Davey Jones, Alien Spores, and Riding on a Comet: The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun

Saturday, August 24th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun-small The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun-back-small

The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun (1978) was the seventeenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. J. J. Pierce returns to give the introduction to this volume. H. R. Van Dongen (1920–2010) does his fifth cover of the series (tying with Dean Ellis at this point). Raymond Z. Gallun (1911–1994), still living at the time, did the Afterword.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database reports that Gallun (rhymes with “balloon,” not pronounced “gallon”) wrote five novels, including The Planets Strappers (1961, see Rich Horton’s review here), The Eden Cycle (1974) and Skyclimber (1981), but these were written later in his life. Most of Gallun’s writing career is comprised of dozens of short stories and serials. Like so many of the authors in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series, Gallun had been a prolific writer in the pre-WWII heyday of the pulp magazines. But unlike many pulp authors, including many in this series, Gallun seems to have stayed mostly within the sci-fi genre instead of branching out to fantasy, horror, detective, etc. And we’re talking “old school” science fiction!

Overall, I’ve liked the majority of the authors that I’ve read thus far in the Del Rey series. But there have been some that I liked better than others. I found Frederik Pohl and John Campbell both a little hard to get into, and I found Cordwainer Smith very difficult to sync with, though there were stories in all of these collections I enjoyed. But I have to say that I really, really struggled reading The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun, more than any other book in this series so far.

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In 500 Words or Less: Catfish Lullaby by A.C. Wise

Friday, August 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

oie_19192747vo7iIQCxCatfish Lullaby
By A.C. Wise
Broken Eye Books (118 pages, $14.99 paperback/eBook forthcoming, September 3, 2019)

You’d think stepping away from a regular column reviewing would make writing a new review easier, but apparently not. I’ve been struggling with how to start talking about A.C. Wise’s Catfish Lullaby because the first thing I want to start with how I didn’t get the story I expected from the back-cover blurb. But that sounds like a criticism, and it really isn’t; I loved the story I got, which feels like a tonal blend of Stranger Things and Netflix’s Haunting of Hill House, set in the Bayou with more diverse characters.

Maybe we base too much of our expectations on the blurb. Lullaby’s focuses on Lewis, a “town of secrets,” and the character Caleb stepping into his father’s role of sheriff to unravel the mysteries of the Royce family and legendary monster Catfish John. That sets the expectation that you’ll mostly follow adult Caleb as he deals with his past. Instead, the novella spends most of its time on young Caleb, affected by the Royce family’s traumas and getting to know Cere, the youngest Royce child and survivor of her family’s apparent destruction, only moving ahead to adult Caleb for the last third.

Normally that sort of long dwelling on a character’s past would throw me, but not the case here. Wise builds this ongoing mystery that’s compelling, I think, for two reasons. One is the way that Caleb struggles to make sense of what’s affecting Cere and how to help her, as well as dealing with 1980s and 90s prejudice and later living up to his father’s name. He has a genuinely pre-teen attitude that most writers can’t pull off. He and Cere are immediately interesting and likeable characters, and so I kept reading to see what choice they’d make, regardless of whether the mystery got solved.

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Vintage Treasures: The Starfire Saga by Roby James

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Roby James Commencement-small

Covers by Bruce Jensen

The Ace Science Fiction Specials, a series of first novels edited by uber-editor Terry Carr, are legendary today. Between 1984-88 Carr published debuts by writers who’d go on to towering careers, including William Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Lucius Shepard, Howard Waldrop, Michael Swanwick, Jack McDevitt, Richard Kadrey, and many others.

The Ace Science Fiction Specials get all the attention, but they certainly weren’t unique. Many publishers tried their hand at something similar, with varying success. One of my favorites was the Del Rey Discovery line (1992-99), which published first novels by Nicola Griffith, Mary Rosenblum, L. Warren Douglas, K. D. Wentworth, and many more — including Roby James, whose first two novels, Commencement and Commitment, appeared in ’96 and ’97. Together they make up the Starfire Saga.

