Vintage Treasures: Dark Stars edited by Robert Silverberg

Sunday, July 5th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Dark Stars (Ballantine Books, 1969). Cover by Ronald Walotsky

I’ve lamented before (more than a few times, as some regular readers have wearily noted) about the death of the mass market SF anthology.  They were a fixture on bookstore shelves a generation ago, and were a great way to discover new writers. In fact, I discovered virtually all of my favorite writers — Roger Zelazny, Clifford D. Simak, Isaac Asimov, James Tiptree, Jr. — in paperback anthologies in the 70s and 80s.

Well, if I can’t celebrate new ones, I can still tell you about the old ones, and encourage you to hunt down a few. At least as long as vintage SF paperbacks remain cheap, plentiful, and easy to find — which looks like forever, if AbeBooks and eBay are any indication. Today’s subject is a neat little one-off anthology by Robert Silverberg from 1969, with an unusual theme: dark science fiction. Here’s Silverberg from the introduction.

In the Soviet Union, I understand, science fiction is supposed to be a positive literature full of positive ideals. Its function is to dramatize the coming triumph of the socialist philosophy and the extension of that philosophy into the universe…. In the United States, too, there are those who prefer their science fiction to be a literature of ideals, demonstrating the heroic fortitude of mankind under stress and depicting the glories of the future… The purpose of the writer of fiction, I think, is neither to glorify not to abuse, but to set down his vision of the universe as he sees it. He should not be a propagandist for the space program, at least not as his basic item of concern….

Once upon a time the bulk of science fiction was written by cheerful Rotarians eager to leap into the lovely future. That was in the 1930’s, when the future still looked pretty good (especially in contrast with the present) and in the 1940’s, when the defeat of the bestial Axis foe was supposed to open the gateway to Utopia. But a good chunk of that future has already unveiled itself since those days of s-f’s innocence, and what has appeared has not been so inspiring. The stories in the present collection reflect that look into the future that is now our present. By measuring the fictional “1963” of 1938 against the real 1963, s-f writers have of necessity suffered a darkening of vision. Hymns to the miracle that is color television become less meaningful when that screen is so often reddened by the blood of those who were our best.

Here, then, is a book of dark dreams for a dark time.

If you don’t mind reading yellowing pages from high-res photos, you can see Bob’s complete 3-page intro to Dark Stars using the pics I took with my new iPhone here and here.

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The Stakes Have Never Been More Reasonable: A Quiet Afternoon, edited by Liane Tsui and Grace Seybold

Wednesday, July 1st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

A Quiet AfternoonI don’t think of science fiction as a predictable genre. It’s filled with widely varying ideas, settings, characters, and plots, and produced by a hugely diverse group of writers all over the planet. But in at least one way, SF does tend to be predictable: it’s a genre of high-stakes drama. It concerns itself with apocalypses, alien invasions, desperate battles against evil empires, dystopias, life-and-death court intrigue, world-altering time travel, thunderous space battles — a whole lot of sound and fury, really.

But it doesn’t have to be. Does a good tale require high stakes? That’s the question posed by the new anthology from Canadian small press Grace & Victory, run by Grace Seybold and Victoria Feistner. A Quiet Afternoon, edited by Liane Tsui and Grace Seybold, collects 14 original low-stakes tales that aim to simultaneously entertain and comfort. Here’s the description.

A peaceful break from a stressful world.

The stakes have never been milder or more reasonable.

A Quiet Afternoon brings readers thirteen Low-Fi tales of gentle speculative fiction, stories of wonder and the celebration of small successes. Ease into worlds of quiet triumph and gracious victories; of found families and unlikely friendships; magical constructs, pensive mermaids, fairies and dragons and a barbecue sauce that will literally change your life.

The stakes are low. The expectations are reasonable. The resolutions are satisfactory. Wrap yourself up in a cozy blanket, make a cup of tea, and enjoy A Quiet Afternoon.

