Star System Politics and Factions: Dell Science Fiction Reviews

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

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Dominica Phetteplace is a name to which I pay attention, after having read many of her works now in Asimov’s. If I don’t point out her work enough, it’s because Phetteplace doesn’t usually construct whirling plots or astonishing metaphysics*, but instead sculpts a very convincing and immersive (what the literary genre calls “slice of life”) simulation of normal people living in a near-normal future. Phetteplace’s vision, on average, is ingenious, and “Digital Witness,” in the current issue of Asimov’s, is a standout.

Phetteplace’s attitude about our social-media-saturated future is both accepting of it and pragmatically cynical. This story, despite all of its darkness, is not a shrill prophecy about dystopia. If there are warnings here, then they are that marketing and digital commodities will have to be altruistically revolutionized. Rather, Phetteplace’s meditation seems resigned to how “business” will be conducted, how it will affect relationships and “true” social lives. Any canny reader should recognize that this reality is upon us now. And, if Phetteplace’s protagonist in the story actively works in the field of data mining, Phetteplace herself seeks to avoid self-commodification. In the editorial foreword, Phetteplace says that the story was inspired by herself choosing not to download an app that her physical therapist claimed would be of use to Phetteplace in monitoring back pain. In context of the story that Phetteplace ended up writing, it is clear that Phetteplace expected that following her therapist’s advice would infringe on her privacy and result in her information being traded within the digital marketplace.

In short, this is what this story is about: data mining as a business, showing what nefarious uses may result from it, and how commonplace in our world this already seems to be. Phetteplace strikes me as a very powerful and literary writer of science fiction.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1954: A Retro-Review

Sunday, May 17th, 2020 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

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Cover art by Mel Hunter

My apologies for an extended absence from posting reviews. Personal matters took my focus and drive, but I’m back again for another retro-review of Galaxy Science Fiction — in this case the October, 1954 issue.

Mel Hunter’s cover art is titled “The Latest in Dugout Canoes.” At least, I think that’s the title. It’s listed inside as “Lastest”, which I think is a typo, given that lastest isn’t a word. But even in a prestigious magazine like Galaxy, mistakes happen. I like finding reminders that professionals of all sorts make mistakes from time to time. I think it lets all of us relax a bit more when we make our own mistakes.

“A World of Talent” by Philip K. Dick — Tim and his parents live among a colony of people who have talents beyond normal humans, including precognition, teleportation, and telepathy. The colony watches vigilantly for attacks from the Terrans, knowing people on Earth have a persistent fear — not only because people on the colony are different but because they’re powerful.

There’s no romantic relationship between Tim’s parents; their union was solely for the benefit of the colony — to try to create a new level of powers through parents who are both precogs. But Tim lives in his own world, remaining in silence much of the time and seeing Others (as he thinks of them) that no one else perceives. What these Others represent slowly unravels the puzzle of Tim’s talent, and it could protect the colony both from Terrans and itself.

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Heroic Fantasy Quarterly 44 Now Available

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly–Q44

Issue banner by Rengin Tumer

The ancient druids used to use gigantic standing stones to precisely chart the passing of the seasons. Me, I have a more accurate and satisfying method. I rely on the mystical and inexorable cosmic cycle that gives birth to a new issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, every quarter, without fail.

HFQ 44 is a special treat as it contains a complete story by our very own Greg Mele, whose most recent article for Black Gate, an Interview with Christian Cameron, appeared just last week. Tangent Online gives “Heart of Vengeance” a solid thumb’s up, calling it “A dark tale of betrayal and lethal fury, this thoroughly enjoyable story is as much about the power of love and sacrifice as it is the justice of the grave.” For audiobook fans, there’s also a complete reading of the tale by Karen Bovenmeyer.

The issue also contains “The Whispering Healer,” by Larisa Walk (which Tangent calls “full of the unexpected,”) and “Do Not Fear, for the Work Will be Pure,” by Michael Johnston (which “follows the mission of the royal sculptor Deonoro Zayal… [into] the wilds facing down mutated brigands”).

Here’s the complete TOC, with fiction links.

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Vintage Treasures: Beyond the Beyond by Poul Anderson

Saturday, May 2nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Beyond the Beyond paperback original (Signet first edition, August 1969). Cover artist unknown.

When I pick up an old paperback these days, it tends to be an anthology or collection. There aren’t very many published nowadays, and I miss them.

So naturally I’m reading many of the old paperbacks I missed out on in my youth. One of my recent favorites is Beyond the Beyond, a thick collection of six stories by Poul Anderson. Anderson was one of the most prolific SF writers of the 20th Century, and he produced dozens of collections in his lifetime. This one is particularly interesting to me because, as far as I know, it’s his only collection of novellas.

