Vintage Treasures: The Best Science Fiction 1974, edited by Lester del Rey, Terry Carr, and Donald Wollheim

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year 4-medium The-Best-Science-Fiction-of-the-Year-4-Terry-Carr-medium2 The 1975 Annual World's Best SF-medium

In his Foreword to his Fourth Annual Collection of Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year, which gathered stories published in 1974, Lester del Rey makes the case for Sense of Wonder as the core literary virtue of science fiction.

There is another element that must be present in every good science fiction story. It should excite a feeling of wonder, of something beyond the ordinary. It is the expectation of finding such wonders that makes the reader turn to science fiction rather than to more conventional tales of adventure.

There was a time, forty or fifty years ago, when what was then called “scientifiction” had little more than this sense of wonder to recommend it. Most of the writing was dreadful, the characters were little more than stick figures, and the plots were creakingly devoted to nothing but gadgetry. Yet, bad as they were, these stories opened the imagination to wonderful vistas of the future, of the triumph of mankind beyond normal limits, and to all things strange and alien.

Today, the situation has changed. The newer writers — and the older ones who have survived in the field — have learned their craft well. The writing is incredibly better. Gone are the horible cliches of the worst of pulp fiction: the trite mad scientists, and the banal heroines who are mere props for the hero to save from a fate worse than death. Gone are the spate of pseudo-science words and the plethora of meaningless adjectives.

Happily, in the best of science fiction the sense of wonder is still with us.

We need that feeling of wonder today, perhaps more than ever, when mainstream literature and our daily newspapers keep telling us that — in the words of Wordsworth — “The world is too much with us; late and soon;/Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…” We need to be reminded that the future is still unexplored territory and that we can read to the end of the sonnet and “Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;/Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.”

I don’t often get to mix Wordsworth with my science fiction; allow me to celebrate a little when it happens organically.

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How Much Adventure Can Fit on One Planet? Find Out in Tarsus: World Beyond the Frontier

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Tarsus Game Designers Workshop-small Tarsus Game Designers Workshop-back-small

I started playing Traveller in 1980, using Marc Miller and Frank Chadwick’s original 1977 boxed set from Game Designers’ Workshop. I really enjoyed it although — as I noted in my 2014 article on GDW’s Dark Nebula and Imperium board games — it was a little light on setting.

The original boxed edition of Traveller didn’t really have a setting — it was sort of a generic system for role playing in space, and it drew on the popular vision of a galaxy-spanning human civilization found in the science fiction of the time by Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Keith Laumer, H. Beam Piper, and others. (James Maliszewski did a splendid job of re-constructing the formative SF behind Traveller in “Appendix T.”) It was a game desperately in need of a rich setting, and it found one in Imperium.

Looking back, that critique was perhaps a little harsh. Yeah, the 1977 boxed set forgot to include a setting, and the publisher had to steal one from Imperium. But it wasn’t long before GDW began to improve the situation by producing high quality supplemental materials for Traveller. One of their better efforts was the boxed set Tarsus: World Beyond the Frontier, designed by Marc W. Miller and Loren K. Wiseman and released by GDW in 1983. I recently tracked down a copy, and I really wish I’d had it for those early gaming sessions in the trailer in my back yard in 1980.

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The Lonely Hardcover: The Golden Road, edited by Damon Knight

Monday, April 23rd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Golden Road Damon Knight-small

I’ve heard it said many a time that online shopping will never replace a good bookstore, because you can’t make those delicious unexpected discoveries online.

Well, that certainly hasn’t been my experience. My most recent example? Damon Knight’s 1974 fantasy reprint anthology The Golden Road: Great Tales of Fantasy and the Supernatural, which I found on eBay while bidding on a small collection of British fantasy paperbacks from the same seller.

Now, I’ve never even heard of The Golden Road, and I most definitely stumbled on it while I wasn’t looking for it, so it certainly counts as a delicious and unexpected discovery. Plus, I won it for a measly five bucks plus shipping, so it’s sort of like making a delicious and unexpected discovery at a neighborhood garage sale, when your neighbor has no idea how to haggle.

Why’d I bid on a book I’d never heard of? Partly because of Damon Knight’s sterling rep, which he earned with numerous highly regarded anthologies, including 21 volumes of the legendary Orbit. But also because, wow, I really had never heard of this thing, and just look at it. It’s 44 years old and it looks brand new. Plus, it’s 447 pages long, and I bet it could keep me entertained for an entire weeklong cruise to Ecuador.

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

Monday, April 23rd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

From Darkest Skies Sam Peters-small Unbury Carol Josh Malerman-small Time Was Ian McDonald-small

April is maybe the best month for new book releases so far in 2018. There’s a plethora of new titles I want to feature — and read — and I barely have time to keep tabs on them all. Jeff Somers at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog isn’t helping the situation by highlighting over two dozen of the best new releases, including a fair number I was completely unaware of. Here’s a few of his more interesting selections.

