The Golden Age of Science Fiction: “Sandkings,” by George R.R. Martin

Monday, August 26th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Peter Goodfellow

Cover by Peter Goodfellow

The Hugo Award was first presented at the 11th World Science Fiction Convention (sometimes called Philcon II), held in Philadelphia from September 5-7, 1953. No short fiction awards were presented the first year. In 1955, the first award for Best Novellette, not yet known as a Hugo Award, was given to Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s “The Darfsteller.” The award for Best Novelette was not presented in 1957 or 1958, returned in 1959 and then disappeared until 1967. It was on hiatus again from 1970 through 1972 and became a permanent ficture in 1973. The Hugo Awards are nominated and voted on by the members of the World Science Fiction Convention. Martin won two Hugo Awards in 1980, for “The Way of Cross and Dragon” in the Short Story Category and “Sandkings” in the Novelette category. He had previously won a Hugo for his novella “A Song for Lya” in 1975 and would win a second novella award for “Blood of the Dragon” as well as a Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form Hugo for season 1 of Game of Thrones. The only fiction category in which he has not yet won a Hugo is the Best Novel category. In 1980, the Hugo Award was presented at Noreascon Two in Boston, Massachusetts on August 31.

The Locus Awards were established in 1972 and presented by Locus Magazine based on a poll of its readers. In more recent years, the poll has been opened up to on-line readers, although subscribers’ votes have been given extra weight. At various times the award has been presented at Westercon and, more recently, at a weekend sponsored by Locus at the Science Fiction Museum (now MoPop) in Seattle. The Best Book Publisher Award dates back to 1972, although in 1975 and 1976 the Publisher Award was split into paperback and hardcover categories. Ballantine Books won the award each year from its inception through 1977 (winning the paperback for the two experimental years with the Science Fiction Book Club winning the hardcover award). In 1978, when Del Rey was established as an imprint of Ballantine, Ballantine/Del Rey began winning the award. The award was not presented in 1979 for works published in 1978, but when it was reinstituted in 1980, Ballantine/Del Rey picked up its winning streak. In 1980. The Locus Poll received 854 responses.

In many ways, “Sandkings” is a predictable story. Simon Kress is depicted from the start as arrogant and cruel. Although the world of Baldur is not particularly well depicted, based on Kress’s personality and actions, the world seems to provide a breeding ground for a decadent society, at least the part of it that Kress is part of, although Martin does indicate that he has some sort of business that he must occasionally attend to which provides him with the means to pursue his decadent lifestyle, which centers on the collection, exhibition, and eventual discarding of various exotic animals/aliens.

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19 Movies That’ll Make You Think About Life, Love, Reality, And What It Means To Be Human

Sunday, August 25th, 2019 | Posted by ZZ Claybourne

Amelie poster-small Blade Runner poster-small Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory poster-small

There’s something about movies that fascinates us, likely because we’re so addicted to dreams we need them even awake. Whether laughing, crying, thinking, or longing, we need these special lenses to show our individual places within the world, to shape, guide, and make us — for a couple hours — want to be more than who we are.

Let’s look at a few movies that do precisely that so well, they transcend their medium.

LIFE

Life perplexes. Life mystifies. It teases, enraptures, amazes, enrages, and ultimately silences. The best films to capture the messy grandeur of life do all those things. The endings may not be clear-cut, the scripts at times largely improvised, characters will behave in ways we might not have predicted, but we love these movies for the heart they provide in an often uncomfortable world.

Amelie

If you’re one who never thought they’d see Amelie featured on Black Gate, welcome to Zig world. Everything is chance, even when we plan. Everything is wonderful, even when we cry. What if you could ensure that a life here and a life there would turn out a little brighter because of something you did? Would you do it? Amelie, by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is a delightful fantasy of questions accompanied by a sense of wonder, one that reinforces the truth that just because life isn’t tidy doesn’t mean we can’t tidy our corners of it.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 9, Part 2: J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the Subgenius

Sunday, August 25th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

J.R. My second and last movie on July 19 was a documentary named for its subject: J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the Subgenius (a film known in some quarters as Slacking Towards Bethlehem). Directed by Sandy K. Boone, it’s a history of a mock religion which got started more than 40 years ago, and still goes strong today.