Anderson was a terrific science fiction short story writer, and he was even better at length. Beyond the Beyond contains six long tales published between 1954-1967, including a story in his David Falkayn: Star Trader series, one in his Technic History, and two in his popular and long-running Psychotechnic League saga. These aren’t Anderson’s best-known stories, not by a long shot, but this is a decent snapshot of his work in the SF magazines during his most productive period in the 50s and 60s.

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Rogue Blades Presents: What Would Your Hero Say to You?

Friday, May 1st, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

weird talesWhen I started out as a writer of fiction in the late 1980s, one of my favorite magazines was Weird Tales. Over the next decade or so, I submitted a half dozen stories to Weird Tales, none of which were ever accepted for publication. Still, even though none of my tales ever landed there, I learned a lot from the letters I received from one of the editors, George H. Scithers.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Mr. Scithers. If not, surely you’ve heard of some of his work. He was the first editor for Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, for which he won two Hugo awards. He was also editor at Amazing Stories, and of numerous anthologies. At Weird Tales, he won a World Fantasy Award along with Darrell Schweitzer. He was known among writers and readers and editors.

Unfortunately we lost Mr. Scithers a decade ago, but his legacy lives on in the work he produced and in fandom. Many of today’s readers probably don’t even realize how much they owe to this gentleman.

And “gentleman” is not a word I use lightly. I never knew Mr. Scithers personally. He and I never met. I can’t speak to his everyday attitudes and demeanor. Yet he was always kind and supportive in the reply letters he wrote back to me as a budding writer. He always had good things to say while not being afraid to point out where I needed to polish. He could be critical without being overbearing and negative, a trait that seems lost in today’s world. Also, I’ve met with or had correspondence with other people who actually did know or had at least met Mr. Scithers, and every single one of those individuals has had good things to say about George. So I feel my calling him a “gentleman” is most apt, especially as every correspondence I had with him was most friendly and congenial.

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Weird Tales Deep Read: July 1933

Sunday, April 26th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

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Somewhat fanciful Brundage cover for “Hand of Glory”

This is the first in a series of posts I’ve wanted to do for awhile now, a detailed look at a single issue of Weird Tales magazine where I do a short analysis of each story, the famous, the infamous, and the forgotten. Just to make things a little confusing, I rate these stories, unlike movies, on a 1-5 scale, with the lower the number, the better the story. You can look at these ratings as A-B-C-D-F, or Excellent – Good – Mediocre – Below Average – Poor.

I wanted to start with a memorable issue, so I chose the July 1933 entry, one of the best I’ve read so far. I’ll start with a short overview and then get into the specifics of each story.

This issue is at the beginning of the Unique Magazine’s (as it sometimes called itself) Golden Age (roughly the early to late 1930’s) with a total of four of the nine stories penned by what I like to think of as the Holy Trinity of Weird Tales writers, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. The ubiquitous Seabury Quinn is also present with one of his ninety-three Jules de Grandin stories, along with tales by early giants of science fiction Edmond Hamilton and Jack Williamson. Sheridan Le Fanu contributes a classic reprint. The final story is by Harold Ward, a fairly prolific pulp writer noted for complicated plots often bordering on the incoherent.

The Howard story is one of his slightest, but moderately effective. The Smith, set in what is probably the first shared-world universe in science fiction — the Cthulhu Mythos — is also rather slight, but vastly more imaginative. The Lovecraft story under his byline is one of his classic Cthulhu Mythos tales. His second story in this issue appears under the name of Hazel Heald, which requires a bit of explanation.

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The Case of the Missing Magazines

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Every month for roughly the past 40 years I’ve made a pilgrimage to the nearest newsstand to purchase my favorite fiction magazines. The newsstands have changed over the years, and the mix of magazines has too. But it’s a tradition I’ve come to cherish.

Well, this is a time of broken traditions. All the local bookstores are closed (not that there were many to begin with), and I find myself at a loss. New issues of Asimov’s SF, Analog, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction are now available, at least in theory. In practice, I have no way to buy them. And according to their various websites this batch is particularly enticing, packed with new stories by Ian R. MacLeod, Eleanor Arnason, Ian Watson, Bruce McAllister, R. Garcia y Robertson, Dominica Phetteplace, Neal Asher, Derek Kunsken, Richard Bowes, M. Rickert, Bruce Sterling, Robert Reed, and many others. And for the first time in decades, it looks like I’ll miss out.

When I griped about this on Facebook today, there were plenty of sympathetic suggestions. Mark Tiedemann endorsed an independent bookstore that mailed ordered single issues… but it has abruptly stopped carrying magazines. Mark Shainblum suggested digital issues… but I have nearly nine solid decades of print issues of Astounding/Analog, and it sure doesn’t feel right to give up now. Adrian Simmons shared my pain, and suggested he might subscribe, even if sub copies do come with an ugly mailing label. And Darrell Schweitzer shared the hard-won secret of removing those damn mailing labels with a damp cloth.