From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters (Gollancz, 352 pages, $26.99 hardcover/$13.99 trade paperback, April 10)

Detective tropes are given a techno-philosophical twist in this sci-fi mystery. Two hundred years in the future, an alien race known as the Masters have terraformed Earth and spread humanity into the universe, settling us on dozens of colony worlds. Keon Rause is a government agent returning to service on the planet Magenta after a five year leave of absence while he mourned his wife, a fellow agent killed in a terrorist explosion while investigating an unknown lead. Rause isn’t alone; he’s come back with an AI version of his wife, a digital reconstruction crafted from every trace of data she left behind — and crafted with the purpose of helping him figure out how and why she really died. Cashing in every favor he has left from his previous life, he finds himself following in her footsteps even as he struggles with his feelings for the simulacrum he’s created. It all leads to an impossible choice when he and his team stumble onto a disaster in the making: save the planet and lose his wife forever, or let something terrible happen and solve the mystery?

From Darkest Skies is Sam Peters’ debut novel. The sequel, From Distant Stars, is already scheduled to arrive on August 21.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in March

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Pathfinder by the Pound at the Frog God booth at Gary Con 2018-small

The most popular topic at Black Gate last month was the Gary Con gaming convention in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Gary Gygax’s home town. Part 1 of my convention report, in which I detailed the angry fallout among Pathfinder licensees to Paizo’s announcement of an impending Second Edition — including the “Pathfinder by the POUND!!” liquidation at the Frog God booth — was our most popular post for the month, by a pretty wide margin. Part 2 of my report, a 17-photo pictorial walkaround of the gorgeously well-stocked Goodman Games/Black Blade booth, came in at #3.

Gary Con wasn’t the only topic of interest in March, however. The second most-trafficked article for the month was Rich Horton’s commentary on the Hugo nominations, and our look at Unbound Worlds’ suggestions on where to start with Gothic Space Opera came in at #4. Rounding out the Top Five was Bob Byrne’s recap of his epic adventures with Gabe Dybing, Martin Page and his son Xander, and the new Conan RPG from Modiphius Entertainment.

Thomas Parker got into the spirit of our recent Ace Double reviews with “Doubling Down, or Just How Bad Are Ace Doubles, Anyway?” and that was good enough to win him the #6 slot for March. Joe Bonadonna claimed #7 with his review of Tempus With His Right-Side Companion Niko, by Janet Morris. Sean McLachlan picked up on the vintage paperback theme nicely with “STRANGE! WEIRD! EERIE! The Odd, Unusual, and Uncanny Biography of Lionel Fanthorpe,” placing at #8.

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Congratulations to Ryan Harvey on his 300th Blog Post!

Saturday, April 21st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Ryan Harvey's 300th blog post cake-smallIf you stopped by the blog earlier today, you may have noticed a brief notice from our Saturday morning blogger Ryan on the occasion of his 300th post at Black Gate.

If you’re not a regular, you can be forgiven for not appreciating just what a big deal this is. But here’s a few facts to put it into perspective: over the last decade we’ve welcomed well over 250 different bloggers and guest writers, many of whom have become regular contributors. Only three others have produced the volume of content Ryan has: Matthew David Surridge (332 articles), Sue Granquist (408), and myself.

Here’s another one: Ryan has been writing for us for ten years, and in the past 12 months alone has produced 100,000 words at Black Gate. That’s the rough equivalent of 10 volumes of lively journalism on John Carpenter, monster movies, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith, sword-and-sandal epics, and other topics of vital national interest.

But Ryan’s accomplishment isn’t just a matter of statistics, as impressive as they are. Unlike Matthew, Sue, and me, Ryan was one of our founding contributors on the blog, recruited by Howard Andrew Jones to create the leading online magazine of modern fantasy a decade ago. In a very real way he led the way, defining our identity and showing just what we could accomplish. With his boundless enthusiasm for the best in both modern and classic fantasy, and his relentless pursuit of excellence in the art of fantasy journalism, he blazed a path for the rest of us to follow.

So today I hope you’ll raise a glass in honor of the spiritual leader at Black Gate, the man whom I’m proud to call my friend. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr. Ryan Harvey.


A Brief History of Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine

Saturday, April 14th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Pulphouse the Hardcover Magazine-small

In 1988 I had just started grad school at the University of Illinois, and finally moved out of my parent’s basement. I’d also left my book collection behind and settled into a small dorm room. I continued collecting, albeit in a much more cramped space, and as the years went by the book piles on the floor gradually grew into towering stacks that made moving around tough. I graduated just in time in 1991, before I completely ran out of floor space, and moved into my first apartment (with real bookcases!) in Wheaton, Illinois.

While in grad school I missed my regular runs to the shops to buy magazines, and during my periodic trips back to Ottawa I was hungry for any fiction mags I could find. My friends were talking about a strange book/magazine crossbreed titled Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine and, curious, I picked up a few issues at the House of Speculative Fiction on my next visit. It turned out to be very impressive indeed, and over the next few years I bought copies whenever I found them.

