The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Skylark Award: Larry Niven

Sunday, May 12th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

World of Ptavvs-small The Long ARM of Gil Hamilton-small Ringworld-small

The Skylark Award, also called the Edward E. Smith Award for Imaginative Fiction, has been presented by the New England Science Fiction Association (NESFA)

to  some person, who, in the opinion of the membership, has contributed significantly to science fiction, both through work in the field and by exemplifying the personal qualities which made the late “Doc” Smith well-loved by those who knew him.

The Award is presented at Boskone – alas, I missed the presentation the two times I’ve attended Boskone (a favorite convention of mine based on those two visits) – in 2017 it went to Jo Walton, and in 2019 to Melinda Snodgrass.

The first winner, in 1966, was Frederik Pohl (Smith having died in 1965.) Over the years it has gone primary to writers, but also to artist, editors, and fans. In 1973 the award went to Larry Niven. One implication of the association of the award with Doc Smith might be that it would go to writers of Space Opera, but that really hasn’t been the case, by and large. That said, while Larry Niven didn’t exactly write Space Opera in the Doc Smith mode, I think what he wrote qualified.

As the title of this series – Golden Age – might suggest, I started reading SF seriously in 1972, when I was 12. I was certainly reading Niven not long after, and I read him with intense pleasure in those years. I remember in particular encountering his story collection Tales of Known Space at Paradise Bookshop in Naperville, IL (located at the site of the now well-known Anderson Books, though I believe the stores have no other connection) in 1975, with the glorious Rick Sternbach “Star Map” cover. I devoured Niven’s books back in the day – Protector might have been my favorite, but I liked them all – A Gift From Earth, World of Ptavvs, the Gil Hamilton stories. (Oddly, perhaps, his Hugo and Nebula winner Ringworld was never a favorite.) And of course the short stories were wonderful.

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An Offshore Haul

Saturday, May 11th, 2019 | Posted by Tony Den

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Latest Haul

As I’m sure regular visitors have noticed, Black Gate has over time become a home for like-minded people, introducing readers to new authors. The regular posts that really appeal to me are, not surprisingly, John O’Neill’s reports on the book collections he’s secured online, or via visits to local conventions like Windy City Pulp & Paper. Nick Ozment has also come across the odd windfall while glancing about thrift stores.

Not to be outdone this side of the Atlantic, I’ve also made some cool finds, often at bargain prices. Recently I killed an hour in a second hand bookshop, and it’s a testament to Black Gate that the books I came away with were far different from what I would have sought out a decade ago.

The shop in question is a bit of a mess, with volumes haphazardly stacked. They have (for the most part) separated books into genres, but between inattentive browsers — and perhaps just lack of diligence on the part of the owners — the books are all over the show, with only a minor nod to any sort of alphabetic sorting. Faced with this challenge, I dug in and soon found myself sporting a decent pile of overlooked volumes, including the sought after Panther version of Farewell Fantastic Venus (discussed at Black Gate some time back).

While nowhere near the size of many of John’s hauls, I am fair impressed with what I managed to pick up for the princely sum of ZAR97 (about USD6.75). The only duplicate, that I am aware of (mistakes have been made before), is the Lyndon Hardy, which I chose to complete the set by the same publisher.

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Vintage Treasures: Tea With the Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy

Saturday, May 11th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Tea With the Black Dragon was R.A. (Bertie) MacAvoy’s debut novel — and what a debut it was. It was the book everyone was talking about in 1983, and it was nominated for the Locus Award for Best First Novel (which it won), as well as the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, and Philip K. Dick Awards (which it lost to Startide Rising, The Dragon Waiting, and The Anubis Gates, respectively.  You can’t say it wasn’t a year with worthy competition.)

In his 2015 Throwback Thursday article at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Jeff Somers helped re-introduce the book to a lot of modern fantasy readers, with a rather clever description of the plot.

