When Stellar Empires Clash: GDW’s Dark Nebula and Imperium

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Dark Nebula Game Designers Workshop-smallIn this new Golden Age of science fiction and fantasy board games, when all the chatter is about the latest and greatest mega-games (when it isn’t about the big Fantasy Flight Holiday Sale), I’d like to take a moment to appreciate two classic games of interstellar combat: GDW’s Imperium and Dark Nebula, originally published in 1977 and 1980.

Both may appear simplistic compared to modern games of empire-building in space, like Eclipse, EVE Conquests, or Empires of the Void. At first glance, they may seem more comparable to fast-action games like Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic LeagueAstra Titanus, or the Warhammer 40K game Relic.

But just because both are packaged in relatively small boxes with a slender set of rules doesn’t mean they aren’t ambitious and nuanced games. Both are set in the Traveller universe designed by Marc Miller and, if you’re familiar with that game, they’re a great way to play out some of the far-ranging conflicts that shaped The Third Imperium.

Although it’s probably more accurate to say that Dark Nebula shared a setting with Imperium, which gradually became part of the Traveller universe. Imperium, an ambitious two-player game of space empire conflict set in 22nd Century, was released by GDW in 1977 — the same year the company also published Traveller.  Imperium had a very intriguing backstory, with two great empires in conflict, hints of failed diplomacy, and a vast stellar empire in slow decline.

Conversely, the original boxed edition of Traveller didn’t really have a setting — it was sort of a generic system for role playing in space, and it drew on the popular vision of a galaxy-spanning human civilization found in the science fiction of the time by Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Keith Laumer, H. Beam Piper, and others. It was a game desperately in need of a rich setting, and it found one in Imperium.

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Vintage Treasures: Gateway to Elsewhere by Murray Leinster / The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. van Vogt

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Gateway to Elsewhere-small The Weapon Shops of Isher-small

And now we come to one of my favorite Ace Doubles: Murray Leinster’s Arabian Nights fantasy Gateway to Elsewhere, paired with the classic science fiction novel The Weapon Shops of Isher, by A. E. van Vogt.

Of the two, Gateway to Elsewhere is significantly lesser known. It was Leinster’s first fantasy novel, although he’d previously published two SF novels, The Murder of the U.S.A. (as Will F. Jenkins, in 1946) and The Black Galaxy (in Startling, March 1949). Gateway to Elsewhere originally appeared in a two-part serial in the seventh issue of the small circulation digest Fantasy Book in 1950/51, under the title Journey to Barkut. The entire novel was reprinted in the January 1952 issue of Startling Stories, still under the title Journey to Barkut, with a handsome cover by Earle Bergey (see below).

Two years later it appeared as half of Ace Double D-53, with the new title Gateway to Elsewhere, and a splendid cover by Harry Barton.

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What Old Futures Can Teach Us About What SF and SciFi is Really For

Thursday, November 20th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page

In EC Tubb's imagined future... Security means men with guns. And I don't care!

In EC Tubb’s imagined future… Security means men with guns. And I don’t care!

So, last week I talked about how old Science Fiction and most media SciFi fails to portray realistic futures. They often do well at predicting specific technical advances, for example speech recognition, but underestimate the way humans will exploit any technology to its limits and use it in conjunction with other technologies.

What’s interesting is that (almost) nobody cares.

For example, I’m reading EC Tubb’s Dumarest books. The technology is wildly inconsistent. Conspirators have devices to block eavesdropping, electronic and human, but use landlines without worrying about phone taps.

Did I mention people use landlines?

In EC Tubb’s imagined future, it’s possible to steal a flyer without somebody tracing it through an ID chip, and without it being spotted on radar or by satellite as you cross the sea. Security means men with guns.

And I don’t care!

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Vintage Treasures: The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick / Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Cosmic Puppets-smallWe’re back to looking at Ace Doubles.

This month, I have a special treat for you. A 1957 pairing of two major science fiction writers, both early in their careers, which resulted in a very collectible paperback: The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick, published back-to-back with Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton.

Let’s start with The Cosmic Puppets because, while Dick was never as popular as Andre Norton while he was alive, over the past three decades his fame has grown steadily, to the point where he’s now considered one of the most important SF writers of the 20th Century. The Cosmic Puppets was his fifth novel, and appeared here for the first time (in this form, anyway). While Sargasso of Space is a popular and important SF novel — for reasons I’ll get to shortly — The Cosmic Puppets is the primary reason this paperback commands real interest among collectors.

