Vintage Treasures: A Touch of Strange by Theodore Sturgeon

Friday, May 22nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

A Touch of Strange 1959-small A Touch of Strange 1965-small A Touch of Strange 1970-small

I’ve really been enjoying this gradual survey I’ve been doing of Theodore Sturgeon’s paperbacks. It hasn’t been a particularly deliberate undertaking… the truth is that, as I come across his books, I’ve been talking about them. This week I stumbled on a copy of the 1965 Berkley edition of A Touch of Strange (above middle), and here we are.

Part of the reason I enjoy them is that I find it fascinating that a writer could have made a decent living in this business selling almost exclusively short stories. Sturgeon did write five novels (six, if you want to count his 1961 Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea novelization), but he’s far more well known for more than two dozen short fiction collections. And it was upon them that he largely built his considerable reputation.

Another reason is that I genuinely find it delightful to catalog the different editions, and note all the variations. A Touch of Strange was reprinted five times, by three different publishers, between 1958 and 1978, before it vanished from bookstores forever. Each of those editions is unique, not just in cover art and design, but also in how it was packaged and presented — and, in some cases, in content as well.

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The Vorrh, Redux

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Vorrh-smallEarly in 2013 I wrote a post about The Vorrh, a novel by sculptor, artist, and poet Brian Catling. I thought it was a powerful, fascinating book that defied easy categorisation; epic fantasy or epic horror, magic realism or magic surrealism, it seemed bigger and stranger than whatever one might think to call it. Set mostly in Africa and mostly in the years after World War I, it deals with a forest called the Vorrh, where reality and time and logic become confused. A hunter tries to cross the forest, another man tries to stop him, yet another man tries to stop the second. Meanwhile, in a colonial German city that exists inside the forest, a young cyclops is educated by peculiar automata. Alternating with these plot strands we follow the fictionalised life of the actual Victorian photographer Eadweard Muybridge, as well as the unreal experiences of the quite real French surrealist writer Raymond Roussel, whose equally real 1910 novel Impressions d’Afrique first introduced the Vorrh.

Catling’s novel first came out in late 2012. Now, almost three years later, it’s being republished (as reported here by Black Gate supreme overlord John O’Neil). Catling’s edited the book extensively, slimming it down and moving sections around. He’s also found a new publisher. The original version of the book came from UK small press Honest Publishing; the new one’s published by Vintage.

The edits make a more direct narrative. The maze-like interleaving of scenes and moments has been reworked into an armature of chapters. Crucially, though, much of the original’s tonal strangeness remains. The prose has been pruned of some detail, some paradox, and some side reflections, and this tends to make the story clearer. Many of the losses were fascinating bits of writing in and of themselves, but also complicated sentences, paragraphs, or concepts. Sometimes those complications were worthwhile. But if the new Vorrh is a little less rich, it’s also much more vivid.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in April

Friday, May 8th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Hugo Award Black GateLooking over our traffic stats for last month, I want to give a shout-out to M Harold Page, who managed to heroically crack the Top 10 without once mentioning the Hugo Awards or Rabid Puppies. Well done, Mr. Page!

He was the only one to accomplish that extraordinary feat, however. Every other article in the Top 10 for April (and more than a few in the Top 25) directly addressed the ongoing Hugo Awards controversy, which began on April 4th when Worldcon announced the nominees for the 2015 Hugo Awards — a group which usually represents the finest science fiction and fantasy of the year, but this year was largely dictated by a single individual, Vox Day (Theo Beale), and his Rabid Puppy supporters, who crammed the slate with 11 nominees from Theo’s tiny publishing house, Castalia House, and nominated Vox Day personally for two Hugo Awards.

Not coincidentally, Black Gate received the first Hugo nomination in our history, and one of our bloggers, Matthew David Surridge, was nominated for Best Fan Writer, both as a direct result of being included on the Rabid Puppy slate. We declined those nominations, for reasons that I think should be fairly obvious.

The most popular article on the BG blog last month — indeed, one of the most popular posts in our history — was Matthew’s “A Detailed Explanation,” in which he analyzed the extraordinary events around this year’s Hugo nominations, and enumerated the reasons why he declined science fiction’s highest honor. It the few weeks since it has been posted, it has been read over 50,000 times.

