Adventure and Tragedy on a Far Future Earth: Keith West on Zothique by Clark Ashton Smith

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Zothique Clark Ashton Smith

Zothique by Clark Ashton Smith. Ballantine Adult Fantasy #16, 1976. Cover by George Barr

Some years back Keith West wrote a series of articles for Black Gate on the legendary Ballantine Adult Fantasy series edited by Lin Carter. In fifteen pieces between 2013-2015 Keith covered the first fourteen or so titles, including The Blue Star by Fletcher Pratt, The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany, and The Doom that Came to Sarnath by H. P. Lovecraft. Yesterday I was delighted to see that Keith picked up the reins again at his own blog, Adventures Fantastic, to review the 16th book in the series: Zothique by Clark Ashton Smith. Here’s a taste.

Zothique was the first of four collections of Clark Ashton Smith’s short fiction that appeared in the BAF series. The wrap-around cover is by George Barr. (One of the best things about this line of books was their covers.)… Zothique is the last continent on a far future Earth in which much science and history has been forgotten, and magic has returned. If this reminds you of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, keep in mind Smith did it first. Some of the stories are better than others, but all are well-done. Here are a few of my favorites.

  • “Xeethra” tells the tale of a young man who wanders into a magical vale, and when he returns he travels to the far side of the continent, where he makes a bargain that ultimately brings him sorrow.
  • In “The Isle of the Necromancers,” a man is searching for his lover, who has been kidnapped by slave traders. When his ship is caught in a current, he finds himself on an island of necromancers. And then things get interesting…
  • “The Dark Eidolon” tells the story of an abused beggar who returns years later to seek revenge on the prince who injured him. This is a close second for my favorite story in the book. There are passing references to Hyperborea and Poseidonis, two other story cycles Smith wrote that were collected in the second and third volumes of Smith’s stories in the BAF series. Shucky darn, I guess I’m going to have to read those, too. How awful.

Check out the whole thing here, and Keith’s previous articles for BG here. While you’re at his website, leave a comment encouraging Keith to keep going! I’d love to read his thoughts on all 65 books in the set.

Future Treasures: The Ghosts of Sherwood and The Heirs of Locksley by Carrie Vaughn

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Ghosts of Sherwood and back cover, and The Heirs of Locksley., June and August 2020

Carrie Vaughn is the author of the bestselling Kitty Norville urban fantasy series, the superhero saga After the Golden AgeThe Bannerless Saga from John Joseph Adams Books, and Martians Abroad. Her latest, The Ghosts of Sherwood, arrives in two weeks and kicks off a new series of adventure novellas from The second installment, The Heirs of Locksley, follows in just two months.

I don’t know about you lot, but I’m always open to a quality retelling/reinterpretation of the Robin Hood myth. Publishers Weekly raved about the first one; always a good sign. Here’s an excerpt.

Vaughn (the Kitty Norville Series) turns her formidable talents to the legend of Robin Hood in this impeccable novella and series launch. When Robin of Loxley learned of the death of heroic King Richard, he reluctantly swore loyalty to Richard’s wicked brother, King John. Though the decision caused tension among Robin’s former merry band, it enabled Robin and his beloved wife, Marian, to settle down and raise their children in peace. But when a band of rogues kidnap the three Locksley children, the aging Robin and Marian brave Sherwood Forest once again, reuniting with old friends as they confront a new threat… Vaughn’s masterful worldbuilding and lovable cast promise more good things to come in future adventures.

Here’s all the deets.

The Ghosts of Sherwood (104 pages, $12.99 trade paperback/$3.99 digital, June 9, 2020)
The Heirs of Locksley (128 pages, $13.99 trade paperback/$3.99 digital, August 4, 2020)

See all our coverage of the best upcoming fantasy books here.

The Art of Author Branding: The Paperback Robert Silverberg

Sunday, May 24th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Seed of Earth Silverberg-small The Silent Invaders Silverberg-small Recalled to Life Silverberg-small
Next Stop the Stars Silverberg-small Collision Course Silverberg-small Stepsons of Terra-small

The Ace Robert Silverberg: skewed titles and unclutterd art. The Seed of Earth, The Silent Invaders, Recalled to Life,
Next Stop the Stars, Collision Course and Stepsons of Terra. All from 1977. Covers by Don Punchatz

If you cruised the bookstore and supermarket racks in the 70s and 80s for science fiction paperbacks, Robert Silverberg was everywhere. I mean, everywhere. It wasn’t just that he was enormously productive — that was certainly true. But his books remained in print, or were returned to print, countless times by different publishers.