The Cosmic Puppets is a tale of alien invasion… although, as usual for Dick, it disregards most of the typical conventions of an alien invasion story. Some readers consider it Dick’s most approachable novel (although that doesn’t mean you won’t close the book with a lot of questions.) It’s also the Dick novel that skirts closest to pure fantasy.

The novel opens almost like a Twilight Zone episode, as our protagonist returns to his home town, only to discover that the inhabitants have no memory of him at all. Here’s the summary from the 1957 Ace edition.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Solar Pons

Monday, November 17th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Pons_ReturnPinnacleThere have been a few posts here recently about fan fiction. That concept has been taken to its furthest extreme with the character of Sherlock Holmes. Amateur and professional writers have been penning tales about Holmes for about a century.

Parodies are stories that poke fun at Holmes. Many, such as this one I wrote (page 10), utilize Holmes himself and are clearly tongue in cheek. Others use “new” characters, such as Robert Fish’s Schlock Holmes and his Bagel Street Saga.

But the more serious Holmes tales, those that attempt to portray Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective to varying levels, are called pastiches. Just about the earliest ‘serious’ attempt at a Holmes copy was by Vincent Starrett, who wrote “The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet” in 1920.

The Doyle sons (whom I wrote about here) didn’t like pastiches and they’re relatively uncommon during the first half of the twentieth century as they protected their copyright. The Doyle Estate has been fighting over the copyright right up to this month!

Richard Lancelyn Green’s The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes collects many of the early pastiches, including several from the nineteen forties. There are thousands of pastiches out there now. Search “Sherlock Holmes” or “Sherlock Holmes anthologies” at Amazon and you’ll get a list too big to go through. A future post will talk about some of my favorite pastiches, such as Frank Thomas’s Sherlock Holmes & the Sacred Sword and Michael Hardwick’s Prisoner of the Devil.

But this post is about the detective that Starrett called “The best substitute for Sherlock Holmes known”: Solar Pons. In 1928, August Derleth, a college freshman at the University Wisconsin, wrote to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, asking if there were to be any more Holmes tales. Receiving an emphatic reply of “no” scrawled on his own letter, Derleth made a note on his calendar: “In re: Sherlock Holmes.”

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Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part Seven – Temple Tower

Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

BD06-01Temple_Tower_1st_edition_book_coverTemple Tower (1929) was the sixth Bulldog Drummond novel and marked a departure from the series formula. Having killed Carl Peterson off at the conclusion of the fourth book and dealt with his embittered mistress Irma’s revenge scheme as the plot of the fifth book, Sapper took the series in an unexpected direction by turning to French pulp fiction for inspiration.

Sapper also placed Hugh Drummond in a supporting role and elevated his loyal friend Peter Darrell to the role of narrator. The subsequent success of the venerable movie series and the future controversies generated by Sapper’s reactionary politics and bigotry obscured the versatility of his narratives and led to his being under-appreciated when considered with his peers.

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What Old Futures Can Tell Us About Worldbuilding

Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page

StandByForMars

JKR did it better

I was taking a look at Stand by for Mars!, the first of the classic 1950s Tom Corbett Space Cadet Adventures, and this passage stood out like a sore thumb:

Speaking into an audioscriber, a machine that transmitted his spoken words into typescript, he repeated the names of the candidates as they passed.

And later

…he picked up the audioscriber microphone and recorded a brief message. Removing the threadlike tape from the machine, he returned to the house and left it on the spool

Bit of background. It’s the year AD whatever. In the first excerpt, somebody is recording the arrival of candidates for the Space Academy. In the second excerpt… actually I have no idea what’s happening. I bounced halfway through the first chapter, not because of the retro future, but because I didn’t much care for standard issue school stories where the personality clashes weren’t tied to wider issues and themes — JKR did it better. However, it’s the retro future I’m interested in here.

Let’s think about the audioscriber.

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Vintage Treasures: The Worlds of A.E. Van Vogt

Friday, November 14th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Worlds of A.E. Van Vogt-smallWe haven’t discussed A.E. Van van Vogt at Black Gate very much, and that’s probably a significant oversight.

