Holy cats, it’s the last few hours of January. I’m already a month behind on my 2018 reading plan. How the heck did that happen??
In cases like this I’ve learned (through long experience) that it’s best to distract myself with books until the problem goes away. To do that I turn to the always reliable Andrew Liptak at The Verge, and his monthly recommended reading column. Let’s dig in and see what Andrew has for us this month.
First up is the debut novel from Michael Moreci, author of the comic series Roche Limit and Burning Fields. Kirkus Reviews calls Black Star Renegades “A propulsive space opera that is also an unapologetic love letter to Star Wars… Impossible not to love.”
Black Star Renegades by Michael Moreci (St. Martin’s Press, 384 pages, $27.99 in hardcover, January 2, 2018)
A young man named Cade Sura reluctantly controls the most powerful weapon in the galaxy, and it puts him into the path of the evil Praxis Kingdom. Michael Moreci is known for his comic books, but his debut novel is a mashup of familiar tropes from space operas like Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy. Kirkus Reviews says that he’s assembled all of these tropes “with such devotion and style that it’s impossible not to love this strange mashup for its own sake.”
It’s January 31, and that means it’s time to celebrate one our civilization’s greatest inventions–the gorilla suit!
On this holiday, we dust off that gorilla suit hanging in our closet and don it with pride. The idea is that you should do at least one thing in your regular schedule dressed up as a gorilla. Go to the store, go bowling, have a drink at your local bar, whatever.
National Gorilla Suit Day was invented by Mad Magazine cartoonist Don Martin. But of course the roots of this cultural phenomenon go way back to the beginnings of cinema, when early directors found that a man in a gorilla suit took direction much better than an actual gorilla.
I think my favorite read so far this month has been Alter Ego #150, the special 100-page Stan Lee issue, with a rare interview with Stan the Man conducted in the 1980s, a look at Stan’s non-Marvel work, and tons more. The January fiction mags feature stories by Nisi Shawl, Nick Mamatas, Adam-Troy Castro, Sarah Pinsker, Laurie Tom, David Afsharirad, Patricia Russo, and many others.
Here’s the complete list of magazines that won my attention in late January (links will bring you to magazine websites).
Alter Ego — Issue 150 of Roy Thomas’ Comics Fanzine celebrates 95 years of Stan Lee! 100 pages in full color for $9.95. Apex — Issue #104 has new stories by Lila Bowen, Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley, Nick Mamatas, Chi Hui, Armando Saldaña, and Nisi Shawl, plus reprints by Cassandra Khaw and T. Kingfisher Galaxy’s Edge — The fifth anniversary issue has stories by Laurie Tom, Nick DiChario, Eric Leif Davin, Sean Patrick Hazlett, David Afsharirad, M. E. Garber, George Nikolopoulos, and David VonAllmen, plus reprints by Joe Haldeman, Orson Scott Card, Kij Johnson, and Mercedes Lackey — and the fourth segment of Joan Slonczewski’s serialized novel Daughter of Elysium. Meeple Monthly — Upcoming games from IELLO, Looney Labs, Expedition: The Roleplaying Card Game, Pelgrane Press Ltd, and Steve Jackson Games!
Gene DeWeese was born on January 31, 1934 and died on March 19, 2012. DeWeese wrote several television and gaming tie-in novels, including work in the Lost in Space, Ravenloft, Star Trek, and Man from U.N.C.L.E. universes as well as original YA novels.
DeWeese has collaborated with Robert Coulson and has used pseudonyms including Jean DeWeese, Thomas Stratton, and Victoria Thomas. His novel The Adventures of the Two-Minute Werewolf was adapted into a television film. He served as a technical writer on the Apollo program.
“The Man in Cell 91” was published in Time Twisters, edited by Jean Rabe and Martin H. Greenberg and released in January 2007.
The title of the story, “The Man in Cell 91” provides a certain expectation for the reader as an unnamed man, alone in a cell, is suddenly visited by dreams or visions, each one showing people in despair at the moments of their deaths. Without any agency or understanding why, the man sees people starving to death, being killed in battle, and eventually a priest committing suicide because his sexual transgressions have been discovered, and one of the priest’s victims committing suicide.
As the man comes to an understanding, DeWeese begins to reveal his identity, providing the reader with their own sense of understanding. The story isn’t quite an alternate history, nor a secret history, but does offer a look at a potential alternative to our own timeline.
Wednesday, March 5, 1975 dawned cool and cloudy in Los Angeles, as Sergeant Friday used to say. Among the usual topics of conversation that morning during snack break at my high school, one question predominated: Did you see that show last night?! The show in question was the previous evening’s ABC Movie of the Week:Trilogy of Terror. Yeah, that one. The one with the “Zuni fetish doll” that comes to life and wreaks havoc with Karen Black’s apartment, to say nothing of her epidermis.
The ABC Movie of the Week ran for six seasons, from 1969 to 1975, and was one of the first series comprised entirely of movies made specifically for television. Running once (in some seasons, twice) a week, and featuring the usual tv movie aggregation of performers, all fitting into the categories of has-been, never-was, and hoping-to-be (many of whom were shackled to the oars of some other ABC series, naturally), the Movie of the Week presented stories from all genres. Comedy, romance, romantic comedy, western, crime, social issue (unemployment, drug use, the problems of the young and of the aged, and alcoholism were… well, popular is the word, I guess, and 1972’s That Certain Summer is a genuine landmark, being the first American film of any sort to deal with homosexuality in a non-biased manner), disease-of-the-week (remember Brian’s Song?), and what used to be called the war between the sexes all made regular appearances.
