Future History, First Draft: Robert A. Heinlein’s For Us, the Living

Thursday, June 4th, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly


For Us, the Living by Robert A. Heinlein; First Edition: Scribner 2004.
Jacket illustration by Mark Stutzman (click to enlarge)

For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs
by Robert A. Heinlein
Introduction by Spider Robinson; Afterword by Robert James, Ph.D.
Scribner (263 pages, $25.00 in hardcover, 2004)

Almost on a lark, I picked up the first novel by Robert A. Heinlein a few days ago, and read it through. It’s a fascinating book on several levels.

First, it’s Heinlein’s first novel in that it’s the first one he wrote, way back in 1938 and 1939, when he hadn’t yet broken into print. But it didn’t sell, was never published at the time, and went unknown for decades. In fact the manuscript was thought lost; Heinlein and his wife had destroyed copies in their possession in the approach to Heinlein’s death. Yet another copy of the ms. was found years later, after Heinlein’s death in 1988, and, as Robert James explains in an afterword here, was published in 2004, with an introduction by Spider Robinson. (Spider Robinson would later publish Variable Star, based on a Heinlein outline, in 2006; I have not read that, though I believe I’ve read every other Heinlein book at least once, albeit some not in decades.) I read For Us, the Living when it first came out, in late December 2003, but didn’t remember the details of its future society, and wanted to refresh myself on them, until rereading it this week.

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Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Orks and Orkney

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020 | Posted by Greg Mele

Scott Oden Scott Odin

One of these men is an author, the other is Odin…there’s more commonality than you might think.

Scott Oden  is an American writer best known for his historical novels set in Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, and historical fantasy. Oden’s breakthrough novel was 2005’s Men of Bronze, set in late Pharonic Egypt; it was followed in 2006 by Memnon and in 2010 with The Lion of Cairo, which mixed pulp-style action and sorcery with Crusader politics in Fatimid Egypt. His most recent novels are the opening volumes of the saga of Grimnir, the last orc, following a quest for revenge across the centuries, from Brian Boru’s Ireland in the 11th century to 14th century Messina in the forthcoming third and final volume. Considering how much his areas of interest and writing overlap with Christian Cameron, whom I interviewed last month, it was fascinating to see how much the two authors methods of world building do, and don’t, overlap.

GM: So you’ve written both historical fiction and fantasy. Which genre was your first love?

SO: Definitely fantasy. The Hobbit was my gateway text, back when I was 8 or 9 years old, and I quickly followed that with The Lord of the Rings, Robert E. Howard’s Conan (the Ace editions), and eventually Moorcock’s Elric and Karl Wagner’s Kane. I liked some historical fiction as a kid, mainly the fictionalized biographies of Harold Lamb — especially Alexander of Macedon… what kid wouldn’t marvel to the feats of Alexander, as described by Lamb? I was — and remain — a huge aficionado of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Norse myth. I had this little pocket-sized encyclopedia from Scholastic called Gods, Demigods, and Demons by Bernard Evslin. I still have that battered old copy . . . [GM: So do I!!!]

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: It’s a Hardboiled June on TCM

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Sheridan_SoloComing off of Edward G. Robinson as the May Star of the Month on TCM, June is Ann Sheridan Month. The ‘Oomph Girl’ appeared in several hardboiled/noir/crime movies, so we’ll tell you some movies to look for.

Every Tuesday, there is a batch of Sheridan movies, and things kicked off June 1st, with eight flicks, including two Bogart movies: Black Legion, and The Great O’Malley. But the past is prologue.

Now, all of these films can be streamed live on Watch TCM if you get Turner Classic via your cable company. But even if you don’t, most of them can be viewed for at least one week after airing on WatchTCM. Some, like Casablanca, don’t get put up. I assume it’s to help sell mover DVDs. But most do. So, if you miss a movie, you can watch it via the app, or the website.

