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Author: Steven H Silver

Releasing Lightning from the Bottle

Releasing Lightning from the Bottle

In 1993, Bruce Campbell starred in an excellent television show set during the nineteenth century in which he went on adventure after adventure, often in the company of a beautiful woman, and always seeking “the next big thing,” which led to steam-punkish versions of modern inventions. The show was clever, fun, entertaining, thoughtful, and lasted one single season for 27 episodes.

In 2000, Bruce Campbell starred in a television show set during the nineteenth century in which he went on adventure after adventure, often in the company of a beautiful woman, many episodes features steam-punkish versions of modern inventions. The show was juvenile, intermittently fun, and lasted two seasons for 22 episodes.

The first show was The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. The second was Jack of All Trades. In the latter show, Campbell portrayed Jack Stiles, an American spy sent by Thomas Jefferson to the fictional island of Palau-Palau in 1801. Stiles was teamed up with British aristocrat and spy Emilia Rothschild (Angela Dotchin) and they tried to bedevil the French authorities on the island, represented by Napoleon’s brother, Governor Croque (Stuart Devenie) and his guard captain, Brogard (Stephen Papps).

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An Ignored 1894 Science Fiction Novel

An Ignored 1894 Science Fiction Novel

Thirty years ago (COVID-19 time) on May 1, I posted an article in which I explained why a film many view as a Hollywood musical is really a science fiction film. Today, on November 30, I’ll explain why one of Mark Twain’s novels is also a science fiction novel, and for the same reason.

Mark Twain, the pen name for Samuel Longhorne Clemens, was born in Florida, Missouri on November 30, 1835. Best known for the novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, some of his work, at both novel a short story length, dabbled in the tropes common to speculative fiction. Perhaps most famous of these is A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, a novel that sends the title character back in time and which formed a template for L. Sprague de Camp’s later Lest Darkness Fall. Other Twain works which are clearly part of the genre include the short stories “Mental Telegraphy,” “Shackleford’s Ghost,” and “Extract from Captain Stormfields Visit to Heaven,” all of which, along with several other stories, were collected in The Science Fiction of Mark Twain, edited by David Ketterer and published by Archon Books in 1984.

The work that I would like to take a look at through a science fictional lens, however, is Twain’s 1894 novel Pudd’nhead Wilson. Originally serialized in The Century Magazine in 1893, the novel is generally known as a courtroom drama in which the title lawyer realizes that not only is the accused innocent of the crime, but that there is a deeper secret hidden among the residents of Dawson’s Landing, Missouri. The novel is also known for the pithy chapter headings which are purportedly taken from Pudd’nhead Wilson’s calendar, such as “Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond, cauliflower is nothing by cabbage with a college education.” Although Wilson is the title character and heavily involved in the novel’s denouement, he disappears for a large swathe of the novel.

Set in the first half of the Nineteenth Century, Twain focuses his attention of Roxy, a woman who is only 1/32 black, but that is enough to condemn her to a life of slavery serving the Driscoll family. It also means her son, Valet de Chambre, who is the result of rape by her master, Percy Driscoll, is also a slave. Very fair skinned, many comment on the similarity of appearance between Chambers, as he is called, and his half-brother, Percy’s legitimate son, Tom Discoll. When Roxy sees some slaves sold down-river, she decides she needs to protect Chambers from that fate and, after briefly contemplating murder/suicide, she decides, instead, to swap Chambers for Tom, raising the white boy as her own and letting the world think her own son is her master.

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Corum and Me:  The Redemption of the Scarlet Robes

Corum and Me:  The Redemption of the Scarlet Robes

The-Chronicles-of-Corum-Berkley 2-small The-Chronicles-of-Corum UK-small

The Chronicles of Corum, Berkley Medallion (1983, artist uncredited) and Grafton (1987, Mark Salwowski)

In late 2017 I published an article at Black Gate called Elric and Me, in which I discussed revisiting Michael Moorcock’s most famous creation. Three years later, I’ve decided to revisit another of his creations, Corum Jhaelen Irsei, the Prince of the Scarlet Robe. Recently I published the first half of the essay, Corum and Me: The Disappointment of the Swords, which discussed my reaction to the first trilogy of Corum novels, frequently called The Swords Trilogy and comprised of The Knight of the Swords, The Queen of the Swords, and The King of the Swords. I came away from the trilogy disappointed and not looking forward to the follow-up trilogy, for my fond memories of Corum were rooted in the first trilogy. (Greg Mele presented a thoughtful counter argument here, in In Defense of Corum, Elric’s Brother-from-a-Vadhagh-Mother.)

The second trilogy, The Chronicles of Corum, including the novels The Bull and the Spear, The Oak and the Ram, and The Sword and the Stallion, is set centuries after the first. It opens several decades after The King of the Swords. Corum’s love, the Margravine Rhalina, has died and he is living an empty existence, occasionally kept company by his companion Jhary-a-Conal.

