Total Pulp Victory: A Triumphant Return from Windy City Pulp & Paper

Sunday, April 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Super Science Stories Canada December 1942-small Super Science Stories Canada February 1945-small Super Science Stories Canada August 1945-small

Doug Ellis’s Windy City Pulp and Paperback Convention has wrapped up for another year (see my report from last year here). I got to see many old friends, meet some new ones, and also connect in person with a few for the first time — including Barbara Barrett, who traveled many hundreds of miles to make it to Chicago. Barbara has been blogging for Black Gate for many years and her early article “Robert E. Howard: The Sword Collector and His Poetry” is one of the most popular pieces we’ve ever published… but we’ve never met in person, and it was an absolute delight to finally join her for dinner — and give her a big hug.

In between all the meetings, reunions, and forging of new friendships, I also picked up a treasure or two. I’ll be reporting on some of the most interesting here over the next few weeks (the most common comment I heard as I put away my purchases was, “Something new for you to blog about!”), but I can’t resist telling you about one now.

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Kelly McCullough’s Broken Blade is a Quick Summer Read

Sunday, April 27th, 2014 | Posted by Kelly Swails

Broken Blade Kelly McCullough-smallBroken Blade
Kelly McCullough
Ace (304 pgs, November 2011, $1.50)

Aral Kingslayer used to be a legend. In another life, he wasa  hired blade for Namera, the goddess of divine justice, and while in that role earned his name. Now that his goddess is dead, his order disbanded, and his compatriots killed, he is a man without a purpose.

Well, unless taking odd jobs to keep his bar tab paid and dodging barbs from his shadow familiar Triss could be called having a purpose. That is, until a lady dressed in red walks into his life with a job offer: deliver a sealed message to a person waiting on a particular balcony at a specified time.

Aral believes this to be an easy job for a man with his unique skill set, and so he accepts. It’s not until he’s almost killed by a man whom he’d thought long dead that he discovers the job is much more than it seems.

Broken Blade is an enjoyable read, even as it doesn’t break any new ground. Assassin novels generally feature a man (check), who has gone rogue for reasonable and/or forgivable reasons (check), who comes to question everything he has known to be true (check). They also feature political intrigue, creative battle/death scenes, and a love interest (check, check, check).

However, one can’t just dump the elements onto the page and expect to get a coherent, entertaining story. An author needs to add a little from each trope and combine them until they make something new, and here McCullough succeeds — he mixes just the right amounts of just the right ingredients to produce a solid novel.

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Vintage Treasures: Charles de Lint’s Wolf Moon, and a Tale of Roving Booksellers

Sunday, April 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Wolf Moon Charles de Lint-smallIt pays to know excellent booksellers.

On Tuesday, Rich Warren, co-owner of Starfarer’s Despatch, posted a pic of Charles de Lint’s 1988 Signet paperback Wolf Moon on Facebook and later this brief review:

What a blast. Just finished this one this morning. A tale sympathetic to the Werewolf, and told from his point of view. I know there are De Lint fans who enjoy his urban fantasy (Newford) more but the great writing is still present in these older fantasies.

My comment was concise, but completely heartfelt: “I need this book! Rich, sell me one!”

I meant it, too. Wolf Moon was reprinted in 2004, with a generic urban fantasy cover, but the 1988 paperback original, which boasts a fabulous cover by Dean Morrissey, showing a werewolf relaxing in The Inn of the Yellow Tinker, is much harder to come by.

Three days later, I returned from my business trip to Las Vegas. I drove straight from the airport to the Westin hotel in Lombard, Illinois, and arrived shortly before the Dealer’s Room closed at Windy City Pulp and Paper, one of my favorite local cons (the write-up I did on last year’s is here). I wasn’t in the room five minutes before I heard a friendly voice calling my name: Arin Komins, Rich’s wife and the other half of the splendid enterprise that is Starfarer’s Despatch.