Having laid all of that out, let’s take a look at some of the June films, all EST:

June 2 (look for on Watch TCM)

8:00 PM – Black Legion

A 1937 ‘social cause’ movie. It’s based on the real-life Black Legion, which was a splinter group of the Ku Klux Klan. Humphrey Bogart is a factory worker with seniority who gets passed over by a smarter, harder-working foreigner. And ends up joining the hate group. It was a strong performance by Bogart, who was just being forced by Warners to crank out B-movies (this was four years before High Sierra). Sheridan is fourth-billed and is really only the third main female. The speech from the judge at the end is as heavy-handed propaganda as you’ll run across in a Bogart film. Worth a watch.

9:30 PM – Dodge City

This is a big budget western, starring the swashbuckling Errol Flynn. Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) directed, with a great musical score by Max Steiner. One of my favorite comic supporting actors, Frank McHugh, is here, as Sheridan plays female second banana to Olivia de Haviland. This movie features a heck of a bar room brawl, and the cast is solid. There was an unrelated follow-up with Flynn, Virginia City. Which included Bogart as a Mexican raider with a cheesy mustache.

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Jetpacks and Bazookas: Jonny Quest

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Jonny Quest

Who was the most influential person in the history of the American fantastic imagination? Was it a founding father like Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, or Nathaniel Hawthorne? Or could it be a golden-age great like Robert A. Heinlein or Isaac Asimov or the editor who shaped their early careers, John W. Campbell? Certainly, the big three of Weird Tales, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith, have set the pattern for countless imitators down to the present day. Perhaps it was a pure pulpster like Edgar Rice Burroughs or a more literary type like Ray Bradbury, or someone who came to the fore later, like Frank Herbert or Poul Anderson. Maybe it was someone less traditional, like Philip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin, Harlan Ellison, Joanna Russ, or Samuel R. Delaney.

It’s a fun question to contemplate and a tricky and enjoyable argument to make, whoever your choice is. For myself, I don’t think any of the worthies I’ve mentioned had the widespread, long-term influence of my nominee(s): William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. (But then, if asked to name the single greatest work of American fantasy, I’m likely to blurt out that it’s the 1964 Rankin-Bass TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.)

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Let’s Get Diverted Together

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière


This might work.

Good morning, Readers!

I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about my writing and my writing skills… or lack thereof depending on who you ask. I fall short in a lot of areas, particularly any story that is supposed to be short. My inability to keep things short has helped me with the whole novel-writing thing I love to do, but I’m slightly miffed at myself for being so inept at something creative. Short stories simply aren’t my forte. I mean, the last time I tried to write one, it became a two volume epic. So, there’s that.

It’s not like I’ve never written anything short. I was the short story champion in high school, and my short story writing ability got me one of the highest QCS (Queensland Core Skills) scores in my class back when I was exiting secondary school. My marks dragged down my eventual exit OP (Overall Position) score, because high school was hell and I didn’t cope.

Anyway, the point is, I stopped writing short stories and now I feel like I have simply lost the knack.

I would like to fix that. But, you know, without the pressure of it counting towards any kind of grade.

And, I’d like for us all to join in for a communal, no pressure, bit of shared creativity.

Let me explain.

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New Treasures: The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

Monday, June 1st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea-smallMay was a tough month for new releases.  Many were pushed to the fall as a result of bookstore closure across the country — and the fact that Amazon dramatically slowed down shipping on all non-essential items.

But a few brave publishers stuck to the schedule, and virtual bookstore shelves weren’t empty last month. I think it’s all the more important to celebrate those books, and especially the ones that deserve special attention. Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s debut novel The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea is definitely one of them. Kirkus calls it “Absolutely enthralling,” and Alex Brown at Tor.com says “Every single character is as deeply compelling as the world they live in… a remarkable novel and hands down one of the best of the year.” Here’s the description.

In a world divided by colonialism and threaded with magic, a desperate orphan turned pirate and a rebellious imperial lady find a connection on the high seas.

The pirate Florian, born Flora, has always done whatever it takes to survive — including sailing under false flag on the Dove as a marauder, thief, and worse. Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, a highborn Imperial daughter, is on board as well — accompanied by her own casket. But Evelyn’s one-way voyage to an arranged marriage in the Floating Islands is interrupted when the captain and crew show their true colors and enslave their wealthy passengers.

