Analog Science Fiction, January/February 2020, Moby Dick, a Side-Quest, and HP Lovecraft

Sunday, September 20th, 2020 | Posted by Adrian Simmons


Part One: Analog

Back in the Before Times, I strolled, maskless and blissful, into Barnes and Noble and bought the Analog Science Fiction, January/February 2020 issue. It is a super-sized double issue with a reprint of a classic story from the 90s. I’ve read it in bits and pieces over the months and one tale stuck out at me — the cover story: “The Quest for the Great Gray Mossy” by Harry Turtledove.

Turtledove mines the classics with an enviable lack of shame in this Moby Dick pastiche. Is it even a pastiche? It is more of an abridged version, but with dinosaurs. Imagine if you had a test due on Moby Dick, but by some outlandish set of coincidences you lacked internet access and couldn’t even get your hands on an old copy of the Cliff Notes — hitting this story the night before would ensure you’d manage the test fine.

Honestly, while there wasn’t anything wrong with the story, it didn’t bring anything new to it, either. I mean, outside of the fact that they are dinosaurs.

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The Art of Author Branding: The Pocket Marta Randall

Saturday, September 19th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Islands (Pocket Books, May 1980). Cover uncredited

Marta Randall is a science fiction pioneer. She was the first woman president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and took over the groundbreaking New Dimensions anthology series from Robert Silverberg in the early 80s. She also taught SF writing at Clarion (East and West) and other places.

Of course, before all that was a successful writing career. Her first novel A City in the North was published in 1976 by Warner Books. More followed in rapid succession, including Nebula nominee Islands that same year, The Sword of Winter (1983, we talked about that one here), Those Who Favor Fire (1984), and a pair on novels in the Kennerin Saga: Journey (1978) and Dangerous Games (1980).

Islands and Journey are the ones I want to look at today. Here’s John Clute from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, putting the first one in context.

Randalls’s first and perhaps most successful novel, Islands (1976; rev 1980), movingly depicts the life of a mortal woman in an age when Immortality is medically achievable for all but a few, including the protagonist. To cope with her world she plunges into the study of archaeology, and makes a discovery which enables her to transcend her corporeal life.

Sharp-eyed readers will note Clute’s reference to a 1980 revision; that edition of Islands was released four years after original publication by Pocket Books in a reworked version that added an additional 21 pages (see above). And not incidentally, it was also packaged with one of the cleaner examples of author branding from the era.

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Future Treasures: Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Friday, September 18th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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You know what we need in these dark, pandemic filled days? A good superhero tale. Natalie Zina Walschots’s debut novel Hench looks like it could fit the bill. Kirkus says it’s “A fiendishly clever novel that fizzes with moxie and malice,” and in a starred review Publishers Weekly calls it a “hilarious peek behind the scenes of supervillains’ lairs… [with] gripping action and gut-wrenching body horror.” It arrives in hardcover on Tuesday. Here’s the description.

The Boys meets My Year of Rest and Relaxation in this smart, imaginative, and evocative novel of love, betrayal, revenge, and redemption, told with razor-sharp wit and affection, in which a young woman discovers the greatest superpower — for good or ill — is a properly executed spreadsheet.

Anna does boring things for terrible people because even criminals need office help and she needs a job. Working for a monster lurking beneath the surface of the world isn’t glamorous. But is it really worse than working for an oil conglomerate or an insurance company? In this economy?

As a temp, she’s just a cog in the machine. But when she finally gets a promising assignment, everything goes very wrong, and an encounter with the so-called “hero” leaves her badly injured. And, to her horror, compared to the other bodies strewn about, she’s the lucky one.

So, of course, then she gets laid off.

