Hither Came Conan: Keith J. Taylor on “Red Nails”

Monday, April 22nd, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Oliver Cuthbertson for an Oxford University Press edition

Oliver Cuthbertson for an Oxford University Press edition

Welcome back to the latest installment of Hither Came Conan, where a leading Robert E. Howard expert examines one of the original Conan stories each week, highlighting what’s best. Keith Taylor talks about “Red Nails.” It was the last Conan story written by Howard, who wsa moving on from fantasy. Read on!

“Red Nails” happens to be one of this writer’s favourite Conan stories, of that particular length, along with “People of the Black Circle” and “The Black Stranger” (which REH also wrote as a Black Vulmea pirate yarn, “Swords of the Red Brotherhood”).

Aside from their general length, they have other elements in common. One is the usual rip-roaring, headlong action, inventiveness, and raw violence which Howard’s name on a story guaranteed. Another is a pattern of shifting alliances and double- or triple-crosses. Yet another is a furious resolution at the end, involving the gory deaths of some of the main players.

The background against which the story unfolds in “Red Nails,” the mad, claustrophobic lost city of Xuchotl, is almost a major character in itself. For a contrast, at the beginning, Howard opened his story in the natural world outside, an immense forest of ancient trees, rocky crags and wild beasts. He introduces his protagonists there, Conan and the Aquilonian pirate, Valeria of the Red Brotherhood. Valeria has killed a mercenary officer who tried to rape her, and before that, had to jump overboard from a pirate ship because “Red Ortho wanted to make me his mistress.”

Conan has followed her south from the mercenary camp with that identical idea. They are almost about to come to sword-strokes when a dragon kills their horses and interrupts the scene – described by Howard as “at once ludicrous and perilous.”

The dragon is interesting. In general design it’s like a stegosaurus, right to the spiked tail, armour plates along the spine, and “absurdly short legs.” The head, though, is not tiny but decidedly big, its vast gape armed with rows of carnivore fangs. It turns out later that the dragon and its kind had in fact been extinct for an epoch or so, and nothing remained of them in the forest but their bones, until the magicians of Xuchotl resurrected them, “clothed in flesh and life.”

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Hugo Award for Best Editor: Ben Bova

Sunday, April 21st, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Analog Science Fiction March 1972-small Analog Science Fiction June 1972-small Analog Science Fiction December 1972-small

The 1973 Hugo Award for Best Editor went to Ben Bova. This was the first year of the Best Editor Hugo. It has been awarded every year since then, though in 2007 it was split in two, with a Best Editor Award given for Short Form and Long Form editors. This last reflected the fact that the Best Editor was a de facto award for Best Editor Short Form all along. (While I completely agree that “Long Form” editors are tremendously important to the field, and deserve recognition, I still think that the Hugo voters – even people, like me, who are pretty well connected – are not really competent to evaluate Long Form editing.) The original impetus, I believe, for the Best Editor Award was as a replacement for the Best Professional Magazine award, and the idea was that the increased importance of original anthologies to the short fiction market meant that just awarding a “Best Prozine” award would miss some really important editors. In the event, however, the only two Best Editor awards not linked to magazines were Terry Carr in 1985 and 1987, and Judy-Lynn Del Rey in 1986 (award refused by her widower, Lester Del Rey.) Indeed, the only winner of the Best Professional Editor Short Form Hugo who is not primarily associated with a magazine has been Ellen Datlow (whose win in 2005 of the Best Professional Editor Award can be partly attributed to her role editing Sci Fiction, but whose later Hugos presumably result from her original anthologies and her editing of the Best Fantasy and Horror (now just Best Horror) collections).

Bova’s fellow nominees in 1973 were two additional magazine editors, Edward Ferman at F&SF and Ted White at Amazing/Fantastic. (Bova, of course, was the editor of Analog.) Terry Carr was nominated, presumably for the original anthology series Universe and for his Best Science Fiction of the Year series. And Donald Wollheim was nominated, probably for his role as chief acquiring editor at DAW, and for editing The 1972 Annual World’s Best SF. Conspicuous by his absence is Ejler Jakobsson, editor of Galaxy and If.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, July 1954: A Retro-Review

Thursday, April 18th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy-Science-Fiction-July 1954-small Galaxy-Science-Fiction-July 1954-back-small

The July, 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction (cover art by Mel Hunter) opens with a note from H. L. Gold, the editor. Several authors had shared with Gold how it felt to sell a story to Galaxy. But Gold, an author himself, writes, “Do you think anybody has to tell me how that feels?” He was looking for jobs by day and writing by night in the early 1930s when jobs were scarce, and his “manuscripts seemed to be opened by a machine that slipped them unread, along with a rejection slip, into the return envelope.”

