The Games Plus 2019 Spring Auction, Part Two

Sunday, May 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Two months ago I assembled a photographic record of the games I brought home from the Games Plus 2019 Spring Auction. I didn’t do a final count, but it was roughly 100 boxed games, and several boxes of RPG gamebooks, totalling some 15 boxes.

In that first piece I tried to capture the overwhelming experience of sitting in the front row for seven hours as thousands of new and used SF & fantasy games flashed by. It’s a deep immersion in the games aftermarket, an education in just how many titles have been released in the past 12 months, and a chance to learn — by watching the excited frenzy as certain titles come up to the auction block — which ones have truly captured the attention of players. I saw a lot of games go for a lot of money, and even more sell at rock-bottom prices.

In Part Two of my auction report, I want to try and communicate the sheer scale of the event. I estimate there were somewhere between 150-200 attendees for the Saturday Fantasy and Sci-Fi Games auction this year, nearly a record, and I’m fairly sure there were a record number of games sold.

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Vintage Treasures: Davy by Edgar Pangborn

Thursday, May 16th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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1982 Ballantine paperback reprint; cover by Boris Vallejo

Edgar Pangborn died in 1976. His last book, the collection Still I Persist in Wondering, was published in 1978. The first Pangborn story I can recall reading was his splendid tale of the first landing on an alien world, and the majestic and deadly creatures found there, “The Red Hills of Summer,” in Gardner Dozois’ anthology Explorers (2000). It was enough to turn me into an instant fan.

I never read any Pangborn during my formative teen years, but he still managed to feature prominently in my early science fiction education. That’s chiefly because the reviewer I read most avidly at the time, Spider Robinson, was a late convert and a huge fan. In his column in the March 1976 Galaxy magazine, Spider raved:

I’ve only just discovered Edgar Pangborn. I haven’t been so delighted since (years ago, thank God) I discovered Theodore Sturgeon. In fact, the comparison is apt. I like Pangborn and Sturgeon for very similar reasons. Both are thoughtful, mature writers, and both remind me at times of [John] Brunner’s Chad Mulligan [the hero of Stand on Zanzibar], bitter drunk, crying at the world, “Goddammit, I love you all.” Both are bitterly disappointed in man’s evil, and both are hopelessly in love with man’s good. Both are addicted to creating and falling in love with warmly human, vibrantly alive characters, and making you love them too.

In the November 1976 issue of Galaxy, shortly after he learned of Pangborn’s death, Spider wrote a bitter rant of his own, lamenting the loss of a great writer and the fact that the world had stubbornly refused to acknowledge his achievements. He held up Pangborn’s 1964 novel Davy as a testament to what the field had lost. I’m not sure there’s a short story from 1976 that’s lived in my mind as vividly for the past four decades as Spider’s review of Davy. Here it is.

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New Treasures: The Best of R. A. Lafferty, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Sunday, May 12th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best of R. A. Lafferty-small The Best of R. A. Lafferty-back-small

At last! At last! The Best of R. A. Lafferty is available here in the United States.

Back in October of last year, uber-editor Jonathan Strahan made the following terse announcement on his Facebook page, alongside a tantalizing cover reveal.

The Best of R.A. Lafferty will be published by Gollancz in March 2019. The book features 22 classic Lafferty stories along with an introduction by Neil Gaiman and forewords by some of the most important writers and editors working in the field today.

Fabulous! Lafferty is one of my favorite short story writers, and far too much of his work — virtually all of it, really — is either long out of print, or available only in very expensive collector’s editions from Centipede Press. The prospect of a generous collection of his best short fiction in a compact and affordable trade paperback edition (with a cover by Emanuel Santos illustrating one of his finest stories, “Nine Hundred Grandmothers”) seemed too good to be true.

And for a while, it look like it would be. I immediately added the book to my Amazon queue, and impatiently awaited the March release date. It came and went, and Amazon switched the status of the book from “Available for pre-order” to flat-out “Unavailable.” Copies of the book were unavailable through any of my regular sources. Until a few weeks ago, when a handful of sellers finally signaled they had it in stock. I placed an order, and it arrived last week.

And what a book it is. Not only does it include 22 terrific stories, but editor Strahan has also assembled thoughtful and entertaining intros to each by some of the finest writers in the field, including Samuel R. Delany, Robert Silverberg, Michael Swanwick, Michael Bishop, John Scalzi, Jeff VanderMeer, Nancy Kress, Andy Duncan, Gregory Frost, Neil Gaiman, Connie Willis, Jack Dann, Harlan Ellison, Cat Rambo, and many others.

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Tor.com on Abandoned Earths and Inhospitable Planets

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Worlds Apart Joe Haldeman-small Venus of Dreams-small Vacuum Flowers UK-small The-Exile-Waiting-small
Worlds Apart Joe Haldeman-back-small Venus of Dreams-back-small Vacuum Flowers UK-back-small The-Exile-Waiting-back-small

Everyone knows that Top Ten lists are irresistable clickbait for bibliophiles. That’s why there are so damned many. Top Ten Science Fiction novels of the 80s. Top 50 Fantasy Novels of All Time. Top 100 Hobbits in Science Fiction, Yo. Don’t lie to me, you know you love ’em.