Both Florian and Evelyn have lived their lives by the rules, and whims, of others. But when they fall in love, they decide to take fate into their own hands — no matter the cost.

Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s sweeping fantasy debut, full of stolen memories, illicit mermaid’s blood, double agents, and haunting mythical creatures conjures an extraordinary cast of characters and the unforgettable story of a couple striving to stay together in the face of myriad forces wishing to control their identities and destinies.

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea was published by Candlewick Press on May 5, 2020. It is 371 pages, priced at $18.99 in hardcover and $5 in digital formats.

See all our latest New Releases here.

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Johnny O’Clock (Powell)

Monday, June 1st, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Powell_OClockPoster1“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

And for the third year in a row, A (Black) Gat in the Hand makes a hardboiled reservation for Monday mornings. It’s a limited run, but for the month of June, I’ll look at some hardboiled/noir on screen efforts: Ones that you might not be quite as familiar with. Not totally off the beaten path, but not the big names, either. And we kick things off with Dick Powell’s follow up to Murder My Sweet, Johnny, O’Clock.

When you think of the hardboiled movie, or book, it’s usually a private eye that comes to mind. There’s Sam Spade, and Philip Marlowe, and Mike Hammer. Of course, there were also cops in movies, like Glenn Ford’s Dave Bannion in The Big Heat; and Frederick Nebel’s MacBride in print. Those stories were changed into seven Torchy Blaine movies, and quite different from Nebel’s hardboiled stories about MacBride, unfortunately.

Other occupations were covered, including reporters, and lawyers. Ex-soldiers of various stripes, like Alan Ladd in The Blue Dahlia, were popular. A movie that I really like in this genre starred a gambler. Like Humphrey Bogart’s Dead Reckoning, this film doesn’t appear on any top ten lists, but it doesn’t feature a private eye, and it’s a ‘could have been really good’ film.

Like James Cagney and George Raft, Dick Powell was a successful song and dance man in Hollywood. Then, he was surprisingly cast as Raymond Chandler’s world-weary Phililp Marlowe in Murder My Sweet, and he nailed the part. That 1944 effort was the first of four hardboiled films he made in a five-movie span, of which Johnny O’Clock was the third.

Picking Iron (trivia) – This new side of Powell made him perfect for the singing, funny, tough radio PI, Richard Diamond (I love that series).

Powell plays the title character, and he’s manager of a fancy (and legal) gambling joint in NYC. He dresses well, knows lots of people, and lives in a fancy apartment with an ex-con named Charlie, who is his jack of all trades assistant.

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Voodoo, Sea Monsters, and Rebel Colonies: Rich Horton on Sea Siege/Eye of the Monster by Andre Norton

Sunday, May 31st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Sea Siege Andre Norton Ace Double-small Eye of the Monster Ace Double-small

Sea Siege/Eye of the Monster by Andre Norton. Ace Books F-147, 1962. 176+80 pages, $0.40. Covers by Ed Valigursky/Ed Emshwiller

During the months-long lockdown here in Illinois as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, I know I should be reading the massive TBR pile by my bedside. It’s filled with Nebula award winners, advance proofs of books coming out this fall, and all the new books my friends are talking about. But instead, I want to be reading Ace Doubles.

I blame Rich Horton. Like everyone else, I’m influenced by what I read, and what I’ve been reading recently is Rich Horton’s excellent blog Strange at Ecbatan. Like a superb DJ, Rich knows how to blend the old and the new, and in the past few weeks he’s reviewed The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe (from 2010), Avram Davidson’ acclaimed 2001 collection The Other Nineteenth Century,  the brilliant Think Like a Dinosaur and Other Stories by James Patrick Kelly (1997), the overlooked novel The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter (1996), and a Mack Reynolds/A. Bertram Chandler Ace Double from 1967.

That Ace Double piqued my interest, of course. Like Rich, I have an enduring fondness for these peculiarly collectible science from the 1950s and 60s, although I don’t have nearly the reading muscles he does. I’m mostly familiar with the earlier D-Series, and recently I’ve been re-reading some of Rich’s reviews of those older books, especially the ones I first collected. One of the very first was Sea Siege/Eye of the Monster, a pair of Andre Norton novels issued as an Ace Double in 1962, which Rich reviewed on his blog back in 2017.