As an author myself, I couldn’t help but laugh; how often it feels that way when submitting stories and getting a form reply (by email in more recent years). One day, after being laid off from a position as a busboy, he checked the mail and found that he had sold his first story. He writes, “Don’t kid yourself that writing is a substitute for work. It requires as hard an apprenticeship as any other profession.” And as a final encouragement, he adds, “Magazines don’t have automatic remailing or story-writing machines. I just thought you might be wondering.”

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: “Build Your Own A-Bomb and Wake Up the Neighborhood,” by George W. Harper

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by John Sanchez

Cover by John Sanchez

The Analog Award was launched in 1979 for works published in the magazine in the preceding year. The Science Fact category is one of the original categories, although it is now called Best Article. The award has been given every year. The first award, presented in 1979, was presented to Joe Haldeman for his article “This Space for Rent.” In 1980, the award was won by George W. Harper for the lengthy article “Build Your Own A-Bomb and Wake Up the Neighborhood,” which appeared in the April, 1979 issue.

Looking at George W. Harper’s “Build Your Own A-Bomb and Wake Up the Neighborhood” from a distance of 40 years makes the article, which is a mix of light-heartedness and earnest description of the way an atomic bomb can be built seem a bit off. Partly, that is because of the different political situation four decades can bring about.

In the late 1970s, the thought that the world might perish in a nuclear holocaust, either brought about by conflict between the great world powers or because a terrorist organization acquired a nuclear bomb, seemed like the way to bet. In the beginning of his article, Harper even refers to a college student who was afraid he would be kidnapped by terrorists for his knowledge of nuclear physics. Harper also mentioned an episode of the sitcom Barney Miller which treated the possibility of a college student building an atomic bomb as a realistic scenario.

Harper sets out in the article to describe how easy it would be to build an atomic bomb under either of the scenarios he references. While he does go into some depth, he does so with a satirical vibe, indicating that none of the “simple” steps that need be followed are actually simple.

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Hither Came Conan: Steven H. Silver on “Man-Eaters of Zamboula”

Monday, April 15th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Of course, that's a Margaret Brundage cover

Of course, that’s a Margaret Brundage cover

Why “Man-Eaters of Zamboula” Is the Best Conan Story of All Time, with the Possible  Exception of “Shadows of Zamboula,” which Is the Same Story, So It Really Is the Best of All Time

“Man-Eaters of Zamboula” is, without a doubt, the best, and most quintessential story about Conan the Barbarian written by Robert E. Howard.  And since stories by other authors don’t count (with one exception noted below), that means that “Man-Eaters of Zamboula” is the absolute best Conan the Barbarian story ever written.  I suppose a case could be made that “Shadows of Zamboula” is a better Conan the Barbarian story, but since the only difference between those two stories is the replacement of the phrase “Man-Eaters” with “Shadows,” I’d be willing to concede the point.

Howard first published “Man-Eaters of Zamboula” in the November 1935 issue of Weird Tales, where Margaret Brundage provided a lurid piece of cover art showing Zibibi naked and standing between four cobras preparing to strike, an image taken directly from the story’s climax.

The story has everything: a mysterious stranger giving Conan an enigmatic warning, which the Cimmerian completely ignores, a power struggle between a mad priest and a distant satrap and his power-behind the throne wife, mystical potions, star-crossed lovers, beautiful (naked) women, the one man who can give Conan a physical challenge, snakes, cannibals, revenge, a precious gemstone.  You can practically see the over-the-top movie trailer proclaiming the various elements of Conan’s day in Zamboula, because all of that action takes place in a single day and night.

In the beginning, the story opens with Conan, bereft of all his possessions save the clothes he is wearing and his massive sword,  walking through the Zamboulan suq. A Zuagir tribesman sidles up to Conan and warns him not to go to stay in the House of Aram Baksh because anyone who stays at the inn who isn’t a native Zamboulan winds up disappearing.  Although Aram Baksh claims they’ve all left town, many of their possessions wind up being sold in the suq.  The tribesman does not give a reason why a Zamboulan would spend the night at Aram Baksh’s, but the important part of the message is that Conan, under no circumstances whatsoever, should spend the night at the House of Aram Baksh.

