In the Beginning: The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories by Clifford Ball, edited by D.M. Ritzlin

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_24424197NL5TMljIt’s been a bit of a shock, even if a somewhat welcome one, to be done with Glen Cook after so many weeks. I’ve been so immersed in the world of the Black Company that it feels a little weird to be moving on. Fortunately, I was able to turn around and pick up the brand new collection containing all of Clifford Ball’s short stories. Who’s Clifford Ball, you ask? Well, let me tell you. Actually, let Dave Ritzlin tell you:

Little is known about Clifford Ball. His brief career as a writer began in 1937. Ball, a devoted reader of Weird Tales since 1925, was deeply upset by the suicide of Robert E. Howard the previous year. Presumably Howard’s death motivated him to pen sword-and-sorcery stories of his own in an attempt to fill the void left by the departed master. “Duar the Accursed” appeared in the May of 1937 issue of Weird Tales, and the influence of Howard was readily apparent.

Ball wrote two more S&S tales, followed by three non-S&S fantasies, and then vanished back into the audience from which he’d arisen. A short bio from Weird Tales stated he worked all sorts of jobs, including ditch digger, factory worker, and barkeep. According to Wikipedia, he might have been born in 1896 and probably died in 1947. And that’s it. That’s all that seems to be known about one of the earliest S&S writers.

All Ball’s S&S tales take place in the same land of ancient kingdoms, beautiful queens, conniving wizards, and demonic powers. The use of the same place names and gods in all three make it seem as if he was beginning to develop a coherent setting, but with so few stories the world doesn’t get the chance to come fully to life. As with Henry Kuttner’s Atlantis setting, Ball’s was headed in the right direction but he didn’t get the chance to achieve it, and it’s a shame. There’s a creative exuberance to these stories that make me wish Ball had carried on.

“Duar the Accursed” features its titular protagonist, and on the surface he’s an easily recognizable Conan clone. What makes him different is his mysterious past — he has no memory before awaking on a battlefield some years ago. Since then he’s taken to a roving life, but one shadowed by dark omens, including a raven that dogged his pirate galley and earthquakes that leveled a kingdom he ruled.

As the story begins he’s been captured by Queen Nione of Ygoth. He has come to her land to steal the fabled Rose of Gaon — “a jewel magnificent in size and beauty” — from the Black Tower. The tower, while housing the gem, also serves as the place of punishment for citizens guilty of crimes too horrendous to allow for a clean death. They are marched in and left to powers unknown for the execution of their sentences. Needless to say, though by unexpected means, Duar manages to escape his imprisonment and makes for the Rose of Gaon, by way of the Queen’s bedchamber.

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Birthday Reviews: Hideyuki Kikuchi’s “Mountain People, Ocean People”

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

The Future is Japanese-small The Future is Japanese-back-small

Cover by Yuko Shimizu

Hideyuki Kikuchi was born on September 25, 1949.

Kikuchi published his first novel, Demon City Shinjuku in 1982 and his novel Black Guard was adapted into the film Wicked City in 1987. In addition to writing horror novels, Kikuchi has also published several manga. In addition to the series listed above, he also created Vampire Hunter D.

In 2012 Kikuchi’s short story “Sankaimin” appeared under the title “Mountain People, Ocean People,” in the 2012 anthology The Future is Japanese, edited by Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington.

Set in the far future, “Mountain People, Ocean People,” as the title suggests, shows a world in which humanity has divided into two groups, one living in the mountains, the other under the sea.  Kikuchi’s main focus is on the mountain dwellers, who have developed the ability to fly, with hunters among them looking out for wind spiders and sky sharks. Among those is third-generation hunter Kanaan who is trying to surpass the reputations of his ancestors, although his father ultimately disappeared under a cloud of suspicion that Kanaan knows is unwarranted.

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Vintage Treasures: 5 Galaxy Short Novels, edited by H.L. Gold

Monday, September 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

5 Galaxy Short Novels-small 5 Galaxy Short Novels-back-small

Cover by Edward Valigursky

I love novellas. They’re the perfect length for idling away those long fall evenings. I miss them in the online magazines I read today, virtually all of which have a submission cap somewhere around 10,000 words (the exception is Neil Clarke’s Clarkesworld, which recently began accepting stories up to 16,000 words. Way to go, Neil!)

It was Matthew Wuertz’s Saturday review of the April 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, including Fred Pohl’s classic “The Midas Plague,” that reminded me just how many great novellas appeared in those old print magazines. Matt’s piece made me want to read the story all over again. In fact, it made me wish there was an easy way to sample Galaxy’s  novellas. Galaxy editor H.L. Gold had an appetite for meaty SF epics, and his authors took ready advantage of that market. Gold showcased dozens of top-notch writers at novella length in the early days of the magazine, and it would be great to have easy access to those hard-to-find tales.

