Vintage Treasures: Beyond the Curtain of Dark edited by Peter Haining

Monday, November 23rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Beyond the Curtain of Dark Four Square Beyond the Curtain of Dark UK-small Beyond the Curtain of Dark-small

Peter Haining was a prolific editor, producing over 100 anthologies between 1965 and his death in 2007. Black Gate readers are probably most familiar with his Sherlock Holmes books (which Bob Byrne has mentioned more than once), his 1976 Weird Tales facsimile anthology, and his various volumes on the pulps, including The Fantastic Pulps (1976), Terror!: A History of Horror Illustrations from the Pulp Magazines (1977), Supernatural Sleuths (1986), and The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines (2001).

I stumbled across a very rewarding anthology of horror stories in a $1 bin at Windy City Pulp and paper earlier this year. Beyond the Curtain of Dark was originally published in October 1966 in the UK by Four Square Books, with a delightful cover by Josh Kirby (above left). It was reissued in November 1972 by New English Library in the UK with a cover by the fabulous Bruce Pennington (middle), and in the US by Pinnacle Books (right, cover artist unknown). It contains 23 stories, a nice mix of pre-1910 fiction (nine stories by Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, F. Marion Crawford and others) and pulp horror stories published between 1938-1965 (14 stories by Robert Bloch, Harry Harrison, Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Fredric Brown, H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, Henry Kuttner, Isaac Asimov, and others).

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Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1953: A Retro-Review

Saturday, November 21st, 2015 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction January 1953-smallGalaxy rolled along into a new calendar year. Elsewhere in the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower was about to begin his first term in office, succeeding Harry S. Truman. It’s amazing to sit back for a moment and realize how long ago all of this great fiction was published.

“The Defenders” by Philip K. Dick – Humanity has been underground for years while the United States and Russia fight a nuclear war. On the surface, robots called leadys fight for humans, detonating bombs that destroy and irradiate the earth. It’s a harsh life for humans, drudging out their years without sunlight, struggling to survive while producing weapons to win the war. Taylor gets called from his rest period to go with a team to the surface to investigate some inconsistent reports from the leadys. It’s a dangerous assignment, given the amount of destruction and radiation awaiting them, but it’s not one he can refuse.

I didn’t want to give more of a description in fear that I might spoil the story. It has a couple of surprising points – the first of which is somewhat easy to guess. It has a classic, Cold War feel to it, which adds to its charm. Philip K. Dick used the story as a basis for the novel The Penultimate Truth, published in 1964.

“Teething Ring” by James Causey – An alien visits Melinda at her home, though she doesn’t realize he isn’t human. The strange man asks to survey her in exchange for one of his devices. Although she selects something for herself, her toddler son takes interest in a neural distorter and won’t be dissuaded. Melinda offers the man a dollar for it and gives it to her son; after all, it keeps him quiet.

It’s a lighthearted tale, but I didn’t find it that interesting. It does, however, make for a good relief between “The Defenders” and “Life Sentence.”

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How I Used Steampunk to do George Orwell (But With More Sword Fights and Magic)

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

SVT 256

“Holy ####! I’m a Steampunk author!”

“Holy ####! I’m a Steampunk author!”

I was staring at the Amazon Kindle rankings and the first volume of Swords Versus Tanks had just crept into the top 10.

Actually, I like Steampunk, but the story was supposed to be Heroic Fantasy or even Sword and Sorcery. After all, swords is what I do for fun.

Back when I was planning what I hoped would be my début novel, I wanted to put magically-enhanced medieval knights up against tanks, but I didn’t want to involve a modern military — too sophisticated with too much tech; I would end up spending most of the novel finding magical ways to break drones and cruise missiles that didn’t also break the medieval setting.

If my tanks were going to be pre-modern, then I might as well pick the era with the coolest looking tanks — that gave me WWI, which also gave me Zeppelins.

