Celebrate the Spirit of the Holidays With The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, edited by Otto Penzler

Monday, December 25th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries-small The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries-back-small

Here in the Midwest we got a 2-inch dusting of snow on Christmas Eve, just enough to put everyone in the mood for the holidays. When it comes to a White Christmas, there’s nothing like a little just-in-time inventory.

We have our share of holiday traditions here in the O’Neill-Dechene household. And one of them is reading a mystery tale or two from Otto Penzler’s Big Book of Christmas Mysteries over the holidays, curled up in the living room by the fire, next to the Christmas tree. There aren’t a lot of things in this modern world that bring peace to a body. But lemme tell you, that’s definitely one of them.

Otto Penzler’s brick-sized Big Book anthologies are some of the great unsung bargains of modern publishing. We’ve covered a few of them over the years, and he publishes a new one every October (this year’s was The Big Book of Rogues and Villains, which we discussed two months ago.) But The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, an imposing 672-page volume containing yuletide ctime stories from Ellery Queen, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Ellis Peters, Donald E. Westlake, Damon Runyon, Thomas Hardy, Arthur Conan Doyle, John D. MacDonald, Peter Lovesey, Max Allan Collins, Marjorie Bowen, Ed McBain, Sara Paretsky, Mary Higgins Clark, Ngaio Marsh, Isaac Asimov, Ed Gorman, G. K. Chesterton, Rex Stout, O. Henry, and Agatha Christie, is one of my favorites. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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New Treasures: Mountain by Ursula Pflug

Sunday, December 24th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Mountain Ursula Pflug-small Mountain Ursula Pflug-back-small

I’ve been seeing the name Ursula Pflug pop up more and more in the last few years — in magazines like Lightspeed and Strange Horizons, and prestigious anthologies like David Hartwell’s Northern Suns and Postscripts. Matthew David Surridge reviewed her first short story collection After the Fires for us back in 2012, saying:

I don’t remember where I first came across Ursula Pflug’s name… From what I’d heard, she was a Canadian writer of literary fantasy, which was enough for me to take a chance on the book… Overall, these are quiet tales, surreal, dreamlike, and often elliptical… Still, there’s a clarity to the stories. Though filled with loss and despair, they often conclude with hope: they seem parables about seeking healing or wholeness, fables of fitting into place…

The stories are ultimately memorable, fascinating, because of the precision of language, and because the language briefly gets across the radical instability of fiction: in worlds constructed only of language, not of physics, anything can happen… It’s a distinctive element of a brief and strange collection. After the Fires is fascinating work, haunting and unfamiliar.

On her website she describes her latest, Mountain, as “a near-future cli-apocalypse YA thing.” It’s a novella published by Inanna Publications on June 20, 2017. It is 98 pages, priced at $19.95 in trade paperback and $11.99 for the digital edition. The cover was designed by Val Fullard.


A Treasure Trove of Alarums and Excursions

Sunday, December 24th, 2017 | Posted by Doug Ellis

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I picked up a collection of SF/fantasy books, magazines and fanzines this past Saturday (December 16), including a bunch of 1970’s-1980’s fantasy roleplaying material. A lot of the RPG stuff was D&D related and was a trip down memory lane. That was particularly true of one of the items.

Back in December 1979, eight of us were packed into a van driving from Buffalo to Apopka, FL (near Orlando) to spend the winter break with my grandparents, who wintered down there. Besides my parents and my sister, my cousins Scott and Jeff were with us, as well as my aunt and uncle. At the time, I was 16, Scott was 17 and Jeff was 12, and we were all completely hooked on D&D, as well as other fantasy games, such as Metagaming’s Melee and Wizard. I suspect our focused and energetic conversations during the 48 hours we spent in the van (round trip) drove the rest of the folks trapped in the van a bit nuts.

While in Orlando, we talked my dad into driving us to a gaming store. There we found three issues of a magazine we’d never heard of before, which I bought immediately — Alarums and Excursions, which was a gaming APA. None of us had any clue what an APA was before coming across these. I remember our reading them on the drive back to Buffalo. One of them was issue #51, and I still have those issues.

