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Author: John ONeill

Vintage Treasures: The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert A. Heinlein

Vintage Treasures: The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert A. Heinlein

The Past Through Tomorrow (Berkley Medallion, January 1975). Cover uncredited

I’ve never been a big Heinlein fan. Not my fault. I enjoyed Starship Troopers well enough, but the next two novels I tried — The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and especially Friday — I bounced off pretty hard. I never tried again.

It didn’t help that I made most of my discoveries through short fiction in those days, and Heinlein almost never showed up in anthologies. Sometimes editors would apologize for omitting him, admitting (with some frustration) that they just couldn’t get the rights to the Heinlein tales they wanted. The problem was that by the mid-70s Heinlein was a star, the top-selling author in the field, and his entire short fiction catalog was locked up in his own bestselling collections.

I read collections, of course. Lots of them. But the seminal Heinlein collection, the one containing virtually all of his really important short work — including classics like “The Roads Must Roll,” “Blowups Happen,” “The Man Who Sold the Moon,” “Gentlemen, Be Seated,” “The Green Hills of Earth,” “Logic of Empire,” “The Menace from Earth,” “If This Goes On —”, and the short novel Methuselah’s Children — was the massive The Past Through Tomorrow. And that 830-page beast was just a bridge too far for a traumatized veteran of the first 100 pages of Friday.

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A Uniquely Terrifying Voice: To Drown in Dark Water by Steve Toase

A Uniquely Terrifying Voice: To Drown in Dark Water by Steve Toase

To Drown in Dark Water (Undertow Publications, April 2021). Cover by Stefan Koidl

Undertow Publications, one of the finest small press publishers on the continent, just announced Open Submissions for novels and novellas. It’s caused a huge swell of excitement among many of the writing circles I keep tabs on — and a flurry of folks asking, “Wait, what kind of books do they want?”

Read the guidelines, people. Even better, pick up one of their excellent previous releases, including Simon Strantzas’s Nothing is Everything, V. H. Leslie’s Skein and Bone, Grotesquerie by Richard Gavin, or their top-notch magazine Weird Horror.

Or you could buy their latest, Steve Toase’s debut collection To Drown in Dark Water, just released this week with a magnificently creepy cover by Stefan Koidl. It’s already accumulated strong notices. Nathan Ballingrud calls it “an outstanding first collection,” and Bram Stoker winner Sarah Read says:

There are masters of folk horror and masters of weird horror; there are masters of cosmic horror and masters of psychological horror. But on the Venn diagram where all those intersect, there is only Steve Toase. To Drown in Dark Water is a masterpiece.

Here’s a quote from the rave review at Booklist.

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New Treasures: Wings of Fury by Emily R. King

New Treasures: Wings of Fury by Emily R. King

Wings of Fury (47North, March 2021). Cover by Ed Bettison

Emily R. King is the author of the popular Hundredth Queen series. For her latest fantasy series she mines Greek Mythology to tell a tale of titans, gods, oracles, and an 18-year old girl who takes them all on. This one looks like a lot of fun. Publishers Weekly says “King ably weaves Greek mythology into a cat-and-mouse spectacle… This is a winner.” Here’s an excerpt from the full review.

Set in ancient Greece, this sumptuous adventure from King (the Hundredth Queen series) sees a fierce heroine contending with brutal Titans, suspicious vestals, and a petulant Boy God. Eleven-year-old Althea Lambros witnesses her mother die while giving birth to a half-Titan baby after having been raped by the god Cronus, the most powerful Titan. At her dying mother’s request, Althea vows to protect her older sisters, Cleora and Bronte. But when Althea is 18, Cronus’s goons kidnap Cleora. Althea seeks advice on how to defeat Cronus from the oracle Clotho, who tasks Althea with retrieving the 15-year-old Boy God Zeus from the island of Crete, where he’s been hidden from Cronus…. King ably weaves Greek mythology into a cat-and-mouse spectacle. Readers will cheer for Althea as she upholds her family’s honor and fights belligerent gods with determination and confidence. This is a winner.

The second and final book in the series, Crown of Cinders, will be released on October 5th.

Wings of Fury was published by 47North on March 1, 2021. It is 301 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback, $4.99 in digital formats, and $14.99 for the audio CD. The cover was designed by Ed Bettison. See all our recent New Treasures here.