Here’s a snippet from Laura DeHaan’s Foreword which explains the intriguing genesis behind the book.

In early 2019, Victoria Feistner and I just wanted to read speculative fiction that wasn’t high-stakes, where the fate of the world didn’t hinge on the actions of a single hero overcoming impossible odds … Manga and anime do a good job of incorporating the fantastic with the mundane (Fruits Basket, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, My Neighbour Totoro), but Western SF really likes its earth-shattering consequences and do-or-die protagonists … We started reading for A Quiet Anthology in late 2019. The world was in a weird place, but that made the selection process relatively easy. If the story left behind a feeling of comfort, or relief, or a little sigh of “Wasn’t that nice,” then it was pretty much a shoo-in for the anthology… We are all overcoming impossible odds in our everyday lives — and when that’s the case, where do we escape to? … So, check in with yourself. Take a nap. Have a juice box. Would you like to read stories with magical robots and talking animals and the beginnings of a wonderful friendship? It’s okay. They’re here for you. Take care, and enjoy A Quiet Afternoon.

I think this is a great idea for an anthology, and I’m very much looking forward to reading it. It was released today; here’s the complete Table of Contents for A Quiet Afternoon.

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Vintage Treasures: Crossroads in Time edited by Groff Conklin

Monday, June 29th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Crossroads in Time (Permabooks, 1953). Cover by Richard Powers

Modern science fiction is top notch, and I’d hold today’s best writers — John Scalzi, N.K. Jemisin, Mary Robinette Kowal, Martha Wells, Nnedi Okorafor — up against the greats of yesterday without hesitation. If I were to be stranded on a desert island (or, more likely, locked in my basement during a pandemic) and could only bring a dozen books, my choices would be heavily weighted toward SF published in the last ten years.

Except for anthologies. For whatever reason — nostalgia, maybe? — during those times when I have only a few minutes to read before bedtime, my hand still wanders towards Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas’s monumental Adventures in Time and Space (1946), or The Hugo Winners, Volumes I and II (1972) edited by Isaac Asimov, A Treasury of Science Fiction (1948), edited by Groff Conklin, or The Good Old Stuff: Adventure SF in the Grand Tradition (1998), edited by Gardner Dozois.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of great modern anthologies. I spent much of last weekend reading Neil Clarke’s terrific The Final Frontier, and I really enjoyed it. But the sight of newer anthologies doesn’t make my heart jump like the old ones do.

Partly I think it’s the contributors. There’s just something about opening a yellowing paperback and seeing a table of contents packed with names like Clifford D. Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, Murray Leinster, Jerome Bixby, Fritz Leiber, Margaret St. Clair and other favorites. And also, of course, it’s the cover art. Take Crossroads in Time, the eleventh SF book by the great SF anthologist Groff Conklin. It was released as a paperback original in 1953 by Permabooks with a gorgeously colorful cover by Richard Powers which — even today, nearly seven long decades later — speaks of wonder and adventure on faraway worlds.

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Future Treasures: Where the Veil Is Thin edited by Cerece Rennie Murphy and Alana Joli Abbott

Saturday, June 27th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Where the Veil Is Thin-smallAlana Joli Abbott is the co-editor of the Blackguards anthology Knaves (with Melanie Meadors) and Kaiju Rising II: Reign of Monsters (with N.X. Sharps). She was a reviewer at Black Gate for over a decade, dating all the way back to our early print days; these days she is Editor in Chief at Outland Entertainment. Her latest project is the anthology Where the Veil Is Thin, co-edited with Cerece Rennie Murphy, author of the popular Wolf Queen series. Where the Veil Is Thin arrives in trade paperback on July 7 and has a stellar list of contributors, including Seanan McGuire, Minsoo Kang, Carlos Hernandez, and Black Gate‘s own C.S.E. Cooney. Here’s the description.

