The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog on the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of May 2019

Friday, May 31st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Children of Ruin Adrian Tchaikovsky-small Westside W M Akers-small Empire of Grass Tad Williams-small

It’s the last day of May, and you know what that means. You’re another month behind in your reading.

Fortunately for you, there are some excellent resources out there to help you discover just how badly you blew it (yet again) by not spending every spare moment in May reading. My new favorite is The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, which does a terrific job month-after-month of letting us know just how bad we suck. Here’s some of the highlights from Jeff Somers summary of The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of May 2019.

Children of Ruin, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Orbit, 576 pages, $15.99 trade paperback/$9.99 digital, May 14)

The sequel to the British Science Fiction Award-winning Children of Time returns to the unlikely new cradle of humanity, a colony planet whereupon a disastrous terraforming attempt resulted in the creation of a new society of uplifted ants and spiders whose civilization evolved at breakneck speed before the desperate remnants of the a ravaged Earth could arrive. Now unlikely allies, the humans and the insects catch fragmentary signals broadcast from light years away, suggesting there might be other survivors from their shared homeworld. A mixed expedition sets out to solve the mystery, but what’s waiting for them out in space is another calamity set in motion by long-dead Earth scientists’ arrogant and desperate efforts to ensure the survival of their species. Children of Ruin managed to completely deliver on a truly absurd premise, and the sequel offers similar pleasures.

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There’s a Lifetime of Reading in DAW Omnibus Volumes

Sunday, May 26th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Initiate Brother Duology-small The Nightfall Duology-small Species Imperative-small

DAW Books was founded in 1971 by uber-editor Donald A. Wollheim after he left Ace Books. In the last five decades it’s published almost two thousand science fiction and fantasy novels (W. Michael Gear’s Pariah, released on May 14, is Daw Book #1823), and it has launched the careers of hundreds of writers, including C. J. Cherryh, Julie E. Czerneda, Patrick Rothfuss, Tad Williams, Kristen Britain, Melanie Rawn, Violette Malan, and Tanith Lee.

Right. So there’s lots of reasons to love DAW Books. But here’s another one you may not be aware of: it has a fascinating tradition of re-releasing much of its most popular SF and fantasy in compact and affordable paperback omnibus editions. In fact, of those 1800 DAW titles released since 1971, nearly a hundred are omnibus editions, many of which are still in print.

Hard to believe? I didn’t believe it myself until I found all three of the omnibus collections above in a recent trip to my local B&N and, after I brought them home, began to poke around to see just how many others were still available. I counted well over 50 without even trying. Here they are.

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The Best of HFQ Volume III Now Funding on Kickstarter

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Kickstarter

Adrian Simmons, one of the editorial masterminds at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly (HFQ) alerted me that they’ve just launched a crowdfunding campaign for the third volume of The Best of HFQ. The first two books were very warmly received by Black Gate readers, and this one looks like it could be the best yet. Here’s Adrian with all the deets.

HFQ has been bringing great S&S and adventure fiction to the world for ten years, and we have distilled our best tales and poems from years 5-6 for our third Best-of anthology. In those two years we published work by Nebula winner P. Djéli Clark, brought the work of Cullen Groves to the world, and introduced Eric Atkisson’s Comanche adventurer Crazy Snake. As with Best-of #2, we have fired up a Kickstarter campaign to cover the costs, and we’ve already hit 40% of our goal!

Need a reminder about the quality of our work from the time? Black Gate readers may remember the glowing reviews of Fletcher Vredenburgh for Issue #22 and Issue #23.

I almost never back Kickstarter campaigns, but I happily made an exception in this case. Read our thoughts on Volume I here, Volume II here, and support a worthy cause — and one of the best adventure fantasy magazines on the market in the process — right here.


The Games Plus 2019 Spring Auction, Part Two

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

Games Plus 2019 auction 94-small Games Plus 2019 auction 95-small Games Plus 2019 auction 96-small

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

Davy Edgar Pangborn-small Davy Edgar Pangborn-back-small

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

RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha Slipcase-small

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

Imager-small Imager's Challenge-small Imager's Intrigue-small Scholar Imager-small
Princeps Imager Portfolio-small Imager's Battalion-small Antiagon Fire-small Rex Regis-small
Madness in Solidar-small Treachery's Tools-small Assassin's Price-small Endgames Modesitt-small

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

Windy CIty Pulp and Paper 2018 paperback treasures-small

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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