It was begun by two bright misfit young men in the late 1970s, when Douglas Smith AKA Ivan Stang and Steve Wilcox AKA Philo Drummond took on aliases and began writing satirical pamphlets outlining the gospel and worldview of the Church of the Subgenius. They swiftly developed a specific tone and weird doctrine, praising the figure of J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, a piece of 1950s advertising clip art. “Bob” (there must always be quotation marks around his name) represented a quality called ‘slack,’ which was never really defined except that it was a good thing to have; organised religions, by contrast, did not have slack. At any rate, the Church of the Subgenius developed a complex set of myths around gods, mutants, and aliens, and began selling their pamphlets through the mail. They came along at the right time to take advantage of zine culture as it developed through the 80s, and more and more people wrote away for their strange handmade tracts sending up the whole idea of mythology and religion. Live events followed, including annual “devivals” at which the end of the world is expected and awaited with joy. All the while the Church maintained its basic parodic aim and attitude, and, still in existence, keeps up that attitude in the face of an increasingly bizarre reality.

The movie tells us the story of the Church through a basically chronological structure. There are extensive interviews with Church members, especially the two founders. Ivan Stang is the more voluble, slightly manic with an odd edge, a recurring figure through the documentary that anchors the film. There are also interviews with well-known members of the Church, like Paul Mavrides, Alex Cox, Richard Linklater, and Penn Jillette. And there is a lot of archival footage, some of it taken by members of the Church and some of it footage from TV news shows showing baffled reporters trying to cover a Church event.

There’s a certain amount of care taken to explain to the wired world the zine subculture of the 1980s. The Church of the Subgenius took off in that context, reaching people who risked sending a dollar to a perfect stranger to get something weird in exchange. In the days before the internet, zines were a way for largely-bright and largely-young people to connect with each other, with the Church perhaps one of the odder examples of this alternative culture. Time having passed, it has also proved one of the longer-lasting.

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New Treasures: The Municipalists by Seth Fried

Sunday, August 25th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Municipalists-small The Municipalists-back-small

I’ve been slowing down my acquisition of new books recently, mostly for reasons of space. But occasionally a title will prove just too irresistible, as happened last week with Seth Fried’s debut, about a human and his AI partner on an adventure to save the great American city of Metropolis. It was Library Journal‘s “Debut of the Month,” and named one of the best books of the month by The Verge, io9, Amazon Books, Book of the Month Club, Tor.com, and others. Here’s Leah Schnelbach’s take at Tor.com.

The Municipalists, Seth Fried’s debut novel, is a futuristic noir that isn’t quite a noir; a bumpy buddy cop story where the cops are a career bureaucrat and computer program… It’s also deeply, constantly funny, and able to transform from a breezy page-turner into a serious exploration of class and trauma in a few well-turned sentences.

At first it seems like a wacky buddy cop book. The buttoned-down bureaucrat Henry Thompson is a proud member of United States Municipal Survey, traveling around the country to make improvements to city infrastructures… the kidnapping of a beloved teen celebrity [has] left the city reeling, only for people to be knocked truly punch-drunk by a series of terrorist attacks. The attacks and the kidnapping might be related. We’re soon taken all the way into sci-fi territory however when Henry gains a partner — a snarky AI called OWEN who is positively giddy about being sentient…

Seth Fried has been writing fiction and humor for years now, with excellent short work popping up in McSweeney’s, Tin House, One Story, and The New Yorker — his Tin House story “Mendelssohn”, about a Raccoon of Unusual Size, was a particular favorite of mine. His 2011 short story collection, The Great Frustration, was wildly diverse. Now with The Municipalists he proves that he can orchestrate a tight, complicated plot… Fried has also given us an endearing protagonist in Henry Thompson, and an all-time classic drunken AI, and if there’s any justice in the cities in this reality this will be the first book in a Municipalists-verse.

The Municipalists was published by Penguin Books on March 19, 2019. It is 265 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback and $11.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Matthew Taylor. Read the first ten pages here, and see all our recent New Treasures here.


Davey Jones, Alien Spores, and Riding on a Comet: The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun

Saturday, August 24th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun-small The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun-back-small

The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun (1978) was the seventeenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. J. J. Pierce returns to give the introduction to this volume. H. R. Van Dongen (1920–2010) does his fifth cover of the series (tying with Dean Ellis at this point). Raymond Z. Gallun (1911–1994), still living at the time, did the Afterword.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database reports that Gallun (rhymes with “balloon,” not pronounced “gallon”) wrote five novels, including The Planets Strappers (1961, see Rich Horton’s review here), The Eden Cycle (1974) and Skyclimber (1981), but these were written later in his life. Most of Gallun’s writing career is comprised of dozens of short stories and serials. Like so many of the authors in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series, Gallun had been a prolific writer in the pre-WWII heyday of the pulp magazines. But unlike many pulp authors, including many in this series, Gallun seems to have stayed mostly within the sci-fi genre instead of branching out to fantasy, horror, detective, etc. And we’re talking “old school” science fiction!