These are not your daughters faerie stories…

Around the world, there are tales of creatures that live in mist or shadow, hidden from humans by only the slightest veil. In Where the Veil Is Thin, these creatures step into the light. Some are small and harmless. Some are bizarre mirrors of this world. Some have hidden motives, while others seek justice against humans who have wronged them.

In these pages, you will meet blood-sucking tooth fairies and gentle boo hags, souls who find new shapes after death and changelings seeking a way to fit into either world. You will cross the veil — but be careful that you remember the way back.

Here’s the impressive Table of Contents.

Introduction by Jim Hines
“The Tooth Fairies” by Glenn Parris
“Glamour” by Grey Yuen
“See a Fine Lady” by Seanan McGuire
“Or Perhaps Up” by C.S.E. Cooney
“Don’t Let Go” by Alana Joli Abbott
“The Loophole” by L. Penelope
“The Last Home of Master Tranquil Cloud” by Minsoo Kang
“Your Two Better Halves: A Dream, with Fairies, in Spanglish” by Carlos Hernandez
“Take Only Photos” by Shanna Swendson
“Old Twelvey Night” by Gwen Nix
“The Seal Woman’s Tale” by Alethea Kontis
“The Storyteller” by David Bowles
“Poisoned Hearts” by Zin E. Rocklyn
“Colt’s Tooth” by Linda Robertson

Where the Veil Is Thin was funded by a successful Kickstarter in March of this year, and will be published by Outland Entertainment on July 7, 2020. It is 210 pages, priced at $16.95 in trade paperback and $7.99 in digital formats. The beautiful cover is by Anna Dittmann. Order copies directly at Outland Entertainment. See all our recent coverage of the best upcoming SF and Fantasy releases here.


Witches, Thieves, and Dead Queens: Tales From the Magician’s Skull #4, edited by Howard Andrew Jones

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Doug Kovacs

My copy of Tales From the Magician’s Skull #4 arrived today, and it is a beautiful thing. Jam-packed with brand new tales of heroic fantasy from its finest modern practitioners, it is a joy to hold. Edited by Black Gate‘s very own Howard Andrew Jones, Tales #4 is filled with names that will be very familiar to BG readers, including James Enge, John C. Hocking, Ryan Harvey, James Stoddard, C. L. Werner, and Milton Davis .

In four short issues Tales of the Magician’s Skull has become the flagship publication for English language adventure fantasy, and it looks the part. It’s an oversized magazine filled with fiction and eye-catching interior art, and it looks and feels like a modern pulp, down to the heavy paper stock, which is a faint yellow color (a nice touch). Designed by Lester B. Portly, it’s easy to read and enjoy.

When I was editing the print version of Black Gate, my readers enjoyed serial fiction the most — and wrote constantly demanding more Morlock stories by James Enge, more Dabit & Asim tales from Howard, and Tales of Brand from John C. Hocking. I’m thrilled to see that Tales has the same love of episodic fiction and larger-than-life characters I do — exciting new sword-and-sorcery series are being born in its pages, mixed in with some familiar names (including Morlock, which should please BG readers enormously).

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In 500 Words or Less: The Book of Dragons, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Sunday, June 14th, 2020 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

The Book of Dragons-smallThe Book of Dragons
Edited By Jonathan Strahan; illustrated by Rovina Cai
Harper Voyager (576 pages, $35 hardcover, $16.99 eBook, July 7, 2020)

More than a year ago now, I was hanging out with Kelly Robson and she mentioned a new anthology she’d been invited to contribute to. The topic? Dragons. When was it coming out? 2020 sometime, probably, and we promptly moved on to talking about other things.

It’s now the middle of 2020 and that anthology is here, my friends.

