Barry Malzberg on the Pocket Best of…. Volumes

Sunday, July 15th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Barry MalzbergOn Friday I wrote here about the Best of collections from Pocket Books published in the late 70s, which featured Robert Silverberg, Poul Anderson, Walter M. Miller, and many others. Most had introductions by Barry Malzberg, the respected editor who’d helmed Amazing and Fantastic (and future editor of the SFWA Bulletin), and I wondered aloud if the books had been edited (or ghost-edited) by Malzberg.

Reader Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, author of Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg, leaped into action. “I asked Barry if he did the editing & teaser texts, per your speculation,” he told me. “Here’s his answer, which he said was fine to share.” Based on the comments on that post, I thought you lot might be as interested as I was, so here’s Barry’s reply.

The eight Best of collections were conceived by Robt. Gleason, the sf editor at the time [my novel] Beyond Apollo was acquired for sublicense from Random House and he remained there from 1972-1976. Those collections were acquired by him; he was fired in 1974 (went over to Playboy Press) and succeeded by his young assistant (b. 1952) Adele Leone Hull.

It was her idea to commission me for the eight Introductions (at $75 apiece!) and she wrote the cover copy; I had nothing to do with the collections beyond the Introductions. Hull was the sf editor at Pocket Books until 1978, went over very briefly to Pyramid and when Pyramid in 1979 was fully absorbed (under the Jove imprint) into Harcourt she became an agent.

That’s the first confirmation I have that there were eight volumes in the series with a Malzberg intro (I count at least 10 overall), so I’m doubly grateful to Alvaro for passing that along. Our previous coverage of Barry includes my thoughts on his collections Astounding Science Fiction in the 1950s and Bug-Eyed Monsters (both co-edited by Bill Pronzini), and his novel Underlay.

The Pocket Best

Friday, July 13th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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We’ve spent a lot of time here at Black Gate celebrating Del Rey’s Classics of Science Fiction line from 1974-88 (The Best of Eric Frank Russell, The Best of Fritz Leiber, etc.); nearly two dozen paperback originals reprinting early short stores by C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Henry Kuttner, John W. Campbell, Philip K. Dick, Fredric Brown, Murray Leinster, Robert Bloch, Jack Williamson, and many others. The series was the equivalent of a Masters-level course in science fiction and, taken as a whole, formed an essential library of 20th Century SF. The entire series, including all the reprints, is cataloged at IMDB. None of the volumes have been reprinted since 1988, and there are no digital versions, but the series was popular enough that copies are easy to find and not particularly expensive. (See below for a handsome set I bought last month for $40).

Lester del Dey wasn’t the only publisher to see the value of a line of Best of collections, of course. Donald Wolheim more or less pioneered the idea with The Book of  A.E. van Vogt (DAW Books No. 4, 1972) and The Book of Brian Aldiss (No. 29, 1972), and followed with nine more from Frank Herbert, Philip K. Dick, Gordon R. Dickson, Philip Jose Farmer, Fritz Leiber, Fred Saberhagen, Poul Anderson, John Brunner, and Andre Norton. Like most early DAW efforts though, these were slender volumes; they’re also not as numerous, and the packaging isn’t nearly as attractive as the Del Rey books, so they aren’t as collectible.

There was another publisher who gave del Rey a run for his money, however. Between 1976 and 1980 Pocket Books produced nearly a dozen substantial collections showing off the science fiction authors in their catalog, including Jack Vance, Robert Silverberg, Harry Harrison, John Sladek, Keith Laumer, Damon Knight, Poul Anderson, Barry N. Malzberg, Mack Reynolds, and Walter M. Miller.

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R.A. Lafferty, the Past Master of Science Fiction

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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R.A Lafferty is one of my absolute favorite classic SF writers. Though I’ve never read any of his novels.

Yeah, I know that sounds weird. But Lafferty is remembered today mostly for his brilliant short fiction, collected in priceless collections like Nine Hundred Grandmothers (1970), Strange Doings (1972), and Lafferty in Orbit (1991). And his novels… well, they’re not so well remembered. There are a lot of theories about this. In his wonderful SF biography Past Masters (the title of which is an homage to Lafferty), Bud Webster quotes Mike Resnick, who was close to Lafferty:

There were a number of people… who thought he was the most brilliant short story writer in the field. But his novelettes weren’t as good, and except for Space Chanty (sic) his novellas were unexceptional, and his novels were for the most part mediocre. I blame his drinking for this. If he could grind out a story in one or two sittings, he could be brilliant. But if a novel took him 50 writing sessions, you get the feeling that each day he had to refresh his memory of what the hell he wanted to do, how he wanted to say it, etc.

