The Games Plus 2019 Spring Auction: Part One

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Games Plus 2019 auction sample-small

A few of the treasures acquired at the 2019 Games Plus Spring Auction

I’ve been attending the Games Plus Auction in Mount Prospect, Illinois ever since David Kenzer first told me about it, when we worked at Motorola in the late 90s. So, twenty years, give or take. I’ve been writing about it here ever since my first report in 2012 (in the appropriately titled “Spring in Illinois brings… Auction Fever.”)

The four-day auction occurs twice a year, in Spring and Fall.  Each day focuses on one of four popular themes: Thursday is collectable and tradable games like Magic: The Gathering and the Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures Game; Friday is historical wargames and family games; and Sunday is the massive miniatures auction, focused on Warhammer and like-minded pastimes. I’ve checked in on the others over the years, but my jam is the Saturday Science Fiction and RPG auction, which includes board games, minigames, and role playing rules, supplements, adventures, and magazines.  It runs from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, with no break, and this year was on March 2.

When I first started going, I was was on the hunt mostly for 70s and 80s RPG and gaming collectables, especially TSR gaming modules, microgames, Avalon Hill and Chaosium board games like Stellar Crusade and Dragon Pass, and of course ultra-rare Dwarfstar titles like Barbarian Prince. That’s changed dramatically over the decades. We live in a golden age of science fiction and fantasy board gaming, and between the many, many active publishers, countless Kickstarters and other crowdfunding campaigns, and seemingly numerous new role playing games, it’s impossible for me to keep track of all the new releases.

Those games show up in great quantity as the skilled auctioneers move rapid-fire through thousands of titles over seven hours, and often at bargain prices. Nowadays I attend the auction chiefly to discover what’s new and exciting in fantasy and science fiction board gaming, and see if I can’t pick up a few. It’s an expensive outing, to be sure, which is why I save up for months beforehand. I rarely escape will a bill less than a thousand dollars, and this year was no exception. When they totaled up the damage at the end of the Saturday auction, I’d spent $1,573 on games that filled some 15 boxes.

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Smithsonian Magazine on how Sci-Fi Lovers Owe a Debt of Gratitude to Betty Ballantine

Sunday, March 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Hyperborea Clark Ashton Smith-small Star Wars George Lucas-small A Guide to Barsoom by John Flint Roy 1976-small

Assorted Ballantine paperbacks, 1971 – 1976

Anyone who’s been reading Black Gate for any period of time, or is a fan of vintage science fiction, knows the name Betty Ballantine. With her husband Ian she founded Bantam Books, and later Ballantine Books. Last month Smithsonian Magazine paid tribute to Betty in an article titled Sci-Fi Lovers Owe a Debt of Gratitude to Betty Ballantine, in which they focus on the many ways in which she shaped 20th Century Science Fiction and Fantasy. Here’s a snippet.

The Ballantines made the decision to leave Penguin following the end of World War II due to creative differences, and from there, they went on to found Bantam Books, and, later, Ballantine Books, making them the first outlet to release hardcover and paperback editions simultaneously. Both publishing companies are now part of Penguin Random House, according to the Associated Press.

It was at Ballantine that Betty gave a voice to the then-fringe genre of sci-fi. Tom Doherty, founder of Tor Books, says that before Betty, those works were deemed “unimportant pulp” only fit to be published in cheap magazines and books. But Betty was inspired by the concept of using real science to hypothesize the future of innovation. As if she was a character in her favorite genre, Betty was able to see the potential of science fiction in novel form.

Both Bantam and Ballantine were instrumental in finding, publishing, and promoting early science fiction and fantasy, but Ballantine Books especially was crucial. They were responsible for Lin Carter’s legendary Ballantine Adult Fantasy line, the groundbreaking Best of series (which we have paid tribute to many times), bringing Tolkien to American audiences in an authorized edition, and much, more more.

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Elizabeth Bear on 8 Forgotten SFF Classics of the ’70s and ’80s

Saturday, March 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Diadem from the Stars Jo Clayton-small Sorcerer’s Son Phyllis Eisenstein-small Dreamsnake Vonda McIntyre-small The Idylls of the Queen Phyllis Ann Karr-small

Elizabeth Bear speak my language.

Over at Tor.com last month, she holds forth on my favorite topic — vintage science fiction and fantasy paperbacks. In a survey of 8 Forgotten SFF Classics of the ’70s and ’80s, she tells tales of a handful of forgotten (and a few even more forgotten) genre classics, including Jo Clayton’s Diadem from the Stars (DAW, 1977), which she compares to Jack Vance.

