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Author: Tony Den

Long time Role Player (RuneQuest mainly), fantasy and science fiction fan.
An Interlude with Messrs Brunner & Van Vogt

An Interlude with Messrs Brunner & Van Vogt

D-391

Ace Double D-391. Covers by Ed Valigursky

Ace Doubles are a popular topic at Black Gate. I suspect there may even be a bit of friendly competition to see who can unearth items not already reviewed. While John O’Neill and Rich Horton most certainly have a lead on the rest of us, it is a pleasant experience to find a book that has not yet been dealt with and add one’s own commentary.

That was the case with D-391, originally published in 1959:

  1. The World Swappers by John Brunner
  2. Siege of the Unseen by A.E. Van Vogt

I took a deliberate break from my ongoing analysis of Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga to clear my mind, and I needed something to tide me over. Working alphanumerically through my growing Ace Double collection, the first unread book that came to hand was this somewhat tatty volume. (Well technically it was a western — D-034 Hellion’s Hole/Feud In Piney Flats by Ken Murray (1953) — but the allure of Messrs Brunner and Van Vogt proved too great.)

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Adventures in Earth’s Prehistory: Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga, Part IV

Adventures in Earth’s Prehistory: Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga, Part IV

The City Jane Gaskell-Orbit-smallThe previous installments in this series are:

Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga, Part I
Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga, Part II
Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga, Part III

Ostensibly the final book in Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga is The City. It is a slim volume, especially when compared to its predecessors, coming in at 190 pages.

Picking up where Atlan left off, we find our hapless heroine Cija, half-starved and sick with scurvy from a long sea voyage, deposited in the docks of a foreign land. The master of the vessel has found a loophole in his verbal contract with the bandit chief Ael – he who paid for Cija’s safe voyage away from Atlan. Unbound by any promise regarding Cija’s treatment once ashore, the master has determined to sell her into slavery.

The docks are a squalid affair, gripped by winter. Icy rime covers mounds of garbage — and worse. Even so some punters are about, and after a bit of bidding Cija is sold and led away, still dazed and begging one of the ships boys to rescue her baby, Seka.

The City is a fast paced book. One gets the feeling Ms Gaskell was in the final sprint in the series, and this book reflects it. While she does not scrimp on descriptions, there is no wastage in the narrative. In almost a different style, Cija heads off from adventure to adventure. Even portions where time passes by are quickly dealt with until the next adventure starts.

Shortly after Cjia is led away from the slave block, the ship’s boy, Eel, and some of his cronies assail her new owner and whisk her away to promised safety. Soon she is reunited with Seka at Eel’s mothers house, which Cija soon twigs is a brothel where she is due to become a new attraction. Sickened by the prospect but still weak and lost in the foreign city, all she can do is try to capitulate.

One thing about Cija, she is a survivor. Although she has seen many streaks of bad luck, she also has the occasional run of good. This is the beginning of such a run. Her first customer turns out to be a youngster with a romantic view of the world. He believes her sob story, and sets to rescuing her. Cija escapes and, along with the youngster, finds her way to the city’s suburban greens and into his home, as a servant.

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Adventures in Earth’s Prehistory: Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga, Part III

Adventures in Earth’s Prehistory: Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga, Part III

Paperback Library (Frank Frazetta)
Paperback Library (Frank Frazetta)

Tandem edition
Tandem edition

Hodder & Stoughton (Denvil)
Hodder & Stoughton (Denvil)

Paperback Library (second printing)
Paperback Library (second printing)

Book Three (or Two, depending on the publisher) of Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga bears the same title as the series: Atlan. The previous volume(s), reviewed here (The Dragon) and here (The Serpent), left off where our heroine Cija married the “Dragon” General Zerd. Having just received the throne of the fabled continent of Atlan in a bloodless conquest, Zerd was crowned emperor, effectively making Cija empress.

Atlan commences with a brief introduction by a deserter called Scar, recounting preceding events with his own first person narrative as he legs his way to the capital. Meeting up with a bird-riding officer in search of a disguise, they switch places. Now mounted, Scar (and the introduction) fast forward to the capital where we encounter the Empress Cija.

