Birthday Reviews: Damon Knight’s “Backward, O Time”

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Virgil Finlay

Cover by Virgil Finlay

Damon Knight was born on September 19, 1922 and died on April 15, 2002. He was married to author Kate Wilhelm. Over the years, he used the pseudonyms Stuart Fleming and Donald Laverty. As an author, he has collaborated with James Blish and Kenneth Bulmer. He has edited a variety of anthologies and magazines with Martin H. Greenberg, Bill Evans, and Joseph D. Olander. A member of the Futurians, Knight published a history of the organization and also inspired the founding of the fannish group the National Fantasy Fan Federation (N3F) and founded the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), and the Milford Writer’s Workshop which gave birth to the Clarion Workshop.

Damon Knight won a Hugo Award for Best Reviewer in 1956 and in 2001 his story “To Serve Man” was awarded a Retro Hugo Award. He won a Jupiter Award in 1977 for his short story “I See You.” The Science Fiction Research Association presented him with a Pilgrim Award in 1975 for Lifetime Contribution to Scholarship. He and Wilhelm both received the Gallun Award from I-Con in 1996. In 1995, he was named a SFWA Grand Master. The award’s name was changed to the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award following his death in 2002 and in 2003 he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Knight, along with Wilhelm, were the guests of honor at Noreascon II, the 1980 Worldcon in Boston.

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When Philip K. Dick Reports You to the FBI: Thomas M. Disch’s Camp Concentration

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Camp Concentration-small Camp Concentration-back-small

Thomas M. Disch is a tragic figure. An enormously talented writer who won the enduring respect of his peers — with nine Nebula nominations and two Hugo nominations to his credit, plus a John W. Campbell Award and Rhysling Award, among many other accolades — his work was long ignored by the public. Success eluded him for virtually his entire career, and he gave up writing almost entirely near the end of his life. After the death of his partner in 2005 he lost his house, fought eviction from his apartment, and eventually killed himself in 2008. In the Science Fiction Encyclopedia John Clute wrote of Disch:

Because of his intellectual audacity, the chillingly distanced mannerism of his narrative art, the austerity of the pleasures he affords, and the fine cruelty of his wit, Disch was perhaps the most respected, least trusted, most envied and least read of all modern sf writers of the first rank.

Certainly his most commercially successful work was the novella “The Brave Little Toaster,” which appeared first in the August 1980 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and was nominated for both a Hugo and Nebula. Famed animation director John Lasseter (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life) recalls how he was fired from Disney ten minutes after making a pitch for a film version; Hyperion Pictures eventually produced animated versions of The Brave Little Toaster (1987) and Disch’s sequel, The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars (1998).

Perhaps his most successful adult novel was Camp Concentration, which has seen nearly a dozen editions in English since it first appeared in 1968. Alongside On Wings of Song (1979) it’s one of his most acclaimed novels, anyway, and I figure it makes a solid starting point to start reading Disch. It’s interesting for another reason as well — the novel figures prominently in one of the most infamous incidents involving Philip K. Dick, who was so alarmed by Camp Concentration that he wrote a letter to the FBI about it.

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VIVE LA COMPAGNIE! : In Conclusion, The Black Company Series by Glen Cook

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh


As soon as I opened The Black Company last May, I knew I was back home among a band of brothers I’d first met and come to love over thirty years ago.                                                                                                                                                                                                   

                                                                                                                                                                                                         – Fletcher Vredenburgh     

When my friend Carl lent me his copy of The Black Company back in 1984 I didn’t know what was about to hit me. I had read some gritty fantasy previously — Michael Moorcock and Karl Edward Wagner in particular had published some pretty dark stories in the 1960s and 70s — but it was all written in the old familiar fantasy style. Both Moorcock and Wagner were rooted in the foundations of swords & sorcery laid by Robert E. Howard, CL Moore, and Fritz Leiber. No matter how callous their heroes, they were ultimately still cut from recognizable heroic cloth.