There’s a girl in a profoundly misogynous society, whose mother was an offworlder. She gets her hands on a powerful alien artifact that she doesn’t know how to use, and makes her escape. This is a feminist revisioning of the planetary romance, and it shows the influence of Jack Vance and similar authors — the lone wanderer in a post-technology barbaric world that hovers somewhere between magic and superscience.

Definitely on the grimdark side, this might appeal to fans of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy.

When I posted this on Facebook last month, I got a number of enthusiastic comments from Black Gate readers. Charlene Brusso wrote:

Yes! Jo Clayton’s Moongather series and the Diadem series are both worth revisiting. One of the few writers I can go back and reread and not be disappointed.

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John DeNardo on Terrific Science Fiction & Fantasy for Every Kind of Reader in March

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

A Memory Called Empire Arkady Martine-small The Near Witch V. E. Schwab-small Titanshade Dan Stout-small

I don’t know why I even try to keep up with all the new science fiction and fantasy every month. It’s literally an impossible task. Well, impossible unless you’re SF Signal founder and ace Kirkus reviewer John DeNardo. When he was a child John was bitten by a radioactive bookworm, and now he has literary superpowers. Probably. It’s the only explanation that makes sense, anyway.

Fortunately for mankind, John uses his awesome powers for good. Meaning he catalogs all the coolest science fiction and fantasy new releases every month, and summarizes them for eager readers in a handy format. Here’s the highlights for March.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Mahit Dzmare is the newly-assigned ambassador of an independent mining station. Her predecessor, she learns after the fact, was killed in a highly-suspicious accident. While Mahit maneuvers to keep the station from being absorbed by the ever-encroaching reach of the Teixcalaanli Empire, she must also find out who is behind the murder and save herself from the same fate.

WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: High stakes political intrigue abounds in this fast-paced story.

A Memory Called Empire is Arkady Martine’s debut novel, and the opening volume in the Teixcalaan series. Black Gate author Martha Wells (The Murderbot Diaries) calls it “a murder mystery wrapped up in a political space opera, and deeply immerses the reader in a unique culture and society.” It is 464 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover/$13.99 digital; it will be published by Tor Books on March 26, 2019.

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Kelly Chiu Gives us 6 Reasons to Devour Ryōko Kui’s Delicious in Dungeon

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Delicious in Dungeon Volume One-small Delicious in Dungeon Volume Two-small Delicious in Dungeon Volume Three-small

Every few years I promise myself I’m going to do a better job keeping up with the latest fantasy manga, but I never really do. But last year I did manage to discover the delightful Delicious in Dungeon, written and illustrated by Ryōko Kui, and I consider that a major win.

Delicious in Dungeon is a Japanese fantasy comedy about a 6-member adventurer party very nearly wiped out in a Total Party Kill deep in a dungeon. In the last moments before she’s swallowed by a dragon, the magic-user Falin uses the last of her strength to teleport her brother Laios and the rest of the party to the surface. Defeated and demoralized, and faced with the loss of most of their coin and equipment, two members quit immediately, but Laios convinces the last two to join him in a desperate sprint back into the dungeon before his sister is digested and beyond the reach even of the most powerful healing magic. Famished and too penniless to provision, Laios concocts a foolhardy plan to eat the monsters they encounter on their way down.

That’s the basic set-up for a extremely imaginative and frequently hilarious dungeon romp featuring three hapless foodies in a gloriously elaborate monster haven. The setting in fact is a huge part of the charm of this series, and it will be warmly familiar to anyone who’s played D&D or a similar early RPG, with its crowded underground markets and well stocked trading outposts scarcely 50 yards from trap-infested monster gardens. The slimes, mushroom men, man-eating plants and other oddball creatures they come up against will also bring back fond memories of the classic dungeon delves of your youth. They’re delightfully wacky, just like the plans our heroes come up with to eat them.

Late last year Kelly Chiu at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog wrote a fine piece on the series, just before the English translation of the sixth volume arrived in stores. Kelly has a sharp sense for what makes the series so appealing to old school gamers and general comic fans alike, and in 6 Reasons to Devour Delicious in Dungeon she hit on many of the things I most enjoy about it. Here’s a few of her most on-target comments.

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Frazetta and Family: Ace Books House Ads, circa 1975

Saturday, February 23rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Ace Books House ad 1975-small

I bought a small collection of Mack Reynolds paperbacks on eBay last week, and they arrived yesterday. I settled in with them last night, and was surprised to find one of them, the 1975 title The Five Way Secret Agent and Mercenary From Tomorrow, which looked like a collection of two novellas from Analog, was actually an Ace Double. It didn’t have two covers in back-to-back dos-à-dos format, and the second book wasn’t printed upside down, but otherwise it was an Ace Double, with separate pagination for each novel and everything. It had the usual Ace house ads in the middle, which I normally flip past, but the double-page spread above brought me to a complete stop.

