Adventure and Tragedy on a Far Future Earth: Keith West on Zothique by Clark Ashton Smith

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Zothique Clark Ashton Smith

Zothique by Clark Ashton Smith. Ballantine Adult Fantasy #16, 1976. Cover by George Barr

Some years back Keith West wrote a series of articles for Black Gate on the legendary Ballantine Adult Fantasy series edited by Lin Carter. In fifteen pieces between 2013-2015 Keith covered the first fourteen or so titles, including The Blue Star by Fletcher Pratt, The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany, and The Doom that Came to Sarnath by H. P. Lovecraft. Yesterday I was delighted to see that Keith picked up the reins again at his own blog, Adventures Fantastic, to review the 16th book in the series: Zothique by Clark Ashton Smith. Here’s a taste.

Zothique was the first of four collections of Clark Ashton Smith’s short fiction that appeared in the BAF series. The wrap-around cover is by George Barr. (One of the best things about this line of books was their covers.)… Zothique is the last continent on a far future Earth in which much science and history has been forgotten, and magic has returned. If this reminds you of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, keep in mind Smith did it first. Some of the stories are better than others, but all are well-done. Here are a few of my favorites.

  • “Xeethra” tells the tale of a young man who wanders into a magical vale, and when he returns he travels to the far side of the continent, where he makes a bargain that ultimately brings him sorrow.
  • In “The Isle of the Necromancers,” a man is searching for his lover, who has been kidnapped by slave traders. When his ship is caught in a current, he finds himself on an island of necromancers. And then things get interesting…
  • “The Dark Eidolon” tells the story of an abused beggar who returns years later to seek revenge on the prince who injured him. This is a close second for my favorite story in the book. There are passing references to Hyperborea and Poseidonis, two other story cycles Smith wrote that were collected in the second and third volumes of Smith’s stories in the BAF series. Shucky darn, I guess I’m going to have to read those, too. How awful.

Check out the whole thing here, and Keith’s previous articles for BG here. While you’re at his website, leave a comment encouraging Keith to keep going! I’d love to read his thoughts on all 65 books in the set.

The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Betty and Ian Ballantine

Monday, September 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Betty Ballantine

Betty Ballantine

Betty and Ian Ballantine

Betty and Ian Ballantine

Ian Ballantine

Ian Ballantine

The Balrog Award, often referred to as the coveted Balrog Award*, was created by Jonathan Bacon and first conceived in issue 10/11 of his Fantasy Crossroads fanzine in 1977 and actually announced in the final issue, where he also proposed the Smitty Awards for fantasy poetry. The awards were presented for the first time at Fool-Con II at the Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas on April 1, 1979. The awards were never taken particularly seriously, even by those who won the award. The final awards were presented in 1985. The first Balrog Special Awards were presented in 1980 to Ian and Betty Ballantine. Special Awards were also presented in 1981, 1983, and 1985.

I wrote the following about Betty Ballantine in 2005 in my fanzine, Argentus, with the aim of having a Worldcon present a Special Committee Award to Ballantine. In 2006, L.A.con IV presented her with such an award.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Young Magicians edited by Lin Carter

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015 | Posted by westkeith

Young MagiciansThe Young Magicians
Lin Carter, ed.
Ballantine Books
October 1969, 280p. $0.95
Cover art by Sheryl Slavitt

I apologize for having taken so long to get this post done. I’ve been on the road for over half the weekends since the end of April, mostly family trips for graduations or dive meets my son was competing in. I thought I would have a little more time when the second summer session started since I would be teaching, but that hasn’t exactly been the case. (No, I have no idea why I would have thought that.)

But I’m back, and I would like to thank John for his patience. I’m tanned; I’m rested; I’m ready. Well, I’m tanned at any rate. And I’ve got a pretty darned good anthology to tell you about.

A number of people, myself included, have said that Lin Carter’s legacy will ultimately not be his writing or his Conan pastiches, but the work he did on the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. It’s hard in this day and age of ebooks and specialty presses to remember how hard fantasy was to find on bookstore shelves in the late 1960s. The commercial fantasy boom wasn’t far off, but it hadn’t gotten there. It was possible to read just about all of the titles that were easily available at the time.

The Young Magicians was a companion volume to Dragons, Elves, and Heroes with both of them being published in October 1969. That volume contained examples of imaginary world fantasy beginning with folktales and sagas and ending with William Morris. In The Young Magicians, Carter starts with Morris and provides samples of fantasy from more contemporary writers, ending with Lin Carter himself.