“Roby James” is the pen name of Rhoda Blecker. In a 1996 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Blecker shared some of the genesis  and heavy themes of the tale. Here’s an excerpt, in which she talks about its major Jewish themes, and losing her mother when she was eleven.

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Future Treasures: Lost Transmissions: The Secret History of Science Fiction and Fantasy, compiled by Desirina Boskovich

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Lost Transmissions- The Secret History of Science Fiction and Fantasy-small Lost Transmissions- The Secret History of Science Fiction and Fantasy-back-small

Cover by Paul Lehr

Science fiction is filled with tales of secret books, lost tomes, cryptic manuscripts… often literally. The history of our field is littered with tales of lost, overlooked, and incomplete works, many of which have achieved mythic stature, such as C. S. Lewis’ time travel novel, Harlan Ellison’s Last Dangerous Visions, Philip K. Dick’s massive metaphysical diary, and many others.

Author Desirina Boskovich (Never Now Always) has compiled a collection of essays on some of the most famous lost and neglected books in our field, packaged under a gorgeous Paul Lehr cover (see the original here). It includes contributions from Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, Nisi Shawl, Molly Tanzer, Charlie Jane Anders, Lev Grossman, Jeff VanderMeer, and many others. It arrives in hardcover next month. Here’s the description.

Science fiction and fantasy reign over popular culture now. Lost Transmissions is a rich trove of forgotten and unknown, imagined-but-never-finished, and under-appreciated-but-influential works from those imaginative genres, as well as little-known information about well-known properties. Divided into sections on Film & TV, Literature, Art, Music, Fashion, Architecture, and Pop Culture, the book examines Jules Verne’s lost novel; AfroFuturism and Space Disco; E.T.’s scary beginnings; William Gibson’s never-filmed Aliens sequel; Weezer’s never-made space opera; and the 8,000-page metaphysical diary of Philip K. Dick. Featuring more than 150 photos, this insightful volume will become the bible of science fiction and fantasy’s most interesting and least-known chapters.

Lost Transmissions: The Secret History of Science Fiction and Fantasy will be published by Abrams Image on September 10, 2019. It is 288 pages, priced at $29.99 in hardcover and digital formats. The cover is by Paul Lehr.


New Treasures: Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan, translated by Ken Liu

Monday, August 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Waste Tide-smallThis is definitely the era of the Chinese invasion. Chinese writers like Cixin Liu and Hao Jingfang are winning Hugo Awards, and Western readers are paying attention to Chinese SF like never before. Chen Qiufan is one of the stars of the Chinese invasion; his short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and the anthologies Invisible Planets and Broken Stars.

His debut novel was published in the spring, and at Locus Online Gary K. Wolfe says “Waste Tide moves along at a terrific pace… with enough buzzy ideas to power a couple of novels.” And in a starred review Kirkus Reviews calls it “Cutting-edge, near-future science fiction… Chinese science fiction, once an unknown quantity in the U.S., is making its way to the forefront through sheer excellence.” Here’s the description.

Mimi is drowning in the world’s trash.

She’s a waste worker on Silicon Isle, where electronics — from cell phones and laptops to bots and bionic limbs — are sent to be recycled. These amass in towering heaps, polluting every spare inch of land. On this island off the coast of China, the fruits of capitalism and consumer culture come to a toxic end.

Mimi and thousands of migrant waste workers like her are lured to Silicon Isle with the promise of steady work and a better life. They’re the lifeblood of the island’s economy, but are at the mercy of those in power.

A storm is brewing, between ruthless local gangs, warring for control. Ecoterrorists, set on toppling the status quo. American investors, hungry for profit. And a Chinese-American interpreter, searching for his roots.

As these forces collide, a war erupts — between the rich and the poor; between tradition and modern ambition; between humanity’s past and its future.

Mimi, and others like her, must decide if they will remain pawns in this war or change the rules of the game altogether.

Waste Tide was published by Tor on April 30, 2019. It is 340 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Victor Mosquera. Read the complete first chapter at Tor.com.


