Birthday Reviews: Robert Moore Williams’s “Quest on Io”

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Albert Drake

Cover by Albert Drake

Robert Moore Williams was born on June 19, 1907 and died on May 12, 1977. He published under his own name as well as the pseudonyms Robert Moore, John S. Browning, H.H. Harmon, Russel Storm, and the house name E.K. Jarvis. He may have been best known for his Jongor series.

Moore’s story “Quest on Io” appeared in the Fall 1940 issue of Planet Stories, edited by Malcolm Reiss. The story was never picked up for publication elsewhere, but in 2011, that issue of Planet Stories was reprinted as a trade paperback anthology.

Despite the title of Williams’s “Quest on Io,” there isn’t really a quest. Andy Horn is a navigator who is spending some downtime while his spaceship is being repaired prospecting on Io with his talking Ganymedian honey bear companion, Oscar. The two come under attack from another prospector who believes they are claimjumpers and when Andy confronts the other prospector, he discovers it is a woman, Frieda Dahlem. While the two of them quickly straighten out their differences, it becomes apparent that there are three claimjumpers who are out to kill both of them (plus Oscar) in order to keep their activities secret.

The story is essentially a western, although the action has been moved to Io. It feels written for an audience of young boys who know women exist, but think there are gross, only around to get in the way. Andy’s relationship with Frieda is very basic. Frieda appears to be a competent woman until a man is around, whether Andy, who becomes her hero, or the three claimjumpers, who turn her into a puddle of incompetence. Oscar seems to exist in the story purely for comic relief, although the humor misfires repeatedly.

Read More »


Bloody Court Intrigue: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Monday, June 18th, 2018 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

Ash-Princess-smallTheodosia just wants to survive.

Ten years ago, the Kaiser’s forces invaded and slit her mother the Queen’s throat. Theo’s been the Kaiser’s prisoner ever since. She tries to forget she was once heir to the throne, rather than a princess of nothing but ashes. She tries to forget the magical powers the old gods used to give humans, now that their temples lie in ruins. She tries to forget that her best friend’s father was the one who murdered her mother.

Whatever it takes to survive, Theo does. As long as she doesn’t look at her countrypeople, she won’t have to see their suffering. As long as she censors her speech, her three Shadows won’t guess what she really thinks. As long as she does whatever the Kaiser wants, he’ll keep her alive. Someday, one of the rebels will save her.

But ten years of playing it safe, of hiding and assimilating, come to an abrupt end in the opening chapter of Ash Princess.

It all starts when the Kaiser sends for her. The only time he ever does that is when he’s going to punish her. It doesn’t matter that Theo hasn’t misbehaved. The Kaiser whips her in public whenever he catches a rebel.

This time, he’s caught the head of all the rebels, the one she always dreamed would lead her rescue – her father.

And this time, the Kaiser commands Theo to kill her father in order to prove her loyalty.

Read More »


A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – January, 1935

Monday, June 18th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

BlackMask_January1935

“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 Chandlers’ The Big Sleep

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

Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw was still at the helm of Black Mask in January of 1935, when Raymond Chandler’s “Killer in the Rain” scored the cover. But this issue also included stories by Frederick Nebel, Erle Stanley Gardner, George Harmon Coxe and Roger Torrey. All that for fifteen cents!

“Killer in the Rain” featured Carmady. I’m in the camp that feels all of Chandler’s PIs: Carmady, Ted Carmady, Ted Malvern and John Dalmas were all essentially Philip Marlowe with slight differences. Carmady appeared in six stories – all in Black Mask.

The story was heavily cannibalized for Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep. Carmen Dravec became Carmen Sternwood, played memorably by Martha Vickers in the HumphreyBogart film. Two other Carmady stories, “The Curtain” and “Finger Man,” were also used. I think that “Killer in the Rain” is a strong story on its own and is definitely worth reading. I’m tinkering with ideas for a separate post on this story.

Frederick Nebel, whose Tough Dick Donahue (subject of an earlier post in the series) would replace The Continental Op when Dashiell Hammett left the pulps, provided Black Mask readers with the twenty-eighth adventure featuring Captain Steve MacBride of the Richmond City Police and newsman Kennedy of the Free Press. MacBride is a tough, by-the-book cop, while Kennedy is a hard-drinking smart aleck reporter. However, both are committed to justice and cleaning up corrupt Richmond City.