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The Future of Fantasy: May New Releases

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Trial of Intentions-small The Venusian Gambit-small Archivist Wasp-small

May, why do you do this to me? There are so many dynamite new fantasy books hitting the stands, I scarcely know where to look. And I have absolutely no idea where I’ll find the have time to read any of them.

Well, I’ll worry about that later. The task at hand is to introduce you to the 30 most intriguing fantasy titles released this month. And trust me, I had a heck of a time whittling it down to 30. Time’s a wasting, so let’s get started.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: Dragons, Elves, and Heroes edited by Lin Carter

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 | Posted by westkeith

Dragons Elves and HeroesDragons, Elves, and Heroes
Edited by Lin Carter
Ballantine Books (277 pages, October 1969, $0.95)
Cover art by Sheryl Slavitt

It’s been a while since my last post, and no, I haven’t fallen off the face of the Earth, run away to join the circus, or been abducted by aliens. Although there have been times I’ve considered that circus thing. Or maybe gypsies.

No, I’m just overloaded this semester (my day job is in academia), which hasn’t left a lot of opportunity to read at a time when I’m not likely to fall asleep after a few pages.

And I wanted to take my time and do this one right. Dragons, Elves, and Heroes is the first of a two volume set in which Carter collects heroic fantasy imaginary world stories, beginning with a selection from Beowulf. This volume ends in the 1800s, although the most recent selection isn’t the last. The companion volume, The Young Magicians, will pick up where this one left off.

Anyway, this book looked like it would take some concentration, so I tried to read it when I would have time to devote to it. But enough about what happens to the well laid plans of mice and men.

I found the selections on the whole to be thoroughly enjoyable, with a few exceptions. I used the word “selections” intentionally, because other than a handful of poems, most of the stories Carter selected were excerpts. The one notable exception was the entire text of The Princess of Babylon by Voltaire was included. I wish Carter had stuck to his practice of using excerpts, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: Figures of Earth by James Branch Cabell

Monday, February 2nd, 2015 | Posted by westkeith

Figures of Earth-smallFigures of Earth
James Branch Cabell
Ballantine Books (290 p, November 1969. $0.95)
Cover art by Robert Pepper

Okay, this one is probably going to be the last Cabell I read for a while. It turned out to be more of a slog than I expected. I’ll elaborate below.

Figures of Earth was the second volume of James Branch Cabell’s Chronicles of Fabled Poictesme, published as part of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. It is the story of how the swineherd Dom Manuel came to be the Count of Poictesme.

Poictesme is of course a fictional province in France. Cabell freely mixes real and imaginary locations in his work.

The story begins with Dom Manuel leaving his pigs to rescue the kidnapped daughter of a count from the sorcerer Miramon Lluagor. He hasn’t really been paying much attention to the pigs. Instead he’s been making human figures from clay because his mother told him from her deathbed that he should make a figure in the world. I suspect he misunderstood what she meant.

Anyway, Manuel sets off on his quest. Along the way, he meets the young woman Niafer, who is the one who actually gets them through the various magical traps along the way. Once they reach the sorcerer’s castle, they learn that things aren’t quite what they seem. The quest to rescue the princess is actually Miramon’s idea. She’s his wife, and he’s tired of her. Manuel and Niafer manage to reconcile the couple and start back down the mountain.

At the bottom of the hill, they are met by Grandfather Death. He is riding a black horse and has a white horse with him. Grandfather Death says that one of them must ride his white horse. Dom Manuel promptly volunteers Niafer to be the rider. She goes to her death without protest.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

Saturday, December 27th, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

Lud in the Mist front coverLud-in-the-Mist
Hope Mirrlees
Ballantine Books (273 pages, March 1970, $0.95)
Cover art by Gervasio Gallardo

One of Lin Carter’s greatest achievements as editor of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, in my opinion, was rescuing Lud-in-the-Mist from obscurity. The third and final novel by Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist was her only fantasy. After this book was published, she stopped writing. More on that later.

Carter tells the story in his introduction that he had never heard of the book when a friend recommended it to him. The friend had a copy, which he loaned to Carter. Carter was immediately impressed and wanted to include Lud-in-the-Mist in the BAF series. At the time, Carter says, he didn’t know if Ms. Mirrlees was even still alive. (She died in 1978.) It’s questionable how much effort he put into locating her, since by that time the book was in the public domain.

The story takes place in a country based on both England and the Low Countries. Lud-in-the-Mist is the capital of the small country of Dorimare. It is situated at the confluence of two rivers, the Dapple and the Dawl. The Dawl is the largest river in Dorimare. The Dapple, on the other hand, has its source beyond the Debatable Hills in the land of Fairy.