Not all of Lafferty’s novels have a poor rep. His first, Past Master (1968), was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula, and today has become one of the most collectible SF paperbacks ever published by Ace Books, with good-condition copies commanding $50-85 and up on eBay.

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Sharpen Those Writing Pens: Rogue Blades Entertainment Open to Submissions for Three New Anthologies

Monday, July 9th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Rogue Blades Entertainment’s Jason M. Waltz is one of the best editors in the adventure fantasy business. His books include the groundbreaking Writing Fantasy Heroes, Challenge! Discovery, Rage of the Behemoth, and Return of the Sword, one of the most important Sword & Sorcery anthologies of the 21st Century. But as exciting as those tomes are, what I want to talk about today are Jason’s future books — which promise to be as groundbreaking as his epic back catalog.

One of the great things about Jason is that, unlike many other editors at established publishing houses, he has open submission. That’s right — anyone can submit to one of his anthologies. And right now he has not one, not two, but three books open. The first is a swashbuckling pirates & crusaders volume, Crossbones & Crosses, and it sounds terrific. Here’s a snippet from the Submission Guidelines.

Pirates & Crusaders, ahoy! Hoist your banners, unsheathe your blades, kiss your crosses, and let’s search for booty on the seas and the sands! More of the age of steel than shot, though some rudimentary gunpowder is acceptable. NO fantastical elements! Write us your strongest swashbuckling adventures! Gritty, dangerous, and bloody, but nothing of this grimdark nihilism…

Stories should be 4k-9k words in length. Nothing either too much shorter or too much longer. Wow us with heroic storytelling!

Submissions will be open through the fall, so you have plenty of time to craft a story that will get our blood pumping. One of Jason’s other great strengths as an editor is his lightning response times — he usually gets back to you on the first 500 words of your story in the first week.

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Vintage Treasures: Nebula Winners Fourteen, edited by Frederik Pohl

Thursday, July 5th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Back in May, more or less on a whim, I paid $6.59 for a copy of the British paperback edition of Nebula Winners Fourteen, edited by Frederik Pohl. I already had the Bantam version (see below) but the gorgeously moody cover by the great Bruce Pennington hypnotized me, and what could I do?

I’m glad I did it, anyway. In this hot Illinois summer, a book I can dip into while relaxing on the porch is a perfect antidote, and having Nebula Winners Fourteen conveniently on hand has reminded me just how outstanding the Nebula anthologies were, and are, year after year. This one, for example, includes the three 1978 Nebula short fiction award winners, plus a 30-page excerpt from the winning novel:

“The Persistence of Vision,” by John Varley (Best Novella)
“A Glow of Candles, a Unicorn’s Eye,” by Charles L. Grant (Best Novelette)
“Stone,” by Edward Bryant (Best Short Story)
An Excerpt from Dreamsnake, by Vonda N. McIntyre

But it also includes some superb nominees, as selected by Pohl, including C. J. Cherryh’s Hugo Award-winning short story “Cassandra,” and Gene Wolfe’s massive 60-page novella “Seven American Nights.” I imagine Pohl got a lot of grief for cramming two long novellas into a slender paperback, displacing a lot of award-nominated short fiction in the process, but the years have proven the astuteness of his choice. “Seven American Nights” is one of the most acclaimed stories of the 70s, still discussed and enjoyed today, whereas the winner in the novella category, Varley’s “The Persistence of Vision,” is considered by many to be overrated (including by me.)

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Experience an Alternate History Space Program with Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut Series

Monday, July 2nd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky

Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette in 2014 (after some shenanigans that caused it to be weirdly disqualified in 2013). All that — not to mention her other accolades, including multiple Nebula nominations for her popular Glamourist Histories fantasy series — helped make it one of the most talked-about SF stories of the last decade. Read the complete text at

“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” is the tale of Elma York, who led the expedition that paved the way to life on Mars, and the impossible decision she faces when she’s given the opportunity to return to space years later. Mary returns to the world of “Lady Astronaut” with her debut science fiction novel The Calculating Stars, available tomorrow from Tor Books. Fast on its heels is the sequel The Fated Sky, shipping in August. offered us the following teaser back in September.

The novels will be prequels, greatly expanding upon the world that was first revealed in “Lady Astronaut.” The first novel, The Calculating Stars will present one perspective of the prequel story, followed closely by the second novel The Fated Sky, which will present an opposite perspective — one tightly woven into the first novel. Kowal elaborates: “The first novel begins on March 3, 1952 about five minutes before a meteorite slams into the Chesapeake Bay and wipes out D.C. I’ve been doing historical fantasy and I keep saying that this is historical science fiction, even though I know full well that ‘alternate history’ is already a genre. It’s so much fun to play in.”

