Birthday Reviews: Lloyd Arthur Eshbach’s “The Valley of Titans”

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Leo Morey

Cover by Leo Morey

Lloyd Arthur Eshbach was born on June 20, 1910 and died on October 29, 2003.

Eshbach founded Fantasy Press in 1946 and ran it for 9 years, publishing nearly fifty books during that time, including titles by Doc Smith, Stanley Weinbaum, Jack Williamson, A.E. van Vogt, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and others.

Eshbach’s novel The Land Beyond the Gate was nominated for the Compton Crook Stephen Tall Memorial Award. In 1988, he received the Milford Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Gallun Award for contributions to science fiction, and the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award. In 1949, he was the pro Guest of Honor at the Cinvention, the 1949 Worldcon in Cincinnati and in 1995, he was the Publisher Guest of Honor at the World Fantasy Convention.

Originally published as by “L.A. Eshbach,” “The Valley of Titans” originally appeared in the March 1931 issue of Amazing Stories, edited by T. O’Conor Sloane. It was Eshbach’s fourth published story. Interestingly, underneath his byline, the magazine touted him as “Author of ‘A Voice from the Ether’,” which wouldn’t appear until the May issue of the magazine. In 1968, Ralph Adris reprinted the story in the March issue of Science Fiction Classics.

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Origins Game Fair: Origins Awards

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

256 Starfinder CoreLast week and weekend, gamers descended upon the city of Columbus, OH, for Origins Game Fair. Running from June 13 to 17 – Wednesday through Sunday – the event is five solid days focused on playing some of the best games out there. And this year was my first time attending.

I have pretty extensive experience with smaller literary conventions, and I’ve gone to GenCon every year for about a decade at this point, so Origins felt pretty familiar to me. It filled the Columbus Convention Center, but had a smaller and less commercial feel than GenCon, on some level. There is more emphasis on playing games than on big marketing pushes, new releases, or even really game sales. The exhibit hall is a fraction the size of that at GenCon, and many major publishers don’t even have a sales presence at the convention.

My son turned 13 on Friday and the trip to Origins was part of his birthday present. Turns out that he wanted to spend all day on Saturday playing through three Starfinder sessions … which I suppose explains why the game won the Fan Favorite Best Roleplaying Game category in the Origins Awards. Read More »

On to Khatovar: Shadow Games by Glen Cook

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_193232fSIKM2J0If the previous book, The Silver Spike, told of endings, Shadow Games (1989) is about beginnings.

Picking up at the end of The White Rose (and taking place at the same time as The Silver Spike), Croaker, newly elected captain of the Black Company, decided he and any remaining members would return to Khatovar. With only six soldiers and Lady, it’s the only thing Croaker can think of doing: return the Company to its home. Unfortunately, neither Croaker nor anybody else knows precisely where Khatovar is (other than two continents away to the south) nor what it is. The Company’s annals describe it as one of the Free Companies of Khatovar, but the volumes from the first of the Company’s four centuries of existence were lost somewhere along the way. Trouble magnet that it is, and with a lost history brimming with evil deeds, the Black Company is certain to have a difficult path to Khatovar.

Shadow Games is the fifth of The Black Company books I’ve revisited, and so far my favorite. I suspect some will cry “Heretic!” So be it. Again be warned, there be spoilers below.

Even more than in the earlier books, Croaker is the lead character. As Captain, it’s he who is now responsible for the Company’s actions. Before, he was only an observer of the goings on of great men and women, now he is one of them. Cook presents him as the same snarky romantic from the previous volumes, but now he’s constrained by his position as the face and brains of the Company. The reader also gets to see the various levels of military preparation, only alluded to before, that go on in the Black Company.

As given to introspection as he’s always been, several of Croaker’s ruminations are deeper, and underline his separation from the world beyond the Company.

I ordered a day of rest at the vast caravan camp outside the city wall, along the westward road, while I went into town and indulged myself, walking streets I had run as a kid. Like Otto said about Rebosa, the same and yet dramatically changed. The difference, of course, was inside me.

I stalked through the old neighborhood, past the old tenement. I saw no one I knew — unless a woman glimpsed briefly, who looked like my grandmother, was my sister. I did not confront her, nor ask. To those people I am dead.

A return as imperial legate would not change that.

Something Croaker has mentioned several times over the series is that the Company is constantly changing. At one point in past centuries, the men of the Black Company were actually all black. By the time of the original trilogy, the only such member is One-Eye. As Croaker and friends go south, they slowly enroll new members. The greatest find are the Nar in the city of Gea-Xle. They are the descendants of members of the original Company who put the city’s reigning dynasty in power and stayed on as a hereditary caste of warriors. Croaker describes their leader, Mogaba, as the “the best pure soldier” he ever met. Gradually, Croaker builds on his pitiful remnant and something resembling a real fighting force, able to at least protect itself from the dangers of the road, is reborn.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – January, 1935

Monday, June 18th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne


“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandlers’ The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw was still at the helm of Black Mask in January of 1935, when Raymond Chandler’s “Killer in the Rain” scored the cover. But this issue also included stories by Frederick Nebel, Erle Stanley Gardner, George Harmon Coxe and Roger Torrey. All that for fifteen cents!