Cook introduced something new. He set aside the archaic prose flourishes of all those authors, instead drawing on hardboiled fiction to give his stories a contemporary feel. There’s a rejection of the mythic, fairytale setting in the Black Company books, and a wholehearted embrace of a “realistic” world where the battlefield reeks of blood, excrement, and decay. Mercenaries pillage, rape, and slaughter, presented in some detail and matter-of-factly. Even seen through the primary narrator’s somewhat romantic eyes, there’s a businesslike miserableness in these books I hadn’t previously encountered in fantasy. As soon as I finished the book I passed it on to to my friend Jim, he passed it on to George, and on and on it went until all my fantasy-reading friends had read it.

For the uninitiated, the Black Company series tells the story of the Last Free Company of Khatovar. Led by the eponymous Captain and Lieutenant, the Company can fight with the best of them, but prefers to outwit its enemies and win its battles by means of subterfuge and sabotage. The narrator, Croaker, serves as company surgeon and Annalist. For four centuries the Company has taken one contract after another, slowly working its way north from long-forgotten Khatovar. As the first book opens, they are approached by a mysterious masked figure offering a new contract even further north, across the sea. Within the first chapter everything changes for the Company, and they are embroiled in a war like they’ve never fought before.

For readers unfamiliar with The Black Company, but up-to-date on Martin, Abercrombie, and Bakker, this might sound old hat. Trust me when I tell you that it wasn’t. At seventeen, that first book hit me like a hammer between the eyes. Here were characters who essentially went to work for Sauron’s ex-wife. Over the course of the first and second books they became the baddest, most-feared band of killers in her army. The ostensible good guys are as vicious and murdering as anybody on the bad guys’ side. There’s a bit of moral redemption in the third book, but what really drives the protagonists is a deep self-interest in survival. To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, Cook took heroic fantasy out of the realm of faerie and put it into the bleak world where it belonged.

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Birthday Reviews: Lynn Abbey’s “In the Bleak Midwinter”

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by TOny DiTerlizzi

Cover by Tony DiTerlizzi

Lynn Abbey was born on September 18, 1948.

Abbey was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1980 following the publication of her first novel, Daughter of the Bright Moon, and a story in the first Thieves’ World anthology.  Abbey was married to Robert Lynn Asprin, the creator and editor of Thieves’ World from 1982 until 1993, during which time she became his co-editor on the series.  Abbey attempted to revive the series with the novel Sanctuary in 2002, following up with two additional anthologies.  In addition to her own original novels, Abbey also wrote several novels in TSR’s Forgotten Realms and Dark Sun settings.

“In the Bleak Midwinter” was originally published in issue 242 of Dragon in December 1997, when the magazine was being edited by David Gross. It has not been reprinted, but is connected to Abbey’s novel The Simbul’s Gift.

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Uncanny as a Ventriloquist’s Doll: Nothing is Everything by Simon Strantzas

Monday, September 17th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Nothing is Everything Simon Strantzas hc-small Nothing is Everything Simon Strantzas hc-back-small

Art by Aron Wiesenfeld

In 2014 I wasn’t familiar with the work of Simon Strantzas, but I bought his collection Burnt Black Suns mostly on the reputation of its lead story “On Ice,” a grim novella of arctic horror. By 2018, however, Simon is the one with the reputation, and it’s growing steadily with every story.

His new collection Nothing is Everything, on sale in hardcover and trade paperback from Michael Kelly’s Undertow Press next month, has already drawn a lot of attention. Kij Johnson says “Simon Strantzas is Shirley Jackson-grade eerie,” and Camilla Grudova, author of The Doll’s Alphabet, says:

Simon Strantzas captures the creepiness of small town Ontario; there is something of Seth, of Alice Munro in his work, wonderfully tangled with the likes of Aickman and Jackson. Uncanny as a ventriloquist’s doll, but with a real, beating heart.