Vintage Treasures: Judgment Night by C.L. Moore

Vintage Treasures: Judgment Night by C.L. Moore

Judgment Night (Dell, 1979). Cover uncredited

Every new generation of SF readers has to put up with old timers lecturing them about how much better science fiction was decades ago. I had to endure it when I was growing up, my kids sure as hell did, and I expect twenty years from now my grandkids will have to cope with the same annoyance, as they try to peacefully enjoy their favorite manga by the pool while grandad angrily shouts at them to read a damn book once in a while. I hope they ignore him.

From time to time some curious young reader will ask me for a recommendation from the pulp era of science fiction I’m always going on about, “You know, something actually good.” It’s a fair enough request. Sometimes I point them towards Charles Tanner’s Tumithak stories, or Robert E. Howard, or Clark Ashton Smith. But recently I’ve been suggesting C.L. Moore. And especially her 1979 paperback Judgment Night, which collects five tales from the pulp era of Astounding. Here’s Paul Di Filippo’s review of the title story, published here at Black Gate a decade ago,

A primal space opera, it concerns the star empire of the Lyonese, whose central world is Ericon, where ancient patron gods live, remote from day-to-day affairs of the empire.

But now the vast holdings of the Lyonese are crumbling under the assault of a younger race, the H’vani. The Emperor’s heir is Juille, a daughter, and she’s determined her dynasty will continue. She wages a one-woman campaign against the wishes of her doddering father to save all that her ancestors built.

But she doesn’t count on falling in love with the H’vani ruler — or the machinations of Ericon’s living deities.

“Judgment Night,” published in the August 1943 issue of Astounding, is a complete short novel in itself, but that lovely paperback also contains the novella “Paradise Street” and three long novelettes. It’s a delightful introduction to what pulp science was all about — and one of its finest practitioners.

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Future Treasures: The Alien Stars And Other Novellas by Tim Pratt

Future Treasures: The Alien Stars And Other Novellas by Tim Pratt

Tim Pratt has been nominated for the Nebula, World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Stoker, and Mythopoeic Awards, and he won the Hugo Award for his short story “Impossible Dreams.” His latest — and most ambitious — work is the Axiom space opera trilogy, which Tor.com called “a witty, heartfelt sci-fi romp.” The first volume, The Wrong Stars, was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award; we covered the whole series back in 2019.

His latest is a collection of three previously unpublished novellas set in the Axiom universe, and they sound terrific. The Alien Stars and Other Novellas was originally funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, but the end result was successful enough that Angry Robot picked it up for reissue in paperback. Locus calls the collection a “Compelling, fun, explosive work of space opera pulp. It’s delightful,” and Publishers Weekly said,

With these three exciting novellas, Pratt explores and expands the lively pulp world of his Axiom space opera trilogy… “The Augmented Stars” finds cyborg engineer Ashok captaining his own wormhole generator–equipped vessel. He and his crew contend with ancient alien artifacts from Axiom facilities and cosplaying space pirates… In the epistolary title story, alien Lantern risks her life to prevent her own treacherous people from destroying humanity and save the human woman she loves… each of these tales delivers the buoyant humor and adventure of the Axiom novels.

The book arrives in paperback next week. Here’s the publisher’s description.

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New Treasures: The Complete Ivy Frost by Donald Wandrei

New Treasures: The Complete Ivy Frost by Donald Wandrei

The Complete Ivy Frost (Haffner Books, December 2020). Cover by Raymond Swanland

No one else is doing the kind of superb work Stephen Haffner is, bringing pulp authors back into print in gorgeous archival-quality hardcovers that are within reach of the average collector. His latest release is The Complete Ivy Frost, which gathers together all eighteen stories of Donald Wandrei’s pulp supersleuth Professor I. V. “Ivy” Frost, one of the most popular characters to ever appear in Clues Detective Stories.

Are these classic tales still of interest to modern readers? Don’t take my word for it — here’s an excerpt from Steven R. Harbin’s Amazon review of Frost, the 2000 Fedogan and Bremer collection that gathered the first eight stories.

Donald Wandrei was one of the great pulp writers of the late 20’s and early 30’s. He’s best known for his cosmic science fiction and his macabre horror stories, and indeed was a Weird Tales Magazine and Astounding Stories regular. The eight stories in this collection show that he could also write pulp detective fiction with the best of them. His investigator Professor I. V. “Ivy” Frost is a mix of supersleuth, inventor, scientist, and master fighter all rolled into one. Deadly, logical, courageous, and stoic like the more famous denizen of Baker Street, he is also a man with a super gadget or two up his sleeve. In addition he just happens to have a beautiful, brainy, gutsy, blonde assistant named Jean Moray, who has her own advanced degrees AND a garter belt thigh holster complete with pearl handled .25. The slyly humorous romantic/sexual tension between Frost and Moray made the stories as far as I was concerned.