“Killer in the Rain” featured Carmady. I’m in the camp that feels all of Chandler’s PIs: Carmady, Ted Carmady, Ted Malvern and John Dalmas were all essentially Philip Marlowe with slight differences. Carmady appeared in six stories – all in Black Mask.

The story was heavily cannibalized for Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep. Carmen Dravec became Carmen Sternwood, played memorably by Martha Vickers in the HumphreyBogart film. Two other Carmady stories, “The Curtain” and “Finger Man,” were also used. I think that “Killer in the Rain” is a strong story on its own and is definitely worth reading. I’m tinkering with ideas for a separate post on this story.

Frederick Nebel, whose Tough Dick Donahue (subject of an earlier post in the series) would replace The Continental Op when Dashiell Hammett left the pulps, provided Black Mask readers with the twenty-eighth adventure featuring Captain Steve MacBride of the Richmond City Police and newsman Kennedy of the Free Press. MacBride is a tough, by-the-book cop, while Kennedy is a hard-drinking smart aleck reporter. However, both are committed to justice and cleaning up corrupt Richmond City.

Except for one story (“Hell on Wheels” – Dime Detective), the entire series appeared in Black Mask. The collection has been reprinted in a three-volume series from Altus Press.

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Birthday Reviews: Vivian Vande Velde’s “The Granddaughter”

Monday, June 18th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Bran Weinman

Cover by Brad Weinman

Vivian Vande Velde was born on June 18, 1951.

Her novel Never Trust a Dead Man received the Edgar Award for Best YA Novel in 2000 and Heir Apparent was nominated for the Mythopoeic Award for Children’s literature in 2003.

Vande Velde initially published “The Granddaughter” in her 1995 collection Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird. The story was selected by Terri Windling for inclusion in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Ninth Annual Collection, edited with Ellen Datlow. Asdide from those appearances, the story has not been reprinted.

Retellings of fairy tales have a long established role, in fact the earliest version of fairy tales are often just the first version of a retelling of an oral tradition. Vivian Vande Velde has targeted the story of “Little Red Riding Hood,” which dates back at least as far as the tenth century and has been retold by both Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. In “The Granddaughter,” Vande Velde’s focus is on the wolf, who can speak and is good friends with the title character’s grandmother.

Little Red Riding Hood, who is also known as Lucinda in this version, although she prefers the nickname, is an aspiring actress, almost completely self-centered, and horrified that her grandmother would be friends with a wolf, even one who can speak. The wolf, for his part, is equally horrified at Lucinda’s attitudes and inability to allow anyone else speak during a “conversation.” Not, at first understanding the grandmother’s reluctance to have Lucinda visit, the wolf quickly comes around to her point of view and works to rescue the woman from her granddaughter’s visit.

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Two, Count ‘Em, Two Nazi Robot T-Rexes

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper


We’re back in the wild, ineffable chaos of the comic book in its infancy. Superman had debuted in 1938, an instant smash. The audience clearly wanted more Supermen, but what did that mean? The 1938 Superman barely resembles today’s omnipotent cosmic hero. He couldn’t fly, couldn’t see through objects, couldn’t move at super-speed, couldn’t freeze objects with his breath, couldn’t emit beams from his eyes, couldn’t survive in space. These gaping holes in his resume gave competitors openings to try to beat Superman at his own game.

Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit, and John L. Goldwater, all veterans of the pulp magazine world though none was yet 40, yoked their first initials together to form MLJ Comics in 1939, launching four titles in four months: Blue Ribbon Comics, Top Notch Comics, Pep Comics, and Zip Comics, which would introduce Steel Sterling, the literal man of steel – a cyborg, though, not a robot. MLJ floundered at first. Blue Ribbon #1 started with Rang-A-Tang, the wonder dog, Dan Hastings, fighting the Mexidians on Mars, and Buck Stacey, young range detective.

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Modular: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes Looks to the Horizon

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes-smallThe newest supplement for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (Amazon), continues to provide the high quality of content we’ve come to expect from this series, focusing on quality and story depth over serious escalation of power.

Tome of Foes expands on setting and background information for the main setting, with the bulk of the book being the 137-page Bestiary chapter, containing monsters from across the dimensions, including a variety of duergars and drow templates to a host of Demon Lords and Archdevils. And that’s all just in the D section of the Bestiary, not even account for the constructs, elder elementals, and ample quantities of undead!

While the monsters are great to have, the first half of the book has a lot to offer for the Dungeon Master in terms of depth, as well.

