Vintage Treasures: A Touch of Strange by Theodore Sturgeon

Friday, May 22nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

A Touch of Strange 1959-small A Touch of Strange 1965-small A Touch of Strange 1970-small

I’ve really been enjoying this gradual survey I’ve been doing of Theodore Sturgeon’s paperbacks. It hasn’t been a particularly deliberate undertaking… the truth is that, as I come across his books, I’ve been talking about them. This week I stumbled on a copy of the 1965 Berkley edition of A Touch of Strange (above middle), and here we are.

Part of the reason I enjoy them is that I find it fascinating that a writer could have made a decent living in this business selling almost exclusively short stories. Sturgeon did write five novels (six, if you want to count his 1961 Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea novelization), but he’s far more well known for more than two dozen short fiction collections. And it was upon them that he largely built his considerable reputation.

Another reason is that I genuinely find it delightful to catalog the different editions, and note all the variations. A Touch of Strange was reprinted five times, by three different publishers, between 1958 and 1978, before it vanished from bookstores forever. Each of those editions is unique, not just in cover art and design, but also in how it was packaged and presented — and, in some cases, in content as well.

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Future Treasures: Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien de Castell

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Knight's Shadow-smallThe highly-anticipated second book in Sebastien de Castell’s The Greatcoats series is due next month, and I’m really looking forward to it. Sarah Avery’s rave review of the first volume, Traitor’s Blade, should help you understand why.

Not only did I love this book, I trusted it. Somehow, de Castell managed in his debut novel to win my trust so completely and quickly that he could tell nearly half of his story in flashback, often for a chapter at a stretch, and never once did he throw me out of the waking dream of fiction to wonder whether he could pull it off…

As the story opens, our three Greatcoat heroes need to get out of town fast, so they take a job guarding a mysterious lady’s caravan, hoping her freedom to travel will protect them. And it does, sort of, until she leads them to Rijou, the most lawless, most ruthless, most corrupt city in all of Tristia.

It’s not difficult to imagine Traitor’s Blade as a western about circuit-riding judges in the boomtown days of Deadwood. There is something of the noir detective tale, too, about the bloody case Falcio vows to solve in Rijou. The flashbacks to the fall of King Paelis are intimately tragic, genuinely moving, and crucial to solving the puzzle that forms the novel’s overarching plot.

Knight’s Shadow will be published on June 2 by Quercus and Jo Fletcher Books. It is 580 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover, and $12.99 for the digital edition.

The Omnibus Volumes of Jack Vance, Part III: The Demon Princes

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Demon Princes Volume 1-small The Demon Princes Volume 2-small

The first novel in Jack Vance’s Demon Princes saga, The Star King, was published as a two-part serial in Galaxy Magazine, in December 1963 and February 1964.

It took Vance eighteen years to complete the series — the fifth and final novel, The Book of Dreams, appeared in 1981 — and during that time he wrote all four novels in of Planet of Adventure, the Durdane trilogy, one novel in The Dying Earth, three books in his Alastor Cluster series, and at least four standalone novels. This is not a man who liked to focus on one thing at a time.

The Demon Princes is essentially a revenge fantasy. The central character is Kirth Gersen, whose entire village was enslaved while he was a child by five notorious criminals, collectively known as the Demon Princes. Each novel deals with an elaborate revenge scheme masterminded by Gersen on one of the five Princes, each of whom has achieved significant power — and embodies at least one major vice.

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New Treasures: Jack Cloudie by Stephen Hunt

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Jack Cloudie-smallI think perhaps the most unusual thing about Stephen Hunt is that he claims to have virtually invented steampunk, with the publication of the first novel in his Jackelian series, The Court of the Air, in 2009. Here’s a snippet from his Amazon bio:

Hunt is arguably best known for his best-selling Jackelian series of novels… the success of the first of which, The Court of the Air, gave rise to a genre called steampunk.

