investigation, I picked up the first two Dark Horse paperback collections of Magnus Robot Fighter 4000 A.D. The books collect the first fourteen issues of Magnus that Gold Key published between 1963 and 1966. Dark Horse has done a superior job with these beautifully-produced volumes;  in addition to the original stories, they feature appreciative introductions by Mike Royer and Steve Rude, samples of original concept art, and the covers that I so disliked as a kid.

Most importantly, the reproduction of the comic pages themselves is first-rate. The coloring is especially good; it’s clean and sharp without being overpoweringly bright, as some of DC’s Archive books have been. (The non-glossy paper used is a big plus in this regard.)

So the wrapping is nice — what about the present? Who the heck is this Magnus guy, anyway?

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Arthur C. Clarke: Sci-Fi Psychic

Sunday, September 14th, 2014 | Posted by Brandon Engel

Arthur C Clarke The Sentinel-smallKnown as a member of science-fiction’s “big three” alongside Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein, Clarke had a penchant, not only for writing superb science-fiction stories, but also for anticipating what sort of role technology would play in future societies.

His work as a science fiction writer (particularly his screenplay and novel 2001: A Space Odyssey) has stimulated endless conversation about the role technology plays in our day-to-day lives and the degree to which it reflects our propensity to transcend our genetic inadequacies as a species.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke was born on December 16, 1917 in Minehead, Somerset, England, UK. At a very early age, he was exposed to (what were at the time) cutting edge communications technologies by his mother, who was a radio operator in England. He was also blessed with an amazing imagination that allowed him to see things more as they could be, instead of how they were.

But although he had demonstrated a high capacity for abstract thinking, Clarke also showed a propensity for natural sciences, and he was adept at navigating technological interfaces. During World War II, he served as a radar specialist with the elite Royal Air Force of Great Britain. After the war, he took up studies in mathematics and physics and earned a degree from King’s College London. Most of his writings during this time were non-fiction science books about the possible future of rocket technology and space flight. The influence of his time in the Air Force became very evident.

In the late 1930s, Clarke began writing science-fiction pieces about space travel and futuristic technology for fanzines. In the “The Sentinel” (1948), he suggests that alien life forms could be vastly superior to humans. This theme would be central in many of his future novels.

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Vintage Treasures: Night Fear by Frank Belknap Long

Sunday, September 14th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Night Fear-smallFrank Belknap Long isn’t well remembered today. He wrote nearly 30 novels, including Space Station 1 (1957), Mars is My Destination (1962), The Horror from the Hills (1963), and Survival World (1971), most of which have been out of print for over 40 years.

But his short fiction has fared a little better. Long was part of the Lovecraft Circle, and indeed was a close friend of Lovecraft’s for many years (James McGlothlin has a great pic of the two, accompanying his article on The Lovecraft Circle at the First World Fantasy Convention.) His contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos, including “The Hounds of Tindalos” and “The Space Eaters,” are still highly regarded today.

Long’s short fiction was gathered in four paperback collections: Odd Science Fiction (1964), The Rim of the Unknown (1972), The Hounds of Tindalos (1978) and Night Fear (1979). They are long out of print, but most of his finest short fiction was collected in Masters of the Weird Tale: Frank Belknap Long (2010), a gorgeous limited edition hardcover from Centipede Press.

Night Fear collects fiction spanning nearly three decades from 1925 to 1953, originally published in the pulp magazines Weird Tales, Astounding Science Fiction, Startling Stories, Unknown, Super Science Stories, and Dynamic Science Fiction. It includes the famous Cthulhu Mythos novella ”The Horror from the Hills,” first serialized in Weird Tales in 1931 and built on a dream H. P. Lovecraft had which Long incorporated in the tale nearly verbatim, and ”It’s a Tough Life,” a 1942 essay from Astounding Science-Fiction in which Long discusses L. Sprague de Camp’s 1940 article on bizarre terrestrial life.

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Blogging Sax Rohmer… In the Beginning, Part Four

Friday, September 12th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

illo-Sax Rohmerrohmer2We already noted in our last installment that Arthur Henry Ward had adopted the pseudonym of Sax Rohmer for his relatively successful career as a music hall songwriter and comedy sketch writer. He would later claim that he worked as a newspaper reporter during these years, but that his articles were published anonymously. Allegedly he covered waterfront crime in Limehouse, but he also claimed to have successfully managed interviews with heads of state. There is little doubt the man was a great raconteur, but none of the anonymously published articles and interviews Rohmer credits himself with writing have ever been located by researchers. It is highly questionable whether he ever actually worked as a journalist or at least to the extent he claimed. What is factual is that he did begin having works published anonymously.