Yeah, that was dumb. As I was sorting paperbacks this morning it finally occurred to me that what I was wishing for already existed. Gold produced nearly a dozen mass market anthologies during his eleven years as Galaxy‘s editor, including six volumes of the Galaxy Reader of Science Fiction. He knew what his readers wanted, and he paid special attention to longer fiction, with Galaxy Science Fiction Omnibus (1955), The World That Couldn’t Be and 8 Other Novelets From Galaxy (1959), Bodyguard and Four Other Short Novels from Galaxy (1960), Mind Partner and 8 Other Novelets from Galaxy (1961), and especially 5 Galaxy Short Novels, which appeared in 1958.

5 Galaxy Short Novels reprints stories by Theodore Sturgeon, Damon Knight, James E. Gunn, J. T. McIntosh, and F. L. Wallace. Even today, it makes a great introduction to the magazine.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Campbell Gault

Monday, September 24th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne


“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

“I’m proud of what I can do in my field. And I’m proud of the field. I don’t need any false additions to that. If I could write like John Cheever, I’d write like Cheever. Unfortunately, I can’t, so I write as well as I can and as fast as I can. And some of it is good.”

That was William Campbell Gault, of whom Frederic Brown wrote, “…this boy Gault can write, never badly and sometimes like an angel.”

William C. Gault was a quality pulpster in the forties and fifties who created two top notch private eye series’ in paperback. Gault won an Edgar Award in 1952 for his first novel, Don’t Cry For Me. He said that it was out of print two months after it came out. Writing juvenile sports novels was more lucrative for him and in the sixties he focused on them, rather than mysteries. Gault, well-respected in the hardboiled genre, hasn’t received the popularity he is due.

“Hibiscus and Homicide” was the first of two stories featuring Hawaiian detective Sandy McCane and appeared in the October, 1947 issue of Thrilling Detective. “Waikiki Widow” followed in March of 1948 in Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine.

In the first story, McCane is hired to find a missing singer/dancer by her boyfriend, Juan Mira, an undersized, former boxer. Gault drew heavily on this story for his 1955 novel, Ring Around the Rosa/Murder in the Raw; the first of several to star Brock ‘The Rock’ Callahan.’

McCane is an honest, diligent private eye who gets drugged and finds himself framed in bed with a dead girl next to him. Never a good thing, right? He keeps at it, connecting with a childhood friend who grew up into a beautiful blonde. And she’s rich!

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Birthday Reviews: John Kessel’s “The Franchise”

Monday, September 24th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Fields of Fantasies

Fields of Fantasies

John Kessel was born on September 24, 1950

Kessel won the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 1983 for “Another Orphan” and a second Nebula Award for Best Novelette in 2009 for “Pride and Prometheus,” both of which were also nominated for the Hugo Award. “Pride and Prometheus” also earned the Shirley Jackson Award. Kessel’s “Buffalo” won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award in 1992 and his “Stories for Men” won the James Tiptree Jr Award in 2003. He also won the Ignotus Award for a translation of “The Invisible Empire” in 2010. In 2006, Kessel was presented with the Phoenix Award for his Achievements by DeepSouthCon.

“The Franchise” was originally published in the August 1993 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, edted by Gardner Dozois, alongside Bruce McAllister’s baseball story “Southpaw” and Robert Frazier’s poem “Night Baseball.” Both Kessel and McAllister’s stories were alternate histories of baseball featuring Fidel Castro. “The Franchise” was reprinted in Nebula Awards 29, edited by Pamela Sargent and in Kessel’s collections The Pure Product and The Collected Kessel. The story was also included in W.P. Kinsella’s baseball anthology Baseball Fantastic in 2000. In 2014, Rick Wilber reunited “The Franchise” and “Southpaw,” which were both reprinted in his anthology Field of Fantasies: Baseball Stories of the Strange and Supernatural. “The Franchise” was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novelette and the Hugo Award for Best Novelette in 1994.

“The Franchise” is an alternate history in which George Herbert Walker Bush decides to parlay his college baseball experience into a baseball career. After floating around in the minors for several years without making a mark, he suddenly finds himself called up to play for the Washington Senators in the World Series when their first baseman is injured. Bush finds himself facing the ace pitcher for the New York Giants in several games, a phenom known as the Franchise named Fidel Castro.

