Space Empires, Ruined Civilizations, and Lovable Aliens: The Best of Eric Frank Russell

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The Best of Eric Frank Russell-small The Best of Eric Frank Russell-back-small

Cover by H. R. Van Dongen

The Best of Eric Frank Russell (1978) was the eighteenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. Alan Dean Foster (1946–) provides the introduction, his first and only introduction for the series. H. R. Van Dongen (1920–2010) does his seventh cover (far surpassing Dean Ellis’s five). Since Eric Frank Russell (1905–1978) was unavailable at the time this volume was compiled, no Afterword is included.

Alan Dean Foster relates in the introduction that during a lunch with John Campbell they realized they both had the same favorite sci-fi writer: Eric Frank Russell. But both lamented (this was 1968) that Russell no longer wrote that much. This seems like very high praise, since it comes from two very influential figures in the sci-fi field. But who was Eric Frank Russell, and why did he quit writing?

Eric Frank Russell was a British writer (which I found surprising since his dialogue sounds American to my reading). He grew up in a military family, but didn’t serve in the military until World War II. Most of his early life was spent writing for American and British pulp magazines. He also produced a few novels, some fairly successful, including Sinister Barrier (1943) and Wasp (1957), which was optioned by Ringo Starr of The Beatles, but never filmed.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 19, Part 1: Full Contact

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Full ContactThere’s still so much I don’t know about film, so many great movies I haven’t seen. Thankfully, every year Fantasia screens restorations and special presentations of a number of established classics (and semi-classics). I usually don’t have free time in my schedule to watch films I’ve already seen — I had to pass on First Blood to watch Why Don’t You Just Die!, while a presentation of The Crow later in the festival was up against something else — but early on July 29 I had an open spot to take in a film I’d never seen before: a 35mm screening of the 1992 classic by Ringo Lam (Lam Ling-tung) Full Contact. Lam passed away late last year at only 63, and so Fantasia honoured him with a presentation of one of his greatest works.

Written by Yin Nam, the movie’s about Jeff (Gou Fei in some translations, Ko Fei in others, played in any case by Chow Yun-Fat), a tough bouncer in Bangkok whose friend Sam Sei (Anthony Wong) went into debt to a loan shark to pay for Jeff’s mother’s burial. To pay off the debt, they decide to embark on a heist alongside Sam’s cousin Judge (Simon Yam). Judge has other plans. He betrays Jeff, and leaves him for dead. But Jeff survives, and as Sam rises in the underworld, Jeff returns seeking revenge.

And revenge he shall have. Full Contact is one of the late apotheoses of the 80s action movie, filled with snarling attitude and brutal gunfights. There’s a heft to the violence, a weight that comes only in part from the lack of CGI. Mostly it comes from acting and directing and writing. You feel anything can happen to any character at any time. Or at least anything imaginable in 1992; the film’s solidly of its time, to the point of opening with a dance sequence set to Extreme’s “Get the Funk Out.” Which, somehow, impossibly, works.

The movie moves well, building to set-pieces that send the plot off in unpredictable directions. The heist, for example, is the kind of action sequence other movies might make their grand climax. Here it’s more like the end of a long first act, twisting the story to set up the rest of the film. But the point is that it has its own logic and its own structure, with a car chase and a running gun fight and then a siege of a man pinned down inside a house. All of it’s clear, all of it fun to watch, and yet also oddly realistic; the gang’s small, and the violence is on a matching scale.

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Vintage Treasures: The Quiet Invasion by Sarah Zettel

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Quiet Invasion Sarah Zettel-small The Quiet Invasion Sarah Zettel-back-small

Cover by Steve Youll

Sarah Zettel launched her career in pretty spectacular fashion in 1996 with the novel Reclamation, which was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award and won the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Her second, Fool’s War (1997), came in 8th in the Locus poll for Best SF Novel, and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

The Quiet Invasion (2000) was her fourth novel, a tense and original tale of First Contact. Publishers Weekly said Zettel’s “aliens soar forward in unexpected and wonderful ways, making this a first-contact novel worth reading and relishing.” Here’s a snippet from their review.

