The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Betty and Ian Ballantine

Monday, September 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Betty Ballantine

Betty Ballantine

Betty and Ian Ballantine

Betty and Ian Ballantine

Ian Ballantine

Ian Ballantine

The Balrog Award, often referred to as the coveted Balrog Award*, was created by Jonathan Bacon and first conceived in issue 10/11 of his Fantasy Crossroads fanzine in 1977 and actually announced in the final issue, where he also proposed the Smitty Awards for fantasy poetry. The awards were presented for the first time at Fool-Con II at the Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas on April 1, 1979. The awards were never taken particularly seriously, even by those who won the award. The final awards were presented in 1985. The first Balrog Special Awards were presented in 1980 to Ian and Betty Ballantine. Special Awards were also presented in 1981, 1983, and 1985.

I wrote the following about Betty Ballantine in 2005 in my fanzine, Argentus, with the aim of having a Worldcon present a Special Committee Award to Ballantine. In 2006, L.A.con IV presented her with such an award.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 20, Part 2: Garo — Under the Moonbow

Sunday, September 22nd, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Garo — Under the MoonbowI approached my second and last film of July 30 with real uncertainty. I’d never seen many tokusatsu films or TV shows, and what I had seen I hadn’t cared for. (‘Tokusatsu’ literally means something like ‘special effects,’ but in the West it’s come especially to refer to shows like Power Rangers or Kamen Rider.) Still, playing in the De Sève Cinema was Garo — Under the Moonbow (Garo: gekkô no tabibito, 牙狼 — 月虹ノ旅人, also translated Garo: Moonbow Traveler), written and directed by Keita Amemiya. It’s the latest installment of a franchise, created by Amemiya, which began with a 2005 TV series and has continued through more TV shows, live-action movies, and anime series. as well as video games, manga, and various other tie-ins. A veteran creator of tokusatsu dramas, Amemiya is particularly known for his powerful design sense, and the images and description of the film promised a stylish fantasy adventure. Although it’d be my first experience with a series that had dozens of hours of continuity behind it, I decided it was worth passing up a chance to see The Crow on the big screen in order to watch Under the Moonbow.

The movie’s about Reiga Saezima (Masei Nakayama), one of an order of warriors, the Makai Knights, who protect humanity from monsters called Horrors. Superhumanly powerful, he becomes even stronger when wearing his suit of special golden armour — which is unfortunately corrupted by evil not long after the movie opens. Saezima has to purify it, but also must save his true love (Natsumi Ishibashi), who has been abducted by Horrors. Yet as he fights his way through a bizarre train, even more plots boil away, leading ultimately to a fantastic battle involving secrets of his lineage.

The first thing to say is that the film’s easily understood without any prior knowledge of the franchise. I suspect that the climax will have more weight for people familiar with the world and with certain characters who appear there, but everything’s set up well enough in the film itself. Exposition’s delivered cleanly, and does not overbalance the plot. The complexities of the world are dramatised well, and if in an absolute sense evil still remains to be fought, at least the main antagonist of this particular story is dealt with.

Beyond that, the plot’s nicely-worked. The tale keeps expanding as the film goes on, sprouting subplots. A range of characters get moments of their own in which to shine; everyone does something important in bringing matters to a happy ending. Rules of this fantasy are established, and followed logically in ways that bring out unexpected wrinkles. Importantly, new ideas and images are always emerging,

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel: The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

Sunday, September 22nd, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Galaxy The Gods Themselves Part 1-small If The Gods Themselves Part 2 Galaxy The Gods Themselves Part 3-small

Galaxy and IF magazines serializing Asimov’s The Gods Themselves in 1972. Covers by Jack Gaughan

In 1973 the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards for Best Novel were each won by The Gods Themselves, by Isaac Asimov. The Gods Themselves also won Australia’s Ditmar Award for Best International Novel.

Isaac Asimov had won two previous Hugos, but neither was a “Regular” Hugo – he won a Special Award for his F&SF Science articles in 1963, and in 1966 the Foundation Series was named Best All-Time Series, a one-time category, beating out (to his expressed great surprise) Robert A. Heinlein’s Future History, Doc Smith’s Lensmen novels, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Asimov had largely stopped writing fiction in the late 1950s, slowing down to roughly a short story a year through the 1960s. Beginning in the early ‘70s, however, he began to produce more fiction, including the Black Widower mysteries, and some more SF. Robert Silverberg coaxed a story out of him for his new original anthology series, New Dimensions, and Asimov wrote “Plutonium-186,” but soon realized it should be a full novel. (He gave Silverberg another story, “Take a Match.”) “Plutonium-186” became The Gods Themselves, his first novel in 15 years (not counting the novelization of the movie Fantastic Voyage.)