I mean, just look at this thing. Never mind the questionable tactic of trying to sell gloriously color Frazetta posters (for 3 bucks each) using muddy black & white images. Check out that house ad on the left: The number 1, formed from the names of the  most prominent authors in the Ace Books publishing family. And what a staggering list!

Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Brian Aldiss, Leigh Brackett, John Brunner, Edgar Rice Burroughs, John W. Campbell, Terry Carr, A. Bertram Chandler, Lester del Rey, Samuel R. Delany, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Philip Jose Farmer, Edmond Hamilton, Frank Herbert, Robert A. Heinlein, R.A. Lafferty, Damon Knight, Ursula K. Le Guin, Fritz Leiber, Stanislaw Lem, Andre Norton, Michael Moorcock, Barry Malzberg, Alexei Panshin, Frederik Pohl, Mack Reynolds, Joanna Russ, Bob Shaw, Clifford D. Simak, Robert Silverberg, Brian Stableford, Theodore Sturgeon, James Tiptree, Jr., EC Tubb, A.E. Van Vogt, Jack Vance, Jack Williamson, Roger Zelazny

It’s not just the amazing list of authors — which is, let’s face it, a nearly unprecedented line up of talent for a single SF publisher. It’s that fact that most of those authors are still revered today, and in fact more than a few — Philip Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Tiptree, and others — have achieved even greater fame in the intervening four decades.

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Weird and Wonderful and Frightening: An Interview with Fantasy Renaissance Man Howard Andrew Jones

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

For the Killing of Kings-smaller Howard Andrew Jones thinks big thoughts-small

Howard Andrew Jones is a true renaissance man of modern fantasy. He began writing short stories featuring his Arabian heroes Dabir & Asim for magazines and anthologies like Paradox, Sages & Swords, and Black Gate. He switched to novels with the widely acclaimed The Desert of Souls, one of the major works of fantasy of 2011. He followed that with a sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones (2011), and a 4-book sequence for Pathfinder Tales: Plague of Shadows, Stalking the Beast, Beyond the Pool of Stars, and Through the Gate in the Sea.

In addition to writing, he’s also a gifted editor. He edited eight volumes of the collected tales of Harold Lamb for Bison Books, rescuing the early short fiction of one of the greatest adventure writers of the 20th Century from the moldering pages of pulp magazines. He was Managing Editor for the early e-zine Flashing Swords from 2004-2006, and in 2006 accepted the position of Managing Editor of Black Gate. He is the founding editor of Goodman Games’ new sword & sorcery magazine Tales From the Magician’s Skull, which published two issues last year. And in late 2018 he became Executive Editor at Perilous Worlds, where he oversees the publication of new titles for some of most popular properties in fantasy, including John C. Hocking’s Conan and the Emerald Lotus and Conan and the Living Plague.

Though that keeps him plenty busy, he has not neglected his own writing. For the Killing of Kings, the first novel in a brand new series, The Ring-Sworn trilogy, arrives today from St. Martin’s Press. It’s the top pick of the month of March for Bookpage, and Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, saying it “will have readers laughing, crying, and cheering.” Somehow Howard found time to sit down with us for a lengthy interview about his writing process, his influences (including Zelazny, Raymond Chandler, and Leigh Brackett), and the fast-changing trends he sees from his catbird seat in the industry. Enjoy.

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A World of Puzzles, a Society Based on Beauty, and a Space Princess: The Latest from Harper Voyager

Saturday, February 16th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Lost Puzzler-small Fearless Sarah Tarkoff-small Polaris Rising-small

Last Saturday, during my bi-weekly trip to our local Barnes & Noble, I picked up a copy of Rachel Dunne’s The Shattered Sun, published by Harper Voyager. In a brief post that afternoon I noted that a single publisher had dominated my attention as I browsed the shelves.

One thing I noticed this week is that half the books that caught my eye, including The Shattered Sun, the debut fantasy The Lost Puzzler by Eyal Kless, and the space opera Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik, were from Harper Voyager. Man, Voyager is really firing on all cylinders this season. I need to find out who the editors are over there.

A few keystrokes revealed that there are four editors at Voyager: Angela Craft, David Pomerico, Kayleigh Webb, and Pam Jaffee. There’s a great intro to the talented crew at their Meet the Team page, and a good intro to their current and future line-up here.

The books that commanded my attention that morning included The Lost Puzzler, Eyal Kless’ tale of a lowly scribe sent out in world full of puzzles, tattooed mutants, and warring guilds, to discover the fate of a child who mysteriously disappeared over a decade ago; Sarah Tarkoff’s Fearless, the sequel to last year’s Sinless, set in a near future where morality is rewarded with beauty, and crime with ugliness; and a space opera featuring rival houses, a rebellion, and a princess fleeing an arranged marriage: Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik. Here’s the back covers for all three.