Zettel (Fool’s War, etc.) has a gift for creating fascinating aliens with rich cultures and radically different, though still comprehensible, mindsets… a nearly omnipotent United Nations on Earth controls what happens to the colonies on Mars, the Moon and, especially, Venus. The Venus colony is the life’s work of Dr. Helen Failia, who has done everything possible to make the base a self-sufficient outpost rather than a temporary research station. Just as Helen is about to lose funding for her beloved city, the surface of Venus sprouts what appears to be an alien artifact. Closely monitoring the humans’ discovery of the artifact are aliens from another planet, who are looking to claim Venus as their new home… Their complicated belief system dictates that they cannot colonize Venus if humans have a legitimate claim to the planet, but if they judge the humans insane, they can destroy them like weeds.

When I was editor of SF Site back in the 90s, we previewed the complete first chapter of The Quiet Invasion. Twenty years later it’s still posted for your reading enjoyment here — who says nothing lasts on the internet?

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: “The Button Molder,” by Fritz Leiber

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Stephen Fabian

Cover by Stephen Fabian

In 1972, the British Fantasy Society began giving out the August Derleth Fantasy Awards for best novel as voted on by their members. A Short Fiction/Short Story category was added the next year, with the first one being won in 1973 by L. Sprague de Camp for his novella The Fallible Fiend. In 1976. The name of the awards was changed to the British Fantasy Award, although the August Derleth Award was still the name for the Best Novel Award. The category has remained part of the awards to the present day, although a re-alignment in 2012 means the awards are now selected by a jury rather than the full membership of the British Fantasy Society. In 1980, Fritz Leiber won the award for his story “The Button Molder,” which was presented at Fantasycon VI in Birmingham.

Leiber opens the story by teasing about how much can happen within a ten second period of time and the appearance of a ghost. His character then goes on a lengthy discussion about his living situation in San Francisco as he finds a new apartment and sets himself up as an author and amateur astronomer, working from his building’s roof. With long ruminations on what it means to be an author and techniques of story-telling, the story feels very autobiographical in nature and it is only the occasional hints back to those important ten seconds that remind the reader this is a story and not an essay about Leiber’s life.

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Ghostly Corners in a Fictional London: Where Shadows Gather by Michael Chislett

Monday, September 16th, 2019 | Posted by Mario Guslandi

Michael Chislett
Sarob Press (224 pages, £33.95/$60.00 [including shipping], July 2019)
Cover by Paul Lowe

Following his previous, acclaimed Sarob Press collection In the City of Ghosts Michael Chislett provides another bunch of ghostly tales, mostly set in the fictional London borough of Milford and the suburb of Mabbs End. Five stories are brand new, whereas eight have previously appeared in genre magazines (especially the excellent Supernatural Tales).

Chislett has a knack for creating creepy urban atmospheres, depicting sinister encounters and eerie experiences. Although, in my opinion, not up to the level of his previous collection, the present volume confirms his ability to create elegantly written, disquieting stories.

Among my favorite pieces are: “In the Garden,” an unusual story of botanical horror, where an ordinary garden of a London suburban house becomes the venue for ancient pagan forces, “Downriver,” an atmospheric tale where a walk along the Thames turns into a veritable nightmare and “The Raggy Girl”, a modern, disturbing ghost story revolving around a frightening apparition among the ruins of an old apartment building now being demolished.

A couple of stories are actually taking place overseas, such as the gloomy “The Coast Guard” set on the Baltic shore, hosting strange foxes and other horrific creatures.

The two highlights of the book are  “Mara,” an excellent, dark tale of vampirism featuring a beautiful but deadly vixen and an equally dangerous gentleman, and the outstanding “Endor,”a powerful, intoxicating mix of witchcraft, eroticism and possession.

A warning to the potential reader: if you’re interested in this book hurry up and order a copy. As usual, Sarob Press volumes have a limited print run and become quickly unobtainable.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 18, Part 2: The Moon in the Hidden Woods

Monday, September 16th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Moon in the Hidden WoodsMy second film of July 28 screened at the De Sève Cinema. It was an animated film from Korea with a Japanese director, Takahiro Umehara, and it was stunning. Watching early scenes of The Moon in the Hidden Woods (Sup-e Sum-eun Dal, 숲에 숨은 달) I wondered where the movie could go from its opening act — it had already shown us a major city, fights, desert nomads, monsters, a wild variety of costumes and architecture and technologies and designs. Surely, I thought, it would have to slow down. It did; and then built back up again.

