Temporal Surges and Shapeshifting Invaders: Rich Horton on Threshold of Eternity by John Brunner and The War of Two Worlds by Poul Anderson

Monday, April 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Threshold of Eternity John Brunner-small The War of Two Worlds Poul Anderson-small

One of the reasons I collect Ace Doubles — aside from the great cover art, and their historical significance — is that they frequently featured early work by some of my favorite authors. That’s definitely the case with Double D-335, which paired very early novels from two of the greatest SF writers of the late 20th Century, John Brunner’s Threshold of Eternity and Poul Anderson’s The War of Two Worlds.

Neither volume was reprinted in a standandalone edition after their original back-to-back appearance in 1959, so you can be forgiven if you’re unfamiliar with them. At his website Strange at Ecbatan, interplanetary paperback expert Rich Horton admits he was unaware of them until recently as well. Why review yet another obscure Ace Double?

I realized that it comprised two novels by writers I always enjoy that I was completely unaware of… I figured Anderson and Brunner are always worth a try, and anyway I have a certain quasi-completist attitude towards both of them.

Fair enough. Rich usually does his homework on the background for each book, often digging up some fascinating tidbits, and as usual he doesn’t disappoint.

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Birthday Reviews: Henry Kuttner’s “Ghost”

Saturday, April 7th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by William Timmins

Cover by William Timmins

Henry Kuttner was born on April 7, 1914 and died on February 4, 1958. From 1940 until his death in 1958, he was married to science fiction author C.L. Moore. The two had their own careers and also collaborated, although they claimed that they each worked on all of the other one’s stories, sitting down and continuing whatever was in the typewriter at the time. Kuttner (or Moore/Kuttner) also used the pseudonyms Lawrence O’Donnell, C.H. Liddell, and Lewis Padgett.

In 1956, their collaboration “Home There’s No Returning” was nominated for the Hugo for Best Novelette and Kuttner was nominated for two Retro Hugos in 2014 for his novelette “Hollywood on the Moon” and the novella “The Time Trap.”  In 2004, he and Moore were named the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award recipients.

“Ghost” was first published in Astounding Science Fiction in May 1943, edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. and credited only to Kuttner. Kuttner reprinted it a decade later in his collection Ahead of Time. In 2005, it appeared in the Centipede Press collection Two-Handed Engine. The story has been translated into French, where it was credited to Kuttner and Moore, as well as Italian, where it was only credited to Kuttner.

In “Ghost,” Kuttner attempts to do quite a bit, which means that he only succeeds at some of it. The story is about a modern ghost, perhaps the first real ghost in history, haunting a research facility in Antarctica. Elton Ford has been sent down to investigate what is causing the men assigned to the base to go insane. Ford arrives to find the base’s sole caretaker Larry Crockett. The main lesson of the story, given the set up, is that perhaps having a single man in an isolated research base might not be the best idea, although we see it even in the present day in films such as Moon. That, however, is not where Kuttner takes his story.

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Birthday Reviews: Robert Bloch’s “The Fane of the Black Pharoah”

Thursday, April 5th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Weird Tales December 1937-small Weird Tales December 1937-back-small

Cover by Virgil Finlay

Robert Bloch was born on April 5, 1917 and died on September 23, 1994.

His short story “That Hell-Bound Train” won the Hugo Award in 1959, and he won the Bram Stoker Award for his non-fiction book Once Around the Bloch: An Unauthorized Autobiography, for his collection The Early Fears, and his novelette “The Scent of Vinegar.” His screenplay for the film Psycho, based on his novel, received the Edgar Allan Poe Award.

Bloch was the Guest of Honor for each of the three Toronto Worldcons, Torcon I in 1948, Torcon II in 1973, and posthumously for Torcon 3 in 2003. He also received a Special Worldcon Committee Award in 1984. Bloch was named a Grandmaster by the World Horror Con and received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the World Fantasy Convention. He has also received the Big Heart Award, the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award, and a Forry Award.

“The Fane of the Black Pharoah” was first published in Weird Tales in the December 1937 issue, edited by Farnsworth Wright. Donald Wollheim reprinted it a decade later in the Avon Fantasy Reader, No. 5, 1947 and Bloch included it in his Lovecraftian collection Mysteries of the Worm. Robert M. Price included it in two Lovecraft anthologies: Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos, from Fedogan & Bremer, and The Nyarlathotep Cycle: The God of a Thousand Forms, from Chaosium. In 1983 it was translated into French.

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Birthday Reviews: Stanley G. Weinbaum’s “The Worlds of If”

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Wonder Stories August 1935-small Wonder Stories August 1935-back-small

Cover by Frank R. Paul

Stanley G. Weinbaum was born on April 4, 1902 and died of lung cancer on December 14, 1935, only 17 months after publishing his first story. During that time, he made an indelible mark on the field. Weinbaum Crater on Mars is named in his honor and in 2008, he received the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award.