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Knock, Knock: Or, The Portal Fantasy Revisited

Friday, May 8th, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Moonheart-smallThis week I participated in a Mild Meld over on SFSignal on the theme of portal fantasies. I’m not the only person who did, and you can see the whole post here, but, as is so often the case when you’re asked to consider an intriguing idea, I’m still thinking about it. Warning: For the sake of clarity I repeat some of my SFSignal observations, but I don’t overlap much.

Working on that post, and thinking about classic portal fantasies such as the The Wizard of Oz or the The Chronicles of Narnia, or the more recent Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (though even they aren’t particularly “recent,” are they?) got me wondering about the evolution of the portal fantasy over the last 35 years.

Let me review the classic version: Human beings from our world find an entrance to a secondary world where magic works, the supernatural exists, etc., and adventures are undertaken. Often there’s a kind “quest” element involved as well, in that the protagonists have to complete a task in order to be able to return to our world. These are often called “primary world fantasies” even though most or all of the action takes place in the other world.

Again, in the classic version of the portal fantasy, the reader is riding the shoulder of the protagonist, seeing and learning everything about the new world at the same time the protagonist does. CS Lewis even introduced new protagonists, so that he could keep explaining things in later books without seeming repetitious. Of course we all recognize this as a use of the stranger-in-a-strange-land trope (SISL), which is invariably interdependent with the portal trope.

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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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Galaxy, April 1961: A Retro-Review

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Galaxy April 1961-smallHere’s an issue from Galaxy late in H. L. Gold’s editorial tenure, which probably means that Frederik Pohl was doing most of the editorial work. (Pohl officially took over with the December 1961 issue, but I have read that he was editor in all but name from the late ’50s.)

It’s got a pretty impressive Table of Contents, though it’s a bit disappointing in that the best known writers (Sturgeon and Leiber) are not at their best, and a couple of the other well-known writers (Saberhagen and Lafferty) are early in their careers and not fully developed yet.

It’s also pretty thick, 196 pages including the covers. The feature set is smallish: an editorial by Gold (or at least signed by him) called “Puzzles for Plotters,” which poses a couple of puzzles that (he avers) humans can solve but computers can’t; the brief Forecast squib on what’s coming next issue; Floyd C. Gale’s Five Star Shelf of book reviews, very much capsule reviews – I do note that he liked Peter Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place very much – and Willy Ley’s science column, For Your Information, which covers several subjects: the Gegenschein, the annexation of Patagonia, seven league boots, and letters from readers.

The cover is by Mel Hunter, and it reminded me of Rick Sternbach’s work. It doesn’t illustrate any story, it’s just called “A Derelict in the Void,” and shows a ship investigating a wrecked spaceship. Interiors are by Virgil Finlay, Dick Francis, Jack Gaughan, Harman, and Walker.

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The 2015 Hugo Nominations

Thursday, April 30th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Loncon 3 Hugo statue-smallI am I suppose coming a little bit late to the party, but I wanted to join in and express my views on the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies slates, and their effect on the Hugos. I will mention up front that of all the points of view I have seen expressed, I am most in sympathy with George R. R. Martin’s … you can read his views at his Not a Blog.

I should add as well that I do have a horse in this race. I am a Hugo nominee again as part of the editorial team for Lightspeed, which was nominated for Best Semiprozine. (We were fortunate enough to win last year, one of my biggest thrills in my time in the field.) I’ll be honest: one of the things that bothers me about this whole kerfuffle is that I’ll be at Sasquan as a nominee, my first time to be at the Hugos in person as a nominee. (I was unable to make it to London last year.) And I can’t help but think that the whole experience will be, certainly not ruined, but marred, by the aftermath of the whole mess. (For example – it would have been pretty darn cool to receive a Hugo from Connie Willis, if we were so lucky!) But you have every right not to care about that – that doesn’t matter at all in reality.