Naturally, Conan immediately heads to the House of Aram Baksh to spend the night because it is inexpensive, located at the edge of the city, surrounded by a wall, and he has been told that staying there is a phenomenally bad idea. He also has already paid Aram Baksh for his night’s lodging even before getting the warning.

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Ancient Astronauts, the Thing in the Pond, and the Cobweb Queen: The Weirdbook Annual #2: Cthulhu

Tuesday, April 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Weirdbook Annual 2 Cthulhu-smallWeirdbook‘s editor Doug Draa explains the rationale behind the magazine’s new line of Annuals in his editorial this issue.

We here at Weirdbook decided to do a yearly themed fifth issue. An annual if you will.

Last year’s theme was “Witches” and it turned out to be one of our most popular issues to date. After much soul searching it was decided that this year’s theme would be the ever popular “Cthulhu Mythos”… even after more than 9 decades, Mr. Lovecraft’s literary universe still continues to fire the imaginations of both writers and readers alike. It’s not an overstatement to say that Mr. Lovecraft’s fans and those of his Mythos are truly legion and beyond numbering.

I think that you, the reader will find this a highly enjoyable issue full of eldritch, unspeakable, and nameless horrors. I decided that this issue should contain stories by the finest of Weirdbook‘s regular contributors. This list includes such luminaries as Lucy A. Snyder, Ann K. Schwader, Leanna Falconer, Cynthia Ward, Darrell Schweitzer, Adrian Cole, and John R. Fultz to name just a few. I’m also very proud to have a brand new story from Mr. Robert M. Price which marks his very first appearance in this incarnation of Weirdbook! I can honestly call this Weirdbook‘s very first All Star Issue!

That’s an impressive list of contributors, and it includes at least two names well known to our readers: John R. Fultz, who published four stories in Black Gate, and Darrell Schweitzer, who appeared in BG 3 and BG 15.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents for the Weirdbook Annual #2: Cthulhu.

Short Stories

“The Shining Trapezohedron,” by Robert M. Price
“A Noble Endeavor,” by Lucy A. Snyder
“Ancient Astronauts,” by Cynthia Ward
“The Thing in the Pond,” by John R. Fultz

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Locus Award for Best Fanzine: Locus

Saturday, April 6th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Locus magazine lot 3-small

Steven Silver has been doing a series covering the award winners from his age 12 year, and Steven has credited me for (indirectly) suggesting this, when I quoted Peter Graham’s statement “The Golden Age of Science Fiction” is 12, in the “comment section” to the entry on 1973 in Jo Walton’s wonderful book An Informal History of the Hugos. You see, I was 12 in 1972, so the awards for 1973 were the awards for my personal Golden Age. And Steven suggested that much as he is covering awards for 1980, I might cover awards for 1973 here in Black Gate.

In discussing this award I must begin with the obvious disclaimer – I write a regular column for Locus, and have done so since 2002. As such I am, I freely acknowledge, prejudiced in favor of the magazine. And I remember the thrill it was, sitting in the audience at the Hugo ceremonies, to hear my name mentioned by Liza Groen Trombi, the current editor, when she accepted our final Hugo for Best Semiprozine in Chicago in 2012 (coincidentally the final Hugo that Locus would receive, as rules changes made us ineligible in that category.) (Side personal note – I was sitting with Alec Nevala-Lee at that award ceremony – and Alec this year is nominated for a Hugo for Best Related Book for his exceptional biography Astounding.)

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Wordsmiths: An Interview with Diane Walton of On Spec Magazine

Friday, April 5th, 2019 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

downloadAs promised, readers, I’ve got a few more interviews coming down the pipe this year with writers and editors in the SFF community. Recently I had the opportunity to chat via email with Diane Walton, managing editor of On Spec Magazine, after meeting her in person at Can*Con. Had a blast digging into her past and the history of the magazine. Check it out below!


Brandon: This is going to sound like a slightly generic question to start, but it genuinely interests me. What first got you into science fiction and fantasy? Was there a particular work or author that hooked your interest, and when was that?

