Birthday Profile: Violet Van der Elst

Friday, January 4th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Violet Van der Elst

Violet Van der Elst on the west stairs at Harlaxton Manor

A look at a minor horror author.

Violet Van der Elst was born on January 4, 1882. Her parents were a coal porter and a washerwoman and she worked as a scullery maid. In 1903, she married a civil engineer and eventually she developed the first brush-less shaving cream, which made her fortune. Following her first husband’s death, she married Jean Julien Van der Elst, a Belgian painter.

Her shaving and cosmetics business allowed her to focus, if such is the word, on other activities. Her primary activity was fighting against the death penalty in England. Another activity was running for office and she failed to be elected to Parliament three times, each in a different borough.

In 1937, she bought Harlaxton Manor, a hundred year old mansion that the previous owner had tried to sell and couldn’t. She saved the building from being town down. It was this connection through which I learned of her, since I attended college at Harlaxton. Van der Elst was convinced that she could contact her dead husband and used a private seance room for that purpose.

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Birthday Reviews: December Index

Tuesday, January 1st, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Rudolph Belarski

Cover by Rudolph Belarski

Cover by John Picacio

Cove by John Picacio

Cover by Duncan Eagleson

Cover by Duncan Eagleson

The final Birthday Review Index.

And so the journey begun on January 1 with a review of E.M. Forster’s short story “The Machine Stops” has come to an end, 367 reviews and approximately 166,183 words later, plus a few extra guest reviews and words by Rich Horton and Bob Byrne. There was one date I couldn’t find someone to review (we need authors born on March 8) and I goofed on a couple of authors and wound up writing replacement reviews. Edward Page Mitchell holds the joint distinction of the earliest birth among the reviewed authors, on March 24, 1852, and the earliest published work, with his “The Clock That Went Backward” published in 1881. Rachel Swirsky in the most recently born author reviewed with Steve Perry’s “A Few Minutes in the Plantation Bar and Grill Outside Woodville, Mississippi” published in January 2018 being the most recently published story. I reviewed two stories entitled “Cat” and two stories entitled “Little Red in the Hood.”

January index
February index
March index
April index
May index
June index
July index
August index
September index
October index
November index

December 1, Jo Walton: “Escape to Other Worlds with Science Fiction
December 2, Jerry Sohl: “Death in Transit
December 3, John Dalmas: “In the Bosom of His Family
December 4, Kurt R.A. Giambasitani: “Intaglio
December 5, John Decles: “The Power of Kings
December 6, Roger Dees: “Worlds Within WorldsEchoes of Pride

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Birthday Reviews: Connie Willis’s “D.A.”

Monday, December 31st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by James Gurney

Cover by James Gurney

Connie Willis was born on December 31, 1945.

Willis has won the Hugo Award eleven times and the Nebula Award seven times. Her joint winners include the short story “Even the Queen,” the novelette “Fire Watch,” the novella “The Last of the Winnebagos,” and the novel Doomsday Book and the two-part novel Blackout/All Clear. Her Nebula only wins were the short story “A Letter from the Clearys” and the novelette “At the Rialto.” Her Hugo wins were for the short stories “Death on the Nile” and “The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson’s Poems: A Wellsian Perspective,” the novellas “The Winds of Marble Arch,” “Inside Job,” and “All Seated on the Ground,” and the novel To Say Nothing of the Dog. Her novel Lincoln’s Dreams won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. To Say Nothing of the Dog also won the Prix Ozone, Kurd Lasswitz Preis, and Ignotus Award. Doomsday Book also won the Ignotus and Kurd Lasswitz. Willis won additional Ignotus Awards for the stories “Even the Queen,” “Why the World Didn’t End Last Tuesday,” and in 2000, her stories “Nonstop to Portales” and “Chance” tied each other.

Willis won the Forry Award from LASFS in 1999 and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2011 she received the Robert A. Heinlein Award from the Heinlein Society. She was named a Grand Master by SFWA in 2012. Willis was the guest of honor at LACon IV, the 64th Worldcon, held in Los Angeles in 2006 and served as Toastmaster at the 2011 World Fantasy Con in San Diego.