Christmas is my favorite holiday. Spending time with loved ones, Christmas music, houses lit up with lights and decorations, and the joy you feel giving a gift to a loved one. All of these things make me appreciate my life and the people in it.
Typically, my family gathers for the holiday at my home. With the meal preparation left to my wife and brother, I happily prepare the post-feast entertainment. This is usually varied: tabletop games, movies, video games,etc. This year I looked to the Nintendo Switch for some fun and enjoyable game playing.
The games I wanted to play needed to meet a few requirements: I wanted them to be family friendly, accommodate 4 players, in either split screen or single screen, and be genuinely fun. After sifting through the Switch Library, I found two possible candidates, Mario Kart 8 and Snipper Clips. Mario Kart 8 allows up to 4 players to play simultaneously via split screen, while Snipper Clips allows up to 4 players to play simultaneously on a single screen.
Four years ago, I posted an explanation of what I’m trying to do with my reviews for Black Gate. My stated goal was, and remains, to be someone who says to readers, “Here’s a book I think you’ll get a kick out of.” There were several people who did that for me, turning me on to books and authors I still hold dear, and I want to do that for others. Like most fans of something, I want to convince people the things I like are worth their time and are still relevant.
It can be hard to pierce the barrier built of cultural noise, the vast wealth of new fantasy being written every year, and the simple passage of time, and convince someone a book that’s fifty years old or more is worth his time. Pop culture reflects the larger society that produces it, and people want to see their concerns and interests in it. That people still read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert E. Howard more than eighty years after both their deaths, though, tells me it’s not a hopeless battle.
I’m not the only person doing this, not by any stretch of the imagination. Of particular interest has been the wealth of discussion about Appendix N that has taken place over the past five or six years on message boards, blogs, and podcasts. For the two of you who don’t know what Appendix N is, it’s a quirky list of fantasy and sci-fi books that inspired Gary Gygax, the primary creator of D&D. There are few works on it I haven’t got to, though I was recently taken to task for my negligence of A. Merritt.
The list was in the Dungeon Masters Guide. Back in the day, it didn’t mean too much to me, only because I’d already read most of the authors on the list, and so had most of my gaming friends. Still, it was cool to see Gygax liked the same books we did. Because so much of the present Appendix N conversation has tended to focus on gaming, something I don’t do anymore, I’ve mostly just listened. Other than a couple of conversations about individual books, I’ve sat off to the side.
Gregory Benford was born on January 30, 1941. He helped start the first science fiction convention in Germany, WetzCon, in 1956 and the first convention in Texas, Southwestern Con, in 1958. He received the Nebula Award for Best Novelette in 1975 for his collaboration with Gordon Eklund, “If the Stars Are Gods.” His novel Timescape received the Nebula Award for Best Novel, the John W. Campbell Memorial, Jr. Award, the Ditmar Award, and the British SF Association Award. It also loaned its name to a publishing imprint. Benford received a Phoenix Award from the Southern Fandom Confederation in 2004 and a Forry Award from LASFS in 2016. Benford was the Guest of Honor at Aussiecon Three, the 1999 Worldcon in Melbourne, Australia.
“Down the River Road” was included in After the King: Stories in Honor of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Martin H. Greenberg. Originally published in January 1992, the book and all the stories in it were translated into Dutch, Italian, and French. The story has not appeared outside of the original anthology.
Gregory Benford is best known as an author of hard science fiction, so while it might be surprising to come across his “Down the River Road” in a collection of stories honoring J.R.R. Tolkien, it isn’t surprising that underneath the fantasy veneer his world seems to have scientific underpinings. John is traveling on the dangerous river, trying to find his missing father. Along the way, he takes on a variety of odd jobs, during one of which he finds himself unloading a ship with the aid of Zoms, the reanimated dead. One of the Zoms could be his father, but he can’t be sure.
I had the privilege of reading Asphodel by Jane Lindskold soon after it was written and cannot recommend it highly enough.
It’s surreal, but in a very grounded way, if that makes any sense. Lindskold weaves together deep myth and literary allegory with fabulist escapism, and manages to take the reader on a very real journey into human love, loss, and redemption.
Nameless in a doorless tower graced with seven windows, she is imprisoned. Who is her jailer? What is her crime?
After she discovers the secret of the seven windows, the nameless one, accompanied by two impossible companions, sets forth on fantastical journeys of exploration. But, for the nameless one, learning her name may not be a welcome revelation, and the identity of her jailer will rock the foundations of a tower that has come to be as much refuge as prison.
At the very top of my Books to Read shelf I have a slowly growing collection of Ace Doubles. I usually work my way forward numerically, starting with the D series, but will occasionally jump back a few if a new addition arrives. Thanks to this habit (and some other haphazard literary tastes) I am still, pleasantly, stuck within the Ace Double D range.
The next one in the schedule is a well preserved book with both sides by the same author, Robert Moore Williams. Ace Double D-427 comprises a “complete” novel, World of the Masterminds, and a collection of short stories, To the End of Time and Other Stories.
Robert Moore Williams wasn’t an author I was familiar with, although Black Gate readers will have encountered the oddmention of him, including a 2015 review by Rich Horton of the Ace Double The Star Wasps by Robert Moore Williams, paired with Warlord of Kor by Terry Carr.