Overall, I’ve liked the majority of the authors that I’ve read thus far in the Del Rey series. But there have been some that I liked better than others. I found Frederik Pohl and John Campbell both a little hard to get into, and I found Cordwainer Smith very difficult to sync with, though there were stories in all of these collections I enjoyed. But I have to say that I really, really struggled reading The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun, more than any other book in this series so far.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 9, Part 1: It Comes

Saturday, August 24th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

It ComesOn the evening of July 19 I sat down in the Hall Theatre for a screening of It Comes (Kuru, 来る), a Japanese horror film. Directed by Tetsuya Nakashima, it’s based on the novel Bogiwan ga kuru, by Ichi Sawamura, with a screenplay by Nakashima, Hideto Iwai, and Nobuhiro Monma. It’s clever and colourful, and at two and a half hours it’s also a sprawling film that justifies its length by twisting in ways you don’t expect. It’s also a success, an entertaining and occasionally chilling movie that builds a universe without being too detailed about the supernatural horror lurking beyond consensus reality.

After a mysterious intro, the film starts with Hideki (Satoshi Tsumabuki) and Kana (Haru Kuroki), an apparently perfect young couple. Various bits of supernatural foreshadowing lead to the birth of their baby girl, Chisa, and Hideki throws himself into becoming the perfect father. But forces from his past are gathering, targeting Chisa. A friend, a professor of folklore named Tsuga (Munetaka Aoki, the Rurouni Kenshin movies) brings him to a disreputable writer, Nozaki (Jun’ichi Okada, Library Wars), and his spirit-medium girlfriend Makoto (Nana Komatsu, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures). But will even they be enough to stop the evil coming for Hideki and Chisa?

This all just hints at the complexities of the plot, best experienced unspoiled. It Comes is an incredibly well-structured and well-paced movie that builds through a good collection of horror set-pieces and quieter character-driven moments to a stunning large-scale climax boasting one of the most fascinating examples of religious syncretism I’ve seen on film. At the very end, it has one of the most charming visual moments I’ve ever seen to indicate that the supernatural’s been thoroughly dealt with.

It is important that it be so well-crafted, I think, because as it builds it goes to some very strange places. The colours are lurid, slowly growing more so. And the film does not hesitate to increasingly explore genre as the film goes on, as well; Hideki and Kana are more-or-less real people when we meet them, and then Tsuga is a perhaps little more than real, and then Nozkaki and Makoto more than that, and then when we meet Makoto’s sister Kotoko we meet a character on another level of genre reality. And yet the tones work. The operatic feel of the high genre strangeness is fused to the everdayness of the young parents. And the story of the baby facing possession is given a weird grandeur by the surreal witchery that must be enlisted to fight the bogeyman threatening the child.

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John W. Campbell was a Racist and a Loon: A Response to Jeannette Ng’s Campbell Award Acceptance Speech

Saturday, August 24th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

JEANNETTE NG

Jeannette Ng

I don’t think I have anything much to add to the commentariat’s discussion of Jeannette Ng’s Campbell Award acceptance speech. But why should that stop me?

The simplest thing to note is this — however you parse the word Fascist (and I would parse it differently than many), John W. Campbell was a racist, and a loon. (However you parse THAT word.) His ideas about how we should best be governed were, if not Fascist by a strict definition, not exactly democratic, to say the least. He cheered on the Kent State massacre, for goodness’ sake. He was sexist too, though in that case I think maybe he was just “a man of his time” — his racism, however, was definitely more virulent than the norm. And loonier! (See his editorial suggesting that black people preferred to be slaves.)

And on those grounds I have no complaint with Ng’s speech. Yes, she misidentified the magazine Campbell worked for (and has apologized for that) — but, heck, she was excited and nervous — these things happen.

The real point is — and I think Alec Nevala-Lee deserves tremendous credit for clarifying this — that “we”, as the SF field, especially those of us who’ve been around a lot longer, kind of ignored how whacko — and downright harmful — Campbell’s views could be. It’s not that they weren’t known — he trumpeted them in the pages of Astounding! — but people tended to sort of excuse them — “Oh, John was just trying to stir conversation,” that sort of thing. It’s pretty clear that he really did believe many or most of the things he wrote. And we should have, collectively and individually, been more forceful in standing against those ideas.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 8, Part 3: Knives and Skin

Friday, August 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Knives and SkinMy last film of July 18 was in the big Hall Theatre. Knives and Skin was written and directed by Jennifer Reeder, and begins as a girl dies a violent death in a small midwestern town. In the wake of her disappearance secrets begin to come to light, and tensions rise among both her classmates and the adults. The movie proceeds to explore the town and its inhabitants in a series of sometimes-linked vignettes.