“D.A.” was written for the anthology Space Cadets, published in coordination with LACon IV, the Worldcon, in 2006 where Willis was guest of honor and edited by Mike Resnick. It was selected by Jonathan Strahan for The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume One and was also reprinted as a chapbook by Subterranean Press in 2007. In 2018 it was included in the Connie Willis collection Terra Incognita, published by Del Rey.

In the distant future, Theodora is a high school student whose goal is to get into UCLA, unlike most of the students in her class who hope to get an appointment to become a cadet at the Academy to go into space. Unfortunately for her classmates, only 300 people are selected for the Academy each year, so when one of the students at Theodora’s school is selected, it is a major event and a mandatory assembly is held. To everyone’s surprise, Theodora is announced as the lucky appointee, despite the fact that she never applied and didn’t go through the interview process.

The strongest points of the story are when Willis looks at Theodora’s attempts to figure out how she managed to get into the Academy and get acclimatized, or fight against getting acclimatized, to life in outer space. Her only lifeline and support is her friend Kimkim, back on Earth and using her prodigious hacking skills to open a line of communication with Theodora and try to help her work her way through the Academy.

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Birthday Reviews: Somtow Sucharitkul’s “Dr. Rumpole”

Sunday, December 30th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Realms of Fantasy, 8/98

Realms of Fantasy, 8/98

Somtow Sucharitkul was born on December 30, 1952. He also writes using the pseudonym S.P. Somtow. In addition to writing science fiction, Sucharitkul is a successful composer and conductor, including the opera The Snow Dragon, which debuted in Milwaukee in 2015, and five symphonies.

In 1981 Sucharitkul won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He has published as both Somtow Sucharitkul and S.P. Somtow and won the World Fantasy Award for his novella “The Bird Catcher” in 2002. His short story “Brimstone and Salt” won the International Horror Guild Award in 1997. He has also been nominated for the Hugo Award twice, the Bram Stoker Award, and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. He also won the Silpathorn Kittikhun Award, presented by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture of Thailand’s Ministry of Culture. Sucharitkul was guest of honor at the 15th World Fantasy Con, held in Seattle in 1989.

The story “Dr. Rumpole” was published for the first time when Shawna McCarthy printed the story in the August 1998 issue of Realms of Fantasy. Sucharitkul included the story in his 2000 collection Tagging the Moon: Fairy Tales from L.A..

Sucharitkul takes a new spin on the story of Rumpelstiltskin in “Dr. Rumpole,” casting the princess with the impossible task as Adam Villacin, a wannabe screenwriter stuck in the mailroom at Stupendous Entertainment. When he happens to meet the studio head in an elevator, his friend’s fast-talking gets him an assignment as a script doctor. If he can’t turn a turkey of a script into a hit overnight, he’ll lose his job. Into this scenario comes Dr. Rumple, a mythic script doctor who can fix any script. However, he takes everything Villacin is paid for his scripts.

Just as Sucharitkul and the reader are aware that the story is a re-telling of the story of Rumpelstiltskin, the characters also compare their situation to the fairy tale. Knowing how the fairy ends, they also know what they need to do in order to avoid the threat that Dr. Rumpole could conceivably pose for Villacin and his friend/agent, Bobby Detweiler. The story works because Sucharitkul doesn’t follow the formula slavishly. Rumpole’s name doesn’t matter, but it is when Villacin and Detweiler uncover his past that they figure out a way to get out from under his thumb.

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Birthday Reviews: Charles L. Harness’s “Child by Chronos”

Saturday, December 29th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by George Gibbons

Cover by George Gibbons

Charles L. Harness was born on December 29, 1915 and died on September 20, 2005.

Harness’s novelettes “An Ornament to His Profession” and “The Alchemist” were both nominated for the Nebula and Hugo Awards. His novella “Probably Cause” was nominated for a Nebula and the novella “Summer Solstice” was nominated for a Hugo. He was also nominated for a retro-Hugo for the novella “The Rose.” Harness’s novel The Ring of Ritornel was nominated for the Ditmar Award in 1969.

