The Silver Eggheads by Fritz Leiber

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

The Silver Eggheads, Ballantine F561, 1962, cover by Richard Powers

Fritz Leiber is one of the grand names of f&sf, winner of six Hugo Awards, three Nebula Awards, and two World Fantasy Awards. He is a member of the SF Hall of Fame, a SFWA Grandmaster, and a lifetime achievement recipient from the World Fantasy, Bram Stoker, and Forry Awards. You wouldn’t think any novel of his from the epicenter of his career could be obscure, neglected, or forgotten. And yet, there’s the case of The Silver Eggheads.

As a novelet, “The Silver Eggheads” graced the cover of the January 1959 F&SF, normally as prestigious a slot available at the time. Yet the story has never been anthologized nor ever included in one of his three dozen collections. Possibly that’s because Leiber expanded it to novel length, published as an original paperback by Ballantine in 1962. (Yes, that is a Richard Powers cover, one of the few representational ones he did.) Ballantine reprinted it twice, but no other American publisher has touched it. This novel has been out of print in English for almost 40 years. A few foreign editions slipped in, for multilinguists and obsessive collectors.

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Birthday Reviews: Richard A. Lupoff’s “Black Mist”

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Nicholas Jainschigg

Cover by Nicholas Jainschigg

Richard Lupoff was born on February 21, 1935. He edited the fanzine Xero, which included articles from Avram Davidson, L. Sprague de Camp, and Roger Ebert. In 1963, Lupoff and his wife, Pat, received a Hugo Award for Best Amateur Magazine for their work. In 2005, a hardcover The Best of Xero would be nominated for a Hugo for Best Related Work.

He published his first novel One Million Centuries, in 1967 and is perhaps best known for Circumpolar! and Circumsolar! Lupoff is not averse to using pseudonyms such as Ova Hamlet or Addison E. Steele. He collaborated on the graphic novel The Adventures of Professor Thintwhistle and His Incredible Aether Flyer with Steve Stiles. Lupoff edited three volumes of short stories he felt should have won the Hugo Award (What If? Volumes 1-3).

“Black Mist” was originally published in the April 1995 issue of Omni Online. Orson Scott Card reprinted it in Black Mist and Other Japanese Futures and Lupoff included it in his collection Claremont Tales. The story was also reprinted in Robert Reginald’s To the Stars—And Beyond: The Second Borgo Press Book of Science Fiction Stories.

Many stories set in the far future of space exploration select a human culture and have them expand into space, as L. Sprague de Camp did with his Viagens Interplanetary series. Often these space-faring cultures have little to do with the original terrestrial country beyond nomenclature. In “Black Mist” Lupoff has postulated a future in which Japan has taken over planetary exploration after the United States and Russia’s programs have collapsed.

The Japanese are attempting to terraform Mars and part of that effort takes place from a small outpost on Phobos. Not only do Japanese ideas of honor and caste play a big role in the story, but other aspects of Japanese society are interwoven and provide an integral part of the plot. “Black Mist” opens with a lowly kitchen worker, Jiricho Toshikawa, discovering the murdered body of a scientists on Phobos. When the body disappears, the head of operations on Mars sends his friend Hajimi Ino to investigate the disappearance.

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Vintage Treasures: The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Dragon Waiting John M Ford-back-small The Dragon Waiting John M Ford-spine-small The Dragon Waiting John M Ford-small

For the last few years the major streaming players — Netflix, HBO, Amazon, Hulu, and others — have spent untold millions searching for the next Game of Thrones. A tale of dark magics, black-hearted evil, kings and princes, palace intrigue, war, treachery, and sex. I could have saved them a lot of time if they’d just asked me. I would have recommended they film John M. Ford’s The Dragon Waiting.

The Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History was published in 1983. It’s a sprawling alternate history that combines Richard III, Edward IV, the Princes in the Tower, the Medicis, and vampires. Edward IV sits on the throne of England, but his kingdom is threatened by an expansionist Byzantine Empire. The Vampire Duke Sforza is massing a dark army against Florence, and Byzantium is on the march. High in the Alps four people come together: the exiled heir to the Byzantine throne, a beautiful physician forced to flee Florence, a Welsh wizard, and a German vampire. Together they wage an secret campaign against the entire Byzantine Empire, to secure the English throne for Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III.

