From the Pen of a Great Pulpster: The Best of Robert Bloch

Monday, July 15th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

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The Best of Robert Bloch (Del Rey, 1977). Cover by Paul Alexander

The Best of Robert Bloch (1977) was the thirteenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. Lester Del Rey himself gives the introduction to this volume. Paul Alexander (1937–) does his first cover for the series, a very lively one based upon Bloch’s folktale “The Hell-bound Train.” The afterword was by Robert Bloch (1917–1994) himself.

When John O’Neill began first doing posts on some of these Del Rey editions a few years ago, the one that most intrigued me was his post on this Bloch volume. I was of course familiar with Bloch as the author of Psycho (1959), which was famously made into the Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name in 1960. I also knew that Bloch was part of the vaunted “Lovecraft Circle,” having exchanged letters as a young author with famed weird author H. P. Lovecraft, even having the honor of becoming a protagonist/victim, named “Robert Blake,” in one of Lovecraft’s tales: “The Haunter of the Dark” (1936).

But I hadn’t really read that much of Bloch. But buying The Best of Robert Bloch soon fixed that.

Like most writers who cut their teeth on the early pulps, Bloch wrote widely and in various genres. Most pulp writers, in order to make anything close to approaching a living, had to be able to write everything from sci-fi to suspense thrillers. Bloch did as well. But given his association with Lovecraft, and his fame in connection with Psycho, I would’ve thought that The Best of Robert Bloch would tend to focus more on horror, or horror-related themes. And there was much here that fits with that genre.

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This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

Sunday, July 14th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Case

This Is How You Lose the Time War-smallWhen I was younger I remember reading a short description of Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time when it was reissued for the Science Fiction Book Club and being fascinated by the idea of a time war. I still haven’t gotten around to reading Leiber’s exploration of that idea, so I can’t say for certain how closely Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone were informed by it in their new co-authored novel, This is How You Lose the Time War.

The general idea of a time war though is fairly straightforward and has been a recurring science fiction trope since Leiber’s work. However, the execution of one (and writing a narrative that follows the agents waging one) is anything but. The theme works like this: assuming two sides have different desired and opposing outcomes for the future and that any future is the outcome of a millions accumulated events, waging a time war means sending agents or soldiers into the past to change the outcome of these events so history flows one way or another. This could be changing the outcome of a historic battle, causing the assassination of a specific individual, or even things more subtle like influencing a particular political leader as she develops her ideas.

Now overlay all this with a love story. That is what El-Mohtar and Gladstone are about in this very gorgeous book. The two sides in their eponymous time war are diametrically opposed: one pushing history toward a technological utopia with forces overseen by the cool, calculating Commandant and the other toward a future in which everything — even the stars themselves — has become part of a vast organic hive-mind called Garden. The Commandant’s best agent is Red, and her opposite for Garden is known as Blue. It’s difficult to classify either agent, who are the dual protagonists of the story, as human. Both have been synthetically created by their respective side with immense power, in addition to time travel (the mechanics of which are kept vague throughout). Both identify as female, and both fall very much in love.

The structure of the book is crafted around a series of letters between Red and Blue as they strike up a dangerous, flirtatious rivalry that quickly grows into much more. Each short chapter (which read almost like vignettes or carefully crafted prose poems) follows either Blue or Red in a different period from Earth’s past to the far future as the one’s missions are foiled or obstructed by the other. Each chapter ends with one finding a letter left by the other. The imagery throughout, especially in the letters, is striking, bringing each new landscape to life, and consistent enough it’s hard to tell where one author’s writing ends and the other’s begins.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Saturday, July 13th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Brian Boyle

Cover by Brian Boyle

Cover by Bruce Pennington

Cover by Bruce Pennington

Cover by Hal Siegel

Cover by Hal Siegel

The Seiun Awards are often described as the “Japanese Hugo Awards” since they are voted on by the membership of annual Japanese Science Fiction Convention. This description almost invariably is followed up by pointing out that Seiun is Japanese for Nebula. A Seiun Award for Best Foreign Novel and Best Foreign Short Fiction has been presented since 1970, although in 1980, the year being explored in this series, no Short Fiction Seiun was awarded. The first Seiun Award for Best Novel was presented to J.G. Ballard’s The Crystal World (originally published in 1966) and the first award for Short Fiction was presented to Thomas M. Disch for “The Squirrel Cage,” published in the same year. Because the awards are presented for works in translation, there is generally a lag of a few years from first publication. For many years, the Seiun Award foreign categories were presented at Worldcon as part of the Hugo Award ceremony.

Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama was first published in 1973 and by the time it was translated into Japanese, it had won the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, and the BSFA Award. In a Locus Poll in 1975, it was ranked the 20th best novel in science fiction history.

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Vintage Treasures: The Demu Trilogy Omnibus by F.M. Busby

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Vincent di Fate

F.M. Busby was a well known science fiction fan who graduated to professional writer in the early 70s. He won a Hugo in 1960 for his fanzine Cry of the Nameless, and when he took early retirement in 1971 he became a full time science fiction writer at the age of 50. He was enormously productive for the next quarter century, publishing 19 novels and numerous short stories between 1973 and 1996.

He never broke out of midlist, and gave up writing after that, blaming the infamous Thor Power Tools ruling in an email to fan George Willick.

No, I haven’t been writing fiction for some time. Many if not most of us “midlist” writers have been frozen out like a third party on an Eskimo honeymoon. The IRS started it by getting the Thor Power Tools decision stretched to cover an inventory tax on books in publishers’ warehouses (so they don’t keep ’em in print no more), and the bookchains wrapped it up by setting one book’s GROSS order on that writer’s previous book’s NET sales. 4-5 books under those rules, and you’re road kill; a publisher can’t be expected to buy a book the chains won’t pay out on.

Busby (“Buz”) produced four novels in The Rebel Dynasty (Star Rebel, Rebel’s Quest, The Alien Debt, and Rebels’ Seed), three Rissa Kerguelen novels, and the Slow Freight trilogy. But his most popular series was probably The Demu Trilogy, which Pocket Books kept in print for nearly seven years in an omnibus collection.

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Smashing the Status Quo to Pieces: The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan by Zig Zag Claybourne

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Ford

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When I was in Baltimore for World Fantasy last year, I attended a reading by Zig Zag Claybourne (aka Clarence Young). He read from a novel, The Brother’s Jet Stream: Leviathan. When he was done I shook my head and thought, “What the f— was that?”

So I got the novel on my kindle a few weeks later, started at the beginning and went through it. I’m not about to try to summarize the plot to this book because I could only do it an injustice. You basically have the brothers Jetstream, Milo and Ramses, a pair of trench coat wearing, space traveling adventurers out to thwart the self cloning, evil Buford, but don’t forget the leviathan, a whale created at the dawn of the universe, women with super powers, Atlantis, a good measure of biblical reference and interwoven themes, checkers, the multiverse, vampires, etc.

What I encountered was a true to life contemporary Science Fiction epic that conquers and appropriates the tired world of Space Opera and reconstitutes it as a psychedelic (and I’m not referencing drugs here, but freewheeling visionary power) product of Afro-futurism. The language, the story-line, the characters, the entire sensibility of the book is full of a different kind of energy than pretty much any other SF I’ve seen. It’s akin in its narrative flow and hilarious humor to something like Robert Coover’s Ghost Town, but I sense a cultural identity in this that is different, more along the lines of Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo –not so much like Reed’s in that it’s about the history of humanity or lack thereof but it might be about the history of the whiteness of SF space adventure and what lies beyond that.

The Brothers Jetstream smashes the status quo to pieces.

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Happy Release Day to Mission Critical, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Mission Critical Jonathan Strahan-smallHappy release day to Mission Critical, the brand new anthology from Jonathan Strahan, editor of Engineering Infinity (2010), Drowned Worlds (2016), and thirteen volumes of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year.