The story is designed as a face-off between Bush and Castro, but it becomes clear very early that Bush is well out of his league and Castro is just playing with him. Castro’s ability to completely own Bush whenever he comes up to the plate, whether by striking him out or allowing him a moment of glory to reach base, is the Cuban ballplayer’s way of showing his contempt for Bush’s father, US Senator Prescott Bush. However, the struggle between George Bush and Castro is only the surface. The real struggle is between Prescott Bush and his son, a struggle which is just as lopsided as the one playing out on the baseball diamond.

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Romance in the Afterlife, Part 1: A Look at the Latest Volume in the Heroes in Hell™ Shared Universe, Lovers in Hell

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

1 Lovers in Hell book cover-small

In Lovers in Hell, the overall story continues with the primary arc of Erra, the Babylonian God of Mayhem and Pestilence, and his Seven Sibitti warriors punishing the innocent and guilty alike, not to mention Satan’s obliteration scheme, designed to destroy all hope. Since love fosters hope, this book-length arc is about lost loves, lost hope, lost opportunity, and the plight of those whose lovers have been obliterated or want obliteration. The fear and temptation of obliteration spreads throughout hell, calling the Undertaker and all he stands for into question and putting more stress on those in Satan’s domains, while the Mortuary becomes dysfunctional and botches many resurrections. Some hope to avoid the purge by fleeing to the nether hells, where Judges reside who might save them. Others are wracked by fear of loss and go into hiding. This sounds pretty dark, but it does have a humorous note, primarily in the screw-ups plaguing all the infrastructure of infernity as people disappear and what they know, and what they knew, goes with them.

The plagues are evolving, the floods have left a new coastline to explore, and many displaced souls wander about, lost, confused and frightened. Lovers may have been separated in the disasters or shunted to a part of hell where they know no one, and lovers may have been torn apart by plagues or purges or human error. Oblivion is transitory, but Obliteration is forever: obliteration erases not only who you are but who you ever were, and yet … should obliteration be only partially successful, then those persons may not remember who they are or why they were sent to hell in the first place — or they may simply be gone, disappeared, leaving only physical clues behind that he or she had ever been. Obliteration is meant to show those Above (ie: Heaven) that Satan is on the case, making hell more hellish.

So let’s take a quick look at the stories in Lovers in Hell, in the order in which they appear.

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Birthday Reviews: Peter David’s “Alternate Genesis”

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Roger Stine

Cover by Roger Stine

Peter David was born on September 23, 1956.

Peter David’s novel Star Fleet Academy: Worf’s First Adventure received the Golden Duck Award for Middle Grades in 1994 and his Star Trek novel The Rift was nominated for a Prometheus Award by the Libertarian Futurist Society. In addition to his science fiction and fantasy, David has written for several comic books, including The Incredible Hulk, Aquaman, Supergirl, and Spider-Man 2099. His television career includes scripts for Babylon 5, Young Justice, and the creation of Space Cases with Bill Mumy. His work in comics has earned him an Eisner Award, a Wizard Fan Award, a Julie Award, and a GLAAD Media Award. In 2011, he was named a Grandmaster by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.

“Alternate Genesis” first appeared in the June 1980 issue of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, edited by George H. Scithers. It was reprinted by Jim Reeber and Clifford Lawrence Meth in 1997 in the anthology of Jewish science fiction Stranger Kaddish.

David uses the structure of the opening verses of Genesis as the format for his shaggy dog story “Alternate Genesis,” in which God creates the world in a topsy-turvy manner, following the guidelines in Genesis, but naming things differently so darkness became daytime and light becomes nighttime with fish created in the sky and birds in the sea, only correcting that latter when it shows itself to be unsustainable.

In this version of creation God, a woman, creates Eve in her own image, but when Eve asks for a mate, God ignores her, providing no response or explanation to Eve for the lack of a mate like the ones given to all of the other animals. Eventually when Eve renounces God, God sees fit to offer an explanation, the entire point of the story.

Had David relied on just the one punchline at the end, “Alternate Genesis” would not have worked, being too long a set-up for a single joke. The topsy-turvydom of creation, however, allows the long set-up to work and even distracts from the clues to the final joke, making it a much stronger piece.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, April 1954: A Retro-Review

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction April 1954-small Galaxy Science Fiction April 1954-back-small

The April, 1954 issue is one of the more remarkable issues of Galaxy Science Fiction, in my opinion. I’m amazed at the quality of the stories. There have been many good issues, of course, but this is one of those rare issues that jumps out at me. It’s like watching a beloved TV series where a few episodes really stand out. It’s the nature of art, I suppose. Every piece is its own and affects people differently; some may enjoy it, some may reject it, some may be confused, some may be enlightened. And the same artist might create multiple pieces that evoke different reactions from the same person. Rather than ramble on about my thoughts on art, I’ll return to the topic of this article and review the fiction.