Undertow is simultaneously releasing hardcover and trade paperback editions with different covers. Both are very fine, but the hardcover, with art by Aron Wiesenfeld (above), is particularly arresting. The trade paperback (below) features art by Tran Nguyen. Both were designed by Vince Haig.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Frank Schildiner’s ‘Max Allen Collins & the Hard Boiled Hero’

Monday, September 17th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gat_CollinsTrueDetective“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 Chandler’s The Big Sleep

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

I met Frank Schildiner through our mutual love of Robert E. Howard’s writings and I recruited him to write the Solomon Kane entry in Black Gate‘s Discovering Robert E. Howard. We share a lot of reading interests, such as John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee and… hardboiled stories. Frank is a leading light in the New Pulp movement and he appreciates pulp and hardboiled works from ‘now and then.’ So, I was happy when he decided to write about Max Allen Collins’ best-selling hardboiled PI, Nate Heller. Without further ado, I’ll turn it over to Frank!

“I was off-duty at the time, sitting in a speak on South Clark Street drinking rum out of a coffee cup.” Nathan “Nate” Heller, True Detective

Can you get more noir than that opening line? Welcome to the word of modern hardboiled fiction, Max Allan Collins style. The road is long and twisty, but the trip is ultimately satisfying to all lovers of this style of fiction. True Detective’s star, Nathan Heller is one of the heirs to a tradition established by such luminaries as Hammett, Chandler, and Cave.

Collins established his hardboiled credits back in 1977 when he took over the daily writing of the long-established daily comic strip, Dick Tracy. His work is still considered one of the reasons the strip continued after many storyline missteps throughout the 60’s and 70’s. One of his first acts was ending the sci-fi elements as well as removing the pseudo-hippy heroes that inhabited the strips.

When we meet Nate Heller, he is a morally ambivalent plainclothes police officer residing in Al Capone’s Chicago. He got his job on the department by asking a banker uncle to pull strings – a typical move in the moral cesspool that wracked the city’s politics. Heller’s position as a detective came as a reward for his willingness to lie for the Chicago mob in a murder case.

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Birthday Reviews: Irene Radford’s “Little Red in the ‘Hood”

Monday, September 17th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Little Red Riding Hood in the Big Bad City

Little Red Riding Hood in the Big Bad City

Irene Radford was born on September 17, 1950. She has published works under a variety of pseudonyms, including Phyllis Ames, C.F. Bentley, P.R. Frost, Phyllis Irene Radford, and Julia Verne St. John.

Radford has published numerous series, many of them through DAW Books, including the Dragon Nimbus, Stargods, Tess Noncoiré, and Merlin’s Descendants. She is one of the founders of Book View Café, a cooperative publisher. She has also collaborated with Bob Brown and as an editor with Deborah J. Ross, Laura Ann Gilman, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, and Brenda Clough.

“Little Red in the ‘Hood” appeared in the anthology Little Red Riding Hood in the Big Bad City, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers in 2004. M.H. Bonham reprinted the story in 2011 in WolfSongs: Volume 2. When Radford and Deborah J. Ross edited the anthology Beyond Grimm in 2012, they selected the story to be reprinted again.

Radford’s “Little Red in the ‘Hood” is much more substantial than Linda D. Addison’s vignette of practically the same name, reviewed on September 8. In Radford’s story, Little Red is the nickname for a woman who is “volunteering” to help deliver food for Mobile Meals, a service to provide food for shut-ins, although her volunteer work is ordered by the courts after she was caught shop-lifting. The assignment she pulls has her taking food to a notorious lecher who has often been banned from food delivery due to his treatment of the women bringing his food. Although the coordinator offers to postpone the delivery until they can send an escort with Little Red, she refuses.

There are hints early on that Little Red is more than she seems, as she accepts the task of bringing food to Jason Hanstable, who has the reputation of a wolf. With Radford focusing on the lengthening of Red’s fingernails as much as her decision to only wear red, it seems clear that she is a different kind of wolf than Jason, but a wolf all the same. Despite telegraphing Red’s transformation, Radford includes a twist which only becomes clear when she introduces it, allowing the non-reveal that Red is a wolf to take second place and still subvert the reader’s expectations.