Until 200 hundred years ago, relations between Dorimare and Fairy were good. Then, during the reign of Duke Aubrey, the merchants rose up and overthrew him. Aubrey wasn’t the best of people. He had a bet going with another man that they could drive the court jester to suicide. (They were successful.) But he wasn’t all bad, either. He was also known for acts of extreme generosity.

Since the time of the revolution, all traffic with the inhabitants of Fairy is forbidden. Indeed, even mentioning fairy fruit is illegal. According to the Law, it doesn’t exist, despite the fact that it was consumed with regularity before Duke Aubrey’s overthrow.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Spawn of Cthulhu edited by Lin Carter

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

The Spawn of Cthulhu edited by Lin Carter-smallThe Spawn of Cthulhu
H. P. Lovecraft and Others
Lin Carter, ed.
Ballantine Books (274 pages, October 1971, $0.95)
Cover by Gervasio Gallardo

Lin Carter edited more than one anthology for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. Up until now, I’ve not discussed any of them. One reason is that where I am sequentially, there have only been two. The other reason is it’s easier to discuss a single novel than the contents of an anthology.

I’m going to break with that practice for this particular entry in the series. Carter has built a thematic Mythos anthology with The Spawn of Cthulhu. Taking references to the work of other writers referenced in Lovecraft’s short novel “The Whisperer in Darkness,” Carter then proceeds to include either the story referenced or other stories written about the Old Ones mentioned.

I’m going to include some mild spoilers in this post. If that is of concern to you, then let this paragraph serve as your warning. The discussion will start after on the other side of the Read More link just below.

Let’s start with “The Whisperer in Darkness,” shall we? It’s 85 pages long, by far the lengthiest story in the book. The story concerns a folklorist at Arkham University named Wilmarth who is writing a series of newspaper articles debunking sightings of strange bodies seen in swollen rivers and creeks after a particularly bad storm in Vermont. The articles generate some lively discussion in the paper, and are eventually reprinted in Vermont papers.

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Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Doom that Came to Sarnath by H. P. Lovecraft

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

Lovecraft Sarnath frontThe Doom that Came to Sarnath
H. P. Lovecraft
Ballantine Books (280 pages, February 1971, $0.95)
Cover art by Gervasio Gallardo

The Doom That Came to Sarnath was the second volume of H. P. Lovecraft stories published under the BAF imprint. It served as a bridge between the Dunsanian fantasies of The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath and the Cthulhu Mythos related titles that followed.

Many of the stories in this volume weren’t published until years after they were written or were published in amateur press publications of the day. These days, we’d call them fanzines. The contents include the aforementioned Dunsanian fantasies, some traditional horror stories, and some early Mythos tales. Also included are a few prose poems and one selection of Lovecraft’s verse.

Rather than give a brief description of each of the 20 items in the book, I’ll highlight some of the ones I liked best, then offer some general thoughts. Carter broke the selection up into groups loosely based on either chronology or theme. I’m not that organized.  I’m also not a Lovecraft scholar, so I’m not going to comment much on the specific chronology  of the stories or try to get into the nitty gritty of Lovecraft’s authorial evolution.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: Land of Unreason by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp

Monday, September 22nd, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

Land of UnreasonLand of Unreason
Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp
Ballantine Books (240 pages, January 1970, $0.95)
Cover art by Donna Violetti

Lin Carter ended the inaugural year of the BAF series with a reprint of a novel from the pulp Unknown, Hannes Bok’s The Sorcerer’s Ship. His first selection for the series’ first full calendar year was another tale from Unknown (the October 1941 issue), a collaboration between Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp.

Land of Unreason followed the first two Harold Shea stories among their collaborations. In this story, they introduce a new character, a young diplomat named Fred Barber, who is taking a medical rest in the Irish country-side.

One night, he notices his hostess leaving some milk out for the fairies, so that her infant son won’t be taken and a changeling left in his place. Fred is contemplating his bottle of single malt to help him get to sleep and decides he’s rather have the milk since that has been his proven cure for insomnia all his life. Also, milk is strictly rationed, and he doesn’t want to see it wasted. He drinks most of it, leaving just a little, into which he pours a generous amount of his whiskey.

Fred then goes to bed and quickly drops off to sleep. The fairy who finds the whiskey drinks it and gets plastered. Since he didn’t get any milk, he goes into the house to take the baby and leave a changeling. Only in his inebriated state, he takes Fred rather than the infant sleeping in the next room.

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