Anyway, over the last few years book sites have gotten a little more clever, spicing up run-of-the-mill Top Ten lists with more interesting themes. A couple of my recent favorites both appeared at Tor.com: James Davis Nicoll’s SF Stories Featuring Abandoned Earths, and Kelly Jensen’s Five Inhospitable Planets from Science Fiction. Both feature topics near-and-dear to my old school heart and, even better, they showcase classic books from Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda McIntyre, Poul Anderson, Michael Swanwick, Arthur C. Clarke, Joe Haldeman, Mel Odom, and Kim Stanley Robinson, and more, with nods to films like The Chronicles of Riddick and Interstellar.

Really, these things are just excuses to write about books we love, and what’s wrong with that? Nuthin’, that’s what’s wrong with that. This is what the internet is for, people.

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Numenera, Nyarlathotep, and Runequest Glorantha: Some Recent Slipcase Sets

Sunday, April 21st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Kickstarter has fundamentally changed board game publishing over the past decade, and more recently it’s started to have a similar impact on Role Playing as well. Monte Cook’s first Numenera campaign in September 2012 famously raised $517,255 (on a $20,000 goal), and Chaosium’s 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu campaign bested that in June 2013, raising $561,836 (on a $40,000 goal), and those opened the floodgates. Since then some of the most popular RPG properties have turned to fans to get major projects off the ground, with impressive results.

I don’t back crowdfunding campaigns (with the exception of the Veronica Mars movie because, hey, Veronica Mars). But I do trail along after them and buy finished products. Sometimes — not always — that’s more expensive, but it does save me all the drama of late delivery and wondering if the project I funded will ever arrive. Like Judges Guild’s infamous reprint of the City State of the Invincible Overlord, promised in December 2014 and which still shows no sign over ever becoming real nearly five years later.

So far in 2019 I’ve purchased four crowdfunded boxed sets, and I’ve been very, very impressed with all of them. There were:

RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha — $119.99
Numenera Discovery and Destiny — $119.99
Call of Cthulhu: Masks of Nyarlathotep — $129.99
RuneQuest: The Guide to Glorantha — $169.95

All are still available to latecomers. Here’s a closer look at all four.

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L. E. Modesitt Jr. wraps up The Imager Portfolio with Endgames

Saturday, April 20th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art for all 12 volumes by Donato Giancola

Every time a trilogy wraps up, we bake a cake at the Black Gate rooftop headquarters. Strangely, we don’t have a protocol for when a 12-book cycle completes, but we’re working on it.

L. E. Modesitt Jr.’s Imager Portfolio series opened with Imager in 2009, and around about book 8, Rex Regis, Tor started referring to it as “The New York Times Bestselling Imager Portfolio.” Modesitt has hit those rarefied heights before — the 20 books in his Saga of Recluse have sold over three million copies — but it was good to see him with another major success.

The final volume in the series, Endgames, arrived in February. This time the publisher refers to it as “the third book in the story arc that began with Madness in Solidar through Treachery’s Tools and Assassin’s Price” and, despite having counted several times, I make Endgames the fourth book in that sequence, but hey, whatever. You count any way you want Tor, and don’t let ’em give you any grief.

However you count his books, L.E. Modesitt deserves some serious respect. He’s produced more than seventy novels, including two science fiction series, the Ghost Books and Ecolitan Matter, four fantasy series, the Imager Portfolio, the Saga of Recluce, the Spellsong Cycle and the Corean Chronicles, and many popular standalone titles such as Solar Express, which Arin Komins at Starfarer’s Despatch calls utterly wonderful. All 12 volumes in the Imager Portfolio series are still in print, which is no mean feat. Here’s the description for the first one.

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Total Pulp Victory: A Report from Windy City Pulp & Paper 2019

Sunday, April 14th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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A few of the $1 paperbacks I brought home from Windy City

I returned from the 2019 Windy City Pulp and Paperback Show a few hours ago, weary and happy. It was another fabulous convention, and once again it proved to be the undisputed best show in Chicagoland for those who love vintage books and magazines.

This was the 19th annual convention. It was founded in 2001 by Doug Ellis, and I’ve been attending ever since Howard Andrew Jones and John C. Hocking made the long trip to the 7th Windy City way back in 2007. This year I spent most of the show with friends, including BG bloggers Bob Byrne, Rich Horton, and Steven Silver, as well as local booksellers Arin Komins and Rich Warren, who had a booth and a few spare chairs and were kind enough to let us hang out. There was lots of great food and terrific conversation, and we toasted absent friends, including Howard Andrew Jones, Jason M. Waltz, Barbara Barrett, and especially bookseller and all-around great soul Dave Willoughby, who passed away last year. Dave personified the friendly and welcoming nature of Windy City better than anyone else, I think, and he was profoundly missed.

I made numerous great purchases at the show, including an assortment of Arkham House hardcovers from Doug, some marvelous books from the Glenn Lord estate (purchased from his widow, Lou Ann), a couple of recent Dark Adventure Radio Theater releases from Greg Ketter, a box of vintage SF digests in great condition — and some really wonderful treasures at the auction, including a copy of the 1990 Donald Grant illustrated edition of Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness, several stacks of pulps, and an absolutely magnificent set of 1927 Weird Tales, bound in two volumes.

But as usual, most of what I took home with me was paperbacks. Lots of paperbacks. I found a few that I was willing to pay a premium for, including some Clark Ashton Smith collections and horror anthologies, but the vast majority of them — well over 200 in total — were less than $1 each, including all those I spread out on my kitchen floor to photograph when I got home (see above).

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The Games Plus 2019 Spring Auction: Part One

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

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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

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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

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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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