“We have a book for you,” Arin said. We found Rich and, sure enough, he pulled a beautiful, unread copy of Wolf Moon out of his backpack.

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1939 Retro Hugo Award Nominees Announced

Saturday, April 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Astounding Science Fiction May 1938-smallThe Hugos have become science fiction’s more recognizable award, ever since they were first presented in 1953 at the 11th World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia. In the decades since though, there’s been plenty of speculation in fan circles about classic SF published before 1953.

“Oh, Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth would have win the Hugo Award hands down back in 1951.”
“Are you kidding? The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was published that same year — it would have been the easy victor.”
“You’re both crazy. The most popular SF release in 1951  was E.E. “Doc” Smith’s First Lensman, no question.”
“Wait a minute — what about Asimov’s Pebble in the Sky? It came out that same year!”

If there’s one thing fans like to do more than argue, it’s to prove they’re right. So in 1996, the First Retro Hugo Awards were given out, for SF first published in 1946. Retro Hugos have only been awarded twice since: in 2001 (for 1951) and in 2004 (for 1954). And for the record, the winner of the Retro Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1951 was Robert A. Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky.

Loncon 3 has announced that it will present Retro Hugos this year, for work first published 75 years ago. Here’s part of the introduction to the award from the Loncon 3 Hugo Award Administrator:

1939 was an auspicious year among science fiction enthusiasts. On  2 July roughly 200 of them got together in New York City to hold the World  Science Fiction Convention… As host of the 2014 Worldcon, Loncon 3 will be hosting the Hugo Awards for the best work in 2013. As Loncon 3 marks  the 75th anniversary of that first convention in 1939, we will also be hosting  a Retrospective Hugo Award process for the best work of 1938.

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New Treasures: Nebula Awards One and Two From Stealth Press

Saturday, April 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Nebula Award Stories One, from Stealth Press (2001)

Nebula Awards One, from Stealth Press (2001)

Okay, I’m stretching things a bit by calling these New Treasures, as they were printed over a decade ago. But I just bought pristine copies, still in the shrinkwrap, and I’m pretending they’re actually new. Work with me a little.

I have no idea who Stealth Press is. But they’re clearly a small press that specializes in deluxe hardcover editions and they do great work. Truth to tell, I just stumbled across these books on eBay, offered in a lot for a great price, and I wanted them immediately.

You don’t need hardcover reprints of these, my brain said. See, right over there, you have the paperback editions. But look at the great Frank R. Paul covers, I said to my brain. And plus, if I order these, I could write New Treasures posts about them! Well, I suppose that makes sense, my brain agreed. My brain. What a sucker.

It is nice to have handsome permanent editions of these books. But the real benefit is that they remind me just how incredible these early Nebula Award anthologies really were. Until these deluxe versions arrived, Nebula Awards One and Two were just two more slim paperbacks crammed in a dusty bookshelf alongside over 30 of their cousins. Now, they’re very real treasures, stacked by my bedside to be read at the first opportunity.

Nebula Awards One collects the very first Nebula Award-winning stories (and several runners-up) from 1966, as selected and edited by SFWA founder Damon Knight.  It contains two complete novellas , the Nebula Award winner “The Saliva Tree” by Brian W. Aldiss and runner-up “He Who Shapes” by Roger Zelazny, and shorter work from Harlan Ellison, James H. Schmitz, Larry Niven, Gordon R. Dickson, and J. G. Ballard, and even a second Zelazny story.

It contains some of the most famous short science fiction and fantasy of the 20th Century, by many of its most gifted practitioners, plus a thoughtful intro from Knight. If you could only preserve one genre anthology for future generations, I think a strong case could be made for this one.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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The 2014 David Gemmell Award Nominees

Friday, April 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Daylight War-smallThe nominations for the David Gemmell Legend Award for Best Fantasy Novel of 2013 have been announced by the DGLA. May we have the envelope please!

