Ancient Worlds: Claiming the Lost from the Underworld

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

Kratzenstein's Orpheus and Eurydice

Kratzenstein’s Orpheus and Eurydice

We live in an age of reboots. I for one think this is an excellent thing. Most of the great of history has fallen into the category of reboots, retellings, recapitulations and reimaginings.

Without the concept of fanfic there is no Aeneid, and while many a college Sophmore may rejoice at that idea, world literature would be the poorer for it. That is, as well, what Ovid is doing with the Metamorphoses. He’s compiling and retelling, weaving several hundred different strands together into one long rope of story. And that work is still bearing fruit today.

One of the better and most wideley known tales that Ovid retells is the myth or Orpheus. This one is so commonly read that I’ll just sketch down the bones here: Orpehus was the greatest musician who ever lived. He was married to a young woman named Eurydice, but she died very soon after the wedding. Heartbroken, he made his way down to the Underworld, and with the power of his music, convinced Hades and Persephone to let Eurydice come back to the light. They agreed, the only time in all of history they have done so, because they were so moved by his music. But there was a condition: Eurydice would follow him up to the surface, and he couldn’t look back once.

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Take a Visual Tour of the Early SF and Fantasy Pulps in Futures Past #1

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Futures Past 1926-smallI have a great curiosity about the beginnings of science fiction and fantasy in the United States — particularly what’s known as the Gernsback Era, beginning when Hugo Gernsback founded Amazing Stories in 1926, and virtually created modern science fiction. Nearly simultaneously, Weird Tales (founded in 1923) was publishing the first stories of the greatest fantasists of the 20th Century: Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith.

So I was delighted to discover a brand new magazine devoted to covering the birth of modern science fiction: Futures Past: A Visual History of Science Fiction, edited by Jim Emerson. The first issue of this 64-page, full color magazine, subtitled 1926: The Birth of Modern Science Fiction, appeared in July 2014, and is now available in e-book PDF format. Future issues will cover the whole field of science fiction — including magazines, books, movies and conventions — year by year, in an attractive and easy-to-read format.

Here’s the description of the entire undertaking from the publisher:

Welcome to one of the largest and most ambitious projects ever attempted in the field of science fiction.  In the pages of Futures Past we will be covering, in detail, the birth and development of modern science fiction over its first 50 years – from 1926 to 1975. Designed in a yearbook format, each issue of Futures Past will cover all the works, people, organizations and events in detailed chronological order.

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The Making of a Dark Fantasy Anthology

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 | Posted by Salome Jones

Cthulhu Lives-smallLike all books, an anthology begins with an idea. In the case of Cthulhu Lives! the idea was simply this: the eerie feel of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror stories without the lengthy exposition and racist diatribes. I called for submissions using the tag line “Lovecraftian cosmic horror stories with a modern sensibility.”

The cool thing about asking creative people to respond to a call is that you will often get more than you expected. For CL, I got some stories about things that Lovecraft never imagined because he was from a very different time. For example, 3D printers, spying internet programs, Higgs bosons – and steampunk Europe.

I didn’t have access to a group of known cosmic horror writers. In fact, I didn’t know when I put out the call if we would even get enough good stories to fill the book. At the same time I put out another call for a different book, this one for dark, modern fairy tales, and I got only three stories that I considered suitable, so I had to cancel that book.

After the open call for Cthulhu Lives!, I had thirteen good stories, stories I felt could make the grade either with or without a bit of extra work from the author. After putting them all together, I only had 55,000 words. Tim Dedopulos, the managing editor of Ghostwoods Books, told me I had to get the word count up to at least 70,000 before we could publish.

At that point, I asked writers I knew who I felt were up to the task. I have to say that Gethin Lynes was amazing here. He had been helping me copyedit the stories I already had. In order to help him grok some of the editing decisions I made, I suggested he read some Lovecraft. (He’s Australian, and Lovecraft isn’t as popular there as in the US.) When I needed stories, he wanted to write one. “The Highland Air” was the result, and it’s one of my favorite stories in the book.

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Chaotic and Lawful Alignments in Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

ThreeHeartsI’m willing to bet that Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions published in 1953 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (and Anderson’s close friend and frequent collaborator Gordon R. Dickson’s St. Dragon and the George, published likewise in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction at about the same time – later republished as The Dragon and the George) owes quite a bit to Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. And Anderson doesn’t disguise this, for he at least once overtly references Twain’s historical romance when he has his protagonist, Holger Carlsen (a “Carl” again!), unconvincingly scare away a band of barbarians by using his tobacco pipe to blow smoke out of his mouth. The work further encourages comparisons to Twain’s book through Holger’s use of other “Enlightenment” tricks in a secondary world, and Anderson uses bookends reminiscent of Twain’s. Anderson’s bookends here are worth a closer look.

