The Altarpiece of the Virgin of the Milk, the Breast of Spanish Renaissance Art

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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Photo copyright Sean McLachlan.

In a previous post about Salamanca, Spain, I talked about Salamanca cathedral’s rich collection of Medieval and Renaissance art, inlcuding a splended retablo and some rare wall paintings. Like many cathedrals in this country, it also houses a small museum of some of its treasures. One of the most unusual items is the Altarpiece of the Virgin of the Milk.

It dates to the second half of the 16th century and was produced by an unknown artist. At its center is a breastfeeding Virgin, “La Virgen de la Leche,” part of a tradition of such depictions dating back to at least the 12th century. She is surrounded by other images detailing her Bible story and also related religious figures. Above is her Coronation. On the upper left is the Annunciation, and to the upper right the Archangel Gabriel.  To the left is the Assumption of Mary, to the right the Birth and Adoration of Jesus.

It gets weirder in the lower register, with Saint Agatha on the lower left offering a plate of breasts to Saints Cosmas and Damien. On the lower right Saint Margaret rounds out the picture.

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Photo copyright Sean McLachlan.

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Salamanca: Medieval Paintings and Preserved Arms in Spain’s Historic University Town

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

The apse of Salamanca's Old Cathedral. Photo courtesy Lourdes Cardenal

The apse of Salamanca’s Old Cathedral. Photo courtesy Lourdes Cardenal

Salamanca is one of Spain’s better-preserved medieval cities. It’s famous for its university founded in c.1130 and chartered in 1218, numerous old stately homes, winding medieval streets, some great bookstores, and a cathedral renowned for its rare medieval paintings. The entire Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The Omnibus Volumes of James H. Schmitz

Sunday, July 5th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Agent of Vega & Other Stories-small Telzey Amberdon-small TNT Telzey Amberdon & Trigger Argee Together-small

We continue to survey the best omnibus volumes for collectors out there. And at long last, we come to one of my favorite short story writers, and one of my favorite omnibus sets: the seven volumes collecting the science fiction and science fantasy of James H. Schmitz, published by Baen Books.

Baen Books, and especially its long-time editor Eric Flint, have done some really extraordinary work collecting classic SF and fantasy in handsome and highly affordable mass market editions, and they’ve been doing it for decades. Baen has published omnibus collections featuring Andre Norton, P.C. Hogdell, Murray Leinster, A. Bertam Chandler, Lois McMaster Bujold, Cordwainer Smith, Christopher Anvil, Randall Garrett, Keith Laumer, Howard L. Myers, Michael Shea, A. E. Van Vogt, and countless others.

The Baen reprint program largely began with these volumes in 2000, and I still believe they may be their crowning achievement.

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Art of the Genre: Bill Willingham Loved the Ladies, Even if TSR Wouldn’t Always Let Him Show Them…

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Check out the lady below Elric in this Willingham done for White Plume Mountain.  Bet you didn't realize it was cropped, did you?

Check out the lady below Elric in this Willingham done for White Plume Mountain. Bet you didn’t realize it was cropped, did you?

Former TSR Artist and now comic writer sensation [Fables] Bill Willingham wanted to be Frank Frazetta, or so I surmise. I’ve always been a fan of his work, dating back to those early days in the RPG field when he was a member of ‘The First Four’ at TSR.

Along with Jim Roslof, Jeff Dee, and Erol Otus, Bill managed to produce some absolutely lovely interior illustrations and acrylic covers for the first sets of D&D modules, once the business took off and TSR could afford color. His tenure there, which ended with a blow up concerning the termination of artists that removed both he and Dee from the company, ended up being the best thing for him as he went on to relative fame and fortune in comics, a place that his talent certainly spawned from.

I sat with Bill at a seaside café back on 2009 when ComicCon was still a monster, but not the headache it is today and we discussed his work in the field. Nothing too in-depth, and sadly he was unable to add his art to my Art Evolution project because it had been too many years since he’d done that kind of work. Still, he looked over all the other artists who had donated work and was most pleasantly surprised to see his old friend Jeff Dee in there. Obviously Dee was ‘the kid’ during his time in the burgeoning TSR ‘pit’, and at 19 there was no doubt that was the case, but Bill seemed to have a twinkle in his eye for Dee’s version of Lyssa in the project, and I was at least happy to somehow connect the two again, if even for a just a nostalgic moment.

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Vintage Treasures: The Sioux Spaceman by Andre Norton / And Then the Town Took Off by Richard Wilson

Saturday, June 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Sioux Spaceman was one of the very first Andre Norton novels I ever laid eyes on (other than The Last Planet and Daybreak — 2250). It was certainly one of the first Ace Doubles I ever encountered. It was first published in 1960, paired with Richard Wilson’s And Then the Town Took Off, with covers by Ed Valigursky (above).

The Norton volume was the first book in her Council/Confederation series, which eventually grew to encompass four novels:

  1. The Sioux Spaceman (1960)
  2. Eye of the Monster (1962)
  3. The X Factor (1965)
  4. Voorloper (1980)

The entire series was collected in an omnibus volume from Baen in 2009, The Game of Stars and Comets (2009; see below).

