September/October 2022 issues of Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Cover art by 123RF, 123RF, and Bob Eggleton
I was at the launch party for Randee Dawn’s debut novel Tune in Tomorrow at Worldcon this month (with the most amazing TV-shaped cake — seriously, check it out), when I spotted the also-amazing Sheila Williams, editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. I was hoping for the chance to catch up, but long before that happy event the party became so crowded that Jacob Weisman and I, who’ve both managed to dodge COVID for the past two years, nervously ducked out and ended up talking in relative quiet on the Hyatt skyway.
Some time before midnight Sheila found us as she made her weary way to her hotel room. We pulled over some chairs, and soon there was a small crowd of us gossiping about short fiction on the skyway over North Stetson Avenue (ironically enough, overlooking the exact location of the opening scene of my novel The Robots of Gotham).
One of the things Sheila shared was that, despite all my expectations to the contrary, the print SF magazines — including Asimov’s and Analog — are doing very well, thank you. The pandemic played havoc with distribution, and for the last few years all the attention (and award nominations) has gone to online magazines like Uncanny and Clarkesworld, but Asimov’s subscriber base has proven remarkably steadfast, and is even growing. I’ve been used to a steady stream of bad news, and general gloom and doom around the print mags for years, and it was wonderful to hear they have plenty of life in them yet.
We have exciting news to share about Howard Andrew Jones and Sword & Sorcery.
Howard Andrew Jones in Magazines
Howard Andrew Jones is a titan amongst the Black Gate staff, having served as Manager Editor of the paperback magazine from 2004 onward. He has also been a champion of adventure fiction, being the driving force behind the rebirth of interest in Harold Lamb’s historical fiction (assembled and edited 8 collections of Lamb’s work for the University of Nebraska Press). On the Sword & Sorcery front, he has been blogging about the genre for decades (and his posts on the now-obsolete Flashing Swords e-zine… and subsequently on Black Gate… regarding REVISITING THE NEW EDGE would eventually coin the term “New Edge S&S”). Howard Andrew Jones is currently the Editor for the sword-and-sorcery magazine Tales From the Magician’s Skull, published by Goodman Games.
HAJ in Books
Howard Jones’s debut historical fantasy novel, The Desert of Souls (Thomas Dunne Books 2011), was widely acclaimed by influential publications like Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly, made Kirkus’ New and Notable list for 2011, and was on both Locus’s Recommended Reading List and the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Releases list of 2011. Its sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, made the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Release of 2013 and received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. He is the author of four Pathfinder novels, an e-collection of short stories featuring the heroes from his historical fantasy novels, The Waters of Eternity, and the Ring-Sworn trilogy from St. Martin’s, starting with For the Killing of Kings, which received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, and concluding with When the Goddess Wakes, which received the same recognition.
Now There is Even More!
Baen Books signed Howard Andrew Jones to pen five books: The Chronicles of Hanuvar (the first book to arrive August 2023). Press release below.
Universe, September 1953. Cover by Robert Gibson Jones
Universe was one of the many new science fiction magazines that appeared in the early 1950s. It was founded by Ray Palmer, the notorious editor of Amazing Stories during the 1940s, reviled for his promotion of the “Shaver Mystery” (about a race of people living underground.) He left Amazing when the publisher, Ziff-Davis, moved to New York. Palmer stayed in Chicago and started a magazine called Other Worlds Science Stories (published by Clark Publications.) Financial troubles led to the demise (temporarily, it turned out) of Other Worlds, and a new company, Bell Publications, was founded, and published two magazines: Science Stories, and Universe. The company was soon renamed Palmer Publications. Science Stories lasted four issues, and Universe ten, after which Palmer returned to the name Other Worlds Science Stories.
The editor at the beginning was “George Bell,” which meant Ray Palmer and Bea Mahaffey. After two issues of Universe, the editors were credited under their real names. Mahaffey was Palmer’s co-editor at Other Worlds, Science Stories, Universe, and another publication, Mystic Magazine, from late 1952 into 1955, at which time Palmer’s continuing financial issues caused him to lay her off. She is often credited with being the primary fiction editor of those magazines, and there is little disputing that the quality of the fiction was higher during her tenure than in Amazing before that, or in Palmer’s magazines after she was let go.
Elaine Cunningham’s “The Great Hunt” appeared in the April 1998 issue of Dragon, which ran one fantasy story in each issue of widely varying quality. The best of them were original tales, but many of them were clearly fictionalizations of the author’s role playing game. “The Great Hunt” falls between these two extremes, but it is clearly a story based on Dungeons and Dragons with its cast of Orcs, Half-Orcs, Elves, and humans. Set in Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms, the tight connection to source material is to be expected.
The story focuses on Drom, Grimlish, and Badger, an Half-Orc, Orc, and human, respectively. They have been part of a raiding party known as the Talons of Malar. In addition to their devotion to the god, Drom and Grimlish maintained an affinity for wolves, an older form of their worship. The story begins the day after the Talons attacked an Elven camp. The party has now split into smaller groups to track the few survivors through the woods.