The Legend Award for Best Fantasy Novel

  • The Daylight War, Peter V Brett (Del Rey)
  • Emperor of Thorns, Mark Lawrence (Harper Collins)
  • The Republic of Thieves, Scott Lynch (Gollancz)
  • A Memory of Light, Brandon Sanderson & Robert Jordan (Tor)
  • War Master’s Gate, Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor)

The David Gemmell Legend Award is a fan-voted award administered by the DGLA. The Legend Award for Best Fantasy Novel was first granted in 2009 to Andrzej Sapkowski’s Blood of Elves; in 2010, the winner was Graham McNeill’s Empire: The Legend of Sigmar; and in 2011, it was Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. In 2012, the winner was The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss and last year, The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks took home the top prize.

The Gemmell Award is not the only award administered by the DGLA; every year it gives out two others: The Morningstar Award for Best Fantasy Newcomer and The Ravenheart Award for Best Fantasy Cover Art. So much excitement packed into one ceremony! The nominees for those awards follow.

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A Review of The Man Who Awoke, Plus a Giveaway

Friday, April 25th, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

Man Who Awoke 1st edThe Man Who Awoke
Laurence Manning
Ballantine (170 pgs, $1.50, 1975)

Back in February, our editor John O’Neill featured Laurence Manning’s The Man Who Awoke in one of his Vintage Treasures posts. I first read the book sometime around the summer (I think it was summer) of 1981 or 1982. I was in high school and had picked up a copy at a local used book store. When I mentioned in the comments that I’d been thinking of rereading it, John graciously offered to let me do a review. I’d like to thank him for the opportunity.

It had been on my mind recently when I read an ARC of Michael J. Sullivan’s Hollow World. Then I attended ConDFW this past February, where the charity book swap had dozens of paperbacks from the late 70s and early 80s in excellent condition. Among the titles I picked up was a first edition of The Man Who Awoke.

The novel was originally serialized in five parts in Hugo Gernsback’s Wonder Stories in 1933. The first part was included in Isaac Asimov’s anthology Before the Golden Age, another book I need to reread. I had enjoyed the first installment, so when I came across the paperback of the whole novel, I snatched it up and dashed home with it, after properly paying for it of course.

The story concerns Norman Winters. He’s a wealthy scientist who develops a method of putting himself to sleep through a process very much like hibernation. I don’t know if this is the first use of what would later come to be called suspended animation, but it had to be one of the earliest. I’ve not read H. G. Wells’s When the Sleeper Wakes, so I don’t know the mechanism Wells used. Manning has his protagonist use this device to search for meaning and happiness in the future.

In the first story, “The Forest People,” Winters places his apparatus in a chamber deep underground, and with the aid of a timer, sleeps for a few millennia, waking in 5000 A.D. When Winters comes out of his chamber, he discovers that the world has reached a state in which humans live in small villages, using trees to supply almost all their needs. Most of the world is covered by forest, and open grasslands are anathema. The time Winters comes from (our present age) is known as the Age of Waste.

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Living it Large: How Larger Than Life Characters Work

Friday, April 25th, 2014 | Posted by Connor Gormley

conan-the-barbarian-with-sword-smallAn extravagantly rich man who dresses up like a bat; space Jesus in skin tight spandex, shooting lasers out of his eyes; a big Austrian charging around in furry underwear and hitting things with a big sword.

All of those individuals (and you know who they are) are examples of ‘larger than life characters.’ And such characters are at the center of what makes Sword and Sorcery what it is. These are creations that dominate their worlds, who capture our imaginations; these are characters that, for all their exuberance and strength, majesty and intellect, feel real. Their influence can be felt in every letter of every page. When done well, they’ll leap out of the page, wrap their hands around your throat and drag you along with them. They’re the guys who are at the center of it all, they’re the whole reason you’re reading the book. They’re not the host, they’re the main event.