Holger Carlsen’s history, as relayed by an unspecified narrator, funhouse-mirrors Anderson’s personal history. In a book profiling Supernatural Fiction Writers, Ronald Tweet reports that Anderson was born to Danish parents and lived in Denmark for a while previous to WWII. Holger of Three Hearts and Three Lions is a Dane who, after wandering Europe, starts attending an Eastern university in the U.S. When WWII breaks out, he goes back to Denmark, where, through fairly compressed and elliptical telling, the narrator says that Holger eventually ends up in a pistol fight with Germans. At this point, “all his world [blows] up in flame and darkness.” And Holger finds himself in a fantasy world.

In light of Anderson’s own biographical information, one is tempted to believe that much of this work is the result of a highly personal fantasy, a kind of daydream out of which many fantasies certainly must arise. I’m sure that most of us have fantasized about being an important person in an important place – If only we could get there, somehow!

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Black Static #44 Now on Sale

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Black Static 44-smallI stumbled on my first copy of Black Static, issue #40, at a Barnes and Noble here in Chicago last year, and I was very impressed. The magazine is beautifully designed and illustrated, with top-notch writing and some great columns. It’s exactly the kind of thing I like to take with me on long plane rides.

I’ve been tracking down subsequent issues and writing about them here, because I think you deserve to know about them. Also, because really excellent fantasy magazines are a vanishing breed, and they deserve your support. Issue #44 is cover-dated January/February, which means it’s still on sale here in the US. The fiction contents are:

“Going Back to the World” by Simon Avery
“The Absent Shade” by Priya Sharma
“The Fishers of Men” by Jackson Kuhl
“Sweet Water” by E. Catherine Tobler
“Samhain” by Tyler Keevil

Yes, that’s our own Jackson Kuhl in the TOC. Jackson’s last article for us was his review of Jeffrey E. Barlough’s The Cobbler of Ridingham, which appeared here last week. On his blog, Jackson talks a little about selling his story, “The Fishers of Men,” to a British market like Black Static:

I was a little shocked when [Black Static editor] Andy Cox accepted “Fishers;” it is a very American story and when I sent it I wasn’t sure the historical background would translate. But I suppose I don’t have to know the intricacies of lines of royal succession or the industrialization of Greater Manchester to enjoy M.R. James, Robert Aickman, or Susanna Clarke (to name the three most recent authors I’ve read), so perhaps the width of the Atlantic isn’t as great as I sometimes imagine.

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Michael Moorcock’s Fantasy Autobiography: The Whispering Swarm

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The Whispering Storm-smallMichael Moorcock is a giant. He is probably most famous for his Elric of Melniboné stories, but he also has written many other fine works. In addition, he is also well known for having been the editor of the controversial British science fiction magazine New Worlds from 1964 to 1971. From this position Moorcock is usually credited with fostering the development of the New Wave in science fiction and fantasy.

Personally, I have been a big Moorcock fan for years and was something of a rabid devotee in junior high. I read the Elric stories over and over, almost memorized the “Melnibonéan Mythos” section of the Dungeons and Dragons Deities and Demigods book, and even bought the old Chaosium RPG Stormbringer, which was based on Moorcock’s Elric tales.

So I was incredibly excited when I heard that Moorcock was releasing a new novel, The Whispering Swarm, the first in a new trilogy. Having just finished it, I have to say that it is one of the most unique books I have ever read. Described in a sentence: It’s part fantasy and it purports be part autobiographical.


I think a little light can be shed on the book’s conception with the following.

StarShipSofa, the excellent British science fiction podcast and website, interviewed Moorcock back in 2008 (if you’re interested, you can watch it here). At one point in the interview, Moorcock relates that his publisher thought he should write a memoir. But Moorcock admits that he is very reticent to do so because many of the people he would be writing about are still alive, and he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings — nor did he want to get into any “he said vs. she said” controversies.

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Short Fiction Reviews: “Tuesdays,” by Suzanne Palmer (Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 2015)

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Asimov's Science Fiction March 2015-smallFor today’s column I’m covering for our regular Tuesday short fiction reviewer, Fletcher Vredenburgh, who’s goofing off this week. Which is a nice excuse for me to blow off other stuff I’m supposed to be doing, and settle back in my big green chair with the latest issues of my favorite magazines.

I started with the March issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction (which used to be called Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, back when the pace of life was slower and people had time to read a title that long.) Partly because it’s been far too long since I’ve read an issue, but mostly because I love Paul Youll’s delightful cover, with a strangely sinister UFO hovering outside a diner. I opened the magazine hoping that it’s illustrating the featured story, Suzanne Palmer’s “Tuesdays,” because I think I’d enjoy a good UFO story, and also because I want to know what that mischievous-looking blonde on the cover is up to.