Long ago, in another world, the moon disappeared and its place was usurped by Muju, the red sky. The world’s been wasting away ever since, but as the film proper opens there is another usurpation, as the ambitious Count Tar claims a throne and the rightful Princess, Navillera, flees rather than be forced to marry him (voice talent for the film includes Lee Jihyon, Jung Yoojung, and Kim Yul, but I cannot find a cast list attaching actors to roles). In the metropolis of Trade City she comes across a drumming contest, and falls in with one of the rival groups, which is led by a youth named Janggu (the word, incidentally, for a specific kind of Korean drum). Helped by Janggu’s allies they flee through a wasteland where terrible Shadows come out under the red sky, and end up at the drummers’ village — where they find a clue that hints at the salvation of the world, to be found deep within the mysterious Hidden Woods.

The movie’s not just constantly visually creative, but a fascinating mix of sensibilities. There’s a post-apocalyptic feel here, as this world has been rebuilt in the shadow of a great tragedy, but there is also steampunk in its technology. And a traditional mythic fantasy feel in the way the social structure’s set up (the casual acceptance of monarchy, for example) and in the use of elements like music and community ritual. Above all the worldbuilding is incredibly rich in the way different places are not just designed differently but also mix different visual elements. Cities feel like cities, with a variety of fashions and cultures.

Character design is relatively realistic, but with a cartooniness that plays well in comic moments. Still, this is far from the anime approach of simply-drawn characters against a hyper-realistic background. The film’s all of a piece, and there’s an almost relaxing reliance on traditional 2D drawn imagery over 3D CGI. There is some well-used computer imagery, but the look of the movie’s traditional. It is in fact a thoroughly well-done children’s or YA film, something that plays well for adults but (I would think) particularly speaks to a younger audience. Navillera and Janggu are our leads, the people about whom the tale revolves. The other characters are well-drawn, but relatively uncomplicated. There is a slight implication of some of the adult characters having a relationship that might play differently to older viewers, in terms of their emotional tone, but that’s left understated.

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Growing up with Rollerball

Monday, September 16th, 2019 | Posted by Neil Baker

Rollarball poster-small

I’ve watched Rollerball (1975) at least a couple of times every decade since I first saw it on VHS in 1988. Before then, I had caught sporadic bursts of ultra-violence set to the contrasting strains of Toccata in D Minor and Adagio whenever the film was shown late at night on TV, and when my mum was unaware I was watching it.

It’s a great example of growing up with a film. We all have films that resonate with us on a personal level; films that we saw as impressionable teens and then revisited as allegedly wiser adults. With Rollerball, when I was younger it was all about skipping through the ‘boring corporate’ stuff and watching the games; reveling in the bone-crunching impacts, the frenetic energy and realism of the sport’s depiction.

In later years, as I grew out of my empathy-less youth, the party scenes laden with hollow bacchanalia and culminating in the tree burning scenes, and Moonpie’s inevitable yet devastating fate affected me deeply.  Now, older, battle-scarred and tainted by the cynicism of modern living, it’s the corporate stranglehold on life that interests me, that and the knowing glances between every character in the film who seem to be working together to make Jonathan E fail.

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Get a Free Sword & Sorcery Anthology from DMR Books!

Sunday, September 15th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Infernal Bargain and Other Stories

DMR Books, helmed by the tireless Dave Ritzlin, is one of the more exciting modern publishers of science fiction & fantasy. Bob Byrne and I shared a table with Dave at the Windy City Pulp & Paper show here in Chicago last year, and we got to see first hand how enthusiastically modern readers respond to his books.

Last month DMR released a free sample book with stories from DMR’s previous releases, upcoming titles, and a few you won’t find anywhere else. The Infernal Bargain and Other Stories contains eleven thrilling tales of swords and sorcery by Clifford Ball, Nictzin Dyalhis, Howie K. Bentley, and many others. How are the stories connected? In each one, “Mighty warriors do battle with foul demons, nefarious wizards and strange monstrosities!” Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

“The Infernal Bargain” by D.M. Ritzlin
“Thannhausefeer’s Guest” by Howie K. Bentley
“Into the Dawn of Storms” by Byron A. Roberts
“Grumfobbler” by Gael DeRoane
“The Mountains Have Eyes and the Woods Have Teeth” by Harry Piper
“The Sapphire Goddess” by Nictzin Dyalhis
“The Gift of the Ob-men” by Schuyler Hernstrom
“The Thief of Forthe” by Clifford Ball
“Black Genesis” by Mark Taverna
“Adventure in Lemuria” by Frederick Arnold Kummer, Jr.
“The Heaviest Sword” by Geoff Blackwell

Get your free digital copy right here.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 18, Part 1: Gintama 2: Rules Are Made to Be Broken

Sunday, September 15th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Gintama 2My first movie on July 28 was one of my most-anticipated of the festival. In 2017 I watched Gintama, a live-action manga adaptation I thought was one of the funniest things I’d ever laid eyes on, and which also told a good solid science-fictional action-adventure story. Naturally when I saw Gintama 2 was playing at Fantasia I was eager to see it. It is unfortunate that sometimes great expectations result in great disappointment.