The editors of Clue Magazine asked Wandrei to develop a series character in an effort to compete with the more well known hard boiled fiction of Black Mask Magazine. Wandrei’s ratiocinative adventurer quickly became one of the most popular series characters in Clue‘s history…

Here’s publisher Stephen Haffner’s book description.

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Behind the Scenes with Skull & Friends

Behind the Scenes with Skull & Friends

I finally got around to listening to the epic podcast produced earlier this year by the staff and contributors to Tales From the Magician’s Skull. It features the brain trust behind my favorite sword & sorcery magazine, including its illustrious publisher Joseph Goodman, mastermind behind Goodman Games; editor Howard Andrew Jones (Managing Editor emeritus of Black Gate); and authors John C (Chris) Hocking, James Enge, and S.E. (Seth) Lindberg.

The whole thing is well worth listening to, roaming free-form over topics of interest to anyone who enjoys reading or writing quality short fantasy, including horror stories from the slush pile, the rising influence of Clark Ashton Smith and Warhammer, the importance of the establishing shot in fantasy fiction, other sources of quality S&S (including Adrian Simmons’ Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Jason Ray Carney’s Whetstone, Dave Ritzlin’s DMR Books, Cirsova, and Weirdbook), Icelandic sagas, the timeline of James Enge’s Morlock tales, Hocking’s Benhus stories, Howard Hanuvar tales, and the mysterious and untimely demise of an unusual number of magazine interns.

A couple of friends tipped me off that I was name-checked about forty minutes in, so it wasn’t a surprise when I heard it, but it was certainly worth the wait. The topic under discussion was the rare and classic Fighting Fantasy board games, including The Warlock and Firetop Mountain and especially Legend of Zagor. Here’s a transcription from around the 36-minute mark.

Howard: I bet John O’Neill has all of that, probably multiple copies in shrink.
S.E. Lindberg: Oh my god.

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Vintage Treasures: Weird Shadows From Beyond, edited by John Carnell

Vintage Treasures: Weird Shadows From Beyond, edited by John Carnell

Weird Shadows From Beyond (Avon Books, August 1969). Cover by Josh Kirby

John Carnell edited the highly-regarded British SF magazines New Worlds (from 1946-64), Science Fantasy (1951-64), and Science Fiction Adventures (1958-63). In the US he’s probably best known an an anthologist, editor of the long-running New Writings in SF (21 volumes from 1964-72), and individual volumes like No Place Like Earth (1952), Gateway to Tomorrow (1954), and Lambda I and Other Stories (1964).

I found a copy of his slender 1969 anthology Weird Shadows From Beyond in a small collection I bought on eBay earlier this year. Carnell’s thoughtful introduction both intrigued me and nicely set the mood for the tales within:

A freshly turned grave with one mourner filled with hate; a telephone kiosk at night with something outside trying to get in; a ghoul playing knucklebones on a tombstone; a bodiless evening dress suit dancing in a moonlit glade; an iron shark hook; a handful of perfect teeth; a witch and a were-leopard — these are but a few of the ingredients which are an integral part of some of the stories in this collection of bizarre stories. Stories told with the consummate skill of modern writers, for the tree of the macabre has come a long way since its roots spawned in the day of the Gothic novel.

Doubtless those giants of yesterday — Poe, Blackwood, Dunsany, Lovecraft, Bierce, Wakefield, and the many others — would be pleased with their foster-children and somewhat amazed by present-day techniques of story-telling, yet, while more than half a century separates the old from the new, both classes of writer have the same aim in view; to entertain and at the same time to cause an occasional shudder or an uneasy feeling at dead of night.

Weird Shadows From Beyond contains ten short stories published between 1956 and 1964, seven of which were drawn from Carnell’s Science Fantasy magazine. They include an Elric story by Michael Moorcock, a pair of stories by Mervyn Peake, and stories by William Tenn, Brian W. Aldiss, Theodore Sturgeon, E. C. Tubb, an original story by Eric C. Williams, and others. Here’s the complete table of contents.