It was comforting to have so many folks commiserate. And I suppose, in the end, the right thing to do in these tough times is to support the magazines with a subscription. And that’s what I’ll do. If you love — or are curious about — short fiction, I hope you’ll consider doing the same. You can shop for digital and print subscriptions at the Asimov’s SF, Analog, and F&SF websites. Check out the editorial descriptions for each issue below.

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Stories That Work: “Beyond the Tattered Veil of Stars” by Mercurio D. Rivera, and “The Million-Mile Sniper” by SL Huang

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020 | Posted by James Van Pelt

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The March/April 2020 issues of Asimov’s Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Covers by John Picacio and Mondolithic Studios

I’ve always liked big-idea fiction. That’s the stuff whose premise is so mind-boggling that even if I forget the characters and plot, I keep thinking about the story’s implications.

H.P. Lovecraft struck me that way. I started reading him in my 20s, and once I got past the prose (I used to think of him as Edgar Allen Poe on steroids and methamphetamines), the big ideas behind his stories weaseled their way into my head. Imagine the universe we know as a thin veneer over a cauldron of omnipotent indifference. Brrr! Lovecraft’s creation encouraged me to picture every cave as endless, and every unfathomable shadow at night to be a part of the pupil of a great old one’s eye, staring.

Other writers did a similar trick. Edgar Rice Burroughs gave me ancient civilizations of strange creatures on Mars (and the ability of get there if my desire was as strong as John Carter’s); Larry Niven built a ring structure around a planet so vast that it contained three million times the area of Earth; Alfred Bester imagined personal-teleportation so powerful that “the stars, my destination” was practical, not aspirational; and Douglas Adams relegated Earth to a role so small that it is destroyed to make way for a hyper-spatial express route.

See? Big ideas.

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When We Catch It, Let’s Chase It Again: An Interview with Tales of the Mongoose and Meerkat Author Jim Breyfogle

Saturday, March 28th, 2020 | Posted by P. Alexander

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Cover Art by Anton Oxenuk

Cirsova Publishing has been putting out its flagship magazine focusing on action, adventure, and romance in science fiction and fantasy since 2016. Last year Cirsova began branching out, with the two-author anthology, Duel Visions by Misha Burnett and Louise Sorensen, their fully illustrated 70th Anniversary Edition of Leigh Brackett’s Eric John Stark Planet Stories [which we covered at Black Gate last year], and the 35th Anniversary Edition of Michael Tierney’s Wild Stars.

Cirsova’s newest upcoming release is an anthology of Jim Breyfogle’s Mongoose & Meerkat adventures, lavishly illustrated by up-and-coming artist DarkFilly. Tales of the Mongoose and Meerkat Volume 1: Pursuit Without Asking collects all of the stories published in the pages of Cirsova Magazine through 2019.

Mangos is a bit of a bravo, ready to knock a few heads for some coin. Kat is a mysterious wanderer with more than her share of street-smarts and a head for ancient history. Together, the Mongoose and the Meerkat are a pair of rogues looking to keep their bellies and wine skins filled. Fitting in a comfy mid-point somewhere between Slayers and Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser, this duo is sure to appeal to fans of classic Sword & Sorcery.

We had a chance to talk with Mongoose & Meerkat author Jim Breyfogle about this thrilling new project.

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Reading in Transit

Sunday, March 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Locus March 2020

I’m currently in Washington Dulles airport, waiting for my connecting flight back to Chicago. I flew to Tampa on Friday to help my parents, who snowbird in Florida every winter, to pack up and return to Canada a month early. They weren’t happy about it, but given the rate COVID-19 is upending things around the globe, they didn’t have much choice.

Mission Accomplished. But because of flight cancellations, I’m stuck in Dulles with an 11-hour layover before I can get home. Thank God for Locus magazine, which I grabbed on my way out the door on Friday. As usual, the March 2020 issue is packed with reviews, columns, photos and articles of keen interest to science fiction and fantasy readers. There’s even an excerpt from Kit Rocha’s upcoming Tor novel Deal With the Devil. But the feature that I found most fascinating was the interview with Nina Allen, author of The Rift and The Dollmaker. She talks about Doctor Who, Vladimir Nabokov, and Graham Joyce, and delivers perhaps the most on-point description of writing a novel I’ve ever read:

That’s what writing should entail — the fear and the terror and the joy of knowing that this problem is solvable, and there is only one person who can solve it, and it’s me…. I am in competition primarily with myself, because other writers’ talent should be nothing but a joy. When I see writers doing well and being better than me, that’s a joy and a goad and a challenge — not in any way negative. It’s wonderful. Nothing pleases me more than seeing people write brilliantly.

The March 2020 issue of Locus is still available at finer bookstores, and on the Locus website. Individual copies are $8.99. If you haven’t tried the magazine yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. Check it out.


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