Exploring a More Pleasant Future: A Dream of Wessex by Christopher Priest

Sunday, August 18th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Fugue for a Darkening Island-small Indoctrinaire-small2 A-Dream-of-Wessex-medium

Covers by Mike Ploog, Bruce Pennington, and uncredited

I like Chris Priest’s writing a lot. “An Infinite Summer” is one of my favorite SF stories. The Inverted World was one of the first serials I ever read in an SF magazine (Galaxy, in 1975 or so), and it fairly blew me away. I read Darkening Island (Fugue for a Darkening Island) at just the right age to be impressed by its non-linear narrative structure.

But for some reason, maybe because his books don’t seem to get much push in the US, I haven’t been following him lately. Recently I read his first novel, Indoctrinaire, which had some good ideas but ultimately was pretty obviously a first novel, and no better than OK. I have just now read what I believe to be his fifth novel, A Dream of Wessex (US title The Perfect Lover), from 1977. This is a very interesting novel, and a pretty good read.

The basic idea is quite “Priestian,” a (very little) bit reminiscent of Indoctrinaire: in the near future of 1977 (1985), a research project is set up whereby a group of people sort of “pool” their unconsciousnesses and create a realistic world 150 years in the future. Ostensibly this is to explore what might be done to reach a more pleasant future. The dreamed future is set on “Wessex,” which is the western part of England after it has been separated from the mainland by earthquakes, with the new channel roughly along the path of the river Stour.

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Magic that Enchants the Reader: The Beast’s Heart: A Novel of Beauty and the Beast by Leife Shallcross

Friday, August 16th, 2019 | Posted by Caitlin McAllister

The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross-smallThe Beast’s Heart: A Novel of Beauty & the Beast
Ace Books (416 pages, $15 trade paperback/$11.99 digital, February 12, 2019)
Cover by Lisa Perrin

This beautifully simplistic retelling of a “tale as old as time,” is pure magic. The story sparkles at every turn and enchants the reader with a new perspective: it’s the beast that narrates his own story in this version of the familiar fairytale.

For over a century Beast has roamed wild over the land he once ruled, driving away anything or anyone that lives there, his humanity essentially stripped away. He has little memory of what his life once was until he encounters a strange woman who leads him back to his previous domain, a castle in the heart of the forest. Suddenly he begins to have flashes of what was lost. As memories return, so too does some of the splendor that once saturated the castle: a roaring fire in the hearth, one luxurious velvet chair, corners of the garden sodden with out-of-season blooms.

As life returns to the castle, Beast slowly regains his humanity. He relearns to stand on two legs, his paws begin to look more like hands, and he realizes he can read! When a weary traveler wanders onto his land, he also realizes his isolation. Curious about the man, Beast allows his castle to lure the traveler in and care for him. Through the magical abilities of his abode, Beast is able to see the man’s dreams, and in them the man’s daughters. The youngest, Isabeau, immediately captures Beast’s heart.

Thus begins Beast’s plot to bring Isabeau to the castle and her eventual agreement to stay for a year. What unfolds is a beautiful relationship that examines what it means to love someone. Through the use of a magical mirror, the reader also gets to be a voyeur in the lives of Isabeau’s family left behind. Their experiences also lend to the theme of human connection and illustrate an idyllic country existence full of color and substance. Just as we root for Beast and Isabeau, so too are we cheering for them to find love and compassion.

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New Treasures: The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson

Thursday, August 15th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Saturday Night Ghost Club-small The Saturday Night Ghost Club-back-small

Craig Davidson is the author of Sarah Court and Cataract City and, under the name Nick Cutter, The Acolyte, from ChiZine Publications, which we covered here back in 2015. His newest is the definition of a breakout novel. It’s gotten rave reviews from the New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and numerous other places. As Jason Heller puts it at NPR, it’s a novel that celebrates the wonders and horrors of being a kid:

Jake Baker, the main character of Craig Davidson’s new novel The Saturday Night Ghost Club [is] a neurosurgeon, and… The Saturday Night Ghost Club is his story, although most of it takes place in the past — one summer during the ’80s, in which he turned 12. He grew up in Niagara Falls, and the town’s mist-shrouded natural monument serves as a dramatic backdrop to something bordering on the supernatural. Because as Jake tells it, he spent that summer with his eccentric Uncle Calvin and a handful of friends, practicing rituals and hunting ghosts and monsters….