Except for one story (“Hell on Wheels” – Dime Detective), the entire series appeared in Black Mask. The collection has been reprinted in a three-volume series from Altus Press.

Read More »


Birthday Reviews: Vivian Vande Velde’s “The Granddaughter”

Monday, June 18th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Bran Weinman

Cover by Brad Weinman

Vivian Vande Velde was born on June 18, 1951.

Her novel Never Trust a Dead Man received the Edgar Award for Best YA Novel in 2000 and Heir Apparent was nominated for the Mythopoeic Award for Children’s literature in 2003.

Vande Velde initially published “The Granddaughter” in her 1995 collection Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird. The story was selected by Terri Windling for inclusion in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Ninth Annual Collection, edited with Ellen Datlow. Asdide from those appearances, the story has not been reprinted.

Retellings of fairy tales have a long established role, in fact the earliest version of fairy tales are often just the first version of a retelling of an oral tradition. Vivian Vande Velde has targeted the story of “Little Red Riding Hood,” which dates back at least as far as the tenth century and has been retold by both Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. In “The Granddaughter,” Vande Velde’s focus is on the wolf, who can speak and is good friends with the title character’s grandmother.

Little Red Riding Hood, who is also known as Lucinda in this version, although she prefers the nickname, is an aspiring actress, almost completely self-centered, and horrified that her grandmother would be friends with a wolf, even one who can speak. The wolf, for his part, is equally horrified at Lucinda’s attitudes and inability to allow anyone else speak during a “conversation.” Not, at first understanding the grandmother’s reluctance to have Lucinda visit, the wolf quickly comes around to her point of view and works to rescue the woman from her granddaughter’s visit.

Read More »


Steampunk Critical Mass: The Signal Airship Novels by Robyn Bennis

Sunday, June 17th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Guns Above-small By Fire Above-small

Last year Tor published The Guns Above, the first installment in Robyn Bennis’ Signal Airship military fantasy series, and Ann Aguirre called it “Marvelous, witty and action-packed steampunk… she honest to God made me believe you could build an airship from spare parts.” I’ve gotten pretty jaded towards author blurbs over the years, but I gotta admit that one piqued my interest.

It was hardly the only good press the book received. Liz Bourke at Tor.com labeled it “immensely entertaining, fast-paced adventure,” and Patricia Briggs said it was “full of sass and terrific characters.” That all sounded pretty compelling, but I’m a guy who likes to have a couple of installments at hand before I dive into a new adventure series. So I was pleased to see By Fire Above arrive right on time last month. Here’s the description.

“All’s fair in love and war,” according to airship captain Josette Dupre, until her hometown of Durum becomes occupied by the enemy and her mother a prisoner of war. Then it becomes, “Nothing’s fair except bombing those Vins to high hell.”

Before she can rescue her town, however, Josette must maneuver her way through the nest of overstuffed vipers that make up Garnia’s military and royal leaders in order to drum up support. The foppish and mostly tolerated Mistral crew member Lord Bernat steps in to advise her, along with his very attractive older brother.

Between noble scheming, under-trained recruits, and supply shortages, Josette and the crew of the Mistral figure out a way to return to Durum ― only to discover that when the homefront turns into the frontlines, things are more dangerous than they seem.

Now that the series has reached critical mass (well, two books), it has a lot more appeal, and I’ll clear away some time this summer to give it a try. By Fire Above was published by Tor Books on May 15, 2018. It is 368 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $13.99 for the digital version. We covered The Guns Above here.


Birthday Reviews: Andrew Weiner’s “Bootlegger”

Sunday, June 17th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Joyce Kline

Cover by Joyce Kline

Andrew Weiner was born on June 17, 1949.

Weiner’s story “The Third Test” was nominated for the British SF Association Award. He has also been nominated for the Aurora Award three times, for the original story “Station Gehenna” (which he expanded to a novel), “Eternity, Baby,” and “Seeing.”

“Bootlegger” was published in 1997 by Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink in the anthology Tesseracts6. The story has not been reprinted.

