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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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Fantasy Tales

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Jim Pitts

Cover by Jim Pitts

Cover by David Lloyd

Cover by David Lloyd

In 1972, the British Fantasy Society began giving out the August Derleth Fantasy Awards for best novel as voted on by their members. In 1976. The name of the awards was changed to the British Fantasy Award, although the August Derleth Award was still the name for the Best Novel Award. A category for Best Small Press was created in 1977 and has continue to be awarded, although it is now given for Independent Press. The award’s first winner was John Martin for Andurile and it was won from 1978-1987 by Stephen Jones and David Sutton for Fantasy Tales with the exceptions of 1981, 1984, and 1985. A re-alignment of the awards in 2012 means the awards are now selected by a jury rather than the full membership of the British Fantasy Society. In 1980, the awards were presented at Fantasycon VI in Birmingham.

Fantasy Tales was a small press magazine published by Stephen Jones and David A. Sutton. The first issue was published in Summer 1977 and the magazine ran for a decade, until Summer 1987, at which time it was relaunched as a professional magazine. Jones and Sutton published 17 issues as, essentially a fanzine, before publication was taken over by Robinson Publishing Ltd, which published an additional 7 issues between 1988 and 1991.

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Hither Came Conan: Scott Oden on “The Devil In Iron”

Monday, March 18th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Boris Vallejo for 'Conan the Wanderer'

Boris Vallejo for ‘Conan the Wanderer’

There is a weird synchronicity at work, here, Gentle Readers.  Between the time when Bob Byrne solicited a few of us for this series and him handing out our story assignments, I wrote a Conan novella for Marvel (currently being serialized in the pages of the renewed Savage Sword of Conan, over a span of twelve issues).  Specifically, it is a sequel to Robert E. Howard’s “The Devil in Iron”.  Then, a few days later, I received my randomly selected story assignment from the good Mr. Byrne.  My story?  “The Devil in Iron.”  Thus, the gods have spoken . . .

“The Devil in Iron” marked Howard’s return to the Hyborian Age after an absence of about six months.  Written in the autumn of 1933, it employs a technique common to pulp-era writers in that Howard cannibalized plot elements of his own previous stories – the eerie resurrected villain á la “Black Colossus” (also used in The Hour of the Dragon); the greenish stone ruins from “Xuthal of the Dusk” (AKA, “The Slithering Shadow”); the sentient iron statues from “Iron Shadows in the Moonlight”; and even stylistic echoes from “Queen of the Black Coast.”

Howard sent the story off to Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales, who accepted it for publication on December 14, 1933.  It appeared in the August 1934 issue.  The story was lurid enough to take top billing, with Margaret Brundage providing one of her signature covers – this one depicting a rather anemic-looking Conan against a black background, struggling in the grips of a giant serpent while a gauzily-clad woman swooned at his feet.  Hugh Rankin illustrated the story itself.

It is a fairly straightforward tale, if a bit formulaic.  According to both Patrice Louinet and Howard Andrew Jones, who are scholars of Howard and his sources, it’s one of the few stories of the Conan canon that displays the clear and overt influence author Harold Lamb had over Howard.

Lamb wrote primarily for Adventure, his tales of Cossacks and crusaders fitting nicely with the works of Talbot Mundy, Rafael Sabatini, Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur and Farnham Bishop, and Arthur D. Howden-Smith.  These were Robert Howard’s inspirations – writers of what we’d call today pure historical fiction.  REH wrote what he knew he could sell, or what he believed had a good chance of selling; though he’d rather have spent his days writing the kinds of tales he loved from Adventure, it was proving a difficult market to break into. But, he knew by adding a splash of the Weird to the same rollicking adventure yarns, Weird Tales’ editor Farnsworth Wright would more than likely buy it.

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Smithsonian Magazine on how Sci-Fi Lovers Owe a Debt of Gratitude to Betty Ballantine

Sunday, March 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Hyperborea Clark Ashton Smith-small Star Wars George Lucas-small A Guide to Barsoom by John Flint Roy 1976-small

Assorted Ballantine paperbacks, 1971 – 1976

Anyone who’s been reading Black Gate for any period of time, or is a fan of vintage science fiction, knows the name Betty Ballantine. With her husband Ian she founded Bantam Books, and later Ballantine Books. Last month Smithsonian Magazine paid tribute to Betty in an article titled Sci-Fi Lovers Owe a Debt of Gratitude to Betty Ballantine, in which they focus on the many ways in which she shaped 20th Century Science Fiction and Fantasy. Here’s a snippet.

The Ballantines made the decision to leave Penguin following the end of World War II due to creative differences, and from there, they went on to found Bantam Books, and, later, Ballantine Books, making them the first outlet to release hardcover and paperback editions simultaneously. Both publishing companies are now part of Penguin Random House, according to the Associated Press.

It was at Ballantine that Betty gave a voice to the then-fringe genre of sci-fi. Tom Doherty, founder of Tor Books, says that before Betty, those works were deemed “unimportant pulp” only fit to be published in cheap magazines and books. But Betty was inspired by the concept of using real science to hypothesize the future of innovation. As if she was a character in her favorite genre, Betty was able to see the potential of science fiction in novel form.