Omnivoracious selected The Calculating Stars as one of 15 Highly Anticipated SFF Reads for Summer 2018, and just today the B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog picked it as one of the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of July

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Shadows, Robots, and Warrior Monks: Amazon Selects the Five Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of June

Saturday, June 30th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Amazon Top Five SF & Fantasy in June

Amazon closes out a month of great books with their 5 Top Picks for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of June. The list includes some pretty familiar titles, including Peng Shepherd’s The Book of M, Yoon Ha Lee’s Revenant Gun, Stephanie Garber’s Legendary, and the debut novel by Black Gate‘s own Todd McAulty. Here’s their take.

The Robots of Gotham by Todd McAulty

Robots have taken over most of the world, but not quite in the way you’d expect. Some have fought their way to dominion. Others have been voted into power by human citizens who think AIs will make better decisions. Readers who enjoyed the complex robot-human relationships within Robopocalypse and the investigations in World War Z about how institutions function (or don’t) in the face of species-changing event will happily sink their teeth into The Robots of Gotham.

See the complete list here.

Can a Trilogy Have Six Books? The Legends of the First Empire by Michael J. Sullivan

Thursday, June 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Every time an author wraps up a trilogy, we bake a cake at the Black Gate rooftop headquarters.

Of course, this sometimes leads to anxiety. Is the series really wrapped up? Are there going to be more books? It’s not like the publisher slaps a sticker on the book saying Finito!, exactly. What if we bake a cake, and it turns out there’s four more books? Won’t we look stupid.

Ah, the hell with it. It’s cake! We’ll be forgiven. Probably. In that spirit, we were all dressed up to celebrate the arrival of Age of War, the third and (final? maybe?) book in Michael J. Sullivan’s The Legends of the First Empire series, when one of Goth Chick’s interns did some actual research (i.e. spent five minutes on Sullivan’s website). Turns out there’s a whopping six books planned for the series. Who knew?

Fortunately for those of us on staff who love cake (meaning, like, everybody), the first three books in the series will be the only ones published by Del Rey, so Age of War is an ending, of sorts. Good enough for us. Cake for everyone!

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The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog on the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of June 2018

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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June has been a fantastic month for new books. My TBR (to-be-read) pile is reaching structurally unsound heights already, and Jeff Somers at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog isn’t helping matters any by showcasing nearly two dozen of the best new releases. Here’s a few of his more interesting selections.

Brief Cases, by Jim Butcher (Ace Books, 448 pages, $28 hardcover/$14.99 digital, June 5, 2018)

Butcher offers up 12 stories set in the world of Harry Dresden, wizard and private investigator working an alternate, magic-filled Chicago. Several stories follow Harry’s adventures with River Shoulders, a smart sasquatch with a half-human son. Others involve Harry’s apprentice Molly Carpenter, crime boss John Marcone, and even Wyatt Earp. The novella “Zoo Day” follows Harry as he takes his young daughter Maggie to the zoo — and since this is Harry Dresden, you know there’s more in store than daddy/daughter bonding. Dresden fans may have encountered some of these stories before, but rereading them in this collection, alongside one all-new tale, should help ease the pain for waiting for Harry’s next novel-length adventure.

Our previous coverage of Harry Dresden includes Barbara Barrett 2014 article “A Wizard is a Wizard is a Wizard — Except When He’s Harry Dresden.”

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Experience the Terrors of the Mythos in the Old West in Down Darker Trails

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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One of the many things I love about the Call of Cthulhu RPG — besides the prospect of gathering with close friends to cheerfully go insane together — is the rich array of settings. The core game is set in 1930s America, where Lovecraft (who died in 1937) set virtually all of his fiction, and that serves the pulp horror aesthetic nicely. But over the years Chaosium, and other publishers, have produced several top-notch supplements giving players the option to adventure in a wide range of times and places.

These include Cthulhu Now (1987), Terror Australis (1987), King of Chicago (1992), The Cairo Guidebook (1995), Atomic-Age Cthulhu (2013), and many, many more. The Dreamlands, Victorian London, Scotland, even the Orient Express… no other game invites you to go stark, raving mad in such finely detailed surroundings.

However, CoC has been sorely lacking a weird western sourcebook, so I was very pleased to see Kevin Ross and his friends at Chaosium release Down Darker Trails, a massive full-color 256-page hardcover which lovingly brings Mythos horror to the old west. The book is an excellent addition to Chaosium’s catalog, and contains a splendid historical re-telling of the American Territories, plenty of famous individuals, two complete towns, four western-themed Lost Worlds (including the weird subterranean world of K’n-yan, and the eerie Shadow Desert), and two complete introductory adventures.

Down Darker Trails invites you to play American Indian heroes and famous gunslingers, visit famous sites, and discover just how deeply the terror and mystery of the Great Old Ones has seeped into the West.

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