“The Midas Plague” by Frederik Pohl — In Morey’s world, consuming is mandatory. Houses, clothes, and food must be purchased and used to meet quota. There must not be waste. Those at the high-end of society have low quotas and can live the high-life of one-room houses, perhaps without any cars. But those at the low-end of society struggle in consuming enormous mansions, luxury cars, and so much of material products and food that there aren’t enough hours to consume it all. Morey only works one day per week because the demands of consuming take the rest of his time. Robots have helped to create a world where there is an abundance of everything, forcing the quotas in order to avoid waste and support the massive production.

Morey’s wife Cherry comes from a well-off family who has very little to consume. She loves Morey, but it’s a difficult adjustment to his lower-class life of consuming so much. Morey tries to help her by consuming more, but they’re not making their quotas.

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Dead Cities, Space Outlaws, and Planet Gods: The Best of Leigh Brackett

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

The Best of Leigh Brackett 1977-smll

Although Leigh Brackett (1915–1978) wrote planetary adventures during the Golden Age of Science Fiction and was married to Edmond Hamilton, one of the Golden Age’s most praised masters, she seems to, well, bracket the era rather than belong to it. Her stories set on fantastical versions of Mars and Venus are indebted to Edgar Rice Burroughs, while her dark emotional intensity looked forward to New Wave SF of the ‘60s. In his introduction to Martian Quest: The Early Brackett, Michael Moorcock wrote that “It’s readily arguable that without her you would not have gotten anything like the same New Wave … echoes of Leigh can be heard in Delany, Zelazny and that whole school of writers who expanded sf’s limits and left us with some visionary extravaganzas.”

The cocktail of Leigh Brackett’s style — mixing ERB and Robert E. Howard (Brackett could’ve written fantastic straight sword-and-sorcery) with the influences that shaped authors like Gene Wolfe and Jack Vance — is what makes her explode off the page in a way many of her Golden Age contemporaries no longer do. She feels startlingly fresh even when her stories occur in an impossible solar system. All the data NASA has brought back from the other planets cannot dampen Leigh Brackett’s power.

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Birthday Reviews: Jerry B. Oltion’s “The Menace from Earth”

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Randy Asplund-Faith

Cover by Randy Asplund-Faith

Jerry Oltion was born on September 22, 1957.

Oltion was nominated for a Hugo Award and won a Nebula Award for his novella “Abandon in Place,” which he later expanded to novel length. He has also won the Endeavour Award for his novel Anywhere But Here. His story “The Astronaut from Wyoming,” written in collaboration with Adam-Troy Castro, won the 2007 Seiun Award. Oltion has also collaborated with Bruce Bethke, Stephen L. Gillett, Kevin Hardisty, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Alan Bard Newcomer, Kent Patterson, Robert Thurston, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Amy Axt-Hanson, Elton Elliott, and his wife, Kathy Oltion. For a few years, beginning in 1992, Oltion presented on an irregular basis the Jerry Oltion Really Good Story Award, but ended the award when he realized how many people were sending him stories hoping to receive the honor.

Jerry Oltion published “The Menace from Earth” in the October 1999 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, edited by Stanley Schmidt. The story was the seventh to appear in his “Astral Astronauts” series about explorers who find a way to allow their consciousnesses explore the galaxy in a space ship and adjust the amount of mass and solidity their forms has.

The title of “The Menace from Earth” immediately calls to mind the more famous 1957 novelette and 1959 short story collection by Robert A. Heinlein, which certainly inspired Oltion’s title and influenced part of the story. However, Oltion’s story is not a slavish retelling of Heinlein’s, and if he hadn’t titled it for the Heinlein work the similarities may have gone unnoticed.

“The Menace from Earth” takes place on and near a planet in orbit around Alpha Centauri, where Oltion’s astronauts, his narrator, Liam, and Tilbey, are enjoying the local hospitality, which would seem to be based on the greetings received by explorers in stories of Polynesia. Each man has paired up with one of the local women, Kylona, Yavetra, and Etinitu and are living a life of luxury in a paradise, although only Liam has plans to stay when the others move on. Their idyll is interrupted by the arrival of a UNASA ship using their technology, but much improved.

The astral astronauts work to defend the world against the interloper, whether it is by destroying her ship or trying to convince her not to report her findings back the UNASA. Until they know her intentions, she is definitely a potential menace from Earth. Their ability to alter their mass, however, means that the astral astronauts and the interloper can fly by riding air currents, and it is this portion of the story which pays the most direct homage to Heinlein’s story, not only in the flying, but also in the danger to the narrator’s girlfriend, Kylona.

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