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New Treasures: The Best of Walter Jon Williams

New Treasures: The Best of Walter Jon Williams

The Best of Walter Jon Williams (Subterranean Press, February 28, 2021). Cover by Lee Moyer

Walter Jon Williams began his writing career in the early 80s designing games for Fantasy Games Unlimited, most notably the Age of Fighting Sail role playing game Privateers and Gentlemen (1983). He had more success with science fiction in the following years, and his work — especially his novellas, which he’s justly famous for — have been nominated for numerous awards. With The Best of Walter Jon Williams, Subterranean Press has produced one of the most important collections of the year, gathering the most vital work of one of the most successful short fiction writers in the field. Here’s the jacket copy.

With the publication of his debut novel, The Privateer, in 1981, Walter Jon Williams began one of the most varied and prolific careers in contemporary popular fiction. His work encompasses cyberpunk (Hardwired), military SF (The Dread Empire’s Fall series), humor (The Crown Jewels), even disaster fiction (The Rift). But much of Williams’s best work takes place in the shorter forms, as this generous volume, filled to overflowing with award-winning and award-nominated stories, clearly proves.

With one exception, The Best of Walter Jon Williams reflects its author’s affection for — and mastery of — the novella form. That exception is “The Millennium Party,” a brief, brilliant account of a virtual anniversary celebration unlike any you have ever imagined. Elsewhere in the collection, Williams offers us one brilliantly sustained creation after another. The Nebula Award-winning “Daddy’s World” takes us into a young boy’s private universe, a world of seeming miracles that conceals a tragic secret. “Dinosaurs” is the far future account of the incredibly destructive relationship between the star-faring human race and the less evolved inhabitants of the planet Shar.

“Diamonds from Tequila” is a lovingly crafted example of SF Noir in which a former child actor attempts a comeback that proves unexpectedly dangerous. “Surfacing” is a tale of alienation featuring a research scientist more at home with the foreign and unfamiliar than with the members of his own species. Finally, the magisterial “Wall, Stone, Craft” offers a brilliantly realized alternate take on a young Mary Godwin, future creator of Frankenstein, and her relationships with the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, culminating in the creation of a monster who would “stalk through the hearts of all the world.”

These stories, together with half a dozen equally substantial tales, are the clear product of a master craftsman with a seemingly limitless imagination.

The Best of Walter Jon Williams contains eleven novellas and one short story, plus an introduction by Daniel Abraham (one half of the joint-pseudonym James S.A. Corey), and Williams’ extensive Story Notes (13 pages). Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Vintage Treasures: Legacy by James H. Schmitz

Vintage Treasures: Legacy by James H. Schmitz

Legacy by James H. Schmitz (Ace Books, 1979). Cover by Bob Adragna

Although I purchased several of his paperbacks in my teens, I didn’t really learn to appreciate the work of James H. Schmitz until I read and reviewed Gardner Dozois’ terrific 1998 anthology The Good Old Stuff: Adventure SF in the Grand Tradition, which contained Schmitz’s story “The Second Night of Summer.” In his intro for that tale Gardner wrote:

Although he lacked van Vogt’s paranoid tension and ornately Byzantine plots, the late James H. Schmitz was considerably better at people than van Vogt was, crafting even his villains as complicated, psychologically complex, and non-stereotypical characters, full of surprising quirks and behaviors that you didn’t see in a lot of other Space Adventure stuff… And his universes, although they come with their own share of monsters and sinister menaces, seem as if they would be more pleasant places to live than most Space Opera universes, places where you could have a viable, ordinary, and decent life once the plot was through requiring you to battle for existence against some Dread Implacable Monster; Schmitz even has sympathy for the monsters, who are often seen in the end not to be monsters at all, but rather creatures with agendas and priorities and points-of-view of their own, from which perspectives their actions are justified and sometimes admirable — a tolerant attitude almost unique amidst the Space Adventure tales of the day, most of which were frothingly xenophobic.

“The Second Night of Summer” is a superb tale of an attack on the planet Noorhut by mysterious and deadly inter-dimensional invaders — an attack thwarted single-handedly by the coolly competent Granny Wannattel and her friendly alien companion. That single story sparked an enduring interest in Schmitz, and I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of his short fiction in the past few decades.

That in turn stirred an interest in those 70s novels that have been gathering dust on my shelves. I recently picked up the 1979 Ace Books edition of Legacy, set in Schmitz’s richly-imagined galactic federation of The Hub, and find myself much more interested in reading it than any of this month’s new SF releases.

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