The stories in the database I’m using to determine what to review span a period of several hundred years. So far, the earliest the dice have selected is 1928’s “The Yeast Men,” by David H Keller, which came up on January 20. While it isn’t inevitable that the dice would select a current story, it is quite possible and has happened. At the time I’m writing this review of Octavia Cade’s “Pollen and Salt,” the July/August 2022 issue of Asimov’s is the most recent issue of that magazine to have been published.
“Pollen and Salt” is the musings of a palynologist who is studying salt flats in a world much further along its route toward global warming than our own currently is. Waters are receding, which is indicative of the world’s move toward climate catastrophe, but at the same time opens up new and unique opportunities for study as once water covered areas are exposed.
Even as she explores the mysteries of the world and waxing nostalgic about everything that climate change has killed off, she is also dealing with the death of her partner and spouse, to whom “Pollen and Salt” is a running commentary as she tries to make sense of the world she is finding.
We’ve got two prequal tales: “The Path of Two Entwined” returns to Gregory Mele’s fantasy Meso-American world of Azaltlán, delving into one of the pre–piracy adventures of Sarrumos Koródu. “The Crown of Azt’nyr” returns us to Mike Adamson’s ringed world of Malovar with the story of how Derros and Princess Therolynn met before their hard-fought return to the city of Tymass.
Our third story, “The Waking Gods,” by D. H. Rowe introduces a new hero, Hekili, an adventurer who sails the mysterious islands of a fantasy south seas.
Because I’ve been asked about the process by which I’ve been selecting stories for the Random Review series, I thought I’d take a moment to explain how the stories are selected.
I have a database of approximately 42,000 short stories that I own sorted by story title. When it comes time for me to select a story to review as part of this series, I role several dice (mostly ten sided) to determine which story should be read. I cross reference the numbers that come up on the die with the database to see what story I’ll be reviewing. This week, I rolled 14,780 which turned out to be Terry Pratchett’s short story “The Hades Business.”
One of the things I’m hoping to get out of this series, from a person point of view, is to discover authors and short stories that I’ve owned and have never read. Of course, I’m also hoping to share those discoveries, good or bad, with the readers of Black Gate.
One of the great mysteries of life, or rather death, is what happens after we die. It has proven a constant fodder for authors to explore in short stories and novels. Often this exploration takes the form of some aspect of mundane life in order to provide a relatable experience to something that is completely unknowable.
In Thomas Seay’s “Blink,” which appeared in the April 2003 issue of Realms of Fantasy, the afterlife is a trainride through a dreamlike nightmare populated by various aspects of a person’s younger life. In this case, Gary finds himself aboard the train, wanting only to be reunited with his wife and daughter. Instead, he finds the clique he belonged to in college, who clearly viewed him as more of a hanger-on than a member of their group.
Gary’s ride includes brief encounters with a shape changing being who may well be God, who provides cryptic answers to Gary’s questions, but at the same time appears to be helping him to acclimatize to his afterlife.
While there are some versions of the afterlife which are appealing and others which are not, Seay’s afterlife seems like an unpleasant purgatory: an interminable train ride in which the illusions Gary built up to help him cope with the reality of life are carefully stripped away. Even as the truth is revealed to him, Gary retreats into a different fantasy world, denying the occurrence of his death and focusing on seeing his wife and daughter again.
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1954. Cover by Mel Hunter
I’ve spent the last few days putting my book collection in order, and yesterday I came across this, the first sf magazine I ever purchased: the March 1964 issue of F&SF, from a little shop in the town of Port Credit, Ontario.
J.G. Ballard, Kit Reed, Oscar Wilde, Avram Davidson’s haunting little story “Sacheverell” — pretty heady stuff for a precocious ten-year-old. But what had the greatest impact, looking backward from 2022, was Robert Bloch’s article “The Conventional Approach” — a pocket history of science fiction fandom. I was already nursing an ambition to write, specifically to write sf, and here was what looked like an invitation to a subculture of like-minded enthusiasts and maybe even a roadmap to a career.
Sometimes the roll of the dice produces a story that isn’t really all that easy to discuss. This week’s story, “The Birth of A.I,” is a (very) short humorous story about the birth of artificial intelligence by Cynthia Ward. The story originally appeared in the third issue of Xoddity in 1998.
Ward’s story is quite short, taking up about a page, and it mostly a set up for a punch line, although it doesn’t quite qualify as a shaggy dog story. The story also suffers from the fact that, written in 1998, computing power and the advance of artificial intelligence evolved in a very different manner than the enormous mainframes Ward discusses in her story.
The scientists in Ward’s story have been attempting to create a machine that can pass the Turing test, although the story doesn’t present it in those terms. Essentially they want to make a computer that has the same level of intelligence and sentience as a human being. When the story opens, they are on the verge of succeeding and Dr. Maria Denhurst is pondering what the artificial intelligence will be like and how it will react.