As a young man, he ran with a crowd of self-styled bohemians who occupied a clubhouse on Oakmead Road in London. Each member of the gang was known by rather fanciful nicknames with Rohmer being known as Digger. Their activities ran from simply hanging around the clubhouse to picking up girls and attempting various get-rich-quick schemes to avoid making an honest living. Some of their schemes were of questionable legality.

Around this time, Rohmer decided he would fictionalize their exploits. It is believed he authored seven stories about the Oakmead Road Gang. Five manuscripts were known to have survived their author’s death: “Narky,” “Rupert,” “Digger’s Aunt,” “The Pot Hunters,” and “The Treasure Chest.” All seven stories were submitted for anonymous publication to Yes and No. It appears only the first of the group of stories ever saw print. The surviving four manuscripts passed upon the death of Rohmer’s widow to Cay Van Ash. When Van Ash died in Paris twenty years ago, Rohmer’s unpublished manuscripts were being held by a friend in Tokyo (where Van Ash lived for many years while teaching at Waseda University). When the friend had his visa rescinded on short notice in 2000, he was forced to leave his  belongings behind, where they were junked by a Japanese family who thought the storage boxes contained worthless garbage.

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Vintage Treasures: Mustapha and his Wise Dog by Esther M. Friesner

Thursday, September 11th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Mustapha and his Wise Dog-smallEsther M. Friesner’s first novel, Mustapha and his Wise Dog, was a considerable success and it launched her lengthy and very productive career as a fantasy author and editor. Since it appeared in 1985, she has produced over 40 novels, over half a dozen anthologies, and more than 180 short stories.

Mustapha was a humorous fantasy and, at a slender 175 pages, a very quick read. It was also one of the few fantasies with an Arabian setting on the shelves in the mid-80s (or even today, for that matter). It became the first of the four-volume Chronicles of the Twelve Kingdoms series, which continued in Spells of Mortal Weaving (1986), The Witchwood Cradle (1987), and The Water King’s Laughter (1989). Here’s the book description:

Spells, Enchantment, and Treachery

Some tales are told for gold; some for joy. But who would guess the ancient storyteller’s purpose in beguiling the children of the bazaar with the strange story of Mustapha and His Wise Dog…

Mustapha, young and clever, was outcast by his own brothers to wander in a dangerous land with only his magical, mischievous dog Elcoloq at his side. They were the unlikely warriors chosen by the gods to challenge the evil rising to threaten the world. They were the defiant ones willing to venture into the kingdom of powerful warlocks and seductive witches only to discover the fantastic journey yet awaiting them… a destiny of unforgettable adventure filled with dread demons and a treacherous lady… an awesome odyssey to a country of death, beauty… and a storyteller’s secret.

Mustapha and his Wise Dog was published in 1985 by Avon Books. It is 175 pages, priced at $2.95 in paperback. The gorgeous cover art is, sadly, uncredited. The book has been out of print for over 25 years and there is no digital edition. Used copies are easy enough to find, but this is one title ripe for a new edition — digital or otherwise.

In the Mail

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 | Posted by James Maliszewski

AE08Despite what my post last week may have implied, I too have been culling my RPG collection. This isn’t driven so much by a concern about space – that’s what garages are for, after all – but utility. In the thirty-five years I’ve been involved in this hobby, I’ve accumulated a lot of games, but how many of them do I actually play with any regularity? Heck, how many of them do I play at all?

The answers to those questions are surprisingly short, as I’ve discussed before. Of course, I’m not so stonyhearted that I’d consign to the flames (or at least eBay) any RPG I hadn’t played in the last year or two. I’m a hopelessly sentimental guy who revels in nostalgia and youthful memories. That’s why I keep around Gamma World and Gangbusters, neither of which I’ve played in decades. I used to play these games with great regularity and I hold out hope that I will get to do so again (plans are afoot for a new Gamma World campaign later this month!). But Blue Planet or Spycraft or even D&D settings like Planescape or Dark Sun? Nah.

Overall, then, my RPG collection is growing smaller, though I prefer to think of it as growing more “focused.” That said, its size isn’t wholly on a downward trend. That’s because, while I’m buying very few new games, I’m continuing – even increasing – my purchase of RPG fanzines.

When I was a kid, gaming fanzines weren’t on my radar. I read Dragon and, later, White Dwarf, and was vaguely aware of Different Worlds, but all three of those were professional magazines produced by game companies rather than photocopied (or “Xeroxed,” as we said back in the day) pages lovingly stapled together in someone’s basement and then sent through the mail. I dimly recall hearing about Alarums & Excursions, probably from one of the older guys who hung around the hobby shop, though, as they would have been quick to point out, A&E is an amateur press association, not a ‘zine, a distinction that’s still somewhat obscure to me even today.