So Great War tanks and Zeppelins and semi-automatic weapons. That made at least half the story Steampunk  (Decopunk actually)… not half the novel as in the first (or second) half. Rather half the genre. The other half is Heroic Fantasy. As a reviewer kindly put it:

…it’s like every fantasy, steam punk or alternative history novel thrust screaming into a thunderdome and told to fight for our entertainment.

But Steampunk provided more than just carefully calibrated tactical situations with nice aesthetics, it also let me write about big ideologies.

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Robert E. Howard, Exile of Cross Plains

Monday, November 16th, 2015 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

NOTE: The following article was first published on March 21, 2010. Thank you to John O’Neill for agreeing to reprint these early articles, so they are archived at Black Gate which has been my home for over 5 years and 250 articles now. Thank you to Deuce Richardson without whom I never would have found my way. Minor editorial changes have been made in some cases to the original text.

subterranean-kull-slipcasesubterranean-kull-limitedThe transformation of literary genres in the early twentieth century was marked by a series of intriguing parallels and recurrences. When Raymond Chandler, displaced as much in England as California, started down the mean streets of writing pulp fiction, he used an Erle Stanley Gardner story as his template. Chandler prepared a detailed synopsis of Gardner’s story and then re-wrote the story himself, comparing the results to the original.

Chandler’s first published pulp story, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” (1933) introduced the prototype for the hardboiled private eye who emerged six years later in Chandler’s landmark first novel, The Big Sleep in the form of Philip Marlowe. Likewise Chandler’s literary heir, Ross Macdonald, displaced as much in Canada as California, would use The Big Sleep as the template for his own first novel, The Moving Target (1949) and, in the process, introduced Marlowe’s successor, Lew Archer who would arguably represent the hardboiled detective realized to its full potential.

When Robert E. Howard, an outcast in his native Cross Plains, started down the path that would eventually give the world the genre now known as Sword & Sorcery, he used Paul L. Anderson’s story, “En-ro of the Ta-an” as the template for his various “Am-ra of the Ta-an” story drafts. Anderson would likely be a completely forgotten literary figure but for the efforts of Howard scholar, Rusty Burke. Even without Anderson as a reference point, Howard’s first attempts at creating a noble savage are instantly familiar to the modern reader as being works that are highly derivative of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, Pellucidar, and Caspak novels. Just as the seminal Black Mask writers took the western and successfully brought it to an urban setting creating modern detective fiction in the process, so Burroughs and those he influenced took Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli tales and laid the foundation for modern myth-making by cross-breeding jungle adventures with the lost worlds tales of Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and H. Rider Haggard.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward Re-Read “Rogues in the House”

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Conan Rogues in the House-smallHoward Andrew Jones and Bill Ward have been reading their way through the Robert E. Howard collection The Coming of Conan, the first of the three Del Rey volumes, perhaps the definitive collection of Conan tales. They recently discussed “Rogues in the House,” first published in the January 1934 issue of Weird Tales.

Here’s Howard:

On re-reading it I was surprised that I haven’t visited this one more often. It gallops along. A lot happens in a short time because it’s told with such economy. And it’s very different from what has come before. I’ve been reading a lot of Conan pastiche in my downtime via The Savage Sword of Conan reprints recently, and so many of those writers model a Conan story off of the formula we saw in the last stories — monster, half-naked damsel, evil wizard/trap, escape. “Rogues in the House” breaks the formula and for this reason is even more of a pleasure.

Stepping back you can see how it’s a strange beast inspired from multiple sources — weird death traps out of Fu Manchu stories, a system of mirrors set to emulate a modern mastermind’s hidden cameras, and an ape servant who’s rebelled against his master. If someone had come and babbled the various story elements to me I would have rolled my eyes. Yet it works very well, in part because once it starts rolling it just never lets up.

You could say that about stories that catch you up and then realize upon re-examination that some of the elements didn’t make sense. That, however, can’t be said about “Rogues.” In retrospect it’s one fine scene after another, although my favorite moment may well be the conclusion.