I like to think of R.A. MacAvoy’s marvelous Tea with the Black Dragon as a quantum state fantasy, because it both is and is not a fantasy novel. The waveform collapse occurs inside your head when you read it… Martha Macnamara is a middle-aged, free-spirited musician who travels to California at the request of her semi-estranged daughter, who works in a finance role in the burgeoning California software industry. Put up in a swanky hotel, Martha meets Mayland Long, an older Asian man with elegant manners and a lot of money. Their conversation hints that he was an eyewitness to momentous events throughout history, and counts as close friends many long-dead historical figures. He and Martha strike up a thoroughly charming, adult relationship, instantly and believably drawn to one another. When Martha’s daughter goes missing, Long agrees to assist in tracking her down. Which could be useful, as he claims to be a 2,000-year old black dragon in human form. Boom.

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Future Treasures: Gather the Fortunes by Bryan Camp

Thursday, May 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The City of Lost Fortunes-small Gather the Fortunes-small

Library Journal listed Bryan’s Camp’s debut novel The City of Lost Fortunes as one of the Best Books of 2018, and in their starred review summed it up as “”A masterly game played by gods and monsters… Camp’s thoroughly engaging debut is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.” At Locus Online Katharine Coldiron expanded on the Gaiman comparison:

If Neil Gaiman wrote a post-Katrina novel about New Orleans, it just might be The City of Lost Fortunes. It’s stuffed with more-than-meets-the-mortal-eye cityscapes, immortal schemes and meddling, and historical myth and meaning… the passion with which he writes about his alternate New Orleans is a rare pleasure. It’s a novel of magicians and musicians, bargains and paradoxes, gods – lots of gods – and death… it is an entertaining and promising debut.

The highly anticipated sequel Gather the Fortunes arrives in hardcover this month. Here’s the description.

Renaissance Raines has found her place among the psychopomps — the guides who lead the souls of the recently departed through the Seven Gates of the Underworld—and done her best to avoid the notice of gods and mortals alike. But when a young boy named Ramses St. Cyr manages to escape his foretold death, Renai finds herself at the center of a deity-thick plot unfolding in New Orleans. Someone helped Ramses slip free of his destined end — someone willing to risk everything to steal a little slice of power for themselves.

Is it one of the storm gods that’s descended on the city? The death god who’s locked the Gates of the Underworld? Or the manipulative sorcerer who also cheated Death? When she finds the schemer, there’s gonna be all kinds of hell to pay, because there are scarier things than death in the Crescent City. Renaissance Raines is one of them.

We covered The City of Lost Fortunes, last year; you can read an excerpt from the first chapter hereGather the Fortunes will be published by John Joseph Adams Books on May 21, 2019. It is 372 pages, priced at $24 in hardcover and $12.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Will Staehle.


New Treasures: The Bayern Agenda by Dan Moren

Tuesday, May 7th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Dan Moren’s second novel The Bayern Agenda shares a world and key characters with his debut The Caledonian Gambit (2017). Publishers Weekly calls his new effort “a frenzied story full of bold spycraft and exciting ground and air chases… suspenseful space opera.” In her feature review at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Emily Wenstrom finds lots to enjoy.

Whether you’ve read that earlier book or not, you’ll certainly enjoy this one, provided “fast-paced, high-action space opera with a spy adventure bent” sounds like your jam; think Star Trek meets Mission: Impossible.

In many ways, the plot hits all the familiar genre beats — active wormholes, intriguing planets, intense face-offs, and a few twists along the way — but set against the backdrop of a satisfyingly built world, it offers plenty to enjoy even if you think you’ve read this sort of thing before. The action takes place during the cold war that gives the series its name, and the complex history of tensions between its two opposing forces, the Illyrican Empire and the Commonwealth of Independent Systems, lends the caper at the novel’s center a fair bit of weight — both sides of the conflict being more than ready to instigate a new wave of aggression at the first sign of trouble.

And as to that caper: Simon Kovalic is a seasoned Commonwealth intelligence agent with deep experience in the field and the psychological damage to go with it… During a mission gone awry that opens the novel, Kovalic obtains intelligence that suggests that the Empire is making some sort of move involving the massive Bayern Corporation, a planet-sized bank. Figuring out what’s going on and why is crucial: with the capital Bayern could provide, the Illyricans could seriously upset the balance of power in the system… though the novel does leverage a few familiar science fiction adventure tropes, it puts them to economical use, moving us quickly into the action. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to enjoy a fast, fun high-concept romp.