The Table of Contents lists “Tuesdays” as starting on page 13. I flip to page 13. It’s an ad for a crossword magazine. I chuckle a little. Getting the Table of Contents 100% right was always the biggest pain with the print edition of Black Gate, too. I usually did it last, because last-minute changes were constantly messing with story placement.

I flip to page 14. Page 14 opens in mid-sentence. I glance back at page 12. It’s the last page of James Patrick Kelly’s On the Net column. I flip back and forth for a minute, confused, before the truth finally dawns: the first page of “Tuesdays,” the cover story for the issue, is missing.

Now, I haven’t been an editor of a print magazine for almost four years. But that doesn’t dull the sympathetic horror that crawls up my spine. This is every editor’s nightmare (and probably every writer’s horror — but let’s be truthful, writers are terrified of everything). No one understands just how easy it is to make a mistake like this.

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By the Numbers: Encountering Classic Fairy Tales with a Box of Crayons

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 | Posted by Nick Ozment

color by numberTonight my kids and I took some 40-year-old coloring books — vintage uncolored collectibles — opened a box of Crayola crayons and went to town!

Let me back up. A few weeks ago I was reminded that some of my earliest experiences of classic fairy tales came from a series of color-by-number books. Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves — my Nan had the whole set for my cousins and me to color in.

Vintage books and toys on eBay that catch my attention fall into roughly three categories: 1) ones I cherished as a kid and have long wanted to reclaim, 2) ones I never heard of but are so cool I can’t believe they never crossed my radar before, 3) ones I had as a kid but had completely forgotten until coming across them by accident and feeling a sudden rush of recognition and nostalgia.

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Belated Movie Review #2: Apocalypto

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Adrian Simmons

Apocalypto-smallI recall that 10,000 BC (Belated Movie Review #1) and Apocalypto came out at roughly the same time. My recall is wrong! Apocaltypto is from ’06 — a full two years earlier than 10KBC!

Still, it was a stone-age adventure movie and has been on my list to see for almost a decade, so I finally did. Like 10KBC, I’m going to RECOMMEND it. Conditionally, as you’ll see below.

A lot of work went into this — cast of thousands! Build an entire Mayan city/prop in the jungle! Translate “I wanna dip my balls in it!” into Mayan! What it is NOT, outside of the first 15 minutes, is particularly fun or pleasant or uplifting. Leaves you kind of feeling like you just watched Leaving Las Vegas, only with more ripping out of still-beating hearts.

The plot is very similar to 10KBC. A group of hunter gatherers in forest are going about their lives, hunting, gathering. A group of slavers from the nearby city-state sweep into the village in a pre-dawn raid. Grizzly fighting ensues, with the hunter gatherers on the losing side.

Things get much grimmer as the slaves are marched off to the city, through the city, and right up to the pyramid in the middle. Still-beating hearts and decapitations and Jaguar Paw (the main character, although it takes a while to figure this out) is next on the block (literally) when an eclipse starts up.

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New Treasures: Island 731 by Jeremy Robinson

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Island 731-smallTwo weeks ago, we announced the winners of our contest to suggest who should be writing the Cthulhu Mythos today. Each of the winners received a copy of the new anthology Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth. One of the more intriguing entries came from Donald Nutting, who wrote:

Island 731 by Jeremy Robinson had me curled up in the fetal position whimpering and scared for my life; if he can do that about a kaiju, then he could do it with Cthulhu.

I had to admit I wasn’t familiar with Jeremy Robinson, but it didn’t take long to rectify that. I tracked down a copy of Island 731, released in paperback last February. I’m not sure how I missed it, because it looks right up my alley.

Mark Hawkins, former park ranger and expert tracker, is on board a research vessel on the Pacific. But his work is interrupted when the ship is plagued by a series of strange malfunctions and the crew is battered by a raging storm… The next morning, the beaten crew awakens to find themselves anchored in the protective cove of a tropical island — and no one knows how they got there. The ship has been sabotaged, two crewmen are dead, and a third is missing. Hawkins spots signs of the missing man onshore and leads a small team to bring him back. But they soon discover evidence of a brutal history left behind by the island’s former occupants: Unit 731, Japan’s ruthless World War II human experimentation program. As more of his colleagues start to disappear, Hawkins begins to realize the horrible truth: That Island 731 was never decommissioned and the person preying on his crewmates may not be a person at all — not anymore…

Jeremy Robinson is also the author of seven Jack Sigler thrillers, including the latest, Cannibal, on sale in hardcover this month. Island 731 was published in hardcover on March 26, 2013, and in paperback by St. Martin’s Press on February 25, 2014. It is 384 pages, priced at $7.99 for both the paperback and digital versions.

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