The story of Gintama 2, which is titled in full Gintama 2: Rules are Made to be Broken (Gintama 2: Okite wa Yaburu Tame ni Koso Aru, 銀魂2 掟は破るためにこそある) follows the first directly enough. In an alternate reality where extraterrestrials conquered Japan in the nineteenth century, a new society’s sprung up that’s a weird mix of period technology, super-science, Japanese cultural traditions, and aliens. Samurai were discharged from their traditional role, launched a rebellion, and were defeated. One former samurai, Gintoki Sakata (Shun Oguri, Terra Formars), has formed an odd-jobs company with young Shinpachi Shimura (Masaki Suda, Wilderness, Assassination Classroom, Princess Jellyfish) and superstrong teen alien girl Kagura (Kanna Hashimoto, Kingdom, Assassination Classroom). This time out, they become involved with a plot against the shogun, and a scheme that divides their country’s police force, the Shinsengumi.

The main actors from the first movie reprise their roles. Director Yuichi Fukuda returns as well. But the feel of this movie is very different. There’s less comedy, and less focus on the main characters. I have no idea how much this reflects the source material. But I found I was disappointed.

To be clear, this is recognisably a sequel to Gintama. It has a similar look, with outrageously-costumed leads wandering a Japan blending past and future. And there is still a lot of humour, in a similar vein to the original. There are more gross-out gags than in the first film, but not so much as to represent a really different approach. Early on, in particular, we see some of the same kind of metafictional jokes that marked the previous movie.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t last. Instead Gintama 2 turns out to be more interested in the internal strife within the Shinsengumi, to the point that the ostensible leads are largely sidelined. While the film does find some humour in the Shinsengumi storyline, for the most part it’s much more restrained. We get a scheming manipulative villain we’re apparently meant to take seriously, and the riotous pace of the first movie never kicks in.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: SF Commentary, edited by Bruce Gillespie

Sunday, September 15th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

SF Commentary: Tenth Anniversary Edition

SF Commentary: Tenth Anniversary Edition

The Ditmar Awards are named for Australian fan Martin James Ditmar Jenssen. Founded in 1969 as an award to be given by the Australian National Convention, during a discussion about the name for the award, Jenssen offered to pay for the award if it were named the Ditmar. His name was accepted and he wound up paying for the award for more years than he had planned. Ditmar would eventually win the Ditmar Award for best fan artist twice, once in 2002 and again in 2010. The Australian Fanzine Award was one of the Ditmar’s original awards and the first one was won by John Bangsund for Australian SF Review. Bruce Gillespie won his first Ditmar for SF Commentary in 1972 and the ‘zine also won the award in 1973, 1977, 1980, 2002, and 2018. He also won the award in 1986 and 1999 for his ‘zine Metaphysical Review and in 2010 for Steam Engine Time. Rich Horton took a look at SF Commentary as the winner of the 1973 Ditmar Award in his companion series looking at his own Golden Age of Science Fiction.

Bruce Gillespie began publishing SF Commentary in 1969 and by 1979 he was ready to publish issues 55 through 57, although the numbering a count was a little screwy. In January, he published a 68 page combination issue, numbered 55-56 and in November, he published the final issue of the year, 57, which came in at 16 pages.

Combined issue 55/56 opens with an editorial by Gillespie extolling the ten years that he has been publishing the fanzine. The article traces the history of the fanzine, and through it Australian fandom, through the ten years of its existence, including the ill-fated attempt in 1976 to turn the ‘zine into a semi-professional magazine. Toward the end of the article, Gillespie turns his attention away from the zine and fandom and discusses the major events and publications in science fiction over the course of the decade, along with a lengthy bibliography of stories published during that time that he would recommend. The article provides a lengthy and full view of the world of science fiction, as seen from Australia, from 1969 through the beginning of 1979. Gillespie summation of the decade runs for about a third of the article.

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