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Doors Open, Doors Closed: Alan Garner’s Elidor

Thursday, September 17th, 2020 | Posted by Thomas Parker

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Elidor (Del Rey, July 1981). Cover by Laurence Schwinger

One of the best things about starting a book is that you can never be sure exactly how you’re going to respond to it, and those responses can range all the way from hurl the damned thing across the room hatred to toe-curling bliss, with all of a million subtle shadings in between. Every once in a while, though, a book breaks through even the upper ranges of enjoyment and appreciation and just absolutely knocks you flat, a reaction that’s especially powerful when you aren’t expecting it. That’s what happened to me when I reached onto the summer reading pile and came away with a book that I’ve probably had for twenty years or more without ever getting around to, Alan Garner’s 1965 fantasy novel, Elidor. It’s ostensibly a children’s book, but I’ve rarely had a more adult dose of fantasy.

Garner’s contributions to the genre have been few but intense, consisting of the Adderly Edge trilogy (The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath, and Boneyard), Elidor, The Owl Service, and (depending on your definition of the fantastic) Red Shift. The first of these books appeared in 1960 and the last in 1973. (The exception is Boneyard, which was published in 2012, almost fifty years after the second book in its group.) Since the mid-seventies, Garner has abandoned fantasy and devoted himself to essays, memoirs, and works based on English history or folklore. His fantastic fiction is a testament to the proposition that you don’t have to keep on doing something if you do it right the first time. (He has said that he resisted pressure to turn each book into a series because to crank out automatic sequels “would render sterile the existing work, the life that produced it, and bring about my artistic and spiritual death.”)

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Alien Languages and Scientific Mysteries: The Best of Hal Clement

Wednesday, September 16th, 2020 | Posted by James McGlothlin

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The Best of Hal Clement (Del Rey, 1979). Cover by H. R. Van Dongen

The Best of Hal Clement (1979) was, according to my research, the nineteenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. (Only two more to go!) Lester Del Rey (1915–1993) provided the introduction (his fifth and final in the series). Hal Clement, whose real name was Henry Clement Stubbs (1922–2003), was still living at the time and thus available to do the Afterward. Sci-fi artist H. R. Van Dongen (1920–2010) provides his eighth cover in the series. His work graced more volumes than any other artist in the series.

The first time I heard of Hal Clement was in a Black Gate post by John O’Neill back in 2013 about this very book. As usual, John gave a fine review. But I commented back then (you can still see my response in the original post):

This review in no way enticed me to seek out or try reading any Hal Clement. I don’t think it was a bad review, Clement just doesn’t sound very compelling to me.

Why this reaction? In that post John O’Neill accurately summed up Clement’s writing:

Clement wrote in a category that is nearly extinct today: true hard science fiction, in which The Problem — the scientific mystery or engineering puzzle at the heart of the tale — is the central character, and the flesh-and-blood characters that inhabit the story are there chiefly to solve The Problem. When Clement talked about writing, he mostly talked about the requirement to keep his stories as scientifically accurate as possible; he described the essential role of science fiction readers as “finding as many as possible of the author’s statements or implications which conflict with the facts as science currently understands them.”

John further commented, “Okay, that ain’t how I view my role as a reader — and I read a fair amount of hard SF. But your mileage may vary.”

So, to say the least, I was not looking forward to reviewing The Best of Hal Clement. “Hard” science fiction does not sound like my cup of tea. Nevertheless, to my surprise, I really enjoyed this book.

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Vintage Treasures: A Sense of Wonder by John Wyndham, Jack Williamson and Murray Leinster

Sunday, September 13th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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A Sense of Wonder (New English Library, 1974). Cover by Bruce Pennington

A Sense of Wonder was originally published in hardcover in the UK by Sidgwick & Jackson in 1967, and reprinted in the US as The Moon Era (which we covered as part of our survey of Sixty Years of Lunar Anthologies back in December.) It’s a short little anthology (175 pages) of early 30s SF by three of the biggest names of the pulp era, assembled and edited by pulp SF afficionado Sam Moskowitz. It contains three novellas:

“Exiles on Asperus” by John Wyndham (Wonder Stories Quarterly, Winter 1933)
“The Mole Pirate” by Murray Leinster (Astounding Stories, November 1934)
“The Moon Era” by Jack Williamson (Wonder Stories, February 1932)

This slender volume was popular enough to enjoy a total of eight editions between 1967-87, mostly paperback reprints from New English Library, who seemed to insist on a new cover every time (see below for a few interesting examples). I covered the last, the 1987 reprint, back in 2017.