The novel was first serialized in a strange way. Galaxy and If were sister magazines, each published bi-monthly. So the three (fairly separate) parts of The Gods Themselves appeared in Galaxy for March-April 1972, If for March-April 1972, and then Galaxy for May-June. The hardcover appeared from Doubleday in May.

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Deep Diving into Comic Book History with Ron Goulart

Saturday, September 21st, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Ron Goulart's Great History of Comic Books cover-small

Two weeks ago, I blogged about my reread of Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and ClayLooking back on it, I’ve been consuming comic book history for about the last year.

After having my appetite whetted by Chabon for a bit more of the Golden Age of comic books, I pulled Ron Goulart’s Great History of Comic Books off my shelf and really enjoyed my evening reading. It’s a history book published in 1986, so while it has the disadvantage of being out of print (unless you buy second-hand books on Abebooks.com — I saw copies for $7), it has the advantage that Goulart himself started collecting in the early Golden Age in 1938 and spoke directly with many of the early creators to source this book.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 20, Part 1: Jessica Forever

Saturday, September 21st, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Jessica ForeverMy first movie on July 30 was the first feature by two French directors of independent short films, Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel. Jessica Forever, which the duo wrote as well as directed, is set in a near future in which disaffected and violent youth, mostly male, roam empty suburbs. The law hunts them down with killer drones, and the movie opens with a cloud of drones after one man, Kevin (Eddy Suiveng), who has squatted in an empty house. He’s saved from the law by a mysterious woman named Jessica (Aomi Muyock) and her squad of young men, who welcome Kevin into the fold.

Various bonding scenes follow, but the emotions of the group are odd: muted, to the extent they exist at all. The young men, each in their late teens or twenties, sleep in one room. All worship Jessica. Kevin makes a smooth transition to becoming one of them, training with them in the use of weapons and force. Then another flock of drones approaches, and there’s a surprising death, and the survivors have to flee. They end up on an island, where history risks repeating itself: some members of the group get too close to the locals. Will they find new allies? Or pull the attention of the authorities down on their heads?

The first thing to say about the movie is that it looks lovely. Images are nicely composed, the camera mostly still (it struck me at one point that it seemed to move more when Jessica was in frame, but I wouldn’t swear to that). There’s a kind of sterile perfection in the images of rich estates and partly-green suburbs, emphasised by the lack of people — we see cars and trucks in the distance, see a mall with passersby in it, meet a community on the island where Jessica’s group ends up, but mostly the world is empty of outsiders, of passersby or neighbours. There is a solitude here; a silence and a stillness.

Along with that there’s an affectlessness to both the characters and actors. There’s a blankness to them that’s maybe less an absence of emotion than an absence of a certain kind of social convention. You don’t know how to read them. This all fits perfectly well with the film’s set-up: these are young men gone wild, grown up outside of family or community, learning how to interact with each other. Their only guide, their teacher and parent, is Jessica. Who she is, and why she is gathering these men, is not explained; this is not the sort of film that explains these things. The important thing is that her relationship to her followers comes through, and for the most part it does.

I would go so far as to say that one of the most intriguing aspects of the film is the way it depicts its characters. These youths are convincingly violent, and many of them have done terrible things. But they don’t act the way this sort of character acts in virtually every other movie set in the contemporary world. These aren’t tough-guy hard men trying to assert dominance by busting each others’ balls. They’re quiet, if not reflective, and give each other space and respect. There’s a kind of alternative masculinity to these men, strong and capable of violence but not brutal.

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Future Treasures: The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019, edited by Carmen Maria Machado and John Joseph Adams

Saturday, September 21st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019-small The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019-back-small

Cover by Galen Dara

For the fifth volume of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, series editor John Joseph Adams asked Carmen Maria Machado (Her Body and Other Parties) to narrow down 80 contenders from the US and Canada into 20 finalists, 10 fantasy and 10 science fiction. In her introduction, Machado says that to make her selection she ignored the distinction between “literary” and “genre” fiction, instead asking if the stories were a pleasure to read.