Suffering from dreams in which people are calling him, he discusses the situation with Jhary-a-Conal, who has a greater than typical understanding of the way the multiverse works. Jhary-a-Conal explains that Corum is being summoned by Rhalina’s distant descendants who are in need of a hero. Their calls are getting weaker as Corum continues to ignore them but if he chooses to go to their aid, it is not too late. Being a hero and an aspect of the Champion Eternal, Corum allows himself to be dragged into his future.

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Corum and Me: The Disappointment of the Swords

Corum and Me: The Disappointment of the Swords

The Swords Trilogy-small The-Chronicles-of-Corum-Berkley 2-small

The Swords Trilogy (Berkley Medallion, 1977, cover by Ken Barr) and
The Chronicles of Corum (Berkley Medallion, 1983, artist uncredited).

In late 2017, I published an article at Black Gate called “Elric and Me” in which I discussed revisiting Michael Moorcock’s most famous creation. Three years later, I’ve decided to revisit another of his creations, Corum Jhaelen Irsei., the Prince of the Scarlet Robe.

I first became acquainted with all of Moorcock’s characters in the early 1980s when I discovered Elric and Hawkmoon in Appendix N of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Over the next several years, I tracked down as many of his works as I could, and my timing was fantastic since during those years, DAW was printing and reprinting nearly all of Moorcock’s fiction in reasonably easy to acquire versions.

The Corum books, however, were reprinted by Berkley in two omnibus editions. The first, The Swords Trilogy, contains The Knight of the Swords, The Queen of the Swords, and The King of the Swords. The second, The Chronicles of Corum, contained The Bull and the Spear, The Oak and the Ram, and The Sword and the Stallion. In this first of two essays, we explore The Swords Trilogy.

Over the years, I’ve read and re-read various series by Moorcock. Kane of Old Mars in 1998, The History of the Runestaff in 2010, and, of course, Elric in 2017. When I picked up the anthology Michael Moorcock’s Legends of the Multiverse in August and read the Corum story included there, I realized that I hadn’t actually re-read the Corum novels since the 1980s. Perhaps it was time to revisit them.

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After Hastings: On Names

After Hastings: On Names

After Hastings-small

After Hastings cover by Laura Givens

Coming up with a title or character names can be much more difficult that you might expect. The title, especially, is a reader’s first introduction to the book and the way word about the book will spread. Because of this, it needs to be as perfect as the first line.

When I was working on After Hastings, I questioned the title, trying to come up with something catchier that still captured the essence of the novel, which is set in the two years after the Battle of Hastings (specifically, January 5, 1067-January 5, 1069). I asked around and received some suggestions, such as 1067. Eventually, I decided After Hastings was the way to go. Amazingly enough, it wasn’t until after the novel was published that I looked at it and realized that its initials, AH, were how Alternate History, the subgenre to which it belongs, is often abbreviated. Sometimes we’re just too close to things.

For characters, my choices should have been easier. A lot of the characters in After Hastings are historical. Their names were selected by their parents over a millennium ago. Unfortunately, even there things weren’t always easy.

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An Ignored 1952 Science Fiction Film

An Ignored 1952 Science Fiction Film

Just Imagine

Just Imagine (Maureen O’Sullivan, John Garrick)

The history of science fiction cinematic musicals may not be broad, but it has depth, dating back to the very first science fiction “talkie.” Just Imagine was made in 1930 and starred John Garrick, El Brendel, Frank Albertson, and Maureen O’Sullivan. Today, O’Sullivan may be the best remembered for her portrayals of Jane Parker opposite Johnny Weismuller in six Tarzan films beginning with Tarzan the Ape Man in 1932 and ending with Tarzan’s New York Adventure a decade later. Unfortunately, Just Imagine doesn’t work as a musical, as a science fiction film, or as a comedy. Its place in history is assured simply by the fact that it got there first.

One of the most success science fiction films is one that many, perhaps most, of the people who have seen it don’t realize, or consider, to be a science fiction film. Released in 1952, it would have been eligible for a Hugo Award at the 11th Worldcon in Philadelphia where they were first given out, had there been a Dramatic Presentation Award, along with films such as Zombies of the Stratosphere, Radar Men from the Moon, Red Planet Mars, April 1, 2000, and Jack and the Beanstalk.

The film is Singin’ in the Rain, starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, and Jean Hagen.

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A Lasting Exploration of What the Beatles Mean: Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles edited by Michael A. Ventrella and Randee Dawn

A Lasting Exploration of What the Beatles Mean: Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles edited by Michael A. Ventrella and Randee Dawn

Cover by Dave Alvarez
Cover by Dave Alvarez

Although the Beatles, as comprised of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, only existed as a band from August 1962 until April 1970, they left an indelible mark on the music and culture of the world that is constantly being discovered, explored, and reinvented. One of those reinventions occurred in 2019 with the release of the film Yesterday, in which singer Jack Malik discovers he is one of the few people in the world who remembers the Beatles and builds a career out of recreating their songs. Even before that film was released, however, editors Michael A. Ventrella and Randee Dawn were at work creating the anthology Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles.