“Child by Chronos” was first published by Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas in the June 1953 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The following year, they included it in the anthology The Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Third Series. It was translated into French for the magazine Fiction #26 in 1956, in 1966 for the anthology Historiques fantastiques de demain, and again for Planète #33 in March 1967, the last translation being done by Alain Dorémieux. Jacques Sadoul would also include it in his Anthologie de la littérature de Science-Fiction in 1981. It was published in German in 1969 in 9 Science Fiction-Stories, translated by Brigit Ress-Bohusch and in Italian in 1977 in Il future alla sbarra, translated by Roberta Rambelli. Charles Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg included it in 1980’s anthology Love 3000 and it was reprinted in 1998 in the NESFA Press Charles L. Harness collection An Ornament to His Profession.

In the film Somewhere in Time, based on Richard Matheson’s novel Bid Time Return, Elise McKenna (Susan French) gives Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) a pocket watch in 1972 which he carries back with him to 1912 and gives to a much younger Elise (Jane Seymour). At no time in its existence is the watch out of Elise’s or Richard’s possession, so there is no way for the watch to have been made or purchased, it just is. Charles Harness published “Child by Chronos” 18 years before Matheson’s novel and 23 years before the film, but has a similar paradox at the heart of his story.

Harness’s story focuses on a woman who hates her mother, whom she is amazingly like, and who notes that all the men she has ever loved were also involved with her mother, an unhealthy psychological situation. Her life isn’t made easier by the strange educational regimen her mother instituted. Rather than allow her to attend school, she was made to memorize all the headlines published from the time of her birth. Her mother, who made her living as a highly successful prognosticator, never gives her an explanation for this strange education.

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Birthday Reviews: George Zebrowski’s “Lords of Imagination”

Friday, December 28th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Black Pockets and Other Dark Thoughts

Cover by Bob Eggleton

George Zebrowski was born in Austria on December 28, 1945. He is married to author Pamela Sargent.

In 1999 Zebrowski’s novel Brute Orbits won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. In 2000 he and Sargent were presented with the Service to SFWA Award by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He has also been nominated for the Nebula Award for Short Story three times, for “Heathen God,” “The Eichmann Variations,” and for “Wound the Wind.” Zebrowski has collaborated on fiction with Sargent, Charles Pellegrino, Jack Dann, Gerald Hull, and Grant Carrington. He has co-edited anthologies with Thomas N. Scortia, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Dann, and Gregory Benford.

Zebrowski first published  “Lords of Information” in the Spring 1990 issue of Science Fiction Review, edited by Elton Elliott. He substantially reworked the story and retitled it “Lords of Imagination” for its reprinting in his collection Black Pockets and Other Dark Thoughts in 2006.

“Lords of Imagination” is not just a rumination on the role of science fiction in the world of the future once aliens discover Earth and make it a protectorate, but is also a look at the role science fiction plays in our own time, partly, according to Zebrowski’s character, as a means of preparing mankind for the eventual discovery of alien species, and, by extension, technological and cultural advancement as well.

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Birthday Reviews: Fred Lerner’s “Rosetta Stone”

Thursday, December 27th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Alan Bean

Cover by Alan Bean

Fred Lerner was born on December 27, 1945.

Most of Lerner’s writing is non-fiction. In fact, “Rosetta Stone” seems to be his only fictional credit. He has published the fanzine Lofgeornost since 1979 and many of his articles have been collected in the A Bookman’s Fantasy. His scholarly work includes The Story of Libraries, A Silverlock Companion, and Modern Science Fiction and the American Literary Community.

“Rosetta Stone” appeared as the first story in the debut issue of Artemis: Science and Fiction for a Space-Faring Age in Spring 2000, edited by Ian Randal Strock. The story has never been reprinted.

One of the stranger books in my collection is a brief treatise written by Terry Belanger in 1985 called Lunacy and the Arrangement of Books, which discusses a variety of ways private collectors have arranged their libraries to allow them to find the books they want, which may seem to make sense to that individual collection but can look random to anyone else.