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A Tour of the National Museum of Iraq

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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A bas-relief showing an Assyrian king with various symbols of deities around his head. The renovated museum has improved lighting for key pieces such as this one, and has added more detailed signs in Arabic and English.

Iraq gets a lot of bad press. As usual with far-off countries, we only hear about them on the news when something goes wrong, and a lot has been going wrong in Iraq for the past few decades.

As usual, though, the news doesn’t tell the whole story. Iraq may be home to the 21st century’s most psychotic religious group and countless warring factions, but you can also find decent people and bastions of culture. The Iraqi intelligentsia fights a peaceful daily struggle to keep the nation’s culture and history alive.

Nowhere is this more clear than at the National Museum of Iraq. Like the Iraqi people, it’s a survivor, having withstood sanctions, invasion, and looting. That it’s survived at all shows just how dedicated its staff is to preserving humanity’s past.

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The Omnibus Volumes of Steven Brust: The Adventures of Vlad Taltos

Saturday, June 20th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

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Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels are unique in modern fantasy. They’re caper novels in which a supremely gifted assassin, Vlad Taltos, teams up with a group of like-minded companions (including pickpockets and vampires) to right wrongs, alter the course of destiny, and sometimes make a little coin. The odds are always against them, and things don’t always go their way, but Vlad, our protagonist and narrator, has a wry and self-deprecating sense of humor that makes the books highly entertaining. There are plenty of great reviews out there I could point you to, but one of my favorites is this concise one-paragraph bit from Amazon reviewer Wizard’s Apprentice:

Vlad is a human in a city dominated by eight-foot Dragaerans, who never have to shave and live to be a thousand. It’s their turf, and their rules, and they routinely conquer and abuse “Easterners” like Vlad. He’s not the type to take this, so he becomes a “Jhereg” assassin, working up the ranks of a criminal syndicate until he comes to boss dozens of Dragaerans around, befriending some and terrorizing others. He adopts a new-hatched mini-dragon or jhereg, finding that the cat-sized beast has a humanlike intelligence and a nasty sense of humor, and wins a grudging respect from the dominant species. All his friends are 900 years old, or undead vampires, or legendary thieves; but don’t hold it against them. Vlad solves mysteries and evades death, and cooks fiery fungus-laced omelets, in a bizarre semi-alien milieu. He finds love. He sharpens knives. He gloomily bandages his jhereg bites. He’d be right at home in a Zelazny novel, which is reason enough to buy this or any other Brust book.

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The Novels of Tanith Lee: The Secret Books of Paradys

Thursday, June 18th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Book of the Damned Tanith Lee-small The Book of the Beast Tanith Lee-small The Book of the Dead Tanith Lee-small The Book of the Mad Tanith Lee-small

We’re continuing with our look at the extraordinary 40-year career of Tanith Lee, who passed away on May 24th. We started with The Wars of Vis trilogy and her acclaimed Tales From the Flat Earth, and today we turn to her four-volume saga, The Secret Books of Paradys, published in the US by The Overlook Press between 1990-1993, with a striking series of covers by Wayne Barlowe (above).

Matthew David Surridge wrote a fine summary of the entire series for us two years ago, and I doubt I could do a better job of summarizing them than he did:

The fictive city of Paradys itself seems to accrue layers of meaning and complexity like a recurring landscape in a lucid dream. Above all, the books are weird with the weirdness of nightmare; though written with incredible technical skill, it’s difficult to articulate a single overall theme to the books, though multiple meanings suggest themselves.

Paradys is a city in northern France, originally a Roman settlement based around the exoploitation of soon-played-out silver mines. It developed over time into a major city, with a cathedral and taverns and damned poets and all the appurtenances of decadent gothic romance. The various stories of Paradys take place in different eras of the city’s life, told from different perspectives, using different styles. They’re linked by certain patterns of imagery — notably the ambiguous symbol of the moon — and a concentration on colour: each book, or long story, has a certain colour which defines it, and all colour-references within that story will refer either to white, black, or that specific hue. I can only imagine how difficult that technique is, but it’s incredibly effective at building distinct and distinctive atmospheres…

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Vintage Treasures: Dragonflight and Dragonquest by Anne McCaffrey

Monday, June 8th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

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Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern is one of the most famous and bestselling science fantasy series of all time. All told there are sixteen novels, written between 1968 and 2006, the last two in collaboration with her son Todd.

The artist most closely associated with it is probably Michael Whelan, who was hired to paint the cover for the third novel, The White Dragon, published in June 1978. The White Dragon became the first bestseller in the series, and Whelan was hired by Ballantine to create new covers for the first two novels, Dragonflight and Dragonquest, late in 1978. He did a fine job, and was subsequently hired for the next four volumes in the series.

But I still admit a great fondness for the early 70s covers of the first two books (above), both painted by Gino D’Achille. Both books were Ballantine paperback originals. The covers are more whimsical and fairy-tale like, and speak to me of 1970s fantasy.

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The 2015 David Gemmell Award Nominees

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

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The nominations for the David Gemmell Legend Award for Best Fantasy Novel of 2014 have been announced by the DGLA. Simultaneously, the DGLA has also announced the nominees for The Morningstar Award for Best Debut Novel, and The Ravenheart Award for Best Fantasy Cover Art. May we have the envelope please!

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