Regardless, fanzines played a vital role in the early days of the hobby, disseminating not only news and reviews, but also ideas derived from what players and referees were actually doing with RPGs at the time. Reading them, one could see the myriad ways that roleplaying games were being interpreted and expanded upon, which in turn sometimes gave birth to whole new games and approaches to gaming, something that, even now, sets them apart from the slicker, better produced “pro ‘zines” that followed in their wake.

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Hell to Pay: The Devil and Daniel Webster in Print and on Film

Sunday, September 7th, 2014 | Posted by Thomas Parker

The Devil and Daniel Webster Criterion DVD-smallIs there any place more melancholy than the graveyard of forgotten writers? While the reputations of even major literary figures can wax and wane, for genuinely innovative or influential authors, critical rebounds, if not assured, are at least possible. (Hemingway, anyone?)

But permanent eclipse seems to be the fate of the facile, ambitious middlebrow who was highly popular and overpraised during his or her prime. Once this kind of writer is no longer around to hold the stage with new work, a spell seems to be broken and often a speedy and ruthless (if not embarrassed) re-evaluation occurs, resulting in a quick trip to oblivion and a complete disappearance from the public consciousness. John O’Hara, Dorothy Parker, Irwin Shaw — where are you now? Often it’s not even a matter of an “official” verdict by the critical establishment  — it’s simply that a few years pass and no one reads the writer anymore.

One victim of this kind of reaction was Stephen Vincent Benét. A prolific producer of poetry and fiction from the 1920′s up until his death from a heart attack in1943, Benét was both highly regarded by critics and popular with the wider public. His epic narrative poem of the American Civil War, John Brown’s Body, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1929, and there was a time when countless readers were familiar with his widely-anthologized story “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” a bit of nostalgic, patriotic Americana that blends history, the tall tale, and the supernatural into a fluent and beguiling concoction.

Published in 1936, “The Devil and Daniel Webster” tells the story of one Jabez Stone, a hard-working but struggling New Hampshire farmer. “He wasn’t a bad man to start with, but he was an unlucky man. If he planted corn, he got borers; if he planted potatoes, he got blight. He had good-enough land, but it didn’t prosper him; he had a decent wife and children, but the more children he had, the less there was to feed them.”

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Vintage Treasures: The Beast Master and Lord of Thunder by Andre Norton

Sunday, September 7th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Andre Norton Beast Master hardcover-small The Beast Maser Ace Double-small The Beast Master Ace-small

Andre Norton’s The Beast Master is one of the most famous Ace Doubles ever published.

It was also one of her most popular books. It was originally published in 1959, and it’s still in print today, 55 years later. To give you some understanding of how amazing that is, try and find a paperback from, oh, 2010 at your local Barnes & Noble. (It’s not easy — 98% of fiction paperbacks four years old are out of print already.) Ladies and gentlemen, that’s literary staying power.

The Beast Master has been reprinted in a number of handsome editions over the last five decades, with covers by Richard Powers, Ed Valigursky, John Schoenherr, Ken Barr, Julie Bell, and many other talented folks. If you’re a struggling midlist writer, that’s one more reason to be jealous of Andre Norton. She was covered by the best.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1952: A Retro-Review

Sunday, September 7th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction February 1952-smallThe February, 1952 issue of Galaxy included a pair of articles along with its fiction offering. I covered Robert A. Heinlein’s predictions from an article titled “Where To?” in a previous post. The other, by L. Sprague de Camp, reflects on science fiction from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, assessing the failed predictions within older stories.

It seems odd to showcase an article about how science fiction authors failed to predict the future and then follow it up with a science fiction author predicting the future. But I digress…

“Double Standard” by Alfred Coppel — The protagonist is bent on space travel, even if he isn’t suitable for colonial breeding. With forged documents and the illegal work by a plasti-cosmetician, he’s ready to board a ship to anywhere.

This is a quirky tale with a predictable ending. But it’s short enough that it works.

“Conditionally Human” by Walter M. Miller, Jr. — Norris and his wife run a district pound, not for average dogs and cats, but for genetically modified creatures. Some are intelligent versions of dogs and cats while yet another breed, called neutroids, closely resemble humans. The neutroids only grow to specific, chosen ages between one and ten and remain at that level of development. They are suitable pets for C-class couples — people who have been deemed as having a defective heredity and thus are forbidden from having children of their own.

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