This was the era when agents would package up backlists by top writers en masse, selling the rights to multiple novels, and publishers would release them virtually simultaneously, usually with the same cover artist. If you had a popular novel — and Silverberg had many — a diligent agent could package and re-package it many times. That’s how Silverberg’s Hawksbill Station was released by Doubleday, The Science Fiction Book Club, Avon, Tandem, Berkley, Star, Warner Books, Tor, and many others between 1968 and 1990, just to pick one example.

The 1977 paperback edition of Robert Silverberg’s Collision Course was one of the first science fiction books I bought (the other was Star Trek 2, by James Blish). Mark Kelly reviewed it for us here last month, calling it “a fascinating, ordinary 1950s science fiction novel.” The mix of far-flung space adventure and galactic intrigue was perfectly pitched for a 13-year old however, and I loved it. Naturally I returned to the bookstore to find more in the same vein, and lo and behold, I did: five more Robert Silverberg novels, cleverly packaged by Ace Books to capitalize on the natural brand loyalty of young SF fans (see above).

This practice of bundling authors, and creating custom cover designs for each, was by no means unique to science fiction, of course. But if you’re a student of SF art there’s an enormous amount to learn by examining the visual language built up around the most popular SF authors in the 70s and 80s, and the ways editors and Art Directors at the major publishers used that language to draw in readers with familiar images and themes, and simultaneously differentiate themselves from the competition on overcrowded paperback racks.

There are countless examples, of course. But for our purposes, I’m going to single out Robert Silverberg, mostly because he’s the one I think of when I think of author branding. Well, Silverberg and Larry Niven (whom we’ll get to in a minute).

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Isaac Asimov’s First Actual Novel: 1950’s Pebble in the Sky

Thursday, May 21st, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly


Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov; First Edition: Doubleday 1950.
Cover by Richard Powers (click to enlarge)

Pebble in the Sky
by Isaac Asimov
Doubleday (223 pages, $2.50 in hardcover, 1950)

Isaac Asimov’s most famous works are likely the Foundation Trilogy and I, Robot, but these are story cycles, not novels. Concurrently with the publication of those books, Asimov published his first three actual novels: Pebble in the Sky; The Stars, Like Dust; and The Currents of Space, from Doubleday in 1950, 1951, and 1952. They share a common future history background (presaged by earlier short fiction like “Black Friar of the Flame” and “Mother Earth”), in which humanity has colonized many planets across the galaxy, while Earth, for reasons of apparently having suffered a nuclear war, is a backwater, despised by the outer worlds. Yet the books vary in the degree to which they are science fiction, and not merely space opera (that is, melodramas with good guys and bad guys fighting for dominance) or historical incidents translated into future settings. Asimov was a sophisticated writer, and all three of these early novels offer complex mysteries in which problems must be solved and villains identified. But in terms of their speculative content, they vary: the middle book, The Stars, Like Dust, is the weakest; the third, The Currents of Space, the strongest; and this first, Pebble in the Sky, somewhere in between.

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New Treasures: The Aleph Extraction, Book II of The Galactic Cold War by Dan Moren

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Galactic Cold War novels, from Angry Robot.
Cover for The Aleph Extraction by Georgina Hewitt.

I met Helene Wecker at the World Fantasy Convention two years ago, at a reading for her novel The Golem and the Jinni, and she impressed me with her knowledge of (and passion for) the genre. Someone like that you pay attention to. So when she called the opening novel in Dan Moren’s Galactic Cold War series “Ocean’s Eleven in zero gravity,” it stuck in my mind.

She wasn’t the only one to notice. Publishers Weekly called The Bayern Agenda “one of the most entertaining genre mashups within an astronomical unit.” I hate being left out, so I bought a copy and wrote about it here, just so I could sound hip too.  The second in the series arrived right on time from Angry Robot this month; here’s the description.

Aboard a notorious criminal syndicate’s luxurious starliner, Commonwealth operative Simon Kovalic and his crew race to steal a mysterious artifact that could shift the balance of war…

Still reeling from a former teammate’s betrayal, Commonwealth operative Simon Kovalic and his band of misfit spies have no time to catch their breath before being sent on another impossible mission: to pull off the daring heist of a quasi-mythical alien artifact, right out from under the nose of the galaxy’s most ruthless crime lord.