But, at least conceptually, they shouldn’t be. These are characters that tend to be impossibly good at everything, who tend to be either extravagantly noble or impossibly evil; there is no middle ground when you’re dealing with larger than life characters. And this extremism make them a little difficult to relate to, and it’s relatable characters that are the most likeable, those that have the most impact, because it’s so easy to put yourself in their shoes. But larger than life characters, with their overblown motivations and rigid morals, don’t have that instant relatability.

Not only that, but larger than life characters (who I’ll refer to as LTLCs from now on) aren’t so much fully fledged characters as they are prototypes, often lacking depth, ambiguity, and complexity. By today’s standards, they’re nothing. Heck, these sorts of characters shouldn’t even be likeable; think about that one kid in class who, without fail, never missed an opportunity to flaunt his intelligence; he’s more likely to warrant a swift brick to the face than a warm pat on the back.

Yet, with all this, LTLCs tend to be pretty damn endearing: Marvel and DC make millions out of the guys; Robert E Howard created an entire sub-genre off the back of LTLCs, and western myths and legends are overflowing with the overachieving little guys. So it’s no secret that the characters are in demand. But, in the wake of all this, one has to ask: why are they so popular?

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Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part Thirteen

Friday, April 25th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Space Circus tradSpace Circus alt“Space Circus” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from September 5 to October 29, 1955. “Space Circus” is significant for being the first time in the Dan Barry strips where Flash’s past adventures on Mongo are now an integral part of the storyline. One wonders if reader response prompted King Features to request a change of direction from what would today be considered a reboot to a direct sequel to the original storyline of the early 1930s.

“Space Circus” gets underway with Flash abducted by a flying saucer while out driving on a desert road late one night. Abduction by UFO was a relatively new concept in the 1950s, but one that was spreading rapidly as a fear that many shared during the Cold War era. The aliens are from the planet Mesmo and appear as Asian caricatures. While a number of the inhabitants of Mongo were depicted as Asian in appearance, they were portrayed as being exotic and not as demeaning cartoonish representations. While there were certainly many more offensive Yellow Peril figures in comics of the era, the Mesmans are a far cry from the seductive and imposing inhabitants of Mongo as Alex Raymond portrayed them.

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Roleplaying Game Review: Fate and Fate Diaspora

Thursday, April 24th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page

Diaspora Game-smallThis weekend, I shall be attending Conpulsion, the massive yearly gaming convention held in Edinburgh, Scotland. Mostly, I’ll be teaching a plotting and outlining workshop and demonstrating Historical European Martial Arts. If you’re attending, keep an eye open for me! (I’m the tired dad with the swords.)

FATE is basically the Linux of the gaming world. Its core system is a product in its own right, but people are also free to base their own systems on it, a classic example being the award-winning Hard SF Diaspora.

Articulate, sometimes witty, always enthusiastic, both these roleplaying games appear to have been written by grown-ups who like roleplaying more than they like rules, but still want their roleplaying to be an actual game.

It helps that the core FATE system abstracts everything to four basic actions — Overcome, Create an Advantage, Attack, and Defend — and five categories of parameters — Aspects, Skills, Stunts, Stress Tracks, and Consequences.

This means that, instead of yesteryear’s lovingly created baroque edifices of subsystems, FATE games are as recursive and intuitive as a modern software package. For example, characters, weapons, ships, and space ships all have the five kinds of parameters and can be involved in the four actions.

FATE Core lends itself easily to pick up games. Last weekend, armed with a one-page dungeon adventure and some hastily created “Fudge Dice,” I GM’d my son Kurtzhau and DeeM (both 10) and Morgenstern, my daughter (6!).  The character generation was a hoot (much like my experience with Diaspora) and gave us respectively a disillusioned veteran mercenary, a thief masquerading as a squire, and an axe-wielding barbarian princess. The resulting Aspects, especially “Can’t abide an unfair fight,” “Nobody runs from my crossbow,” and “I like shiny things,” generated drama and dilemmas without much effort on my part. In truth, the party got nowhere near the dungeon, but did have to flee a warlord after the thief stole his magic gem.

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