Diane: It sort of began in Grade 7. The kids in my class all seemed to be voracious readers — the girls had their Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and Dana Girls mysteries, while the boys had Hardy Boys and Tom Swift. At a certain point, we just naturally began to trade books, to get a fresh supply. So I kind of started reading SF with Tom Swift by default.

Interestingly enough, at that time, there was no stigma of the “these are ‘boy books’ and those are ‘girl books'” kind. We were equal opportunity readers.

The following year when I was 13, my family moved to a new community, the charming city of Belleville, ON.  My dad and I both took out library cards at the branch down the street from our house, and made a once a week jaunt to get the 8 books we were each allowed.

I can’t recall precisely when it happened, but one day I was bored with the “girl and her horse” stories, and so I curiously picked up a book with a rocket ship on the cover. The author was Andre Norton, and the book was called The Stars Are Ours!

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Hither Came Conan: Keith West on “Beyond the Black River”

Monday, April 1st, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gregory Manchess for Del Rey's 'The Conquering Sword of Conan'

Gregory Manchess for Del Rey’s ‘The Conquering Sword of Conan’

Welcome back to the latest installment of Hither Came Conan, where a leading Robert E. Howard expert examines one of the original Conan stories each week, highlighting what’s best. Keith West (love his Adventures Fantastic blog) landed one of my favorites, “Beyond the Black River.”

I. Introduction

“Beyond the Black River” is the best Conan story. There are several reasons why.  First, there is plenty of action.  It’s well choreographed and the pacing is superb.  Unlike some of the Conan stories, which are simply adventures stories (not that there’s anything wrong with simple adventure stories), this one contains quite a bit of philosophizing.  Finally, the structure of the story is such that not only do we see Conan through the eyes of the supporting cast, Howard gives us enough information to place the Conan of this story in the context of the rest of the stories. We’ll look at each of these strengths. And just so you know, there will be spoilers.

 

II. The Action

The story opens with a young man named Balthus heading through the region known as Conajohara towards a fort on the Black River.  He’s not sure if he wants to join the garrison there as a recruit or try to clear some land and build a cabin. Although a competent woodsman by the standards of the Bossonian Marches, he’s out of his league in the wilderness, as he soon learns. Conan saves his life from a Pict who’s been watching him.

Balthus was completely unaware of both Conan and the Pict. On their way back to the fort, they come across the headless body of a merchant. Hearing something in the forest, Conan throws his ax at it but misses. Conan tells Balthus that the commander of the fort had recently imprisoned a Pict sorcerer named Zogar Sag who had stolen some liquor and drank enough that he passed out before he made it back across the Black River. They should have either killed him or let him go with gifts since imprisoning a Pict is a mortal insult.

Now Zogar Sag has summoned some type of demon. It has been killing men one by one and removing their heads. Conan and Balthus reach the fort and learn that Zogar Sag has managed to unite the quarreling Pict into a massive army. He plans to wipe out all the Aquilonian settlements from the Black River all the way back to Thunder River and beyond. Conan leads a small group across the Black River to reconnoiter.  All but Conan and Balthus are wiped out.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Omni

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by De Es Schwertberger

Cover by De Es Schwertberger

Cover by Pete Turner

Cover by Pete Turner

Cover by Ernst Fuchs

Cover by Ernst Fuchs

The Balrog Award, often referred to as the coveted Balrog Award, was created by Jonathan Bacon and first conceived in issue 10/11 of his Fantasy Crossroads fanzine in 1977 and actually announced in the final issue, where he also proposed the Smitty Awards for fantasy poetry. The awards were presented for the first time at Fool-Con II at the Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas on April 1, 1979. The awards were never taken particularly seriously, even by those who won the award. The final awards were presented in 1985. The Best Professional Publication Balrog was presented each year from 1979 to 1985. Won by either Omni or F&SF from its second year to its sixth year, it was won by the book Age of Dreams, and art book by Alicia Austin in its first and J.N. Williamson’s anthology Masques in its last year.

1979 was Omni magazine’s first full year of publication. The magazine had been founded in 1978 by Bob Guccione, best known as the publisher of Penthouse, and Kathy Keeton. Omni, with a focus on science, science fiction, and the paranormal was a glossy magazine that acquired some level of prestige, in part because Guccione was able to hire Analog editor Ben Bova to co-edit the magazine, along with Frank Kendig. Keeton described the magazine as exploring “all realms of science and the paranormal, that delved into all corners of the unknown and projected some of those discoveries into fiction.””

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