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Taking the Prize for Strange Worldbuilding: Jon Sprunk’s Book of the Black Earth

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Blood-and-Iron-Jon-Sprunk-smaller Storm-and-Steel-smaller Blade and Bone-small

Blade and Bone, the long-awaited third book in Jon Sprunk’s Book of the Black Earth series, finally arrives next week. Here’s Sarah Avery from her enthusiastic review of the first one, Blood and Iron:

Of all the wild re-envisionings of the Crusades I’ve seen lately, Jon Sprunk’s Blood and Iron may be the wildest. His alternate-universe Europeans are recognizably European, but the opposing culture they face is that of a Babylonian Empire that never fell. And why has this Babylon-by-another-name persisted for thousands of years, so powerful that only its own internal strife can shake it? Because its royals actually have the supernatural powers and demi-god ancestry that the ruling class of our world’s Fertile Crescent claimed…

Jon Sprunk’s book takes the prize for strange worldbuilding. The Akeshian Empire is approximately what the Akkadian Empire might have looked like, had each of its major cities lasted as long and urbanized as complexly as Rome did… Blood and Iron is overall a strong book, full of powerful imagery and a vivid sense of place, with intriguing historical what-ifs and a sense of moral urgency to match its sense of moral complexity.

Here’s the description for the third volume, Blade and Bone.

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A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

WZRDFRTHST1968As I wrote last time, this excursion through the bookshelves of my younger days was inspired by the recent death of Ursula K. Le Guin. I haven’t read much Le Guin outside the Earthsea books; most of her work hasn’t appealed to me. But the Earthsea books, especially the initial trilogy — A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1970), and The Farthest Shore (1972) — did and, I was glad to find out, still do.

In my article, “Why I’m Here: Part Two,” I described the Elric books as being like samizdat passed around between my friends and me. With so few books actually out there, we fellow fantasy fans read anything we could find, and in turn got it all into everyone else’s hands and read everything they passed along to us. After The Lord of the Rings, I’m sure there were no books as read, and read as often, as Le Guin’s three slender volumes.

There are several whys. The easiest is they are way cool, at least the first and the third. The second is more of a Gothic, and lacks the dragon-battling and dark magic of the others, like this:

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Gods, Mortals, Sons, and Daughters: Storm Seed by Janet and Chris Morris

Monday, February 19th, 2018 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Storm Seed Janet and Chris Morris-small Storm Seed Janet and Chris Morris-back-small

While Storm Seed is the final volume in the iconic Sacred Band series to appear in a brand-new, Author’s Cut edition, it isn’t the last book in the series. The story takes place after the Sacred Band has been disbanded, after the events in Beyond Wizardwall and The City at the Edge of Time. Storm Seed follows on the heels of Tempus Unbound, and precedes the epic story of The Sacred Band.

Once again Team Morris delivers another outstanding novel in their classic “Chronicles of the Sacred Band,” as I always refer to them. Crisp prose, engaging characters, and a well-crafted plot carry this one right to the very end. This is Heroic Fantasy on a grand and epic scale, inspired by ancient mythology merged with a “lost” history of the world. All the tropes of the genre are here: wizards, witches, magic, ghosts, gods, dragons, and so much more. But these ingredients are used with a weight of reality to them, and in a manner I can only describe as “uniquely Morris.” Storm Seed is a story about love and loyalty, family and comradeship. And for all the elements of the fantastic, this novel is grounded in the veracity of its characters, and in the human drama and dynamics of their relationships. Almost everyone has a quest of their own to undertake, and the story unfolds at a brisk pace as the various events take one twist and turn after another until all the characters and plot-lines come together.

It seems like a reunion as so many characters from previous novels return to share the stage. Team Morris does a splendid job of giving the members of their cast equal time; almost everyone has a storyline of their own. Tempus the Black and Niko, his right-side companion, are here. Also present and accounted for: the goddess Jihan, the powerful Froth Daughter; Randal the allergy-prone wizard; Roxane the witch you really don’t want to get involved with; Cime the wizard slayer who is a real force to be reckoned with; Kama, Tempus’ daughter and warrior. The Sacred Banders Strat, Crit, and Gayle are also here, as well as Enlil the Storm God, Abarsis the Slaughter Priest, and even Strat’s Ghost Horse.

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Future Treasures: You Should Come With Me Now by M. John Harrison

Monday, February 19th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

You Should Come With me Now-smallWe’re big fans of M. John Harrison here at Black Gate. Howard Andrew Jones, Fletcher Vredenburgh, Matthew David Surridge and others have all written enthusiastically about his early work.

Unfortunately the bulk of it, including The Centauri Device (1974) and his individual Viriconium novels, is not an easy find, especially if you haven’t been collecting paperbacks for decades. I’m frequently asked by frustrated readers how to start with M. John Harrison, so I’ve very pleased to see a brand new collection scheduled for next month. You Should Come With Me Now arrives in trade paperback on March 1st.

M. John Harrison is a cartographer of the liminal. His work sits at the boundaries between genres – horror and science fiction, fantasy and travel writing – just as his characters occupy the no man’s land between the spatial and the spiritual. Here, in his first collection of short fiction for over 15 years, we see the master of the New Wave present unsettling visions of contemporary urban Britain, as well as supernatural parodies of the wider, political landscape. From gelatinous aliens taking over the world’s financial capitals, to the middle-aged man escaping the pressures of fatherhood by going missing in his own house… these are weird stories for weird times.