The first chapter gives a wealth of detail on the eternal Blood War between the armies of demons and devils for who gets claim on being more evil. It’s easy to treat demons and devils as villains just there to be killed, but after reading this chapter, you’ll be more inclined to treat them as unique creatures, with their own goals and motivations. I’m looking forward to using this information to build a storyline where my players are stuck between the goals of demonic cults and devil cults, who hate each other nearly as much as they hate the party of adventurers.

Subsequent chapters provide details on the cultures of elves, dwarves, halflings, and gnomes. Information on the Feywild and the Underdark is also provided where appropriate, for those who want to incorporate them more into their campaigns. In addition, a chapter focuses on the endless war between the two gith races, the githyanki and githzerai, who escaped their enslavement from the mind flayers (who are themselves not covered in detail Tome of Foes, but are well covered in the previous Volo’s Guide to Monsters) only to find themselves in a brutal clash against each other.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thomas Walsh

Monday, June 11th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gat_WalshDiamonds“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandlers’ The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Eighteen years after writing his first story, Thomas Walsh’s 1951 debut novel, Nightmare in Manhattan, won an Edgar Award. Twenty-seven years later in 1978, he picked up another Edgar for the short story “Chance After Chance.” That is impressive! Walsh wrote a half-dozen stories for Black Mask in the thirties and his “Best Man” was included by Joseph Shaw in his prestigious Hard-Boiled Omnibus.

“Double Check” appeared in the July, 1933 issue of Black Mask, which also included stories by Raoul Whitfield (Jo Gar), Erle Stanley Gardner (Ken Corning), Frederick Nebel (Tough Dick Donahue) and Carroll John Daly (Race Williams). How’s that for less than a quarter?!

It’s a buddy cop story – except the two men aren’t buddies. Flaherty is well-dressed, small and the smart detective. Mike Martin is big, rough, not the quickest thinker and looks rumpled. It’s brains and brawn.

A banker named Conrad Devine is being threatened, presumably with death, if he doesn’t pay out.

Flaherty constantly pokes at Martin, annoying the bigger man. More than once, Martin’s exasperation with his temporary partner is expressed as “I’m gonna lay you like a rug.”
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Edgar Rice Burroughs Dictated His Work — So I Tried It

Saturday, June 9th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

edgar-rice-burroughs-dictaphoneOver his nearly forty-year career, Edgar Rice Burroughs put into use every writing method available to him. In a letter to the Thomas A. Edison Company regarding their Ediphone machine, which ERB purchased in 1922, he wrote: “I have written longhand and had my work copied by a typist; I have typed my manuscripts personally; I have dictated them to a secretary; and I have used the Ediphone.” (He didn’t mention in the letter that he also used the Dictaphone, Edison’s competitor.) Although Burroughs would shift his writing methods over the decade and sometimes returned to the trusty typewriter — even letting a ghostly force take over the typing duties in the prologue to Beyond the Farthest Star — wax cylinder dictation machines became his preferred tool. In his daily log of writing progress, he’d describe his workload in terms of how many wax cylinders he’d gone through that day. “May 24 Dictated 5 cyl. today — something over 4000 words.”

In the letter to the Edison Company, Burroughs listed the reasons he preferred to work using dictation machines: “Voice writing makes fewer demands upon the energy … it eliminates the eyestrain … the greatest advantage lies in the speed. I can easily double my output.” He kept his Ediphone (or Dictaphone) near his bedside “to record those fleeting inspirations that would otherwise be lost forever.”

At the time, dictation machines were primarily used for businesses. In order to make the most out of one, a writer had to have a stenographer to transcribe the wax cylinder recordings, so dictation machines weren’t much use to pulp fiction writers. But Edgar Rice Burroughs was both a writer and a business. He was wealthy enough to have an office staff, including a secretary whose job was to type up the manuscript from ERB’s cylinder output. The secretary would also do the job of shaving each wax cylinder — this required its own machine — so it could be reused.

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Remembering Michael D. Weaver

Friday, June 8th, 2018 | Posted by Gordon Van Gelder

Mercedes Nights-small My Father Immortal Michael Weaver-small

I was on ISFDB and noticed that today marks the 20th anniversary of Mike Weaver’s death.

Michael D. Weaver broke into the SF field with Mercedes Nights in 1987 and looked like he was going to be The Next Big Thing (or one of them, anyway). He published seven novels in nine years before dying at the age of 37.

At St. Martin’s Press, I worked on his first two novels, particularly his second one, My Father Immortal. In those pre-email days, he would call almost every day about this or that. He came to New York for the SFWA Authors and Editors party with his girlfriend, whose name was Angel (if my memory serves) and whose dress and looks led some people to think she had been hired from an escort service. (She hadn’t.) I got drunk at the party and made the mistake of telling Mike how I thought his novel was ideal for teens — how the book worked as a great metaphor for adolescence. He didn’t call for several days after that.

If memory serves, he died in a freakish accident — something like falling in the yard and having his head land in a bucket or puddle, where he drowned.

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