Look at this freaking contributor list. You might think that an anthology about dragons is going to hit a few specific themes or styles, but you would be wrong and should know better, especially with Jonathan Strahan at the helm. I grinned with excitement reading JY Yang’s “The Exile” – dragons that terraform new worlds! (Also a poignant piece about loneliness and consequence.) Pretty sure I muttered a silent “ooooooh” at how Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky present bee-like dragons dealing with hive collapse in “We Continue.” Plus there’s Elle Katharine White’s story “Matriculation,” about a young woman with tuition debt, her machinework dragon and a kindly vampire bookseller, which I already described on Twitter as an emotional gut punch.

If I had to pick a thematic through line (not sure if that’s the right term, but I’m going with it) that seems to tie most of The Book of Dragons together, it would be family. In some cases, the focus is reforming bonds and learning to trust each other, like in Zen Cho’s “Hikayat Sri Bujang, or The Tale of the Naga Sage” or Kelly’s “La Vitesse” – an epic ride of Alberta school bus vs dragon. Or it’s about the loss and heartache that sometimes comes with family – like the adopted human watching the hive collapse in “We Continue,” or in R.F. Kuang’s story “The Nine Curves River,” about someone escorting their younger sister to be sacrificed to end a drought. Or the idea of found family, which Seanan McGuire captures brilliantly with “Hoard,” about a long-lived dragon who cares for foster kids close to aging out the way others care about gold.

The idea of gold or treasure comes up often, too. Sometimes as more of an addendum than a focus, like in Sarah Gailey’s “We Don’t Talk About the Dragon.” The real story there is a young girl growing up in a harsh, abusive family – though there’s also a dragon living in the barn.

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Vintage Treasures: The Fantastic Imagination Anthologies, edited by Robert H. Boyer and Kenneth J. Zahorski

Friday, May 8th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Fantastic Imagination, volumes I and II (Avon, February 1977 and December 1978).
Cover artist: unknown (left), Elizabeth Malczynski (right)

Robert H. Boyer and Kenneth J. Zahorski were quite the dynamic pair in the late 70s and early 80s. They edited five anthologies between 1977-81, all but one paperback originals from Avon, and a sixth a decade later, from Academy Chicago specialty press. All are fine volumes well worth your attention today.

The Fantastic Imagination (1977)
Dark Imaginings (1978)
The Fantastic Imagination II (1978)
The Phoenix Tree (1980)
Visions of Wonder: An Anthology of Christian Fantasy (1981)
Visions & Imaginings: Classic Fantasy Fiction (1992)

It may be giving them too much credit, but for me at least Boyer and Zahorski defined fantasy and its related genres for a generation. With their popular and highly readable paperback anthologies they helped new readers explore Gothic Fantasy (Dark Imaginings), Mythic Fantasy (The Phoenix Tree), and Christian Fantasy (Visions of Wonder).

And with The Fantastic Imagination volumes in particular, they drew clear boundaries around the particular sub-genre that more or less defined English fantasy until Tolkien upended things in the early 20th Century: the fairy-tale, and the High Fantasy genre that grew out of it, rich with fairies, elves, dwarves, kings, queens, and knights.

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New Treasures: Overruled edited by Hank Davis and Christopher Ruocchio

Monday, April 20th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Overruled!-smallI’m a bit worried about Hank Davis, to be honest with you. After we covered a few of his excellent early anthologies for Baen Books he reached out, and for several years we conducted a lively correspondence. We even helped him out when he was looking for content for his next book, Space Corsairs, due out later this year.

But one night last July, before heading to bed, he sent me a note confessing that it was getting harder and harder for him to read email due to ongoing eye problems. That was the last time I heard from him.

I’ve complained (to just about anyone who will listen) over the last few years about the demise of the mass market reprint anthology. The exception that proves the rule has been Hank. He’s edited many excellent ones in the past few years, including Things from Outer Space, If This Goes Wrong…, and especially Space Pioneers, also edited with Christopher Ruocchio.

In the past decade, in fact, Hank has produced over a dozen top-notch SF anthologies, and he’s proven to be one of the most entertaining and reliable editors this industry has. I hope his career has not been cut short by eye problems, or indeed, by health problems of any kind.