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The Priceless Treasures of the Barbarian Prince

Sunday, September 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Dwarfstar games-small

A complete set of Dwarfstar games. Probably worth more than my house.

I enjoyed Sean McLachlan’s Black Gate post last month, Wargaming with my Twelve-Year-Old. Sean and his son played Outpost Gamma, a 1981 science fiction board game of man-to-man combat on a distant colony world. You don’t see a lot of coverage of early-80s science fiction microgames these days, so I appreciated being able to share the fun.

Outpost Gamma was published by Heritage Models in 1981, under their celebrated Dwarfstar imprint. Dwarfstar, like Metagaming, Steve Jackson, and Task Force Games, produced a rich catalog of microgames aimed at younger players. Well, budget-conscious players anyway. Metagaming, who pioneered the concept of the microgame with their first release, Steve Jackson’s runaway hit Ogre, charged $2.95 for a two-color game in a small baggie. Dwarfstar did away with the baggie and upgraded to a slim box, added full color, and charged a lordly $3.95.

As a business, the Dwarfstar line wasn’t a success. Unlike Metagaming and Task Force, who released dozens of titles over the years, they produced only eight games between 1981-82. But from a creative perspective, they were a magnificent hit. Their titles included Arnold Hendrick’s classic Demonlord, simulating the desperate struggle against the Demon Empire, Lewis Pulsipher’s Dragon Rage, a game of giant monsters attacking a walled medieval city, Dennis Sustare’s Star Smuggler, a marvelous solitaire programmed adventure following the adventures of a star trader on the frontier, and the peak achievement of Western Civilization, Arnold Hendrick’s Barbarian Prince, a solitaire game of heroic action in a forgotten age of sorcery.

Superbly well-designed as they were, Dwarfstar games had one great weakness: they weren’t built to last. Paper-thin boxes and flimsy components helped keep the cost down, but did nothing for their longevity. More than 35 years later these eight games have a nearly mythical reputation among collectors, but there aren’t a lot of copies to be had. And you know what that means: the scarce copies still in good condition are very, very expensive.

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Birthday Reviews: Lisa Tuttle’s “Tir Nan Og”

Sunday, September 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Gary A. Lippincott

Cover by Gary A. Lippincott

Lisa Tuttle was born on September 16, 1952.

Lisa Tuttle won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1974. In 1982, she was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Short Story for “The Bone Flute.” Unhappy with what she saw as an orchestrated campaign to sway the voters by one of the other nominees, Tuttle announced that she was pulling the story from consideration. Nevertheless, “The Bone Flute” was announced as the winner of the Nebula Award and Tuttle refused to accept it. She went on to win the BSFA Award in 1989 for her short story “In Translation.” In 2007, she won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Intermediate Form for “Closet Dreams” and in 2012 sue won the 2012 Imaginaire award for best translated story.

Tuttle published “Tir Nan Og” in the January 1999 issue of The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Gordon van Gelder. Stephen Jones included the story in the anthology The Mammoth Book of New Terror in 2004.

“Tir Nan Og” is the story of a woman “of a certain age” who has noticed that her close friends have become cat people, each of them has adopted a feline companion and has given up on male companionship. Concerned about her own situation, she is having an affair with a married man and thinks that if he leaves her she may not be able to interest another man in a relationship. She goes to speak to her friends about their own apparent acceptance of celibacy.

Although her friends are less than forthcoming, which will eventually be her downfall, it is clear to the reader what they are trying to tell her. All she gets out of it is that if she takes her boyfriend to the mountains, she should make him drink from a specific spring. Naturally, without understanding why her friends are suggesting this, things go horrendously wrong for her, although she has a sort of closure that resolves her issue.

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Analyzing the Comics Story-Telling Process with Panel x Panel

Saturday, September 15th, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Panel x Panel 5

I enjoy analyzing the craft of comic books quite a bit. I’ve interviewed comic book editors like Heather Antos, Xander Jarowey, Daniel Ketchum, and creators like Plaid Klaus of Image’s Void Trip, or I’ve looked a specific genres, like horror, old and not so old and new.

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