The main character of Lerner’s “Rosetta Stone” is, like the author, an information scientist who has an interest in books. Dan is called by his old college roommate, Jack Hawkins, who invites him to the lunar base for some consulting on a confidential matter. When Dan arrives, he learns that a base has been discovered on the moon which looks a lot like the ones built by Lunar Labs, but which was not built by anyone known. Furthermore, the base has a library of human books from a variety of countries. Lunar Labs is hoping that Dan might be able to figure out something about the aliens who are believed to have built the base by the way they organize their books.

There are several points raised in the story, but dropped: Who the aliens are, why they chose the books they did, how they got the books up to the moon. Other questions are actually dealt with, although not always successfully. Jack explains why they decided to call on Dan rather than archaeologists or librarians or other people who might have seemed like a better match for the conundrum. In addition to Dan’s ability as an information scientists, he was also chosen because of late night musings he had shared with Jack when they were in college, a weak reason, perhaps, but it manages to fit into the story and Dan does, eventually, begin to provide results.

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Birthday Reviews: Keith Taylor’s “Sepulchres of the Undead”

Wednesday, December 26th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

The Secret History of Vampires

The Secret History of Vampires

Keith Taylor was born on December 26, 1946 in Tasmania.

Taylor has won the Ditmar Award twice. His first win was in 1982 for his short story “Where Silence Rules.” He won a second time in 1987 for his novel Bard III: The Wild Sea. He has been nominated for four additional Ditmar Awards as well as an Aurealis Award.

“Sepulchres of the Undead” appeared in the anthology The Secret History of Vampires, edited by Darrell Schweitzer, in 2007. The story has never been reprinted.

The great pyramids of Egypt have held a fascination for people for millennia. In “Sepulchres of the Undead,” Taylor explains that they are not simply vast monuments to the egos of the early Pharaohs, but actually served an important purpose. After Menkhaf kills a large bat on one of the pyramids, he learns that the pharaohs and their families are actually a separate race from most Egyptians. They are all, to some extent, vampires, and the great tombs are designed to ensure that their corpses are protected from humans and nature, for as long as their corpses remain, the vampires will retain the ability to change shapes and terrorize the population.

Menkhaf is warned that having killed a vampire, and specifically Pharaoh Khufu’s mother, he is a marked man. He joins the Brotherhood of Ra, a group dedicated to destroying the vampires among them. At the same time Prince Hemiunu, the pharaoh’s nephew and a partial vampire, is also out to destroy the vampires. The two vampire killers allow Taylor to play with different tactics, but they also muddy the waters of the story since he never really knits their plans, attacks, or stories, together. In fact, Menkhaf seems to be forgotten by the author as Hemiunu’s plans come to fruition. The resulting story has some interesting ideas regarding both vampires and Egyptian history, but doesn’t quite pull them together.

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Birthday Reviews: Holly Phillips’s “No Such Thing as an Ex-Con”

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

Cover by Adrian Kleinbergen

Cover by Adrian Kleinbergen

Holly Phillips was born on December 25, 1969.

Phillips won the Sunburst Award in 2006 for her collection In the Palace of Repose, which was also nominated for the William L. Crafword – IAFA Award and the World Fantasy Award. The title story had also been an International Horror Guild nominee the year before, while “The Other Grace,” which first appeared in the collection, was also a World Fantasy nominee. Along with Cory Doctorow, she was nominated for an Aurora Award in 2008. Phillips co-edited Tesseracts Eleven: Amazing Canadian Speculative Fiction with Cory Doctorow in 2007.

“No Such Thing as an Ex-Con” was Phillips’s first published story, appearing in the Summer 2000 issue of On Spec, edited by Jena Snyder. The story also appeared in the May/June 2006 issue of Weird Tales. In 2014, it was selected for inclusion in Casserole Diplomacy and Other Stories: An On Spec 25th Anniversary Retrospective.

Emily Lake has served three and a half years for a series of murders she did not commit and upon her release from prison is taking work wherever she can find it, notably on a crew that is doing landscaping work for the city. Lake is always cognizant that once a convict, there are some people who will also see her as a convict, so she has to work harder and keep her head down to avoid drawing attention, knowing that any job is worth preserving since she won’t be able to find another one easily.