Hank has vanished from email and social media, but I was very pleased and relieved to see that the most recent anthology he delivered to Baen, co-edited with Christopher Ruocchio, arrive in bookstores (those few that are open) earlier this month. Overruled, which Hank described to me as “law and lawyers in space,” is a fat 400-page volume containing new and reprint fiction from Arthur C. Clarke, Clifford D. Simak, Robert A. Heinlein, Robert Sheckley, Larry Niven, Robert Silverberg, Tony Daniel, Susan R. Matthews, Algis Budrys, and many others. It’s the kid of fun, far-ranging volume that Baen (and Hank) specialize in, and it reminds me very much of the old days, when a great SF anthology was a sure-fire way to discover at least 2-3 new writers you’d enjoy.

Here’s the description.

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Vintage Treasures: Wondermakers, edited by Robert Hoskins

Sunday, April 19th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art: uncredited (left) and FMA (right)

Robert Hoskins was a pretty familiar name on paperback racks in the 1970s. He was a senior editor at Lancer Books from 1969-1972, and during that time published and edited five volumes of the prestigious Infinity SF anthology series. Overall he edited over a dozen science fiction anthologies, including First Step Outward (1969), Swords Against Tomorrow (1970), and Against Tomorrow (1979). He also wrote ten novels, including three for Roger Elwood’s Laser imprint.

Between 1969-1979 he produced roughly 30 paperbacks, an extraordinary period of output. After 1979 he vanished, and frankly I don’t blame him. If I had to write and package 30 books in 10 years, I’d probably avoid the publishing industry for the rest of my life too. Hoskins died in 1993, and his eyes were probably still bloodshot. His entry in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia says “Hoskins’s books made no claims to be anything more than entertaining action adventures,” which I think is a fair assessment.

In 1972 and 1974 he produced two odd reprint anthologies, Wondermakers: An Anthology of Classic Science Fiction and Wondermakers 2. My best guess is that these were aimed at the academic market; a big clue is the ad on the back page encouraging Teachers, Librarians and School administrators to “Send for your free Fawcett catalog today!” The rather stiff intro by Robin Scott Wilson opens with “It has become commonplace for students of science fiction to assert the antiquity of the genre,” and that’s as far as I got before I dozed off. The text on the back covers (see scans below) drones on about “Science Fiction’s development” and something about “Man’s questioning, searching beyond the boundaries of his immediate present and into the future.” I’ve never seen books that sound so much like my high school English teacher in my entire life.

But setting aside the dull packaging, these are actually pretty interesting. How many anthologies do you know include Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, Theodore Sturgeon, and James Blish under one cover? That’s just the first one; Wondermakers 2 is even more intriguing.

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New Treasures: Shadows & Tall Trees 8 edited by Michael Kelly

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Matthew Jaffe

Canadian Michael Kelly is a Renaissance Man of modern Weird Fiction. He’s an accomplished author, with a novel and three story collections under his belt, including last year’s All the Things We Never See. He’s also the publisher behind Undertow Publications, one of the leading — maybe the leading — houses behind the modern Weird Fiction resurgence.

And in his spare time he’s one of the most important editors in modern horror, with over a dozen anthologies to his name, including five volumes of Year’s Best Weird Fiction and seven of his widely acclaimed Shadows & Tall Trees. In her annual summation in Best Horror of the Year, Ellen Datlow puts it succinctly: “Shadows and Tall Trees epitomizes the idea of, and is the most consistent venue for weird, usually dark fiction.”

The long-awaited eighth volume arrived last month and, like the previous installments, it’s packed with fiction by the top writers in the field, including Steve Rasnic Tem, Simon Strantzas, V.H. Leslie, Alison Littlewood, Brian Evenson, M. Rickert, and many others. It’s already gathering positive press; here’s the highlights from Matt’s review at Runalong the Shelves.

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