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Vintage Treasures: Classic Science Fiction: The First Golden Age, edited by Terry Carr

Sunday, February 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Classic Science Fiction The First Golden Age UK-small Classic Science Fiction The First Golden Age UK back-small

Terry Carr may be my all-time favorite editor. His Creatures From Beyond (1975) was one of the very first SF anthologies I read in Junior High, and the sixteen volumes of The Best Science Fiction of the Year he produced remain a high water mark for the genre. Carr died in 1987, at the too-young age of 50, but I still read his books with enormous pleasure today.

It may be a sign of age (mine, not Carr’s), but I usually associate him with modern science fiction. So I was a little surprised to discover his anthology Classic Science Fiction: The First Golden Age, which collects a dozen stories published in pulp magazines in 1940-41. This is not an easy book to find; it had a single hardcover printing from Harper & Row in 1978, a UK reprint from Robson a year later, and then promptly vanished. There’s been no paperback, no reprint since 1979, and no digital version. If I hadn’t stumbled on a copy on Amazon through blind luck back in 2011, I probably still wouldn’t know this book existed.

I love pulp SF, so it’s always nice to get a new selection of Golden Age tales, especially from an editor with Carr’s eye. Here he includes a handful of classics, like Asimov’s “Nightfall,” Kuttner’s “The Twonky,” and Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps,” and “–And He Built a Crooked House–,” but also stories I’ve never seen before, like Lester del Rey’s “The Smallest God,” Ross Rocklynne’s “Into the Darkness,” and Leigh Brackett’s “Child of the Green Light.”

But even more interesting than that, at least for me, is Carr’s lengthy editorial material exploring the history of SF’s Golden Age, the major personalities involved, and the stories behind the fiction. Easily 20% of this book (some 90 pages) is written by Carr, and he draws from a great many sources, including a lot of personal correspondence and interviews, to tell some fascinating anecdotes and illuminate the surprising history of some of the greatest science fiction ever written. This is a book that belongs in every serious library of pulp SF, alongside The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Asimov’s Before the Golden Age, and Healy and McComas’ Adventures in Time and Space.

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A Rich Library of Modern Science Fiction: The SF Gateway Omnibus Editions

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Heinlein The Past Through Tomorrow The SF Gateway Omnibus-small Gordon R Dickson SF Gateway Omnibus-small Connie Willis SF Gateway Omnibus-small
Heinlein The Past Through Tomorrow The SF Gateway Omnibus-back-small Gordon R Dickson SF Gateway Omnibus-back-small Connie Willis SF Gateway Omnibus-back-small

Yesterday I posted a brief article on Jack Vance, and as one of the header images I included a pic of the Jack Vance SF Gateway Omnibus, a massive volume from Orion Publishing/Gollancz containing three complete works: Big Planet, The Blue World, and the collection The Dragon Masters and Other Stories. I did it because I thought the book was very cool, and I wanted readers to know about it. And it paid off — in the comments section Glenn posted the following:

Just an aside John. Has anyone at Black Gate taken a look at the Gateway Omnibus series? I saw a whole bunch of them turn up at my local Half Price Books. The covers are weird but they seem dedicated to getting some lesser read classics out there in an inexpensive format.

Glenn read my mind. And in fact, he had the exact same experience I did. In April last year, while I was in Lombard, Illinois for the Windy City Pulp & Paper Show, I dropped into the local Half Price Books. I came out with a few interesting vintage paperbacks, but the real find was a handsome assortment of bright yellow oversized trade paperbacks with the Gateway Omnibus logo. All were brand new, and each volume contained a generous sampling of reprints from a well-known science fiction name. I’d never seen them before, but I was struck by both the eclectic mix of titles, and the wide range of authors: folks like Algis Budrys, C.L. Moore, Damon Knight, Clifford D. Simak, Edmond Hamilton, E.C. Tubb, Edgar Pangborn, John Brunner, Jack Williamson, Kate Wilhelm, James Blaylock, Joe Haldeman, Frank Herbert, Henry Kuttner, and many others. Best of all, the books were very reasonably priced — $7.99 each. I ended up taking four home with me that day (the Wilhelm, Kuttner, Williamson and Moore), and doing an online search to find just how many were out there.

What I discovered was an extremely impressive catalog of over 50 titles. All were originally published in the UK, so distribution in the US is spotty at best, but many are still widely available (and still reasonably priced). To give you an idea of the amazing scope of the collection, I’ve gathered 51 thumbnail images for you to browse below.

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