True, he’s primarily thought of as a science fiction writer (when he’s thought of at all these days.) But however you categorize him, van Vogt was one of the most important writers of the pulp era. I looked at one of his most famous novels, a fix-up of his early pulp stories from Astounding Science Fiction, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, back in September, but that’s really the first time we discussed van Vogt at any length.

Well, that leaves us a lot of ground to cover, so we better get started.

Van Vogt’s longer works include some of the most famous early novels in the SF canon, including Slan (1946), The World of Null-A (1948), and The Weapon Shops of Isher (1951). If you’re interested in sampling his shorter work, there are a lot of collections to choose from — including Transfinite: The Essential A. E. Van Vogt (2003), the deluxe, 576-page hardcover collection of his best work from NESFA Press (still in print, you lucky dog.) If you’re looking for something a little more economical, I highly recommend Transgalactic (2006), a handsome trade collection containing eleven short stories and a short novel, The Wizard of Linn, still in print from Baen.

Of course, you know how I feel. If you want to experience Van Vogt in the pure state, the way his original fans did, you should collect pulps, like any decent person. Failing that, I recommend tracking down a few of his most important paperbacks. Besides, that’s the truly economical approach.

I suggest starting with The Worlds of A.E. Van Vogt, a generous sampling of his short fiction spanning 1941 – 1971. It was originally published in 1974 and is still easy to find and very inexpensive. Twelve of the stories within (plus Forrest J. Ackerman’s one-page introduction) appeared in a smaller paperback, The Far-Out Worlds of A. E. van Vogt, in 1968; but this edition includes all of those stories plus three long novelettes, adding over 100 pages. It’s the one you want.

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The Original Science Fiction Stories, November 1958 and May 1960: A Retro-Review

Thursday, November 13th, 2014 | Posted by Rich Horton

The-Original-Science-Fiction-Stories-November-1958-small2Recently, our esteemed editor John O’Neill blogged about having bought a set of copies of The Original Science Fiction Stories… so it occurred to me that a Retro-Review of a couple of those issues might be interesting. And here it is — something I wrote a few years ago, slightly polished.

Perhaps a long article about Robert A. W. Lowndes’s editorial career would be interesting. His career was rather odd. Off and on for some two decades, he edited two magazines in various combinations: Future, and Science Fiction Stories. For a time, they were the same magazine, called Future Combined With Science Fiction Stories.

Actually, for a couple of different times, they were the same magazine under that title. Charles Hornig was editor for the first few issues of both magazines, from 1939-1941, then Lowndes took over and, as far as I can tell, he was the only editor until the magazines finally limped to an end in 1960.

There were two main phases of publishing these titles: from 1939 through 1943, then from 1950 through 1960. I don’t think there is another example of a single editor being associated, for so long, through so many title changes and hiatuses, with the same publications. He apparently never had much of a budget to work with, either. The publisher, I suppose throughout these magazines’ history, was Columbia Publications. (In the 60s, Lowndes edited one more magazine, the Magazine of Horror.)

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In Praise Of Pavane

Monday, November 10th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

Pavane hardcover-smallThe power of place. Where we’ve been, what we see, the lighting and the weather. These things hold us, sink roots into our nervous system; they unfurl massive Yggdrasils that coil within, then twist into memory.

So it must have been for author Keith Roberts, and his encounters with Corfe Castle, in southwest England. He built his story cycle Pavane around Corfe, almost as an homage.

I understand, I do, for I first saw Corfe – indeed, the only time I have ever seen Corfe – in 1976, in the rain, with my family. I was nine, but I have never forgotten that tusk of a castle, the last spike of it spearing skyward from a sharp, steep hill, the flanks yellow-green with shaggy, unkempt grass. A chain-link fence enclosed the base of the hill, and we could not get in.

My father was furious. Rain and all, he’d had plans to hike us up that hill, to see the ruin for ourselves, up close and appropriately personal. Instead, we never got out of our rented car – it really was the soggiest of days, British to the core — but I see that spike of mortared stone to this day, standing proudly in the storm and refusing, absolutely refusing to come down.

So it is for Keith Roberts, as his stories swirl around and finally come to roost at Corfe, a rebuilt Corfe, a Corfe in an alternate history where the keep’s motte and donjon have stood the test of time, and war now, against mighty odds, with Holy Rome.

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