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Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Wrath of Fu Manchu, Part Two

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Tom Stacey Wrathdaw_fu_manchuWhen Rohmer scholar, Dr. Robert E. Briney compiled a posthumous hardcover collection of the author’s rare and previously uncollected short fiction in the early 1970s, he included three short stories that were first published in This Week magazine in between Rohmer’s last two Fu Manchu novels. The stories were subsequently reprinted in sequence in Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine between January and March 1966 where the latter two stories were retitled. The hardcover collection, The Wrath of Fu Manchu and Other New Stories was first published in the U.K. in 1973 by Tom Stacey. A U.S. mass market paperback edition from DAW Books followed in 1976. The collection was subsequently reprinted in 2001 as part of Allison & Busby’s Fu Manchu Omnibus – Volume 5. Titan Books will reprint the original collection as a trade paperback in March 2016.

“The Eyes of Fu Manchu” was serialized in two installments in This Week magazine on October 6 and 13, 1957. It first appeared in book form when Dr. Briney added it to the 1970 Ace paperback collection, The Secret of Holm Peel and Other Strange Stories. The story opens with Sir Denis Nayland Smith attending a lecture at the Sorbonne by an American scientist, Dr. Gregory Allen. Dr. Allen is a specialist in the possible chemical means of halting or even reversing the effects of aging. Sir Denis correctly believes Dr. Allen’s research will draw him to the attention of Dr. Fu Manchu. He makes plans to attend Dr. Allen’s upcoming lecture at King’s College in London with Dr. Petrie who is flying in from Cairo.

Rohmer mines one of his own life’s episodes when he encountered and began an extramarital affair with a young bohemian woman while on a voyage to Madeira. Here, Gregory Allen meets a young bohemian woman named Mignon while crossing the English Channel. Mignon is an artist and, upon learning Gregory abandoned his study of art for science, she makes some pointed remarks about his abandoning the bohemian life of freedom and truth for one of compromised values as part of the Establishment. Her words seem to sting Dr. Allen as much as her beauty and youth charm him just as Rohmer, the former bohemian turned established bestselling author and husband must have felt when he began his own affair with a younger free spirit on his voyage to Portugal years before.

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Sam Spade and the Pursuit of Empty Dreams

Monday, October 19th, 2015 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

NOTE: The following article was first published on February 21, 2010. Thank you to John O’Neill for agreeing to reprint these early articles, so they are archived at Black Gate which has been my home for over 5 years and 250 articles now. Thank you to Deuce Richardson without whom I never would have found my way. Minor editorial changes have been made in some cases to the original text.

First FalconFalcon pbkMuch of what has been written about Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon focuses on the novel as groundbreaking in its realistic portrayal of detective work. More in-depth literary studies tend to focus on the significance of Hammett’s shift in protagonist from the incorruptible and nameless Continental Op of his earlier work to the jaded self-portrait of the author as Sam Spade. In my view, this transition is primarily noteworthy in that Hammett’s protagonist changed from an idealized conception of the man he might have become had he remained a Pinkerton Operative (the Continental Op is based on Hammett’s boss during his stint with the Pinkerton Agency) to a more self-reflective portrayal of a man mired in moral conflict. Hammett’s own moral crisis would color his fiction from this point until he resolved his dilemma and settled into a life alternating his celebrity status with reclusiveness – a life whose one constant was Hammett’s complete lack of creative output for his remaining 27 years.

Many have speculated why Hammett’s creativity dried up when he and his muse and mistress Lillian Hellman had settled comfortably into something approaching unwedded bliss as the Nick and Nora Charles of the real world. My own opinion has been that once freed of the conflict of whether or not to walk a path of integrity or give in to the encroaching corruption that constantly assailed his world, Hammett had nothing further to draw upon for inspiration. Resolution was tantamount to becoming a spent force and Hammett was finished as a writer. The fact that he realized this dilemma was inescapable lies at the heart of both The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key in their pursuit of empty dreams incapable of satisfying the characters whose lust is so great they are willing to die for or kill in their futile quests.

