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Author: Todd McAulty

From the Moon to Mars: The British Library Science Fiction Classics by Mike Ashley

From the Moon to Mars: The British Library Science Fiction Classics by Mike Ashley

Lost Mars The Golden Age of the Red Planet-small Moonrise The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures-small

The Moon and Mars have fascinated science fiction writers for generations, although I thought the era of classic Mars and Moon anthologies was over. But it turns out that’s not the case. At least not while editor Mike Ashley is on the job, anyway.

Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet, which collects pulp-era tales (and pre pulp-era tales) from Wonder Stories, Amazing Stories, Astounding, and Worlds of If, was published in April 2018. Its sister anthology Moonrise: The Golden Era of Lunar Adventures, with stories from F&SF, Amazing, Tales of Wonder, Astounding, New Worlds, and Fantastic, arrives in September. Both are part of the British Library Science Fiction Classics, which I’ve never heard of, but for which I immediately have a deep and passionate love. Near as I can figure out, it’s a relatively new imprint devoted to early 20th Century SF. Or maybe just stories of Mars and the Moon, I dunno. But either way, love love love.

These are very welcome books. They include tales of adventure and exploration from the pre-spaceflight era (the most recent stories are from 1963, only two years after the start of the Apollo space program), which means they’re not particularly concerned with getting the science right. Scientific verisimilitude was the province of late 20th Century SF; these stories concern themselves chiefly with imagination and adventure.

And when it comes to the Moon and Mars, human imagination has been pretty darn fertile. These books contain some of the greatest SF ever written, including Arthur C. Clarke’s brilliant tale “The Sentinel,” which inspired 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Stanley G. Weinbaum’s groundbreaking “A Martian Odyssey,” which Isaac Asimov said, “had the effect on the field of an exploding grenade. With this single story, Weinbaum was instantly recognized as the world’s best living science fiction writer.” There’s also a Martian Chronicles tale by Ray Bradbury, an excerpt from H.G. Wells’ classic First Men in the Moon, and stories by Walter M. Miller Jr, J. G. Ballard, Gordon R. Dickson, Edmond Hamilton, John Wyndham, E. C. Tubb, and many others.

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How Science Fiction Was Saved by Solaris and Jonathan Strahan

How Science Fiction Was Saved by Solaris and Jonathan Strahan

Infinity's End edited by Jonathan Strahan-smallA few years ago Black Gate asked “Is the Original SF and Fantasy Paperback Anthology Series Dead?” Those were dark, dark days, and I don’t like to think of them.

They’re over now. Science fiction was rescued from a barren wasteland of paperback sameness by the one publisher who had a decent shot: Solaris. They did it by taking a chance on a paperback anthology series that has become one of the most acclaimed and celebrated of the past few decades: Jonathan Strahan’s Infinity Project, which comes to a triumphant end this month with Infinity’s End, certain to be one of the most talked-about books of the year.

You see, years ago original anthology series like Damon Knight’s Orbit, Terry Carr’s Universe and Robert Silverberg’s New Dimensions were the very centre of science fiction, providing a prestigious and high-paying market for short fiction. They showcased the top names as well as up-and-coming talent. I could plunk down my three bucks at W.H. Smith in Halifax, Nova Scotia, knowing that the slender paperbacks I excitedly carried home would introduce me to half a dozen new writers.

Those books sold well, but publishers were savvy enough to know that it wasn’t just about the bottom line. When I read stories like Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (from New Dimensions 3, 1974), Howard Waldrop’s “The Ugly Chickens” (Universe 10, 1981), or Isaac Asimov’s “The Bicentennial Man” (Stellar 2, 1977), I immediately began haunting book store stacks for books by Le Guin, Waldrop, and Asimov. There’s no reader as observant or loyal as a science fiction fan, and paperback anthologies, cheap and plentiful, were the perfect way to get authors in front of hungry new readers.

The economics of publishing gradually changed over the decades, of course, and those changes eventually wiped out the original paperback series. DAW’s long-running “paperback magazine,” the monthly anthology edited by Martin Greenberg and his associates at Tekno Books, was the last of them, and when Marty passed away in 2011, DAW killed it, too. Old timers like me shook their heads, muttering “No one reads short stories any more.” True or false, that grumpy sentiment became conventional wisdom in American publishing. No one would take a chance on something as provably dead as anthologies. That meant fewer readers finding new writers, and fewer sales for those writers. The field slowly withered without a prestige anthology series, and it looked like it would do so forever.

Until Solaris, and Strahan.

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Black Gate Zeppelin to Dragon*Con Update 5: It’s too Hideous

Black Gate Zeppelin to Dragon*Con Update 5: It’s too Hideous

The Harold Lamb approaches Caracas to ask for directions
The Harold Lamb approaches Caracas to ask for directions.

Oh God. Oh, God.   Lovecraft was right.  Things that are seen, cannot be unseen.

So I thought I’d have a private cabin on this flying death-trap Howard Andrew Jones has poetically named The Harold Lamb, but no.  That’s reserved for important bloggers, like Sue “Goth Chick” Granquist, and our fancy pilot, Bill Ward.  During our trip to Atlanta, I’m stuck down here in engineering, sharing a tiny cabin with Jason Waltz and John Woolley.  They’re good guys, but for the past two days they’ve been laughing about some private joke.  This morning, when I was finally done shoveling coal into the engines, I asked them to let me in on it.

They share a glance, and then Woolley moves a little closer, his voice lowered.  “Okay,” he says. “You know how naive editor John O’Neill is, right?”

Well, yeah.  He’s a Canadian, he trusts everyone.  I nod, and Woolley continues: “He’s never been to Dragon*Con before.  Yesterday he asks me and Jason about it.  What he should expect, stuff like that.  So I tell him, it’s tradition to dress up as Princess Leia — that wins everyone over. And he totally falls for it.”

I chuckle.  That sounds like John.  Right now he’s probably in the stores, cutting up sheets to make a white princess dress.  But before I can comment, Jason adds: “That’s not the worst part. Yesterday I heard him asking Howard about those illegal genetic samples we picked up when we raided Dr. Zarius’ polar labs.  He took two back to his room.”

“Wait,” I say, with mounting horror. “O’Neill’s not crazy enough to experiment with those…. is he? They can change you, in ways you’d never imagine.” I can see in John’s and Jason’s faces that they’ve suddenly come to the same dread conclusion I have.  In moments, the three of us are pounding on the door to O’Neill’s cabin.

“Go away!” he shouts from inside.  But his voice…. it’s changed.  Changed in indescribable ways.

“We’ve got to break down this door,” Woolley says fervently, grabbing a crow bar.  Jason helps him, but I start to back away.  I know, with absolute mounting horror, what we’ll find when we open that door.  It can’t be… it can’t be… but I know that it will be.  And I can feel my very sanity slipping away… just as I hear the door crash open, and the screaming begins, as John and Jason look upon the horror within…

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