I have to say up front that I had a wildly different reaction to this film than the rest of the theatre did. The crowd was, by and large, audibly positive. This is a movie that has clear feminist principles, and is very direct about putting them on the screen. To judge not just from the reaction during the screening but the question-and-answer period after, many viewers responded to that, and good for them. Personally I didn’t care for the movie. I am going to explain why, but it’s important to note that this is a film that has the potential to work much better for people who are not me.

At its core, I felt that the dramatic structure of the film did not work. The various scenes did not seem to work as an ensemble, and individual characters did not have stories that felt fully developed. Much of the more interesting events that did happen had no obvious connection with the disappearance and death of Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley). The movie felt to me like a series of short films, or ideas for short films, that did not cohere.

For example, near the end of the film the high schoolers who we’ve more-or-less followed through the film hear that one of their friends is on top of the school and might be about to jump. A group of a half-dozen or so teens gather out front of the school. It turns out that the youth on the roof isn’t going to jump, he just liked the view because it’s one of the few places he could see the road out of town. This is a problem for a number of reasons, but the first one is that a longing to get out of the town has not really been touched on or explored earlier in the film. It’s a perfectly credible motivation, but with no set-up or development it feels oddly gratuitous.

Then you wonder why, if this young man liked looking at the road out of town, nobody noticed the youth going up to the roof on any previous occasion. This brings up another problem: this town does not feel like a community of people who’ve known each other all their lives. People are too easily surprised by each other, or know too little about each other.

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In 500 Words or Less: Catfish Lullaby by A.C. Wise

Friday, August 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

oie_19192747vo7iIQCxCatfish Lullaby
By A.C. Wise
Broken Eye Books (118 pages, $14.99 paperback/eBook forthcoming, September 3, 2019)

You’d think stepping away from a regular column reviewing would make writing a new review easier, but apparently not. I’ve been struggling with how to start talking about A.C. Wise’s Catfish Lullaby because the first thing I want to start with how I didn’t get the story I expected from the back-cover blurb. But that sounds like a criticism, and it really isn’t; I loved the story I got, which feels like a tonal blend of Stranger Things and Netflix’s Haunting of Hill House, set in the Bayou with more diverse characters.

Maybe we base too much of our expectations on the blurb. Lullaby’s focuses on Lewis, a “town of secrets,” and the character Caleb stepping into his father’s role of sheriff to unravel the mysteries of the Royce family and legendary monster Catfish John. That sets the expectation that you’ll mostly follow adult Caleb as he deals with his past. Instead, the novella spends most of its time on young Caleb, affected by the Royce family’s traumas and getting to know Cere, the youngest Royce child and survivor of her family’s apparent destruction, only moving ahead to adult Caleb for the last third.

Normally that sort of long dwelling on a character’s past would throw me, but not the case here. Wise builds this ongoing mystery that’s compelling, I think, for two reasons. One is the way that Caleb struggles to make sense of what’s affecting Cere and how to help her, as well as dealing with 1980s and 90s prejudice and later living up to his father’s name. He has a genuinely pre-teen attitude that most writers can’t pull off. He and Cere are immediately interesting and likeable characters, and so I kept reading to see what choice they’d make, regardless of whether the mystery got solved.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 8, Part 2: Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Arrow VideoBefore my second film of July 18, a surreal science-fiction movie from the director of Crumbs, I had time to catch a panel discussion. Returning Life to the Departed: Adventures in Genre Cinema Restoration was moderated by Heather Buckley, producer of films and of DVD supplements, who introduced David Gregory of Severin Films (also director of Blood and Flesh: The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson, which Buckley produced), Joe Rubin of Vinegar Syndrome, and, by Skype, James White of Arrow Films. All those companies preserve, restore, and reissue vintage genre, exploitation, and cult movies.

I’m not going to go through the entire panel because it was filmed, and you can find it on Fantasia’s Facebook page. I do want to note a few highlights. Buckley asked the panel at one point how their restoration process evolved and how they did what they did, and Gregory made the point that there was no one way to restore a film as it had to depend on what materials of the original are available. Sometimes those materials might be so bad that the film might look like it wasn’t worth putting out (he cited The House on Straw Hill), but the flip side is that those materials will only get worse until the film is lost (for Straw Hill he talked about cobbling together a version from two prints and a mold- and water-damaged negative). The ideal was to work from the original camera negative or something that had been protected in a lab. Rubin agreed, but noted for exploitation films the negative often doesn’t exist. Every project will have its own issues and shortcomings and things the restorer will have never had to deal with before. He talked about how low-budget movies did not usually get to have a timer sit with the cinematographer or director when the first prints were made to make sure the film looked right. Gregory noted that often the director or cinematographer will often say that a restored film is the best that film has ever looked.

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