The Bayern Agenda is Book One of The Galactic Cold War, which sounds very promising. It was published by Angry Robot on March 5, 2019 It is 384 pages, priced at $12.99 in trade paperback, and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Amazing15. Read the complete first chapter (21 pages) here.


The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction, by H. Bruce Franklin

Monday, May 6th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Frank Kelly Freas

Cover by Frank Kelly Freas

The J. Lloyd Eaton Award was established in 1977 and initially was presented to the best critical science fiction book of the year. It was not presented in 1981, 1992, 1997, 1998, or 2000 and was put on hiatus after the 2001 awards were presented. When the award was started again in 2008, it was no longer given for a critical work, but rather for lifetime achievement. The award is presented at the annual Eaton Conference, held at the University of California at Riverside. The first Eaton Award was presented to Paul A. Carter in 1977 for his book The Creation of Tomorrow: Fifty Years of Magazine Science Fiction. In 1980, the winner was H. Bruce Franklin for his study Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction.

H. Bruce Franklin’s Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction was not the first book-length exploration of Heinlein’s life and writings, nor would it be the last, but it did take a unique view of Heinlein’s fiction, breaking his career into five segments and tying them to different aspects of American civilization.

Franklin opens his study with an exploration of Heinlein’s childhood, the small town of Butler, where he was born, and his father, uncle, and grandfather’s employment both there and in nearby Kansas City. Franklin isn’t merely giving background, but as he discusses Heinlein’s childhood, he ties the vicissitudes of his relative’s business ventures to Heinlein’s own take on the American dream and the way things work, or should work.

Once this background is out of the way, Franklin defines five periods of Heinlein’s writing, not only chronologically and thematically, but by tying each one to a specific period of American history. Heinlein’s earliest short stories, for instance, are linked to the Westward expansion and pioneer motif. The second period of Heinlein’s work was his emulation of the dime novels, when he was writing juvenile science fiction. This was followed by a third period which Franklin sees as mirroring the 1960s counterculture, during which Heinlein was writing. The seventies formed the fourth period with Franklin predicting a fifth period of Heinlein’s writing to kick off in 1980, the year following publication of Franklin’s study, with the publication of Heinlein’s own The Number of the Beast.

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Vintage Treasures: Infinite Dreams by Joe Haldeman

Sunday, May 5th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Infinite Dreams Joe Haldeman-small2 Infinite Dreams Joe Haldeman-back-small

Cover by Clyde Caldwell

Joe Haldeman is chiefly known for his Hugo and Nebula award-winning novels, including The Forever War (1974), Forever Peace (1997), and Camouflage (2004). But he’s equally adept at shorter length, and in fact has been nominated for many major awards for his short fiction, including the novellas “Hero” and “The Hemingway Hoax,” and the stories “Tricentennial,” “Graves,” “None So Blind,” and “Four Short novels.”

Over the years I’ve hunted down several of his collections, including Dealing in Futures (1985), A Separate War and Other Stories (2006), and the huge retrospective volume from Subterranean Press, The Best of Joe Haldeman (2013). But I only recently became aware of his first collection Infinite Dreams, published in paperback by Avon in 1979 with a cover by popular TSR artist Clyde Caldwell.

Infinite Dreams gathers much of the best of his early short fiction, published 1972 – 1977 in magazines like Analog, Galaxy, F&SF and Cosmos, and anthologies like Damon Knight’s Orbit 11, and Kirby McCauley’s Frights. It contains “To Howard Hughes: A Modest Proposal,” “The Private War of Private Jacob,” “The Mazel Tov Revolution,” and his Hugo and Locus Award winner “Tricentennial.”