The Jackelian world is a fantasy adventure set in a far-future Earth where the passage of time has erased almost all memory of our current world from history. Electricity is now unreliable and classed as a dark power, with many of the nations of the world existing at a Victorian level of development and relying on steam-power, mechanical nanotechnology and biotechnology to survive and prosper.

It is an age of strange creatures, flashing blades, steammen servants, airship battles and high adventure.

That’s a pretty gutsy claim, especially since the term steampunk was coined by K. W. Jeter in a letter to Locus in 1987, and there have been steampunk bestsellers as far back as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine in 1990 (and the seminal steampunk RPG Space 1889 came out in 1988).

Nonetheless, Hunt has been one of the more popular practitioners of the form. His Jackelian series now totals six novels.

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Vintage Treasures: Clockwork’s Pirates/Ghost Breaker by Ron Goulart

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Clockwork's Pirates Ron Goulart-small Ghost Breaker Ron Goulart-small

We’re back to our survey of Ace Doubles, this time with a surprising pair of adventure books by Ron Goulart.

I’m a fan of Ron Goulart, although I only discovered him recently, when I sampled some stories from his excellent collection What’s Become of Screwloose? and Other Inquiries in 2012. So I was pleased to spot his 1971 Ace Double, Clockwork’s Pirates and Ghost Breaker, in a collection of 23 old paperback I found on eBay. Twenty-two bucks later, the collection was all mine.

Goulart has a well-deserved reputation for satire and comedy, but with Screwloose I was happy to discover he has a talent for mystery and adventure as well. Mystery and adventure are very much what’s advertised in Clockwork’s Pirates and Ghost Breaker. The former is a novel of robot pirates, the scourge of the spaceways, who steal the planetary governor’s daughter and sell her on the slave markets, and the latter is a collection of short stories featuring a modern supernatural detective, in the mold of John Silence and Carnacki the Ghost Finder.

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Psychical Violence and Beckoning Beauties: The Dead of Night: The Ghost Stories of Oliver Onions

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Dead of Night The Ghost Stories of Oliver Onions-smallWhile I was at the World Fantasy Convention last November, I sat in on a panel called “Ghost Stories Without Ghosts.” Truth to tell, I was only there because of the delightful Patty Templeton, who was a guest on the panel, talking about her popular debut novel There Is No Lovely End.

However, the other panelists — S. T. Joshi, Jonathan Oliver, and Darrell Schweitzer — had interesting things to say as well, and several times the conversation came around to Oliver Onions, who was held up as an exemplar of the form.

All very interesting, but who the heck is Oliver Onions?

When faced with a situation such as this (an embarrassing lack of knowledge about a revered figure in 19th Century Supernatural Fiction — which happens a lot more often than you might think), I invariably turn to the same resource: the always reliable Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural. Or, as we like to call them, TOMAToS.

Sure enough, the Wordsworth Tales line includes a huge Oliver Onions volume: The Dead of Night: The Ghost Stories of Oliver Onions. 627 pages of creepy fiction featuring werewolves, haunted houses, a dream shared down through history, living ghosts, an obsessed sculptor, characters in a romance novel who come to life, a temptress who’s doomed countless men through the centuries until she falls in love for the first time, a haunted meadow, a cheery Christmas ghost who disobeys the Special Committee on Ethereal Traffic and Right of Way to save lives, and many others.

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Future Treasures: The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Liar's Key-smallPrince of Fools,, the first volume in Mark Lawrence’s new fantasy series The Red Queen’s War, was released in June 2013. It is set in the same world as his previous trilogy The Broken Empire (Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns, and the 2014 David Gemmell Legend Award winner Emperor of Thorns).

The Liar’s Key, the second book in the series, will be published this June, and it continues the story of the unusual fellowship between a rogue prince and a weary warrior.

After harrowing adventure and near-death, Prince Jalan Kendeth and the Viking Snorri ver Snagason find themselves in possession of Loki’s Key, an artefact capable of opening any door, and sought by the most dangerous beings in the Broken Empire — including The Dead King.