“Bootlegger” tells the story of Marshall Baron, a washed up musician who discovers that there are CDs being circulated that purport to be bootlegs of some of his early music. The problem is that he knows that he never recorded or wrote the songs that are on the albums, although voice analysis claims they are by him. He has Alderman, one of his agents, try to find the source of the bootlegs so they can figure out what is happening.

Alderman’s investigations lead him to Greenspan, a fan of Baron’s who has written several gossipy books about the singer. Although Baron wants nothing to do with the man, whom he considers a crank, Greenspan will only reveal his source of the bootlegs to Baron, nobody else. Greenspan’s revelation is that he has access to another world where Baron’s career had a different, more successful, trajectory. He feels that Baron could still make a difference in their own world, spark the revolution that his early music promised, although Baron disagrees, feeling that the revolution has passed.

Greenspan is not only a fan of Baron’s work, but also jealous of him and something of a radical. If Baron isn’t going to use his talents to make the world a better place, Greenspan is going to use his ability to access other worlds to create the world that he feels is necessary, even if it means taking Baron away from everything that he has achieved. Greenspan’s plans work within the context of the story, although when fully explored, there were other, less disruptive options he could have chosen.

Read More »


Modular: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes — Disturbing Entities to Inspire Great Adventures… or Nightmares

Saturday, June 16th, 2018 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes-smallDungeons & Dragons 5th Edition seems to have a good handle on what’s needed for a rule book, and what’s needed for an expansion. Like its immediate predecessor, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes covers a variety of topics. It’s meant to fill in some gaps for specific areas players and game masters might want to have more detail about.

It’s broadly divided into two sections: five chapters devoted to the history of different races and their factions and how they can be used both by the GM and the players, and a generous bestiary stuffed full with old favorites and permutations of them that haven’t reappeared yet.

This includes new monsters and monsters specifically related to the first half of the book. You’ll see what I mean shortly.

It’s a great book, probably my favorite yet of the expansions, and maybe the first one I’d consider a must-have for all campaigns, owing to the wealth of information provided on basic character races like Elves and Dwarves.

Don’t get me wrong, I think most game masters would want Xanathar’s Guide on their shelves, because it offers so many tweaks and suggestions. But I believe Mordenkainen’s Tome will be even more broadly useful to a slightly higher percentage of players

I must be the odd man out, but I’ve never been especially interested in demons or devils, and the fascination many have with them has always baffled me. So I probably wasn’t the target audience for the first chapter, devoted to the long war between the two races, but darned if I wasn’t impressed anyway.

No, I’m not suddenly inspired to run a campaign centered on interactions with the infernal, but there’s a lot of cool and clever information, and, should this be more your cup of tea, some interesting hooks. It’s also rounded out with lots of ideas that can help players flesh out their Tiefling characters.

Read More »


Birthday Reviews: Murray Leinster’s “Pipeline to Pluto”

Saturday, June 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by William Timmins

Cover by William Timmins

Murray Leinster was born William F. Jenkins on June 16, 1896 and died on June 8, 1975.

Murray Leinster was one of many nom de plumes used by William Fitzgerald Jenkins. He won the Liberty Award in 1937 for “A Very Nice Family,” the 1956 Hugo Award for Best Novelette for “Exploration Team,” and a retro-Hugo in 1996 for Best Novelette for “First Contact.” Leinster was the Guest of Honor at the 21st Worldcon in 1963 and in 1969 was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame. In 1995, the Sidewise Award for Alternate History was established, named after Leinster’s story “Sidewise in Time.”

Jenkins holds patent #2727427, issued on December 20, 1955 for an “Apparatus for Production of Light Effects in Composite Photography” and patent 2727429, issued the same day for an “Apparatus for Production of Composite Photographic Effects.”

Leinster first published “Pipeline to Pluto” in the August 1945 issue of Astounding, edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. Ten years later, Groff Conklin included it in his anthology Science Fiction Terror Tales. It appeared in both versions of The Best of Murray Leinster, the British volume edited by Brian Davis and the American volume edited by J.J. Pierce (each book had a completely different table of contents). The story most recently appeared in First Contacts: The Essential Murray Leinster. Over the years, it has been translated into Japanese, Croatian, German, Italian, and Russian.