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Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Wrath of Fu Manchu, Part One

Monday, October 19th, 2015 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Wrathdaw_fu_manchuThe Wrath of Fu Manchu was a 50-page short story serialized in five installments in The Toronto Star weekly supplement from January 26 to February 23, 1952 under the unlikely title Green Devil Mask. It was given its current title when Rohmer scholar, Dr. Robert E. Briney made it the centerpiece of a posthumous hardcover collection of previously uncollected short fiction, The Wrath of Fu Manchu and Other New Stories first published in the U.K. in 1973 by Tom Stacey. A U.S. mass market paperback edition from DAW Books followed in 1976. It was subsequently reprinted in Allison & Busby’s Fu Manchu Omnibus – Volume 5 in 2001. Titan Books will reprint the original collection as a trade paperback in March 2016.

The story was initially published only in Canada due to a copyright loophole. Rohmer had recently sold the option to the television rights to the Fu Manchu characters and was prohibited from publishing new works about the characters in Britain or the United States until the courts resolved a dispute over whether the literary rights transferred with the agreement. This situation persisted for the next five years until the literary rights were eventually restored to the author. The character was an easy money-maker for Rohmer at a time when his bank account was suffering. Rohmer’s desire to fly under the radar with the Canadian publication of the story likely accounts for his original decision to avoid using the name Fu Manchu in the title of the story.

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Future Treasures: The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak, Volumes 1-3

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

I Am Crying All Inside And Other Stories-small The Big Front Yard and Other Stories-small The Ghost of a Model T And Other Stories-small

Clifford D. Simak is one of my favorite writers. He wrote over 100 short stories in his lifetime, and published more than 20 collections, but even to this day not all of his short fiction has been collected. Especially neglected is much of his early pulp work, written for magazines like Wonder Stories, Astounding, and Thrilling Wonder in the 1930s.

The lack of a complete collection of Clifford D. Simak’s short stories has been keenly felt among many old-school fans. So as you can imagine, I was delighted to discover that Open Road Media has undertaken the first comprehensive collection of all of Simak’s short stories — including his science fiction, fantasy, and western fiction. The first three books, I Am Crying All Inside, The Big Front Yard, and The Ghost of a Model T, go on sale later this month.

All three, like all six volumes announced so far, are edited by David W. Wixon, the Executor of Simak’s Literary Estate. Wixon, a close friend of Simak, contributes an introduction to each volume, and short intros to each story, providing a little background on its publishing history and other interesting tidbits.

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Peter Tremayne’s Dracula Lives Trilogy Revisited

Thursday, October 8th, 2015 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

NOTE: The following article was first published on February 14, 2010. Thank you to John O’Neill for agreeing to reprint these early articles, so they are archived at Black Gate which has been my home for over 5 years and 250 articles now. Thank you to Deuce Richardson without whom I never would have found my way. Minor editorial changes have been made in some cases to the original text.

Dracyla UnbrnNurceaIt has long been my contention that pulp fiction not discovered by age thirteen was beyond my ability to appreciate later in life. A certain amount of nostalgia seemed essential to enjoying such escapism once age and responsibility have got the better of you. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule in the rare instances where genuine literary talent is in evidence as is the case with the Holy Trinity of hardboiled detective fiction: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald. Given that I recently covered Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I decided to revisit Peter Tremayne’s three Dracula novels and one short story that I enjoyed so much as a teenager to see how they held up three decades on.

Peter Tremayne is best known today for his long-running Sister Fidelma mysteries. His medieval detective series is sort of a lightweight version of an Umberto Eco doorstop. Although Tremayne’s real world credentials are quite impressive as both an academic and scholar, his fiction is strictly populist in its appeal. Turn back the clock 40 years and one would find Peter Tremayne as a dedicated pulp pastiche writer trying his hand at extending the lifespan of H. Rider Haggard’s She, deliriously combining Shelley’s Frankenstein with Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles, and delving deep into Stoker’s Dracula for a trilogy of loosely connected titles published by Bailey Brothers in the UK.

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