Being empress is not all it is cracked up to be. Cija is still very much a loner and even though she’s surrounded by courtiers and handmaidens, she is lonely. Zerd’s wandering eye soon has him distracted by other women, leaving Cija to her own devices. Unto this scene arrives her old lover Smahil, and a brief tryst follows.

This is probably the right time to reveal a spoiler I’ve avoided in my previous reviews: Smahil is Cija’s half-brother. This is something Cija did not know when they first became lovers, but by the time he arrives in the capital, she is well aware of their familial relationship, yet is so desperately lonely she still shares her bed with him.

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Atlantis, Vikings, and the Hordes of Kublai Khan: Merlin’s Ring by H. Warner Munn: Part II

Atlantis, Vikings, and the Hordes of Kublai Khan: Merlin’s Ring by H. Warner Munn: Part II

terrortales-smallTime to come clean! When I published Part 1 of my review of Merlin’s Ring last year, it was not because the article was so massive that it had to be broken down into smaller parts. Rather, it’s because I was unable to finish the book promptly, and soon enough unforeseen circumstances left me deprived of my copy, wondering what happened to Gwalchmai and Corenice. John O’Neill suggested I proceed with what I had, and commit to completing the review later.

A replacement book was not an easy find. Mr Munn’s works are like hens teeth where I live. Honestly I have only ever, quite recently, come across one in a second hand book shop – alas it was The King of the World’s Edge, which is the book that caused me to seek out Merlin’s Ring in the first place!

Well, thanks to the internet and a service called Alibris, I finally received a replacement volume from Floridas. Not in as good a nick as my previous, pristine volume, but it is the first printing Ballantine version, which I suppose is something.

Part 1 of my review left off where Gwalchmai had joined forces with Joan of Arc, and became part of the army set to liberate Orleans. One has to appreciate the admiration for St Joan that Mr Munn must have had. His passion for the subject is strong, and the resultant detail a joy to read. My own knowledge of Joan of Arc has (until now) been somewhat sketchy. Pretty much the basics: when she lived, that she was burned as a heretic, and there have been a few recent movies about her.

While I can’t say whether Munn’s account is historically accurate, at least the recent movies have acquainted me with the subject of Joan of Arc. Munn’s Secondary characters are detailed and believable, with small quirks that can easily be believed. One example is Master Jean, the best marksman in France when it comes to the “hand cannon” (predecessor to a harquebus). The secret to his skill is cleverly woven into the plot, something rather mundane by today’s standards but so revolutionary, and risky, for a gunner in those days.

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Adventure in The Old Kingdom: The Minikins of Yam by Thomas Burnett Swann

Adventure in The Old Kingdom: The Minikins of Yam by Thomas Burnett Swann

Minikins_DAW-Small
DAW edition

I am on holiday and, while taking a break from work, am also taking a short break from my ongoing retro review of Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga. My growing Books to Read shelf produced two volumes that spoke to me: The Minikins of Yam by Thomas Burnett Swann, and Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber. The latter has been well reviewed and discussed on the Black Gate blog, but Swann has received a lot less attention.

Thomas Burnett Swann (1928 to 1976) wrote a number of books, essays and short stories during his career, but seems to have been most prolific during his later years. He is an author I have never read before, and I picked up the DAW copy of The Minikins of Yam at a second hand book shop for the huge sum of ZAR12 (about 80 cents).

The cover and age intrigued me and when I glanced at the first three lines: “Egypt. Chemmis. The palace of Pharaoh,” I was hooked. I have always been fascinated with ancient Egypt, and this book spoke to me. While Mr Swann was not familiar to me, he has appeared before in Black Gate, in blog posts about his novels The Weirwoods and Wolfwinter by John O’Neill.

The volume I read is a slim 156 pages and was published by DAW books in 1976, so it may be one of the last books the author saw published in his lifetime. The only later edition appears to have been from Wildside Press in 2013. The DAW edition includes a few internal illustrations by the prolific George Barr, who also did the cover, featuring a near-naked satyr like creature (a minikin) riding an ostrich.