Jal wants only to return home to his wine, women, and song, but Snorri has his own purpose for the key: to find the very door into death, throw it wide, and bring his family back into the land of the living.

And as Snorri prepares for his quest to find death’s door, Jal’s grandmother, the Red Queen continues to manipulate kings and pawns towards an endgame of her own design…

We published the first chapter of Prince of Thorns, with a brand new introduction by Mark, here, and Howard Andrew Jones’s interview with him is here. Mark’s long article on writing and selling The Prince of Thorns is here.

The Liar’s Key will be published by Ace Books on June 2, 2015. It is 496 pages, priced at $26.95 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital edition.

Into the Wastelands: Enchanted Pilgrimage by Clifford D. Simak

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Enchanted Pilgrimage-smallClifford Simak is often described as a pastoralist, his sci-fi stories set in rural Wisconsin or some reasonable facsimile thereof. Kindly robots as well as smart and faithful dogs feature in many of his books. Scholars are more likely than soldiers to figure as his heroes. There’s more kindness and sense of wonder than violence in most of his stories.

If you haven’t read him (which wouldn’t be surprising since most of his twenty-six novels and multitude of story collections are out of print in the US), snag a battered old copy of City or Way Station to start. City holds a place in my heart as one of my favorite books. Simak brought a gentle humanity to his writing. Love of an unhurried life and respect for common decency run through many of his stories.

Inspired by John O’Neill’s post about The Goblin Reservation, I dug out the first of Simak’s three fantasy novels, Enchanted Pilgrimage (1975). In it, a disparate party of travelers leave the safety of humanity’s lands to explore the dangerous, magical Wasteland. He would revisit this theme twice more before his death in 1986, in the structurally similar The Fellowship of the Talisman (1978) and Where the Evil Dwells (1982).

I remember liking the book thirty years ago and thirty years later, I still like it. It’s fully fantasy and science fiction, both. While there are goblins, gnomes, witches, and trolls, there are also UFOs, a robot, and a traveler from an alternate Earth.

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New Treasures: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Nine, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Monday, May 18th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Nine-smallThe first — and one of the finest — of the Best of the Year collections has arrived: Jonathan Strahan’s The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Nine. Strahan has crammed 28 stories into his latest anthology. He published the complete table of contents earlier this year, and it looks fantastic. Here’s the description:


The best, most original and brightest science fiction and fantasy stories from around the globe from the past twelve months are brought together in one collection by multiple award winning editor Jonathan Strahan. This highly popular series now reaches volume nine and will include stories from both the biggest names in the field and the most exciting new talents. Previous volumes have included stories from Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Cory Doctorow, Stephen Baxter, Elizabeth Bear, Joe Abercrombie, Paolo Bacigalupi, Holly Black, Garth Nix, Jeffrey Ford, Margo Lanagan, Bruce Sterling, Adam Robets, Ellen Klages, and many many more.

This kicks off the Best-of-the-Year season; there will be over a dozen more released from various publishers between now and October.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Wrapping up Jeremy Brett’s Adventures

Monday, May 18th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Brett3_RucastleClick here for parts one and two of this look at Jeremy Brett’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

The second installment of Granada’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes kicked off on August 25, 1985 with The Copper Beeches. Tapped for the role of one of the Canon’s most dastardly villains, Jephro Rucastle, was veteran actor Joss Ackland. Back in 1965 he had starred opposite Douglas Wilmer’s Holmes in The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax, playing her former suitor, Philip Green.

Other tangential Holmes-related efforts had included John Cleese’s disastrous parody, The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It and an episode of the BBC series, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, based on the anthologies edited by Hugh Greene.

And in 1989 he would play the King of Sweden in Christopher Lee’s Sherlock Holmes & The Incident at Victoria Falls. Ackland’s Rucastle is one of the most memorable evildoers in the entire Granada series; menacing in a creepy but understated way.

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