But their cold war rivals, the Illyrican Empire, want the artifact for themselves. And Kovalic’s newest recruit, Specialist Addy Sayers, is a volatile ex-con with a mean hair-trigger who might put the whole mission at risk. Can Kovalic hold it all together, or will the team tear themselves apart before they can finish the job?

The Galactic Cold War series is definitely getting interesting quickly. The Aleph Extraction was published by Angry Robot on May 12. It is 418 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $8.99 in digital formats. The cover art is uncredited.

See all our recent New Treasures here.

Future Treasures: Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta by J. David Spurlock

Monday, May 18th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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There’s not many novels in the publishing pipeline this month, to be honest with you. The regular flood of advance proofs and review copies that wash up in the mailroom at Black Gate‘s rooftop headquarters here in Chicago has slowed to a trickle, and the only thing flooding in these days is book cancellations and postponements.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have exciting publishing news for you. Would we ever let you down? (Hint: no.) The upcoming month of June is looking lighter than usual from a publishing perspective, but that just means the books remaining in the schedule will be all the more cherished. And that goes double for J. David Spurlock’s oversized tribute to one of the great fantasy artists of the 20th Century, Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta.

J. David Spurlock is the author of Art of Neal Adams, Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art, and Paintings of J Allen St John: Grand Master of Fantasy, all from Vanguard, as well as multiple volumes dedicated to Frank Frazetta, including the Frazetta Sketchbook (two volumes) and The Sensuous Frazetta. His latest is Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta, which repackages and expands the long out-of-print The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta from 1977 into a 120-page coffee table book. It arrives in hardcover next month from Vanguard.

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Sword & Sorcery from a Bygone Era: Tales of Attluma by David C. Smith

Sunday, May 17th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Tales of Attluma-small Tales of Attluma-back-small

Cover art by Tom Barber

David C. Smith has written a number of articles for Black Gate, most recently a fine review of Brian Murphy’s history of Sword-and-Sorcery, Flame and Crimson. He’s also the author of twenty-six novels and collections, including Oron, The Fall of the First World trilogy, and Robert E. Howard: A Literary Biography. His newest is Tales of Attluma, a collection of classic S&S tales from Bob McLain’s Pulp Hero Press, most of which appeared in hard-to-find small press magazines like Gordon Linzner’s excellent Space & Time.

I asked Dave to tell us a little about his new book, and he obliged in fine style. Here’s what he said.

I’d wanted to pull these stories together into one collection for many years. Periodically, I went through them, off and on, during the past twenty-five years, tweaking them or reworking them. As I improved as a writer, I found ways to open up many of the stories or take them into new directions, so that’s what I did. A few of the later ones didn’t need much done to them, such as “Patience Serves,” or even a very early one, “Ithtidzik.” But most of those written when I was in my twenties, I was no longer happy with… So I’m glad I waited so long to pull them together. And that was only possible because of Bob McLain. I didn’t think there was a chance in hell of an oversized commercial publisher picking up Tales of Attluma, but Pulp Hero Press is ideal. They work closely with their authors, so what I had in mind and what Bob was going for dovetailed nicely. And it’s interesting to see how I matured as a writer. The early stories revolve around plots; as I got older, the stories became character-driven or dealt with ideas. And I feel the quality of my writing has improved, too. I like that.

Unfortunately Pulp Hero Press doesn’t have a website — but Dave Ritzlin of DMR Books comes through by providing a virtual website for the book, with all the essential details. Thanks, Dave.

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Visit a Post-Magical-Apocalypse Paris in the Dominion of the Fallen Trilogy by Aliette de Bodard

Saturday, May 16th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art by Nekro

I missed the final volume of Aliette de Bodard’s epic of a ruined future Paris, The House of Sundering Flames, when it was released last September. But I suppose that’s one of the advantages of a nationwide lockdown… I can catch up on big reading projects.

I think part of the reason I missed it was because de Bodard switched publishers. The House of Shattered Wings and The House of Binding Thorns were both published in hardcover in the US by Ace… but Ace elected not to release the second volume in paperback, and for the third book de Bodard switched to the JABberwocky Literary Agency. JABberwocky kept the same cover artist, which I appreciate, but they don’t have the marketing reach in the US that Ace does.