Both Bantam and Ballantine were instrumental in finding, publishing, and promoting early science fiction and fantasy, but Ballantine Books especially was crucial. They were responsible for Lin Carter’s legendary Ballantine Adult Fantasy line, the groundbreaking Best of series (which we have paid tribute to many times), bringing Tolkien to American audiences in an authorized edition, and much, more more.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Hugo Award for Best Short Story: “The Meeting,” by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth, and “Eurema’s Dam,” by R. A. Lafferty

Saturday, March 16th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Fantasy and Science Fiction November 1972-small Fantasy and Science Fiction November 1972-back-small

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1972; cover by Ed Emshwiller

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 1973 there was a tie for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story. (There have been several ties in Hugo history, perhaps most famously for the 1966 Best Novel, shared by Roger Zelazny’s F&SF serial “… And Call Me Conrad” and Frank Herbert’s Dune.) The winners were Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth for “The Meeting,” and R. A. Lafferty for “Eurema’s Dam.” This was the first fiction Hugo for each of these writers, and the only one for Kornbluth (not surprising, as he died in 1958) and Lafferty. Kornbluth did win a Retro-Hugo in 2001 for his 1950 novelette “The Little Black Bag,” and another posthumous award, the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award for The Syndic. Lafferty won a World Fantasy Life Achievement Award, as well as the Phoenix Award and two Seiuns for Best Story translated into Japanese (“Eurema’s Dam” and “Groaning Hinges of the World”). Pohl’s lists of awards is very long indeed: they include later Hugos for his novel Gateway and his short story “Fermi and Frost,” three Hugos as Editor of If, the Best Magazine winner in 1965-1967, Campbells for Gateway and The Years of the City, Nebulas for Man Plus and Gateway, Locus Awards for his memoir The Way the Future Was and his novella “The Gold at the Starbow’s End,” a late (2010) Hugo for Best Fan Writer, and of course he was named SFWA Grand Master in 1993.

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Hither Came Conan: Jason Durall on “Xuthal of the Dusk”

Monday, March 11th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

John Buscsema - Savage Sword of Conan - Issue #20

John Buscsema – Savage Sword of Conan – Issue #20

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. Jason Durall is the line editor for Modiphius’ RPG, Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of.

Xuthal of the Dusk on 25 Lunas a Day

Of all of Howard’s Conan stories, “Xuthal of the Dusk” is one of his most emblematic, regardless of its quality compared to the other. If one were to assemble a tasting menu of Conan containing all his recurring themes and story elements, one could look no further than this story and come away with a good sense of the whole. With only one glaringly weak point, the story is an underappreciated gem and worth reconsidering in its place among the overall canon.

First appearing in the September 1933 issue of Weird Tales under the title “The Slithering Shadow”, the story, like many of Howard’s tales, was graced with an extremely risqué cover by Margaret Brundage, no small contributor to the magazine’s sales (more on this later). Though the story’s published title was “The Slithering Shadow”, Howard, in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, clarifies that its original title was “Xuthal of the Dusk”. Given a choice between the title the story was written under versus a title provided by the editor, let us remain true to Howard’s preference in the matter.

“Xuthal of the Dusk” may not be the best of the Conan stories, but it is one of the purest Conan stories. Let’s examine all the notes this story hits, and this should become clear.

 

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Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Nebula and Hugo Award for Best Novelette: “Goat Song,” by Poul Anderson

Saturday, March 9th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction February 1972-small Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction February 1972-back-small

Cover by Bert Tanner

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.

Poul Anderson (1926-2001) was one of the leading SF and Fantasy writers of the last half of the 20th Century. He won the Hugo Award no fewer than seven times for his short fiction, twice taking the Nebula for the same story. He was named an SFWA Grand Master in 1998, he also won the Gandalf Award as Grand Master of Fantasy, and he received numerous other awards including the Mythopeic Award and the Prometheus Award. His best known novel might be Tau Zero (which finished second for the Hugo in 1971). His extended Future History sequence collectively called the Technic Universe probably represents his best-known and best-received set of stories, and his most famous characters, Nicholas Van Rijn and Dominic Flandry, appear in that series.

“Goat Song” is a pure standalone story, not part of any series. It appeared in F&SF for February 1972. As noted in the title of this essay, it won both the Hugo and Nebula for Best Novelette. I would have read it first in Nebula Award Stories 8. At the time I remember being tremendously impressed, but on this most recent rereading its force had diminished. (I reread it in my paperback edition of Anderson’s very fine 1975 collection Homeward and Beyond, which includes one very significant and lesser known story, the historical “The Peat Bog.”)

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Galaxy Science Fiction, June 1954: A Retro-Review

Thursday, March 7th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction June 1954-small Galaxy Science Fiction June 1954-back-small

Cover by Emsh

The June, 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction opens with a new serialized novel (Gladiator at Law) in addition to other fiction. The cover art by Ed Emshwiller is for the novel.

Gladiator at Law by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth (Part 1) — Charles Mundin is a capable, dedicated lawyer who lacks a degree from the right school to rise in his career. An associate recommends Charles as a lawyer for Norma Lavin and her brother, Don. Their father was one of the owners of G-M-L Homes, the creators of the bubble houses used across the world. When their father died, the company had his stock impounded for years. After Don finally received the stock, he hid it, but the company hired people to arrest him and gave him 50 hours of conditioning — a technique typically used on criminals to reform them. Now, Don can’t speak as to the stock’s location.

Charles realizes that he was given the case because no one thought he could get anywhere with it. But as his investigation deepens, he realizes that he’s becoming a nuisance or possibly a minor threat to those who wish to retain control of G-M-L and all of the other businesses it controls.

Gladiator at Law has a good beginning that sets the stage for later installments. I’m looking forward to them. Pohl and Kornbluth worked together on multiple novels, including Gravy Planet (The Space Merchants), in Galaxy in 1953.

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