In flipping through the gaming material I picked up this past Saturday, I was surprised to find a copy of issue #51 staring back at me, and it brought back the memories of that trip from nearly 40 years ago. In all, there were 73 issues of Alarums and Excursions in the material, ranging from issue #16 to issue #134. Above is a shot of the boxes with them, and below are scans of the covers from a few issues. There was also one issue of another gaming APA, The Wild Hunt, in the mix. It’ll be fun leafing through them!

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Future Treasures: Robots vs. Fairies edited by Dominik Parisien and‎ Navah Wolfe

Sunday, December 24th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Robots vs Fairies-smallThe Starlit Wood, the first book from Dominik Parisien and‎ Navah Wolfe, was one of the most acclaimed anthologies of 2016. It was nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the British Fantasy Award, and won the Shirley Jackson Award. And Amal El-Mohtar’s “Seasons of Glass and Iron” swept the short fiction awards, winning the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus Awards.

Their second anthology, scheduled to arrive in two weeks from Saga Press, is Robots vs. Fairies, and it includes another steller list of contributors, including Seanan McGuire, Jonathan Maberry, Kat Howard, Mary Robinette Kowal, Jeffrey Ford, Madeline Ashby, Lavie Tidhar, John Scalzi, Catherynne M. Valente, and many others. Publishers Weekly says:

Distinguished authors take sides in battles between robots and fairies by crafting serious (and seriously weird) reflections on whether magical or mechanical might would prove the stronger… Ken Liu creatively takes on big cities, rats, and unforeseen consequences in “Quality Time.”… Sarah Gailey’s “Bread and Milk and Salt” is a horrific rumination on the true natures of robots, fairies, and humans. Editors Parisien and Wolfe (The Starlit Wood) have cannily chosen a variety of stories that offer individual, distinctive insights into both living machines and magical creatures, along with glimpses of how humans might react to their face-off.

Reviews have already started to appear. Howling Libraries says Tim Pratt’s “Murmured Under the Moon” is a tale of “a human librarian who takes care of a fairy library, and is forced to go on a rescue mission when the fairy princess is taken hostage by a wicked man… fun, and unique, and magical, and fantastical, and sweet.” And Jim C. Hine’s Peter Pan-inspired “Second to the Left, and Straight On” is “twisted and haunting and beautiful and absolutely heartbreaking… It’s about a private investigator who is seeking out little girls that have been abducted by Tinker Bell.”

Read more at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, including the catalog copy and more details on the intricate cover, here.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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China’s Silicon Valley, but With More Tea: Derek Visits Hangzhou

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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As a writer, I don’t usually suffer from imposter syndrome, but some wonderful moments can appear from nowhere and blindside me. My latest such moment came via The Future Affairs Administration, a new online Chinese SF magazine (imagine a Chinese Lightspeed or Clarkesworld).

FAA partnered with Ant Financial to fly 9 scifi writers into Hangzhou to learn about Ant Financial’s high-tech financial operations and some of what they’re dreaming about for the future, in the hopes that we writers would each write a scifi story inspired by what we saw. It was pretty cool.

Six of the writers were from the west: Australia’s Samantha Murray, the UK’s Ian MacLeod, USA’s Lawrence M. Schoen, Carolyn Ives Gilman, and Stephany Quiouyi Lu, and me from Canada. Three of the writers were from China: Stanley Chan (whom I met in Chengdu a couple of weeks earlier), Jiang Bo, and Qi Ge.

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January/February 2018 Asimov’s Science Fiction Now on Sale

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Asimov's Science Fiction January February 2018-smallAsimov’s SF wrapped up its 40th Anniversary year on a high note last issue, and soldiers on fearlessly into its 41st year with the January/February 2018 issue.