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Viewpoint Intimacy Through a Third Person Lens

Sunday, May 31st, 2020 | Posted by R. J. Howell

Cordelia's Honor-small The Goblin Emperor Katherine Addison-small A Memory Called Empire paperback-small

Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen 1996, cover by Gary Ruddell), The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Tor 2014,
cover by Anna Balbusso and Elena Balbusso), and A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (Tor 2019, cover by Jaime Jones)

Since quarantine has brought an unexpected windfall of time for me, I’ve been beta-reading more than usual, and from sources beyond my immediate network of writer-friends. With these new novels, however, I’ve noticed this trend of a lack of intimacy with third person viewpoint characters.

I’m not sure if this is a discomfort with diving deeper into their character’s viewpoint, not knowing how to deep-dive into PoV, or taking the “show-don’t-tell” adage a step too far, to the point where the prose only “shows” action and all moments of interiority and reflection are seen as “telling.”

Or perhaps it’s that some writers watch more films, or play more video games, than they read, and recycle techniques borrowed from visual media that don’t have the same impact in prose? This is not to disparage visual and/or interactive entertainment, nor writers who learn how to tell stories in that media. However, visual media uses a different skill-set to convey emotion, and there are things that can be done with prose that can’t be done as well in film.

Whatever the root cause, I’ve read multi-viewpoint novels where the writers specifically stated that the plot was deeply character driven, and yet, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you anything about the characters that wasn’t directly tied to the plot. It’s as if the writer feared to bog down the narrative with character backstory, either as a result of excessive edits or an unwillingness to include it in the first place. By the end, all that was left was what was introduced in Chapter 1. The characters had no past, and their only future derived from events in the story. I felt so removed, like I was watching things unfold from a distance, and while the plot escalated and had the necessary dramatic beats, I simply didn’t feel anything. I wasn’t experiencing, I wasn’t sinking into the prose and being transported.

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A Sampling from an SF Grandmaster: The Silverberg Collections from Three Rooms Press

Saturday, May 30th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

First-Person Singularities Stories-small Time and Time Again Sixteen Trips in Time-small Alien Archives Eighteen Stories of Extraterrestrial Encounters-small

First-Person Singularities (2017), Time and Time Again (2018), and Alien Archives (2019), all published by Three Rooms Press

My 3,000-word article on The Art of Author Branding: The Paperback Robert Silverberg last week required a lot of research and reading, and all that generated a nostalgic interest in Silverberg. So this week I’ve been digging into his recent collections, and that led me to the pleasant discovery that Three Rooms Press has been issuing a brand new Silverberg collection each year for the past three years, beginning with First-Person Singularities, which gathers tales written in the first person, and Time and Time Again: Sixteen Trips in Time (which is currently available at half-price on Amazon, just $7.99 in trade paperback).

The most recent is Alien Archives: Eighteen Stories of Extraterrestrial Encounters, a generous collection of stories from 1954-1997. Booklist gave it a warm review:

The latest in a series of Silverberg’s collections from Three Rooms Press focuses on stories about alien–human encounters, ranging from the deadly to the benign. Multiple stories involve intimate inter-species contact, such as the Majipoor story “The Soul-Painter and the Shapeshifter,” about a romance between a psychic painter and a shapeshifting alien, and “Bride 91,” which depicts a future in which dozens of species participate in inter-species marriage contracts, but one alien bride desperately wants an authentic Terran marriage. There are also stories of aliens lost on earth such as “Amanda and the Alien,” in which a body-stealing alien falls prey to the interests of a bored California teenager, and “Something Wild Is Loose,” in which an invisible and good-natured alien telepath can only communicate with sleeping humans, accidentally giving them lethal nightmares… Alien Archives still shows that Silverberg’s reputation as a skilled storyteller is well-deserved; it is still worth a look for those interested in a sampling of the SF Grandmaster’s prolific short story work.

I was torn whether to quote from Booklist or Publishers Weekly, since they manage to praise completely different stories. So I decided to go with both. Here’s an excerpt from the PW review.

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