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Kay Kenyon Wraps Up the Dark Talents Trilogy with Nest of the Monarch

Saturday, May 4th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Mike Heath

At the 2016 World Fantasy Convention I enjoyed a bunch of terrific readings, but my favorite — by a wide margin — was Kay Kenyon, who read from her  WWII spy novel At the Table of Wolves, the tale of a young English woman with superhuman abilities who stumbles on a chilling Nazi plan to invade England using superhuman agents. The sequel Serpent in the Heather arrived last year, and just last month the concluding volume in the trilogy, Nest of the Monarch, was published in hardcover by Saga Press. Kay’s Amazon bio has a nice summary of the entire series; here it is.

My trilogy, The Dark Talents novels finished in spring of 2019 with the publication of Nest of the Monarch. The series features Kim Tavistock, who deals with dark Talents, Nazi conspiracies, and espionage in 1936 England and Europe. Both Nest of the Monarch and At the Table of Wolves received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly.

In Book two, Serpent in the Heather, Kim must track down the Nazi assassin who is systematically killing young people with Talents. Kirkus called it “A unique concept that is superbly executed.” Book three brings Kim undercover in Berlin… I was inspired to write this series by the stories of the many women spies, radio operators and resistance fighters in the world wars. See my blog series, “Women spies in the World Wars” at www.KayKenyon.com.

Kay offers a great teaser for the closing volume at her website.

I wanted to pull out all the stops for what Kim Tavistock is capable of, and place the events of the book in the scariest environment I could imagine, at least for a spy: 1936 Berlin and a secret SS outpost. The result is my richest story yet, I’m thinking

Here’s the full description for Nest of the Monarch.

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Goth Chick News: Strange Blood

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

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As our friends over at The Nerdist pointed out, 2019 is seeing a resurgence in our favorite classic fiend, the vampire. Not those angsty, flannel-wearing lot from Seattle, but the old school leather and lace variety who unapologetically drink human blood. The kind who either haunt our nightmares or make us think maybe sunlight is overrated after all.

And that’s a big relief if you ask me.

So, know it or not, the timing was just about perfect for author Vanessa Morgan to come out with a compilation of the strangest of the strange vampire stories ever placed between covers.

Strange Blood brings together 71 essays from 23 countries, delving into the most offbeat and underrated vampire movies going back 90 years and right up to the present day. Titles include The White Reindeer (1952), Requiem for a Vampire (1971), Nadja (1994) and my person favorite, the Swedish version of Let the Right One In (2008) just to name a few.

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New Treasures: Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Sky Without Stars-smallNow here’s an interesting item. A fat, epic YA novel that reimagines Victor Hugo’s classic Les Misérables as a tale of revolution on the French planet of Laterre. Caitlyn Paxson at NPR calls it “kind of brilliant… a massive tome, full of twists and turns and a thousand agonies that propel its characters to their inevitable fates.” It arrived in hardcover from Simon & Schuster in March.

A thief.
An officer.
A guardian.

Three strangers, one shared destiny…

When the Last Days came, the planet of Laterre promised hope. A new life for a wealthy French family and their descendants. But five hundred years later, it’s now a place where an extravagant elite class reigns supreme; where the clouds hide the stars and the poor starve in the streets; where a rebel group, long thought dead, is resurfacing.

Whispers of revolution have begun — a revolution that hinges on three unlikely heroes…

Chatine is a street-savvy thief who will do anything to escape the brutal Regime, including spy on Marcellus, the grandson of the most powerful man on the planet.

Marcellus is an officer — and the son of a renowned traitor. In training to take command of the military, Marcellus begins to doubt the government he’s vowed to serve when his father dies and leaves behind a cryptic message that only one person can read: a girl named Alouette.

Alouette is living in an underground refuge, where she guards and protects the last surviving library on the planet. But a shocking murder will bring Alouette to the surface for the first time in twelve years… and plunge Laterre into chaos.

All three have a role to play in a dangerous game of revolution — and together they will shape the future of a planet.

Power, romance, and destiny collide in this sweeping reimagining of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, Les Misérables.

Sky Without Stars was published by Simon Pulse on March 26, 2019. It is 582 pages, priced at $19.95 in hardcover and $10.99 for the digital version. The cover is by Billelis. Read the complete first chapter here.


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