This one features two big novellas: a classic lost-city tale of the 1930s from Rudy Rucker and Paul Di Fillipp, “In the Lost City of Leng,” and a far-future adventure in Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Diving Universe, “The Rescue of the Renegat.” Plus new stories by Cixin Liu, Matthew Hughes, Allen M. Steele, James Gunn, and much more. It’s on sale now at finer newstands.

Here’s editor Sheila Williams’ issue summary.

Our forty-first year sweeps in with the January/February 2018 issue! Two action-packed novellas feature in this exciting installment. Rudy Rucker and Paul Di Filippo take us back to the 1930s and the days of exploration for a thrilling adventure “In the Lost City of Leng.” Hugo Award-winner Kristine Kathryn Rusch rockets us forward in time for her breathtaking account of “The Rescue of the Renegat.” These tales will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout as you wonder who will survive till the curtain falls.

Multiple Hugo Award-winner Allen M. Steele escorts us once again to the planet Coyote for a dangerous journey to “The Barren Isle”; while we know the world may end in fire or ice, Hugo Award-winner Cixin Liu’s first tale for Asimov’s reveals just how perilous the pursuit of art can be in “The Sea of Dreams”; Mathew Hughes returns after too long an absence to expose us to some “Solicited Discordance”; the distinguished James Gunn continues his tales about pilgrims in “The Seeds of Consciousness: 4107’s Story” and “The Final Commandment: Trey’s Story”; new author S. Qiouyi Lu examines the stark choices facing a single parent and the sacrifices that may be made in “Mother Tongues”; Robert R. Chase brings us another thriller with “Assassins in the Clouds”; and Ian Creasey looks at the effect “The Equalizer” will have on tomorrow’s society.

Robert Silverberg’s Reflections on walls continues in “Gog and Magog II”; James Patrick Kelly’s On the Net advises that we “Don’t Read the Comments”; James Gunn brings us a Thought Experiment on “Space Opera and the Quest for Transcendence”; Paul Di Filippo’s On Books reviews works by Daryl Gregory, Jacqueline Carey, Cat Sparks, Neil Clarke, and others; plus we’ll have an array of poetry and other features you’re sure to enjoy.

The introductory blurb to “In the Lost City of Leng” refers to Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” as “perhaps the greatest SF tale of all time.” Interestingly, you can buy a canvas print by Rudy Rucker depicting some of the decidedly Cthulhuesque goings-on the story. Here’s a sneak peek.

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Batman Returns Is My Favorite Christmas Movie and That’s Not a Joke

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

batman-returns-fan-poster-2-smallMistletoe can be deadly if you eat it…

Why do we fall in love with a specific work of art that to others is either an object of mere curiosity or full derision? How does a bizarre novelty gizmo leap out of the pile of toys and become beloved? It boils down to a simple, elegant question: Why does this speak to you?

I’m glad to hear a spirited defense of a book or film that’s never meant much to me but means the universe to another. Sure, you love Jaws, because everybody loves Jaws. I want to hear about your non-ironic embrace of Exorcist II: The Heretic. Lay it on me. I’ll learn something.

The weird wind-up toy I present to you this Winter Solstice Season: Batman Returns, the second of the Tim Burton-Joel Schumacher Batman Quartet — and my personal favorite Christmas movie. This might not be a stunner of a revelation considering my holiday movie pick last year was Rasputin the Mad Monk. I was stretching to find a Hammer movie with something akin to seasonal dressing. So… it’s Russia, it’s winter, there’s lots of red wine. Fine, call it a Hammer Christmas movie.

There’s no stretching necessary with Batman Returns. To me, it’s a Christmas movie. No irony or smirk. It was released during the summer of 1992, but now it’s difficult to envision it outside of winter (and I was there in the theater that summer). Imagine the busy New York mall from Miracle on 34th Street,* except it’s run by Ebenezer Scrooge, and he’s in league with an aquatic bird version of Uriah Heep dwelling in the sewer. Now picture Charles Dickens, Edward Gorey, and F. W. Murnau getting into a three-way knife fight over the corpse of Clement Moore, and Fritz Lang filmed the whole thing and put it in theaters for a holiday release. Think of a Christmas tree decorated with all the holiday trimmings, but leathery bats and black cats peer from between the needles. That’s Batman Returns and my idea of a festive December.