Anyway, here’s a quick summary of my positions:

Bloc voting is wrong. Making recommendations is not wrong. Promoting your own work strikes me as distasteful, but I’m not going to condemn those who do so. Promoting other people’s work is good.

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The Proxy Culture War for the Soul of Middle Earth

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 | Posted by Sandy Ryalls

Culture War-smallThe culture war has been going on for a while. We’re used to it played out large. Trying to boil down 50 years of social history and politics into a paragraph is going to lose some nuance but, in broad strokes, you’ve people for whom established mores work, usually from homogenous communities, and people for whom they don’t — who are frequently labeled with various flavors of moral degeneracy. Usually to the scorn of history.

It’s played out in government, often in schools. We’re used to that. But now it’s also playing out in our fandom, our games, our conventions. This year the Hugo Awards took some collateral damage from being a battlefield in a war that is part of that narrative but is also somewhat removed from how we’ve been used to thinking of this fight.

Safe Space and the Geek Social Fallacy

There is a social movement of, largely, white male nerds misusing the concept of safe space to exclude people from geekdom.

Safe space is an area where anyone can be comfortable in who they are without recrimination, without bullying and without threat.

Most of our society isn’t safe. The litany of violence, abuse, and microaggression thrown at people because of fundamental aspects of their person is well documented

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New Treasures: Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries. and Rogues, edited by J.M. Martin

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Blackguards Tales of Assassins Mercenaries and Rogues-smallI first heard about the massive Blackguards anthology, which showcases tales of thieves, rogues and assassins, when Laura Resnick wrote a guest post for us last year, “Living Outside Society’s Rules,” talking about her short story “Friendship,” set in the world of her Silerian trilogy and taking place a few years before the first book, In Legend Born.

I was intrigued… but since then I’ve learned that Blackguards contains stories set in over two dozen fantasy worlds, from writers like Mark Lawrence, Carol Berg, Mark Smylie, Django Wexler, Peter Orullian, and many, many more. This is an unprecedented opportunity to sample some of the most popular and innovative fantasy series on the market today, all in one place. Blackguards was edited by J.M. Martin and published this week by Ragnarok Publications. If you’re at all interested in modern fantasy, this volume is an incredible bargain.

Whether by coin or by blood… YOU WILL PAY.

A fantasy anthology featuring the deadly, the worldly, and the sneaky. Blackguards consists mainly of stories in established series, and the authors range from wildly successful indie authors to New York Times bestsellers. Featuring tales set in the worlds of Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria, David Dalglish’s Dezrel, Mark Lawrence’s The Broken Empire, Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori, Mark Smylie’s Sword and Barrow, Anthony Ryan’s Raven’s Shadow, Shawn Speakman’s Chronicles of Annwn, Carol Berg’s Sanctuary, James A. Moore’s Seven Forges, Django Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns, Laura Resnick’s Silerian Trilogy, Peter Orullian’s Vault of Heaven, Kenny Soward’s GnomeSaga, Paul S. Kemp’s Egil and Nix, and more! If you enjoy roguish tales of scoundrels and ne’er-do-wells, many of them set in established worlds, Blackguards is for you!

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The Proxy Culture War for the Soul of Middle Earth

Monday, April 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Culture War-smallThe culture war has been going on for a while. We’re used to it played out large. Trying to boil down 50 years of social history and politics into a paragraph is going to lose some nuance but, in broad strokes, you’ve people for whom established mores work, usually from homogenous communities, and people for whom they don’t — who are frequently labeled with various flavors of moral degeneracy. Usually to the scorn of history.

It’s played out in government, often in schools. We’re used to that. But now it’s also playing out in our fandom, our games, our conventions. This year the Hugo Awards took some collateral damage from being a battlefield in a war that is part of that narrative but is also somewhat removed from how we’ve been used to thinking of this fight.

Safe Space and the Geek Social Fallacy

There is a social movement of, largely, white male nerds misusing the concept of safe space to exclude people from geekdom.

Safe space is an area where anyone can be comfortable in who they are without recrimination, without bullying and without threat.

Most of our society isn’t safe. The litany of violence, abuse, and microaggression thrown at people because of fundamental aspects of their person is well documented

Read More »


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