The story commences with the juvenile Pharaoh, Pepy II, in Old Kingdom Egypt, where the lonely young Pharaoh sneaks out each night in disguise to help the poor. Next wee meet the Pharaoh’s father-like friend Harkhuf, an accomplished soldier and adventurer, who has traveled beyond Nubia into the land of Yam in search of a black dwarf, whom the Pharaoh would be pleased to see dance in his court.

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The Further Adventures of Cija the Goddess: Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga, Part II

The Further Adventures of Cija the Goddess: Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga, Part II

Orbit Futura Cover
Orbit Futura Cover
Pocket Books Cover (Boris Vallejo)
Pocket Books Cover (Boris Vallejo)

A Tale of Two Books

Back in December I wrote about Jane Gaskell’s classic 1960’s fantasy novel The Serpent. We pick up the story with a book that’s been published here and there as the second in the series, The Dragon.

Calling this Book Two is a bit of a misnomer, as certain publishers have included this slim volume as part of The Serpent. For our purposes (and because the Orbit Futura series I have at hand separated them into two distinct volumes), I am referring to it as a separate book. My copy weighs in at 206 pages of small print, continuing the exploits of our reluctant heroine, the young goddess Cija.

The two-book split is preferable in at least one sense, in that it acts as a visual divide that emphasizes events in the tale.

You see, our heroine is growing up. From her secluded upbringing we saw her blunder from point to point in The Serpent. She was naïve and had a skewed sense of the real world, having had only books — chiefly romances and sagas — to help her form opinions in her youth. One got the distinct impression that life happened to Cija.

That kind of inherent fatalism starts to change in The Dragon.

Of course, there’s another advantage to having two editions – awesome cover art. I would love to know who painted the covers of the Orbit Futura series, but the artist isn’t credited. One needs a magnifying glass to appreciate it fully, but the cover of The Dragon is not only captivating, in my humble opinion, but also shows that the artist has done his homework, as it depicts events within the book almost as accurately as the author’s fine prose.

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Prehistoric Fantasy from the Days Before the Earth had a Moon: Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga, Part I

Prehistoric Fantasy from the Days Before the Earth had a Moon: Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga, Part I

 The Quest for the Complete Series

SerpentPocket_Small
Pocket Books – art by Boris Vallejo
Serpent_Orbit_Small
Orbit / Futura – Artist Unknown

In my quest to revive interest in forgotten or overlooked fantasies, it would be remiss not to discuss Jane Gaskell, specifically her Atlan Saga. The fact that my past few posts about H Warner Munn also happen to reference Atlantis is purely coincidental, and I am by no means an expert on all things Atlantean.

I came upon Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga in the late 1980s. As a high school lad in South Africa with limited funds, the public and school libraries — as well as friends — were my main sources of fantasy material. While many folks I know seem to have been reading Heinlein and Tolkein by the time they were 10, I only started reading for pleasure as a pre-teen. Until then I actively despised it. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy a good story, just I was too lazy to read it myself.  My mother desperately tried to encourage me, but I recall thinking Enid Blyton (Secret Seven etc.) was really nyaff, and the Hardy Boys were too mainstream.

Fortunately I discovered Biggles by Captain WE Johns and my mind, at last, opened to the joys of reading. After moving through CS Forester’s Hornblower books and Alexander Kent’s Richard Bolitho series (both period sea adventure), I found myself looking for something different. I found it through friends who introduced me to Anne McCaffery’s Dragonflight and David Eddings’ Belgeriad books.

One of the factors hindering me at the time was that good material was relatively thin on the ground. I also had a juvenile dislike of second hand books, preferring to buy them new. Sure, the shops had a reasonable amount on their shelves, and there were a (very) few specialist shops with a plethora of gear to choose from, but most of it was out of my price range, or my sphere of travel. Fortunately the major chain store of the day, CNA (like a Borders I imagine) used to have an annual book sale just after Christmas where they moved loads of old warehouse stock. During one of these sales I encountered two slim volumes which, due to their awesome cover art, just had to be fantasy par excellence: The Dragon and The City, both by Jane Gaskell.

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Comedy in Fantasy: The Ebenezum Trilogy by Craig Shaw Gardner

Comedy in Fantasy: The Ebenezum Trilogy by Craig Shaw Gardner

A Malady of Magicks-smallThe late Terry Pratchett left a large gap in the Comedic Fantasy genre which, for many, may never be filled. Love him or hate him (I have found myself doing both over the years), he pretty much defined the field.