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Decide the Fate of the World With Tiny Plastic Ships: Axis & Allies by Avalon Hill

Friday, December 22nd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Axis and Allies Aniversary Edition-small

When I was in grad school at the University of Illinois in the early 90s we used to play games in the lobby of Daniels Hall. I played things like Star Trek: The Adventure Game from West End Games, and card games like Hearts. But the hardcore gamers in the corner would push a bunch of tables together and cluster around a massive game board, playing Axis & Allies.

I admit to an enduring fascination with Axis & Allies. It reminded me of the obsessive games I used to play with my gaming group back home in Ottawa, like SPI’s War of the Ring and 4000 A.D. The board was huge, there were hundreds of playing pieces, and every game seemed a constant back-and-forth of razor-thin victories, crushing setbacks, unexpected reversals, and hard-won strategic triumphs. I never had the time (or the courage) to commit to a weekend-long session of Axis & Allies though, and when I graduated I lost my chance. I lost contact with a permanent gaming group… and without that incentive, I never shelled out the (considerable) cash for a copy of the game.

Turns out that was a mistake. The gaming fiends in central Illinois weren’t the only people who loved to simulate the epic struggle of World War II, apparently. Milton Bradley’s Axis & Allies, an expensive game in a niche market, eventually went out of print, but not before enjoying a lengthy and historic run. Over the years the game acquired an almost mythic reputation among strategy gamers, and the few complete copies in circulation quickly became collectors items — and very hard to obtain. I eventually set out to acquire a copy for my collection, and for over a decade I’ve failed.

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Lost and Found Treasure

Friday, December 22nd, 2017 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

Sword and Sorceress VII-small Sword and Sorceress VII-back-small

A few weeks ago, I was cruising Facebook when I stopped up short at a familiar image.

It was on our esteemed editor John O’Neill’s wall. And as is often the case with such things, I was struck by a wealth of memories. I received Sword and Sorceress VII as a gift for my 12th birthday. It was probably bought at the B. Dalton in College Mall in Bloomington, IN, one of two easily accessible bookstores on that side of town back in 1990. (Before anyone does the math too fast, yes, I’m celebrating a big birthday next year. It’s in May, if you want to send gift cards for more books.)

I couldn’t tell you exactly which stories were in this volume. I know it had one of Mercedes Lackey’s “Tarma and Kethry” tales in it, but beyond that none of them stand out alone. But as a whole, that volume changed my life as a reader. While I’d feasted on the The Chronicles of Narnia, Robin McKinley, and Susan Cooper, this book was my first exposure to fantasy for grown-ups. And it was full of women.

When I think casually, 1990 doesn’t feel that far away. But in terms of the way women were portrayed in fiction it was another era entirely, and in ways I can’t even begin to explain unless you were there.

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There’s No Place Like Home

Friday, December 22nd, 2017 | Posted by Violette Malan

Peake gormen 1We’re always hearing about using setting as a character , and there’s no doubt that some stories simply can’t be told if they were set somewhere other than the place they’re in. Like, say, the wuthering heights in Wuthering Heights. You know, places that aren’t just somewhere for the characters to be (everyone has to be somewhere) but that in some way inform the whole story, and perhaps the characters as well.

I’m not here today to talk about setting in general, however. No Middle Earth, no Barsoom. No landscapes, thank you. At the moment I’m far more interested in human-made structures: people’s homes, public buildings, etc.

I’m tempted to suggest that buildings first gained their literary eminence in the gothic novels of the 18th century.  Works like  Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otronto, and Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho relied so much on their buildings – which gave the novels their sense of place and situation – that we’d have to ask ourselves whether the gothic would even be possible without the dark creaky old house/monastery/castle? Sure, we’ve also got the natural sublime, the mountain crags, the fogs and the mists, but they’re just the background for the titular buildings.

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