“Pipeline to Pluto” is a slight story, focusing on Hill’s attempts to get from Earth to Pluto via a system of cargos shuttles. A bruiser, all that Leinster lets the reader know about him is that he has an urgent need to stowaway in the “pipeline” and he has bought another stowaway’s rights to a place. The majority of the action looks at Hill’s attempts to convince Crowder and Moore, who run the smuggling ring, to get him off Earth that evening.

Hill’s pleading and threats to the men are punctuated with exposition in which Leinster explains how the pipeline works. A series of cargo ships, one launched each day from Pluto and one launched from Earth, forming a long line carrying supplies to Pluto and ores mined on Pluto back to the home planet. Leinster not only describes the vessels and how they launch, but eventually describes the impact of being on board the vessels to humans.

Read More »


Gods and Robots: Booklist‘s Best New Books Include Starless and The Robots of Gotham

Friday, June 15th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Starless Jacqueline Carey-small The Robots of Gotham McAulty-small

The good folks at Booklist, the flagship publication of the American Library Association, regularly select the Best New Books, and this week two genre releases made the cut: Jacqueline Carey’s Starless, which “may well be the epic fantasy of the year,” and Todd McAulty’s debut The Robots of Gotham, which they proclaim is “thrilling, epic SF.”

John Keogh’s starred review of The Robots of Gotham appeared online this week:

Machine intelligences rule most of the world, human governments are rapidly losing their power, a war-ravaged U.S. is on the brink of descending into chaos, and a mysterious new plague is on the loose. In Chicago, one man finds himself at the nexus of a complex web of secrets that threatens to upend the world as we know it. This debut novel beautifully combines a postapocalyptic man-versus-machine conflict and a medical thriller. The world is immersive and detailed, the characters have depth, the writing is assured, the plotting intelligent, and the pacing about perfect. McAulty’s take on how AI might evolve gives the premise a unique twist. The story is action-packed, starting with a boom (literally) and driving you along from one crisis to the next. The action rarely lets up, yet it never becomes tiresome… This is thrilling, epic sf.

And here’s a snippet from Diana Tixier Herald’s review of Starless.

Read More »


In 500 Words of Less: Early Review of Rejoice: A Knife to the Heart by Steven Erikson

Friday, June 15th, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Rejoice A Knife to the Heart-smallRejoice: A Knife to the Heart
By Steven Erikson
Promontory Press (460 pages, $26 hardcover, October 2018)

I’ve been a Steven Erikson fan for a long time, ever since a friend handed me the first Malazan novel, Gardens of the Moon, when I was in university. You might have seen on here a few months ago that I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Steven at Can*Con in Ottawa, where he was Author Guest of Honor. That whole experience was cool all on its own, but following that I got the privilege of reading an ARC of his forthcoming novel Rejoice: A Knife to the Heart, which Bennett R. Coles has already called “a stunning work of literature.”

Honestly, the literature side of Rejoice is what surprised me the most. In our interview, Steven and I talked about how his first publications before Malazan were literary, which struck me since it’s rare for authors in our industry to jump genres like that. But what’s particularly interesting with Rejoice is that he takes the large-scale worldbuilding, extensive cast of characters and air of mystery of his fantasy work and applies is to the present day – or a twist on the present day, involving Earth’s first contact with an alien race. The novel’s already been described as “a first contact story without contact”; since this isn’t Independence Day or Close Encounters, the focus is instead on us, and how we’d react if an alien intelligence showed up and gave us a chance to improve ourselves.

That might sound like this is a novel that preaches or proselytizes, but it really doesn’t. Instead what you see is snapshots of people’s lives around the planet, from politicians to scientists to media tycoons to refugees in developing countries, all facing situations beyond their control (and almost their comprehension) and needing to decide what they should do about it. If you’re hoping for flashy energy weapons or epic journeys like in the Malazan books, you won’t find it here – but the debates and conversations between the characters in Rejoice, and the steps they take in response to this alien influence, are often tense and always intriguing. At the end of the day, a lot of our way of life (regardless of political ideology or religious belief) is about having some measure of control over our lives, and when that’s taken away very interesting things can happen.

Read More »


  Earlier Entries »

This site © 2018 by New Epoch Press. All rights reserved.