At lunch in the executive dining room of Black Gate Tower a couple of weeks ago, our esteemed editor and I were finishing our desserts (wild honey pie for me, Savoy truffle for him), when he asked my opinion of Yesterday. I described what I liked about it, what I felt could have made it better, and explained that I viewed a world without the Beatles or Coke as essentially dystopian. I told him why the alternative ending would have improved the film and, at the same time, opened up other questions that it hadn’t addressed.

Two days later I was summoned into the presence of the giant, floating holographic head that gives Black Gate writers their assignments, and presented with a copy of Across the Universe. Our conversation at lunch had been sounding me out for my knowledge of all things Beatle.

Jody Lynn Nye has cast the Fab Four as powerful elemental wizards and follows the adventures of George, the water mage, as he strikes out on his own and finds himself face-to-face with a powerful enemy. The story explores the difficulties of making it on your own when you’re used to working in a group, but also points out how experiences continue to inform a person’s actions. Nye also looks beyond Harrison’s career with the Beatles and even his solo career for her source material.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Short Fiction of 1979

The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Short Fiction of 1979

Riverworld and Other Stories
Riverworld and Other Stories

Cover by George Barr
Cover by George Barr

Nightmares
Nightmares

And finally, after looking at various award winners over the past year and articles about authors’ debuts and the novels published in 1979, it has come time to close out this series of articles with a look at some of the non-award winning short fiction published in 1979.

By 1979, Philip José Farmer had published the first three novels in his Riverworld series as well as a novelette set in the same world, entitled “Riverworld.” When he reprinted the novelette in 1979 in his collection Riverworld and Other Stories, Farmer expanded the story from 12,000 to 33,750 words, effectively publishing a new story in the popular series about humanity’s afterlife on an infinite river.

John M. Ford has made the news recently as the rights to reprint his all too few works, plus an unfinished novel, have been disentangled.  In 1979 he published six stories in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (his first sale was in 1976). These stories included “Mandalay,” which kicked off his Alternities, Inc. series of stories, as well as “The Adventure of the Solitary Engineer” and “The Sapphire as Big as the Marsport Hilton.”

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro introduced her vampire, the Count Saint-Germain, in 1978 in the novel Hotel Transylvania. In 1979, she published her first short story about him, “Seat Partner,” detailing his experiences on an airplane, a far cry from the historical settings of the novels he usually inhabits.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Gerald W. Page

The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Gerald W. Page

Cover by Jad
Cover by Jad

Cover by Michael Whelan
Cover by Michael Whelan

Cover by Tim Kirk
Cover by Tim Kirk

DeepSouthCon has presented the Rebel Award annually since 1965. The first Rebel Award was presented to Al Andrews. The 1980 award was presented on August 23 at DeepSouthCon 18/ASFICon in Atlanta, Georgia, which was chaired by Cliff Biggers.

Gerald W. Page joined the Atlanta Science Fiction Organization in 1954. He was a member of the Southern Fandom Group during its three years of existence from 1960 through 1963.  In 1963, he began publishing short fiction with the story “The Happy Man,” which appeared in Analog. He has continued to publish short stories, occasionally using pseudonyms such as Carleton Grindle or Leo Tifton.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Amazons!, edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson

The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Amazons!, edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson

Cover by Michael Whelan
Cover by Michael Whelan

The World Fantasy Award was established in 1975 as part of the World Fantasy Convention. Seen as a fantasy version of the Hugo and the Nebula Awards (neither of which are strictly for science fiction), the nominees and winners are selected by a panel of judges, although currently, two positions on the ballot are opened up to nominations from members of the World Fantasy Convention. The Anthology/Collection Award was presented from 1977, when it was won by Kirby McCauley for Frights, through 1987 when James Tiptree, Jr. won it for Tales of the Quintana Roo.  For two years prior to the award’s establishment, a Best Collection Award was presented. In 1988, Best Collection and Best Anthology were each split out into their own categories and remain so until this day. Originally, the trophy was a Gahan Wilson created grotesque bust of H.P. Lovecraft. In recent years as more and more authors, fans, and winners of the award spoke out against Lovecraft’s misogyny and racism, the trophy was replaced by a sculpture of a tree created by Vincent Villafranca. In 1980, the award was won by Jessica Amanda Salmons for the anthology Amazons!

Salmonson’s introductions to each of the stories are lengthy and provide insight not only into the stories that follow, but also her process in creating the anthology. She discusses her motives for putting the book together, her reasons for selecting the specific stories, related anecdotes about how the stories came to her and, in the case of Charles Saunders’ story, addresses the fact that only one story by a male writer appears in the anthology.

Following the general introduction by Salmonson, in which she discusses both historical and mythological warrior women, the book presents the short story “The Dreamstone,” by C.J. Cherryh, which the author would eventually combine with her novella “Ealdwood” and publish as the novel The Dreamstone in 1983.

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