The reason I’m showcasing this book again isn’t its enduring popularity, or the notoriety of its three authors. It’s the exquisite Bruce Pennington cover on the 1974 edition (above), which I only recently managed to find. Bruce is one of my favorite SF artists, and he was gracious enough to provide covers for two of the last two print editions of Black Gate, and these days I kinda haunt the virtual shops on the lookout for (mostly British) paperbacks with his colorful and distinctive artwork. His cover for A Sense of Wonder is typical of his work in this period — a mysterious craft looms over a desolate alien landscape, while a small flock of birds introduce a strange sense of normalcy to the eerie tableau. The result is eye catching, and warmly reminiscent of classic science fiction, with its love of superscience, exploration, and the unfathomable mysteries of outer space.

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James Nicoll on Amazons! edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson

Saturday, September 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Amazons! (DAW, 1979). Cover by Michael Whelan

Every once in a while I get asked to recommend other sites out there for readers who enjoy Black Gate. There are some top-notch book blogs, of course — like Rich Horton’s excellent Strange at Ecbatan, and Mark R. Kelly’s overlooked Views from Crestmont Drive — and the usual publisher sites, like and Locus Online. But recently I’ve been spending a lot of time at James Nicoll Reviews, partly because of the wide range of content. In just the last week he’s reviewed Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, a collection by Han Song, a superhero RPG from Green Ronin, and (a man after my own heart!) the July 1979 issues of Charles C. Ryan’s Galileo magazine — which of course lured Rich Horton out of his secluded library to comment enthusiastically.

But the real reason I hang out so much at James’ blog is that he regularly covers classic SF and fantasy — insightfully and thoroughly. Here’s his thoughts on Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s World Fantasy Award winning anthology Amazons!, from 1979.

Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s 1979 Amazons! is an anthology of fantasy stories. Special ones. Each story features a woman protagonist who is not support staff or arm candy for the hero. Almost but not all of the stories are by women….

For the most part these are sword and sorcery stories. Their scope is limited. individual fates may depend on the outcome; sometimes the fates of small kingdoms do; but none of these stories are of the ​“we must win or the world will be destroyed” variety. There are some fairly slight stories — every reader will see the twist in Lee’s story coming for miles, and there is not much to ​“The Rape Patrol.” These are more than balanced by stories like ​“Agbewe’s Sword,” ​“The Sorrows of Witches,” and [CJ] Cherryh’s ​“The Dreamstone” (which reminds me that I’ve never read the novel length expansion, or the sequel, although I think I own both). ​“Sorrows of Witches” is a little odd because that it seems to accept the premise that witches are by definition bad people who deserve what they get. Or in this case, do not get.

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Recomplicated Realities: Philip K. Dick’s Eye In the Sky and Two Others

Thursday, September 10th, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly


Eye in the Sky by Philip K. Dick; First Edition: Ace, 1957.
Cover art likely Ed Valigursky. (Click to enlarge)

Eye in the Sky
by Philip K. Dick
Ace (255 pages, $.35, paperback, 1957)
Cover art (likely) Ed Valigursky

Solar Lottery
by Philip K. Dick
Ace (188 pages, $.35, paperback, 1955)
Cover art unidentified

Time Out of Joint
by Philip K. Dick
Lippincott (221 pages, $3.50, paperback, 1959)
Cover art Arthur Hawkins

I confess I’ve never warmed to Philip K. Dick. His stories can be dazzling in their ways, in their reversals of premises, in their recursiveness, in their variations on overturning the assumptions we make about the nature of reality. It’s been a while since I’ve read much PKD, but I read three of the early novels in the past two weeks: his first, Solar Lottery (1955); his fourth-published, Eye in the Sky (1957), and his seventh-published, Time Out of Joint (1959). And my impression from these three early novels is that despite PKD’s characteristic virtues just mentioned, his characters are rarely sympathetic, his pacing and plotting are uneven to the point of being haphazard, and his  science-fictional components are standard SF furniture at best, comic book nonsense at worst. And these are three of his best early novels — the best three, apparently, until he published The Man in the High Castle in 1962.