Our previous coverage of M. John Harrison includes:

To Unbuild the Unreal City: M. John Harrison’s Viriconium, by Matthew David Surridge
The Pastel City by Fletcher Vredenburgh
A Storm of Wings by Fletcher Vredenburgh
In Viriconium by Fletcher Vredenburgh
The End of the Matter: Viriconium Nights by Fletcher Vredenburgh
The Machine in Shaft Ten

You Should Come With Me Now will be published by Comma Press on March 1, 2018. It is 272 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. Get complete details at the Comma Press website.

Vintage Treasures: The Long Way Home by Poul Anderson

Sunday, February 18th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Long Way Home Poul Anderson-small The Long Way Home Poul Anderson-back-small

Cover by Michael Whelan

When Jim Baen left Ace to found Baen Books in 1983, he implemented a publishing strategy that served him well for decades: buying up the back catalog of popular authors and re-issuing them in visually similar covers that could be identified at a glance on crowded bookstore shelves. It was a strategy he learned while working under Tom Doherty at Ace Books from 1977-1980 (and refined under Doherty at Tor Book from 1980 – 1983).

While at Ace, Baen’s genius was to marry popular authors that had substantial back catalogs — like Andre Norton, Gordon R. Dickson, and Keith Laumer — with brilliant new cover artists. For me the exemplar of this strategy was Poul Anderson’s late 70s Ace editions, given new life by the striking world of a rising new artist named Michael Whelan.

When Richard Powers single-handedly remade science fiction art in the late 60s, it wasn’t long before bookshelves were overrun with abstract art. SF paperbacks, once criticized for pulp-era sameness and tired spaceship motifs, now suffered from a very different but no less stifling form of sameness. Plenty of writers were victims of the “Powers revolution” in SF art in the 1960s, but I think Poul Anderson was more victimized than most. His colorful tales of science fiction adventure on far planets were sold to the public under abstract covers that told them nothing about what they were getting.

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New Treasures: Looming Low edited by Justin Steele and Sam Cowan

Saturday, February 17th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Looming Low cover

Looming Low is my favorite kind of anthology. Highly acclaimed (Ginger Nuts of Horror calls it “Truly a wonderful gathering of the freshest voices in weird fiction,” and This Is Horror says” There is a palpable sense of unsettling dread woven throughout… [it] boasts almost every type of weird one can imagine”) and packed with both big names — including Michael Cisco, Brian Evenson, Gemma Files, Sunny Moraine, Scott Nicolay, Lucy Snyder, Simon Strantzas, Damien Angelica Walters, Michael Wehunt, and A.C. Wise — and fast-rising stars.

In a case like Looming Low, a hearty collection of over 300 pages, I’m just as eager to read the new authors as my old favorites. This is the kind of book that can introduce you to half a dozen new writers whose careers you could follow for decades.

Here’s a look at the complete Table of Contents.

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A Farewell to Roc Books

Friday, February 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

logo-pub-rocThe big 2017 Year in Review issue of Locus magazine arrived this week, and the second paragraph of the annual summary confirmed something that’s been whispered in fannish circles for a few months: that parent company Penguin Group has “quietly retired” the Roc Books imprint, folding it in with its existing Ace line. Only four books with the Roc logo were published last year, and none is on the schedule for this year. It’s the end of an era in many ways.

Roc Books was founded by John Silbersack in 1990. Over the last 27 years it has published hundreds of science fiction and fantasy titles by Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Peter S. Beagle, Arthur C. Clarke, Nancy A. Collins, Terry Pratchett, Andre Norton, and hundreds of others. It had a well-deserved reputation for taking chances on new authors, and many of those gambles pay off handsomely, like Jim Butcher, Anne Bishop, Carol Berg, Rob Thurman, and many more. Roc proved to be a warm home for many Black Gate authors, including E.E. Knight, Devon Monk, and others.

There were many reasons to be a Roc fan over the decades. For me, they were simple. The editorial team had a profound and enduring appreciation for adventure fantasy, especially during the lean years when the market turned towards YA dystopias, paranormal romance, and other trendy niches. They loved a great series, and gave many quality series the time they needed to truly find an audience. The whole line had a distinct look, so much so that for 27 years you could tell a Roc Book at a glance.

The editors, authors, artists and packagers at Roc Books gave us countless hours of reading pleasure over the past quarter century. Penguin has decided to quietly retire the imprint, but there’s no reason we have to let them go without a worthy send-off. If you’ve got a favorite Roc title or two, I invite you to help us say farewell by giving them a shout-out in the comments.

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