Unfortunately for Lake, the area in which she is working brings her into contact with Detective Bailor, who was one of the people responsible for putting her in prison for the murders. Lake had seen, or actually experienced, the murders in her dreams and went to the police to give them the lead that would put the perpetrator behind bars. Unfortunately, nobody believed she was not an accomplice, despite the claims of the murderer that he acted alone. Now, several years later, Bailor has a case of multiple kidnappings that have stymied him and he turns to Lake on the off chance that she was telling the truth and can help him find the lost boys.

Phillips offers a sympathetic view of an ex-con, even before the fact that she was innocent is known to the reader. Lake doesn’t show bitterness about the hand she has been dealt, and is trying her hardest to work within a system that is stacked against her. While Phillips builds the expectation that she’s going to be railroaded or fired, both concerns that Lake has, the reality of the situation turns out to be quite different. Lake’s abilities are described, but never explained, which seems to be more likely than having someone provide an explanation for her dreams.

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Birthday Reviews: Fritz Leiber’s “The Cloud of Hate”

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

Cover by Vernon Kramer

Cover by Vernon Kramer

Fritz Leiber was born on December 24, 1910 and died on September 5, 1992.

Fritz Leiber won six Hugo Awards for his novels The Big Time and The Wanderer as well as the novelette “Gonna Roll the Bones,” the novellas “Ship of Shadows” and “Ill Met in Lankhmar,” and the short story “Catch That Zeppelin.” “Gonna Roll the Bones,” “Ill Met in Lankhmar,” and “Catch That Zeppelin” also received the Nebula Award. He won the World Fantasy Award for the short story “Belsen Express” and the novel Our Lady of Darkness. He won his first British Fantasy Award for The Second Book of Fritz Leiber and his second for “The Button Molder.” He won the Geffen Award in 1999 for the Hebrew translation of Swords and Deviltry. The 1962 Worldcon presented him with a Special Convention Award in 1962 for his collaboration with the Hoffman Electronic Corporation for their use of science fiction in advertising.

In 1967 LASFS presented him with a Forry Award. He won a Gandalf Award in 1975 as a Grand Master of Fantasy and the next years received a Life Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Convention. In 1981 SFWA named him a Grand Master and he received a Special Balrog Award. He received a Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award in 1988, and in 2001 he was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

Leiber is one of the few people who was a guest of honor at multiple Worldcons, having the honor in 1951 at NOLACon I, the 9th Worldcon, held in New Orleans in 1951 and again in 1979 when he was a guest of honor at Seacon ’79 in Brighton, UK. He was the Guest of Honor at the 4th World Fantasy Con in Fort Worth, Texas in 1978. Leiber has most famously collaborated with Harry Fischer on the concept for Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser for the story “Lords of Quarmall.” He has also collaborated with Judith Merril and Fredric Brown.

Leiber first published “The Cloud of Hate” in the May 1963 issue of Fantastic Stories of Imagination, edited by Cele Goldsmith. He included it as the lead-off story in the Lankhmar collection Swords in the Mist and in 1975 it showed up in Sword & Sorcery Annual. When Donald M. Grant published a collection of three Lankhmar stories in Bazaar of the Bizarre, “The Cloud of Hate” was one of the those chosen. It showed up in the Lankhmar omnibus volumes The Three of Swords and Lean Times in Lankhmar as well as Thieves’ House: Tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Volume 2 and The First Book of Lankhmar. The story has been translated into Dutch, German, and twice into French, usually for collections of Leiber’s Lankhmar stories.

“The Cloud of Hate” is one of Leiber’s many stories about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. The two are serving as watchmen on the evening of a gala celebration of the betrothal of the Lankhmar Overlord’s daughter to the Prince of Ilthmar. They are stationed far from the festivities on a cold, foggy street. The action, however, starts below the streets of Lankhmar, with a mob of five thousand summoning the physical manifestation of hate to flood the streets and, one assumes, attack the Overlord’s party.

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