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Bold Venture Press: The Unsung Hero of Pulp Publishing

Wednesday, September 9th, 2020 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

51WvS1lFaXL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_PulpNoir_1280__06197.1518283264Black Gate: Bold Venture Press is, in many ways, the unsung hero of the pulp world of the 21st Century. You’ve an impressive catalog of new titles and classic reprints, but let’s start at the beginning and tell readers about Bold Venture Press’ history and accomplishments.

Bold Venture Press: Rich Harvey was working in the newspaper field, and founded Pulp Adventures Press in 1992, which eventually became Bold Venture Press. The Bold Venture imprint published The Spider and Pulp Adventures magazine, went on hiatus for a few years, then returned in 2014, reviving Pulp Adventures.

Audrey Parente was an investigative reporter and pulp historian who put her pulp connections on hiatus as her reporting career went into high gear. She rejoined the pulp fold after taking early retirement by attending Rich’s Pulp AdventureCon in New Jersey in 2012. Meeting at other pulp conventions, Rich and Audrey became reacquainted.

A fictionalized version of their romance, Pulp Noir was published by Bold Venture Press. They joined forces in Florida in 2014. Bold Venture has been cranking out several books every month, first focusing on pulp reprints and then adding new pulp and mainstream authors. Rich’s connections with Zorro Productions has led to the biggest and most exciting projects they have tackled.

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New Treasures: Bone Harvest by James Brogden

Wednesday, September 9th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Titan Books, April 2020. Cover design by Julia Lloyd.

I tell myself that I showcase horror novels all year round, but it’s not really true. Sure, I do a little. But as the evenings grow colder, and leaves start to turn, and night comes sooner every day, and October creeps closer… we inch towards Halloween, the natural season for creepy books of all kinds. And I find myself writing about them more often (and with more gusto).

Here’s one that came out in April: Bone Harvest, the newest from James Brogden. We covered his previous novels, Hekla’s Children (2017) and The Hollow Tree (2018), both from Titan Books. His latest is the creepy tale of a woman who battles both a sinister cult, and steadily worsening dementia, which Publishers Weekly calls a “dark, transfixing supernatural thriller… Brogden breathes new life into a classic horror setup…. electric, masterfully weaving together dark humor and suspense.” Here’s an excerpt from the feature review at Horror Hothouse.

It’s our opinion that James Brogden is the greatest living writer of folk horror in the UK… we think his latest novel Bone Harvest is the best yet…. Dennie spends much of her time on her allotment. Only the allotment holds a dark secret because its the place where Dennie helped her neighbour Sarah to hide her abusive husband’s corpse. Now twelve years after Sarah died in prison three strangers take on Sarah’s plot… things start to get weird after they invite the other plot holders to a pig roast. Plants bloom early, shadowy figures prowl the allotment at night and the people who ate the ‘pork’ seem miraculously revived as old ailments and disabilities vanish… To make things even stranger the ghost of Sarah starts to visit Dennie bringing dire warnings of things to come. What’s Dennie to do and with the onset of dementia who is going to believe her….

Brogden injects an intricately evolved ancient mythology into what on the face of it seems to be a normal mundane Midlands town populated with well developed and mostly ordinary people, but many of them harbor dreadful secrets… as the plot unwinds Brogden maintains an utterly compelling sense of foreboding and menace as Dennie seeks to find allies who she can trust to help combat the ancient evil that her new neighbours are about to unleash on her world. Compellingly fascinating we give Bone Harvest a 666/666.

Bone Harvest was published on April 7, 2020. It is 496 pages, priced at $14.95 in paperback and $7.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Julia Lloyd. See all our recent new Treasures here.

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