In a Facebook post announcing the release today, Jonathan said:

My new book is out in the world! With stories by by Peter F. Hamilton, Yoon Lee, Aliette de Bodard, Greg Egan, Linda Nagata, Gregory Feeley, John Barnes, Tobias Buckell, Jason Fischer & Sean Williams, Carolyn Ives Gilman, John Meaney, Dominica Phetteplace, Allen M. Steele, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Peter Watts, [it’s] a mix of great science fiction adventure all based on the idea that when things go wrong you have to do *something*!

I love the stories in the book and am really proud of it. If you’ve ever enjoyed one of my anthologies, if you liked stories like The Martian, if you just want to keep anthologies coming out, or if you just love good short fiction, consider ordering this one.

I’ll second that notion. Jonathan has become one of the most respected and successful anthologists in the field. Back in 2015 I talked about how his book Meeting Infinity was the Most Successful Anthology of the year, and just last year Todd McAulty (author of The Robots of Gotham) opined about How Science Fiction Was Saved by Solaris and Jonathan Strahan.

Todd’s point was that short fiction is still critically important to the field, and that prestige anthologies like Strahan’s Infinity project are still the most reliable way for readers to discover new authors. It’s a premise that a lot of Black Gate readers agree with.

If you enjoy short fiction, or science fiction at all, supporting books like Mission Critical — and the publishers who produce them — is important. I hope you’ll give it a try. And if you enjoy it, I hope you’ll spread the word far and wide. (And if you don’t, why not shut the hell up about it.)

Mission Critical was published in paperback by Solaris today. Here’s the publisher’s description.

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New Treasures: The Grand Dark by Richard Kadrey

Monday, July 8th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Richard Kadrey is the author of ten novels in the bestselling Sandman Slim dark fantasy series. His latest is a significant departure from those books, a standalone fantasy that looks like a breakout book, and it’s winning him new fans and getting a lot of attention. NPR calls The Grand Dark “the work of a major science fiction/fantasy creator,” and Kirkus says it’s “Wildly ambitious and inventive fantasy from an author who’s punching above his weight in terms of worldbuilding — and winning.” Here’s the publisher’s description.

The Great War is over. The city of Lower Proszawa celebrates the peace with a decadence and carefree spirit as intense as the war’s horrifying despair. But this newfound hedonism — drugs and sex and endless parties — distracts from strange realities of everyday life: Intelligent automata taking jobs. Genetically engineered creatures that serve as pets and beasts of war. A theater where gruesome murders happen twice a day. And a new plague that even the ceaseless euphoria can’t mask.

Unlike others who live strictly for fun, Largo is an addict with ambitions. A bike messenger who grew up in the slums, he knows the city’s streets and its secrets intimately. His life seems set. He has a beautiful girlfriend, drugs, a chance at a promotion — and maybe, an opportunity for complete transformation: a contact among the elite who will set him on the course to lift himself up out of the streets.

But dreams can be a dangerous thing in a city whose mood is turning dark and inward. Others have a vision of life very different from Largo’s, and they will use any methods to secure control. And in behind it all, beyond the frivolity and chaos, the threat of new war always looms.

The Grand Dark was published by Harper Voyager on June 11, 2019. It is 432 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $12.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Will Staehle. Listen to a 5-minute audio excerpt at the HarperCollins website.

A Beautifully Written Kung-fu Godfather Story: Jade War by Fonda Lee

Sunday, July 7th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Fonda Lee’s debut novel Jade City won the World Fantasy Award last year, beating out some very stiff competition, including John Crowley’s Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr and Daryl Gregory’s Spoonbenders. It earned plenty of praise in the usual quarters as well — it was Library Journal‘s Pick of the Month, for example, and they called it “a Godfather-inspired fantasy series that mixes bold martial-arts action and vivid worldbuilding… terrific.”

I’ve been looking forward to the sequel ever since Derek Kunsken reviewed Jade City for Black Gate, calling it “a heroically, beautifully written kung-fu Godfather story,” and it finally arrives in hardcover from Orbit in two weeks. In this volume, the second in a forecast trilogy, the Kaul siblings battle rival clans for honor and control over an Asia-inspired fantasy metropolis.

On the island of Kekon, the Kaul family is locked in a violent feud for control of the capital city and the supply of magical jade that endows trained Green Bone warriors with supernatural powers they alone have possessed for hundreds of years.