I first came across Craig Shaw Gardner not long after I read The Colour of Magic. Giving away my age here, but when I read The Colour of Magic I think only the third Discworld book, Equal Rights, has just been published. Needless to say, like anything new, different and — more precisely — successful, there was demand for more of the same. Enter Craig Shaw Gardner. While I doubt they were consciously trying to emulate Pratchett, it is possible that Gardner’s publisher may have drawn a parallel of sorts, and decided to try and brand his novels in a similar way.

Thus it was that I encountered A Malady of Magicks, which immediately caught my eye with its familiar cover style. The cover blurb:

In which a wizard with a nose for magic gets a very bad cold…

was intriguing. Add to that a Josh Kirby cover and one can start to see the parallels, intended or not. I didn’t buy the book, but made a mental note of it, and saw that in due course books two and three appeared: A Multitude of Monsters and A Night in the Netherhells respectively. Others followed.

I was of course looking at the British versions, published by Headline in 1988 and 1989 and as mentioned, all with Josh Kirby covers. The series was originally published in the US by Ace in 1986 and 1987, with the first book, A Malady of Magicks, reprinted three times in 1986.

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Atlantis, Vikings, and the Hordes of Kublai Khan: Merlin’s Ring by H. Warner Munn: Part I

Atlantis, Vikings, and the Hordes of Kublai Khan: Merlin’s Ring by H. Warner Munn: Part I

Merlin2-smallMerlin1-smallA few months ago I wrote an article about H Warner Munn’s excellent books The King at the World’s Edge and The Ship From Atlantis. Munn wrote both in the 1930’s, although the latter was only published later. By all accounts he took a hiatus from professional writing to concentrate on raising a family and providing the financial security that entails.

His passion for writing had not totally subsided, and as his “day job” career wound down, Munn embarked upon what many consider to be his magnum opus: Merlin’s Ring. Please note that this article does contain a few spoilers, which are necessary to explain certain concepts.

The volume sat on my shelf for years, like so many under the “one day I’ll read it” tag, but having undertaken the previous two books in what is now considered the Merlin’s Godson Cycle, I felt obliged to start Merlin’s Ring.

Merlin’s Ring continues the tail of Gwalchmai, whom we last encountered in The Ship From Atlantis. The book was published by Ballantine in 1974 with a cover by Gervasio Gallardo. It appears to have been republished a few times under the same imprint and later by Del Rey, with the same cover, until 1981. (Click on the images at left and right for more detailed versions.)

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A Neglected Classic from the Golden Age of Sword & Sorcery: H. Warner Munn’s Merlin Cycle

A Neglected Classic from the Golden Age of Sword & Sorcery: H. Warner Munn’s Merlin Cycle

Merlins Godson H Warner Munn-smallI first encountered H. Warner Munn by chance. Or maybe he encountered me, and it was more than pure chance.

I started reading fantasy and science fiction in high school, when a friend recommended Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight books. I dutifully took the first one out of the public library and soldiered through it. I was impressed enough to decide to start broadening my narrow literary horizons. The problem was that, in South Africa in the 1980’s, the big book sellers stocked a pretty limited selection of genre titles, and the more specialized sellers were few and far between.

The solution was for my friend Graham and I to take a bus to the city center after school, and explore some of the independent and more specialized shops. One in particular has a vast array of genre books, and to this day I lament its eventual closure.

I encountered a myriad of unknown authors and works on that shop’s shelves. One that particularly intrigued me – although not enough to part with my pitifully small amount of cash – was The Misplaced Legion, by Harry Turtledove. I never saw that book on the shelves again.

Fast forward a decade and a bit and, lo and behold, the internet was here and much exploring was done. I dredged my memory — while whittling away at my employer’s internet bandwidth — looking for bits and pieces to fill out my book and RPG collections. Memory failed me somewhat, however, and when I attempted to recall that vague, impressive book from the ‘80s, I remembered it as… The Lost Legion. I no longer had a clue to the author’s name, either.

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