Hither Came Conan: Mark Finn on “The God in the Bowl”

Monday, May 13th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Hither_BowlFrazettaDarkHorseEDITEDWelcome 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 in it. Today, it’s Howard biographer Mark Finn looking at one of the first stories, “The God in the Bowl.” And here we go!

The God Has a Long Neck

“The God in the Bowl” is part of the holy trinity of Conan stories. No, not “Tower of the Elephant,” “Red Nails,” and “Beyond the Black River” (though they are undoubtedly worthy of the appellation). I’m talking about the Original Trinity, the Big Three, the initial stories that Robert E. Howard wrote and submitted to Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales back in 1932.

I consider these stories to be Ground Zero for the essence of Conan the Cimmerian as he was originally introduced. In “Phoenix on the Sword,” we meet Conan the King, an established old campaigner, with a whole lifetime of stories under his furrowed brow, struggling with his new role as a king. This was borne out of Howard’s desire to write fiction in the guise of history; tales of adventure and sweeping consequences, without having to fact-check and sideline his narrative vision. Using his unpublished Kull story, “By this Axe, I Rule!” as a jumping off point, Howard clearly had an idea of what he wanted to do.

But he had to sell it to the market that was buying, and since Oriental Stories, the magazine he’d been selling his historical adventures to, had shuttered its submission window, he turned to his old standby, Weird Tales. “The Unique Magazine” under the editorial direction of Farnsworth Wright enjoyed a kind of nebulous distinction as a kind of catch-all for any kind of story, so long as it was weird. This included anything with a spicy suggestion, such as ice maidens wearing gossamer robes and taunting a battle-exhausted youth. “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” was made for Wright, who would recognize its classical mythic underpinnings, but would also not mind the implied slap-and-tickle of the naked girl laughing at young Conan.

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Gremlins, Bizarre Capers, and Artifacts on the Moon: New Print Magazines in May

Saturday, May 4th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Asimov's Science Fiction May June 2019-small Analog Science Fiction May June 2019-small The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction May June 2019-small

The May/June batch of print SF magazines has brand new fiction from a host of popular writers, including Carrie Vaughn, Ian R. MacLeod, Ted Kosmatka, Bill Johnson, E. Lily Yu, Harry Turtledove, Alec Nevala-Lee, Stanley Schmidt, Bud Sparhawk, Edward M. Lerner, Bruce McAllister (x2), Cynthia Ward, Marissa K. Lingen, Lavie Tidhar, Matthew Hughes, Tobias S. Buckell, Andy Dudak, and many others. Here’s editor Sheila Williams summation of the latest issue of Asimov’s SF.

May/June 2019 is powerhouse issue for novelettes. In his stunning story, Ted Kosmatka reveals the excruciating cost of “Sacrificial Iron” on an interstellar voyage; Asimov’s poet John Richard Trtek’s first prose piece for us is a lyrical tour de force about time travel and “Recrossing Brooklyn Ferry”; Ian R. MacLeod brilliantly conveys the tricks of a broken mind in “The Memory Artist”; and in his enjoyable romp, Bill Johnson escorts us to Canada and onto the Ship for some “Unfinished Business.”

Not to be outdone by the novelettes, Carrie Vaughn’s soaring novella investigates what’s up with “Gremlins.” We also have a full roster of exciting short stories. In Sean Monaghan’s new tale, a heart broken mother races against time while “Chasing Oumuamua”; new to Asimov’s author Rahul Kanakia looks at some timeless concerns in “The Intertidal Zone”; Jay O’Connell presents us with a bizarre caper wherein we discover that it’s “Not Only Who You Know”; Peter Wood explains why “Never the Twain Shall Meet”; and in her first tale for Asimov’s, Campbell-Award-winner E. Lily Yu examines “The Doing and Undoing of Jacob E. Mwangi.”

Robert Silverberg’s Reflections celebrates “Our Shaggy Cousins.” James Patrick Kelly’s On the Net commands us to “Fire the Canon!” In James Gunn’s Thought Experiment “Science Fiction Considers the Post Human” while Norman Spinrad’s On Books ponders whether writers can go “Beyond Mimesis?” Plus we’ll have an array of poetry and more features that you’re sure to enjoy.

And here’s Trevor Quachri on the new Analog.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Locus

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

January

January

February

February

April

April

The Best Fanzine category was not one of the original Hugo categories in 1953, but was introduced at the second awards in 1955, when it was won by James V. Taurasi, Sr. and Ray Van Houten for Fantasy-Times. Since then, some version of the award has been a constant, with the exception of 1958, when the award was dropped. Although achievement in fanzines was recognized throughout the history of the Hugo Awards, the name of the away was in flux. Originally called the Hugo for Best Fanzine, in 1956 and 1957, the award was presented for Best Fan Magazine. The name then switched back and forth at random intervals between Best Amateur Magazine (in 1959, 63-64, 66, 72-75, 77-78) and Best Fanzine (the other years in that sequence) until it permanently became the award for Best Fanzine in 1979.

Locus was nominated for its first Hugo Award in 1970, losing to Richard E. Geis’s Science Fiction Review. It was then nominated every year until 1983 with the exception of 1979, winning the Hugo for Best Fanzine in 1971, 1972, 1976, 1978, and from 1980 to 1983 inclusive, at which time it was no longer eligible for the category with the creation of the Hugo Award for Best Semi-Prozine. During the 1970s and early 80s, Locus, which began in 1968 to promote the Boston bid for a Worldcon in 1971, which became Noreascon I, was becoming less and less of a fanzine, accepting advertisements and paying for content.

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Hither Came Conan: Ryan Harvey on “Hour of the Dragon”

Monday, April 29th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Hither_HourWTCoverEDITEDWelcome 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 in it. Today, it’s Ryan Harvey looking at the only Conan novel, Hour of the Dragon (not Conan the Conquerer!).  And here we go!

When Robert E. Howard’s twenty-one completed Conan stories are randomly distributed to twenty-one people, each challenged to argue that their assigned work is the finest of all, it brings up some interesting questions if you’re among the twenty-one.

The chances of getting your favorite? Approximately 4.8%. The chances of getting an excellent story, even if not your favorite? Quite high, I’d say. The chances of a mediocre one are low, but there’s certain to be something interesting to mine from those mid-tier works. And there’s only a 4.8% chance of getting stuck with the worst one, “The Vale of Lost Women,” or ending up with the longest one, The Hour of the Dragon.

So before I received my assignment, I felt safe I’d end up with something interesting, although not my favorite, and one that might be a novella, but still not the longest.

Then I got The Hour of the Dragon. Which is both.

I don’t know who else may have inadvertently gotten their true favorite Conan work and therefore end up effectively not participating in this experiment of trying to promote as the best something you don’t think is the best (there’s a 95.2% chance I’m the only one). But here I am. The Hour of the Dragon is the best Conan story and I don’t have to stretch to make that sound true, because it is true. At least to me.

The Hour of the Dragon is a gigantic work: the only Conan novel Howard wrote, twice as long as the second lengthiest Conan story and twenty-two times longer than the shortest. Even though 72,000 words, short for modern fantasy novels, it contains more incidence than novels three times its length. This is a monstrous mural of fantasy, crossing much of the Hyborian kingdoms and going as far south as Stygia.

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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 was 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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