The masterful segues between the narratives of child Jake and adult Jake shimmer. And even more profoundly, the book is a celebration of the secret lives of children, both their wonders and their horrors…. Hunting imaginary monsters is a grand adventure, but the most horrendous monsters can be real people. Immensely enjoyable, piercingly clever, and satisfyingly soulful, The Saturday Night Ghost Club is an exquisite little talisman of a book, one that doesn’t flinch as it probes the dark underside of nostalgia.

The Saturday Night Ghost Club was published by Penguin Books on July 9, 2019. It is 211 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback and $11.99 in digital formats. The cover is by George Wylesol.


The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Jack L. Chalker

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by H.R. Van Dongen

Cover by H.R. Van Dongen

Photo by Chaz Baden Boston

Photo by Chaz Baden Boston

Cover by Joe Wehrle, Jr.

Cover by Joe Wehrle, Jr.

The Skylark Award, or more formally, the Edward E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction” is presented annually by NESFA at Boskone to honor significant contributions to science fiction in the spirit of E.E. “Doc” Smith. The award was first presented in 1966 to Frederik Pohl. The award takes the form of a lens on top of a podium. When Jane Yolen received the award in 1990, she placed the award in the picture window in her kitchen. On the next clear day, the lens focused the sun’s rays and burnt Yolen’s coat. Ever since, this cautionary tale has been related to the award’s winner.

The Edmond Hamilton/Leigh Brackett Memorial Award was presented at Octocon by the Spellbinders Foundation in the 1970s and 80s, with the award voted on by the attending membership of the convention. The convention and the award were only in existence for a handful of years, with the first award presented in 1977 to Katherine Kurtz at Octocon 1. The award recognized promotion of the “sense of wonder” in science fiction and fantasy. Some sources list the award as going, in general to the author, while other sources indicated the award was presented for a specific work.

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Invincible Warriors and Goofball Sidekicks: Robots in American Popular Culture by Steve Carper

Saturday, August 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Robots in American Popular Culture-small Robots in American Popular Culture-back-small

Cover by Emsh

Steve Carper has been blogging about robots at Black Gate ever since his first post, The First Three Laws of Robotics, appeared back in November 2017. His delightful and entertaining articles have explored every facet of robots in America over the last century and a half. And now his first book on the subject, Robots in American Popular Culture, has been published by McFarland. Here’s what Steve tells us about it.

Robots in American Popular Culture is the first truly comprehensive prose history of the automaton, the mechanical man, the android, the robot, and all its variants. The index runs from “A. Lincoln, Simulacrum” to “Zutka” (stage act). Robots starts in the 19th century, long before Karel Capek used the old Czech word robota in his play, and the concept of the robot as a replacement for humans has been constantly present in the popular mind since. Both famous and long forgotten robots from comic books and strips, movies and television, stories and the stage, amateur and professional inventors, and science fiction of all flavors are part of this vast history.

Robots is available from my publisher and from Amazon. Because McFarland is an academic publisher, most bookstores will not have Robots on their shelves, but they can easily special order it for you.

But wait, there’s more. PBS publishes a companion book to their documentaries. I’ve created a companion website to my book. RobotsInAmericanPopularCulture.com has more than 350 images, movie and tv clips, music videos, and the ever-popular “other”, each keyed to the book’s page number so you can get a quick visualization and let you see what contemporaries saw. Not to mention over 50 additional articles on robots that grew out of the book…

Thanks to all who have long given me encouragement. I hope Robots will live up to and even surpass your expectations.

Robots in American Popular Culture is packed with vintage photos and Steve’s entertaining and superbly researched prose. It’s the best resource you’ll find on one of the most fascinating topics of our new century. Here’s the publisher’s description.

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