Nonetheless, the final volume of the Dominion of the Fallen trilogy got a lot of great press. Here’s a snippet from Liz Bourke’s enthusiastic review at Locus.

On the list of books I can’t recommend highly enough: Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Sundering Flames, the latest – and for now final – novel-length instalment in the series… The powerful, magical Houses of de Bodard’s decayed, post-apocalyptic Paris are at peace, at least for now. House Silverspires, once in the first rank of the powerful, is much diminished; House Hawthorn is still strong, but its internal dynamics have changed since the dragon prince Thuan staked his claim on a true partnership… But the peace of Paris is blown apart when an explosion levels House Harrier, one of the more powerful – and more bigoted – Houses. Emmanu­elle, partner and lover of House Silverspires’ head, Selene, is caught in Harrier’s territory, forced to navigate the disaster and a civil war playing out in the ruins…

De Bodard’s prose is precise and elegant, and her characters are compelling and fascinating, even – especially – when they’re making terrible compromises and impossible choices. They’re very human – even the immortal and the dragon prince. Events mount with increasing tension, histories hinted at with terrible implication, until the revela­tions and resolutions of the climax. This is a clever book, and a nuanced one, and to me it feels like a tour-de-force of storytelling. I deeply enjoyed it, and I recommend it highly.

Aliette’s Dominion of the Fallen is the setting for some of her most acclaimed short fiction, including stories collected in In Morningstar’s Shadow and Of Books, and Earth, and Courtship (both published 2015).

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New Treasures: The Best of Jeffrey Ford

Friday, May 15th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Jeffrey Ford is the author of, wow, a whole bunch of stuff. Including The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, The Twilight Pariah, and the upcoming novella Out of Body. I’ve lost count of how many times he’s won the World Fantasy Award — for the novels The Physiognomy (1998) and The Shadow Year (2009), the collections The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant (2003) and The Drowned Life (2009), and a few others I’m sure I’ve lost track of. His short fiction has won the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy, and — for his brilliant tale “Exo-Skeleton Town,” originally published the very first issue of Black Gate magazine — the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire.

Jeff’s has written over 130 short stories, gathered in half a dozen fine collections over the past two decades, but he’s never has a Best of. At least he didn’t, until PS Publishing produced the gorgeous artifact you see above: a massive 554-page career retrospective containing 25 reprints selected by Jeff himself, and a brand new tale, “Mr. Sacrobatus.” It also includes author notes on each story, and original sketches and a cover by Jeff’s son Derek Ford.

Copies of this beautiful book are still available, in a limited-run hardcover, but if you want a copy, I suggest you order quickly. Here’s the book description.

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Vintage Treasures: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Galaxy by Keith Laumer

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Galaxy Keith Laumer-small It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Galaxy Keith Laumer-back-small

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Galaxy (Berkley Medallion, 1968). Cover by Richard Powers

Science Fiction comedy isn’t much of a subgenre these days. Well, it never really was, to be truthful. But a few brave souls — Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Harry Harrison, Robert Asprin — made a career of it over the years.

Keith Laumer is one of those who occasionally dabbled in SF comedy, or at least light-hearted fare, with fine results. His satirical tales of Retief the galactic diplomat ran to more than 15 volumes during his lifetime, and many of his short stories showed a humorous bent. His 1968 collection It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Galaxy — a riff on the zany and wildly popular United Artists film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), a stable in Saturday afternoon reruns even in the early 70s when I was growing up — collects four long novelettes from Galaxy and Worlds of Tomorrow, all written between 1963-67, and one tale original to this collection.

Unlike Laumer’s Retief collections, which remained in print for decades, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Galaxy came and went without leaving much of a ripple. It has been out of print for over five decades. It still finds favor among modern readers, however. In a fairly typical 4-star review at Goodreads from 2016. Mike S wrote:

A collection of Laumer short stories, typically fast paced, imaginative, witty, gritty, funny… classic Laumer. I liked them all, a couple were really good, one was outstanding.

Although copies are cheap (I acquired mine very inexpensively on eBay), they can be a little tricky to find. A better option may be Eric Flint’s generous 2002 collection from Baen, Keith Laumer: The Lighter Side, which contains three of the stories, and much more, packed into a generous 500-page volume.

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