Does she succeed? Booklist thinks so (“Among the many and varied pleasures of the collection are stories that share Machado’s love of formal experimentation…this brilliant and beautiful collection is a must-read.”) And Publishers Weekly says,

Standouts include Annalee Newitz’s “When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis,” in which a drone befriends both humans and crows to combat inner-city epidemics; LaShawn M. Wanak’s “Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie Sing the Stumps Down Good,” an alternate history piece in which singers are pressed into service against deadly spores; Sarah Gailey’s “STET,” which explores grief through the form of a scientific paper; Lesley Nneka Arimah’s “Skinned,” a provocative piece about the role of women in a patriarchal African society; Sofia Samatar’s “Hard Mary,” in which Amish-like girls adopt a broken android; and P. Djèlí Clark’s introspective history piece, “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington.” Despite the “American” label, there’s a decidedly global, multicultural feel to these pieces, which exemplify diversity and representation… In exploring the potential of the genre and challenging expectations, this anthology isn’t for everyone, but it’s a masterful showcase of what’s possible.

Here’s the complete table of contents. 80% of the fiction in this volume was selected from online sources (and none at all from the regular print magazines), so I’ve included links to the online stories so you can see how well the editors succeeded for yourself.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 19, Part 4: Son of the White Mare

Friday, September 20th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Son of the White MareThe last of the four movies I had on my schedule for July 29 promised to be interesting on any number of levels. Son of the White Mare (Fehérlófia) is an animated film made in 1981 by Hungarian Marcell Jankovics, directed by him from a script he wrote with László György. It’s based on the work of poet László Arany and folktales of the Magyars and Avars; Jankovics, who has published 15 books on comparative mythology, picked and chose from among the various versions of the tale to create what he wanted — a weird, protean, eye-popping, archetypal light show.

The version presented at Fantasia was a new 4K restoration of the movie. Hundreds of hours went into cleaning and colour-grading the film, with the participation of Jankovics. When the movie originally came out it was not a box-office success, but it has since gained a high (and thoroughly deserved) reputation among animation fans; the restoration’s an important project, and the results are beautiful, doing the colours justice.

The story itself is a fairy-tale: a king and queen are deposed, and the queen in the shape of a white horse gives birth to a boy who grows into a hero by drinking her milk. He sets out to find his brothers and destroy the dragons who overthrew his father’s rule. This entails a long journey into a mysterious underworld, where he must rescue captive princesses, slay the dragons, and return.

Beyond the subject matter, the structure’s a fairy-tale as well. It’s generally cyclical, beginning with a child in a deep dark forest and ending with the restoration of the idyllic state of things before the saga began. The rule of threes is everywhere: three brothers, three princesses, three dragons. It begins with “Once upon a time” and ends with “they lived happily ever after.”

But then the way it’s made is something else again. The animation’s expressionistic, mostly in primary colours without black contour lines, shapes frequently neon-bright and often against dark backgrounds, sometimes strobing from one hue to another. The designs are almost Blakean, mixed with elements of art-nouveau.

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New Treasures: Gamechanger by L.X. Beckett

Friday, September 20th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Gamechanger-smallCanadian writer A. M. Dellamonica has published a pair of fantasy series with Tor, Indigo Springs and the The Hidden Sea Tales trilogy. Her sixth novel Gamechanger is a significant departure, a near-future SF thriller that Publishers Weekly says “recalls the whiz-bang joy and gleeful innovation of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash,” and it’s being released under the pseudonym L.X. Beckett. Early notices have been terrific; here’s the enthusiastic coverage from Kirkus Reviews.

A cerebral fusion of science fiction, mystery, and apocalyptic thriller — masterfully seasoned throughout with provocative social commentary…

Set in the year 2101, in a world devastated by economic and ecological collapse (thanks in part to an American president known as He Who Could Not Be Named), the story largely revolves around Cherub “Rubi” Whiting, an internationally famous virtual reality gamer and fledgling lawyer. Her current client is Luciano Pox, an accused online terrorist who could be a mastermind hacker, a malware-infested AI, an elderly human who has somehow uploaded their consciousness, or an alien scout trying to destabilize humankind before the coming of a massive invasion fleet. Meeting with the elusive Pox proves dangerous… but the story’s real fuel comes from the author’s placement of backstory breadcrumbs throughout the novel. There is a lot to digest here, from humankind’s obsession with social media and their almost full immersion in cyber-reality to the brutal consequences of global warming to life extension advances to the mass consumption of printed protein as one of the only viable food sources left. A thought-provoking cautionary tale that will, hopefully, compel readers to see the condition of our civilization and our planet with more clarity and understanding.