Beyond Kekon’s borders, war is brewing. Powerful foreign governments and mercenary criminal kingpins alike turn their eyes on the island nation. Jade, Kekon’s most prized resource, could make them rich — or give them the edge they’d need to topple their rivals.

Faced with threats on all sides, the Kaul family is forced to form new and dangerous alliances, confront enemies in the darkest streets and the tallest office towers, and put honor aside in order to do whatever it takes to ensure their own survival — and that of all the Green Bones of Kekon.

Jade War is the second book of what’s now being called the Green Bone trilogy. It will be published by Orbit on July 23, 2019. It is 609 pages, priced at $26 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. Read the first four chapters of Jade City at the Orbit website.

Vintage Treasures: After Midnight edited by Charles L. Grant

Sunday, July 7th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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The 80s were a very fertile ground for horror anthologies. Karl Edward Wagner kicked off the decade with the first volume of the seminal The Year’s Best Horror Stories in 1980, and he produced one volume per year until 1994. Dark Harvest published nine volumes of the superb Night Visions anthology series beginning in 1984; Stuart David Schiff edited six volumes of Whispers (1977-1987); J. N. Williamson produced three volumes of Masques; and there were many others.

Charles Grant, who died in 2006, was one of the most prolific horror anthologists of the 80s. His well respected Shadows began in 1978 and ran for 11 volumes before ending in 1991. He edited four volumes of the shared world horror series Greystone Bay (1985-1993), and numerous standalone anthologies, including Night Visions 2 (1985), Horrors (1981), Terrors (1982), Gallery of Horror (1983), Fears (1983), and Midnight (1985).

After Midnight was published by Tor in 1986, and it’s fairly typical of Grant’s anthologies from this period. It’s a mix of new and reprint fiction, including reprints from Ramsey Campbell, Reginald Bretnor, R. Chetwynd-Hayes, and David Langford, and original stories by Alan Ryan, Joe R. Lansdale, Ellen Kushner, Ardath Mayhar, Joseph Payne Brennan, and even fellow Ottawa local Galad Elflandsson, who used to moonlight at The House of Speculative Fiction and recommend horror books to me.

After Midnight never kicked off a new horror anthology series, although to my speculative young eyes I thought for sure it would have. Maybe it didn’t sell well enough; maybe Grant just had too many other series on the go. Whatever the case, it’s a fine book, and still deserves a look today. Here’s the Table of Contents.

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A Tale of Two Covers: Sweet Dreams by Tricia Sullivan

Saturday, July 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Andrzej Kwolek (Gollancz, 2017) and Natasha Mackenzie (Titan, 2019)

Tricia Sullivan’s third novel Dreaming In Smoke won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Her first, Lethe, was nominated for the Locus Award for Best First Novel in 1995; her most recent was Occupy Me, which we discussed earlier this year. She writes cyberpunk, space opera, and near-future satire, and has been shortlisted for the BSFA Award, the Tiptree Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

Titan is reprinting her 2017 near-future thriller Sweet Dreams later this month, with a brand new cover designed by Natasha Mackenzie (above right). It’s quite a departure from the Gollancz (UK) cover by Andrzej Kwolek (above left), which has a strong YA dystopian vibe; the Mackenzie version seems more reminiscent to me of Inception-style cyber-thrills and conspiracies. Tough to say which one I prefer… here’s the description; let me know which one you think is more appropriate in the comments.

Charlie is a dreamhacker, able to enter your dreams and mold their direction. Forget that recurring nightmare about being naked in an exam — Charlie will step into your dream, bring you a dressing gown and give you the answers. In London 2022 her skills are in demand, though they still only just pay the bills.

Hired by a celebrity whose nights are haunted by a masked figure who stalks her through a bewildering and sinister landscape, Charlie hopes her star is on the rise. Then her client sleepwalks straight off a tall building, and Charlie starts to realize that these horrors are not all just a dream…

Sweet Dreams will be published by Titan Books on July 23, 2019. It is 410 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. Read the first 40 pages at Google Books, and check out our other Tales of Two Covers here.

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