Pulphouse was closer to a regular anthology series than a magazine; its quarterly issues varied between 243 and 311 pages, and featured a compelling mix of new and established authors. It was the brainchild of Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch; the first issue appeared in 1988, and it stuck to a quarterly schedule for three years, before wrapping up with issue #12 in Fall of 1993.

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Are We Fans of a Dying Art Form? James Wallace Harris on Old Science Fiction Stories

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

The-Best-Science-Fiction-Stories-1951-small The-Best-Science-Fiction-Stories-1951-back-small

I’ve been enjoying James Wallace Harris’ blog Auxiliary Memory. Recent topics include A History of the SF Best-of-the-Year Anthology, a cover survey of the Del Rey Classic Science Fiction series and, a particular favorite of mine, his review of Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg’s The Great SF Stories 1 (1939). I think one of the reasons I enjoy his blog is that, like a few of us here at Black Gate, James particularly enjoys classic SF stories, which is kind of a speciality interest these days. Although James seems to worry more about declining readership than I do.

There are a handful of blogs that reflect a love for old science fiction short stories. That suggests we are the keepers of a very weak flame. I see many of the same names posting comments at these sites. Are we the fans of a dying art form? I don’t think science fiction is dying out, but I do think new science fiction gets most of the attention… There are more anthologies than ever collecting the best short science fiction of the year, including one from the prestigious Best American Series. And there’s plenty of places that publish new short science fiction. I believe the readership is smaller today than we I was growing up, but the science fiction short story is still going strong despite the overwhelming popularity of media science fiction.

Yes, new science fiction gets most of the attention — and that’s because it is blessed with talented newcomers producing terrifically exciting new work, like Lavie Tidhar, Linda Nagata, Sarah Pinsker, Kelly Link, Yoon Ha Lee, Charlie Jane Anders, C.S.E. Cooney, Rich Larson, Aliette de Bodard, and many others. And that’s exactly as it should be. There’s a word for a genre that focuses too much on the past: Dead. Science Fiction is not dead, it is very much alive and thriving. That’s takes nothing away from the great old SF we enjoyed decades ago — it’s still there waiting for readers of a new generation to discover. But first we have to win over that new generation of readers, and it takes modern writers to do that.

You can read the complete text of James’ rambly but entertaining post Remembering Old Science Fiction Short Stories here.

Danger in Every Dark Alley: 40 Years of Adventuring in Lankhmar, Fritz Leiber’s Great Fantasy Metropolis

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Lankhmar Savage Worlds-small

Back in October I splurged on the Lankhmar Collector’s Box Set, a massive collection of setting material for the Savage Worlds core ruleset from Pinnacle Entertainment Group. It was a $70 indulgence, but I ended up being very happy with it. Partly because it’s the size of a giant brick and looks stately and awesome there on my end table. I mean, just look at that thing.

I had to educate myself a little bit to understand what the heck I’d just purchased, though. I thought Savage Worlds was, you know, a role playing game, like Dungeons and Dragons and Dallas. Turns out it’s a lot more than that. According to the two hours of research I just did, Savage Worlds is the umbrella ruleset for all of Pinnacle’s roleplaying titles, like their supernatural pirate game 50 Fathoms and their SF setting The Last Parsec, as well as their classic game conversions, including Rifts, Deadlands, and Space 1889.

I’m not precisely sure how many settings and adaptations are out there are but, man, there’s a bunch. Here’s a partial list. Bring a snack, ’cause it’s going to take a while to get through it.

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Vintage Treasures: The Masters of Solitude by Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin

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

The Masters of Solitude-small The Masters of Solitude-back-small

Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin made a powerful combination in 1978. Kaye already had a growing reputation as an anthologist, with Fiends and Creatures (Popular Library, 1974) and Brother Theodore’s Chamber of Horrors (Pinnacle, 1974) under his belt; he would produce dozens more over the next 30 years, including Ghosts – A Treasury of Chilling Tales Old and New (Doubleday, 1981), Weird Tales, The Magazine That Never Dies (Doubleday, 1988), and The Fair Folk (Science Fiction Book Club, 2005). Parke Godwin was already an established novelist, with Darker Places (1973) and A Memory of Lions (1976); he would go on to win a World Fantasy Award for his 1981 novella “The Fire When It Comes,” and gained lasting recognition for his Firelord trilogy (the opening novel of which was also a World Fantasy Award nominee) and his Robin Hood novels Sherwood (1991) and Robin and the King (1993).

Their collaborative novel The Masters of Solitude was serialized in Galileo magazine in 1977/78, and published in hardcover by Doubleday in 1978. A postapocalyptic tale of two disparate cultures that are all that remains of humanity after a “great devastation,” it drew comparisons to Tolkien. It has been out of print since the 1985 Bantam paperback (above), but has a surprising 166 ratings on Goodreads, and some lively reviews.

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