A visionary glimpse into the future — the narrative equivalent of a baseball bat to the skull.

Read the complete review here. Our previous coverage of A. M. Dellamonica includes:

Birthday Reviews: A.M. Dellamonica’s “A Key to the Illuminated Heretic”
Read A.M. Dellamonica’s “The Glass Galago” at Tor.com
A Daughter of No Nation

Gamechanger was published by Tor Books on September 17, 2019. It is 572 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $14.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Stephan Martiniere.

Read the complete (8-page) first chapter here, and see all our recent New Treasures here.


Goth Chick News: Universal and Amblin Drop a JW3 Sneak Peek

Thursday, September 19th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Jurassic-World-3-Battle-At-Big-Rock-Connection

There have been five movies in the Jurassic Park franchise since the original first blew our minds on the big screen in 1993. With a sixth installment due in the summer of 2021, it’s fair to ask what more can be done with this storyline?  I mean, five movies in, we’re very clear that when dinos and human intermingle, things are never, ever going to end well. Also, even the most money-hungry corporate entity (INGEN in this case) couldn’t possibly survive the continual carnage wrought by playing God. As Dr. Ian Malcolm said, “Ooo, ahhh, that’s how it always starts, but then later there’s running, and screaming.”

Which pretty much sums up the last four Jurassic movies.

So where do we go from here plot-wise, without causing audiences to pull a muscle doing a collective eye roll? As it turns out, there still might be one last trick in the JP bag.

This week, Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment released an official short film giving us a view into what we can look forward to in Jurassic World 3. The 8-minute short, entitled Battle at Big Rock, occurs a year after dinosaurs escaped into the wilds of California at the end of JW2: Fallen Kingdom. We see a campground in Big Rock National Park where a family is enjoying grilling chicken wings with other campers. The dad tells the daughter to take the food inside the camper before it attracts bears and…

Well check it out for yourself.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 19, Part 3: “A Japanese Boy Who Draws” and Yutaka Yamamoto’s Twilight

Thursday, September 19th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

TwilightMy third screening on July 29 was a double-feature at the De Sève Cinema of two animated movies, a long short and a short feature. “A Japanese Boy Who Draws” (ある日本の絵描き少年) is 20 minutes long. Twilight, which I immediately came to think of as (Not That) Twilight (and in fact some places online translate the title 薄暮, Hakubo, as Project Twilight), is 53 minutes long. They’re both slice-of-life films about young people in Japan making art, but are otherwise very different narratively and visually. Which is to say they have enough in common and enough contrast to make a fine double bill.

Written and directed by Masanao Kawajiri, “A Japanese Boy Who Draws” can actually be said to deal with two Japanese boys who draw: Shinji, an aspiring manga artist, and his friend Masaru, a mentally challenged boy who wears a luchador mask everywhere. They meet at the age of 10, and we follow Shinji as he narrates his career trying to break into manga. He breaks from Masaru, who does not grow up as Shinji does. But Shinji’s life doesn’t go as smoothly as he hoped. He gets into manga, he gets better at his craft, but nevertheless his career stalls out. He returns to his home town, and, as one might expect, reconnects with Masaru in a surprising way.

Put like that, the film sounds standard; it isn’t. It looks distinctive, to start with. Different art styles reflect Shinji’s different ages, different levels of drawing ability, and perhaps different relationships to art at different times. Childlike drawings give way to manga pages give way to greyscale live-action photography. The film’s particularly strong technically in the way it uses comics pages to tell its story; panels are a tricky thing to make work in motion pictures, but it comes off brilliantly here.

At the same time, this isn’t just a technical exercise. There’s some powerful emotional material in the movie. Shinji’s lack of progress in his career is powerful because it feels almost subversive: he works hard, he lives for his art, and he gets nowhere not just in business but as an artist. If there is a problem with the film, incidentally, it is that it may be difficult for an audience to assess how good an artist Shinji is or is not. I found myself surprised at the way other characters uniformly dismissed his work when the art on screen seemed perfectly fine. In any event, Shinji doesn’t have the creativity needed to make a great manga, it seems, which is fair enough.

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