Weinbaum’s “The Worlds of If” was first published in the August 1935 issue of Wonder Stories, edited by Hugo Gernsback. Following Weinbaum’s death, it was included in Dawn of Flame: The Weinbaum Memorial Volume. Mort Weisinger reprinted the story in the March 1941 issue of Startling Stories and it was included in issue 1 of Fantasy, edited by Walter Gillings.

When Fantasy Press published A Martian Odyssey and Others, a collection of Weinbaum’s stories, “The Worlds of If” was included. Robert Silverberg selected it for Other Dimensions: Ten Stories of Science Fiction. Julie Davis included it in Science Fiction Monthly, in the July 1975 issue of the paperback series. When Ballantine published The Best of Stanley Weinbaum, the story was reprinted again.

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Ghosts, Pirates, and Sea-Faring Werewolves: Strange Island Stories, edited by Jonathan E. Lewis

Saturday, March 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Strange Island Stories-small Strange Island Stories-back-small

I really enjoyed Jonathan E. Lewis’ previous Star House Supernatural Classics anthology, Ancient Egyptian Supernatural Tales, which I talked about here. Lewis is a true connoisseur of early spooky fiction, and he’s doing the kind of work that virtually no one else is right now — compiling classic pulp (and pre-pulp) adventure and horror tales into handsome packages for a modern audience.

So I was surprised and pleased to open my mail recently and find a review copy of a brand new Lewis anthology, Strange Island Stories. (And I was just as pleased to find this quote on an inside page devoted to Ancient Egyptian Supernatural Tales: “Lewis has done a fine job assembling a stellar line-up of dark fantasy and horror stories featuring mummies, curses, ancient Egyptian vampires, and lots more.” — Black Gate.) In his introduction to his latest volume Jonathan explains how he’s divided the contents.

I have chosen to divide Strange Island Stories into four distinct sections. The first, GHOSTS AND SHAPE SHIFTERS, includes classic ghost stories, tales of lycanthropy and werewolves, and supernatural tales set on islands… The second section, BIZARRE CREATURES AND FANTASTIC REALMS, includes short stories in which bizarre animal and plant life play an important role… The third section, HUMAN HORRORS, as its title indicates, includes works that are not necessarily “weird” but are nonetheless horrific and deeply strange. Readers might find these stories, all of which evoke a sense of foreboding dread, to be deeply chilling. Among the stories included in this section is George G. Toudouze’s lighthouse story “Three Skeleton Key,” a story that was adapted three times into a chillingly effective radio show. The fourth and final section of Strange Island Stories includes an original work of short fiction I have written entitled “An Adriatic Awakening.”

The anthology includes stories by M.P. Shiel, John Buchan, George MacDonald, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Conan Doyle, Francis Stevens, Robert Louis Stevenson, H. P. Lovecraft, Henry S. Whitehead, Jack London and nine others.

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Walk a Mile in My Paws: The Valley of Creation by Edmond Hamilton

Saturday, March 24th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

valley-of-creation-edmond-hamilton-lodestone-coverWhat I’ve learned from my still inadequate reading of pulp science-fiction legend Edmond Hamilton is his mastery of pushing his stories in expected directions but in unexpected ways. I’ve developed enough of a sense of how Hamilton viewed his characters and his attitude toward humanity that I can anticipate the direction he’ll flip a tale in the middle — but I’ll never anticipate how he’ll do it. Almost every time, he exceeds expectations by taking the most daring path, both for his narrative and his prose.

The 1948 novel The Valley of Creation follows a theme the author explored in his cliché-battering short story “A Conquest of Two Worlds” (Wonder Stories, 1932), where a human turns against the colonial tyranny of his own race to side with oppressed aliens. Hamilton often used a cynical, bleak approach in his short fiction, turning to a lighter adventure mode for his novels. The Valley of Creation falls into this pattern. It challenges readers with a protagonist who discovers he’s on the wrong side of a conflict — the side of racial supremacists — and switches allegiance. But it’s done as a science-fantasy adventure with the zip expected of the pulps and a heavy dose of A. Merritt’s “Lost World of Super Science!” explorations.

The Valley of Creation was published in Startling Stories for the July 1948 issue, sharing a table of contents with stories from Jack Vance and Henry Kuttner. Lancer published the paperback version in 1964, a time when the paperback market was mining for the gold spread throughout the pulp era that might otherwise have flaked away with the rough paper. Hamilton did revisions for the ‘64 version, updating the timeline so its protagonist, mercenary Eric Nelson, is a veteran of the Korean War.

At the opening of the novel, Nelson is in the position of many characters from noir movies and books of the late ‘40 and ‘50s: a disaffected military man who’s seen too much and has now lost his way. Nelson and his four mercenary partners are stranded in Central Asia at the end of their tether after their Chinese warlord employer is killed. They then receive a strange offer from a man named Shan Kar — he’ll pay them in platinum if they come to his valley of L’Lan and fight “the enemy of his people.”

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Birthday Reviews: Raymond Z. Gallun’s “Magician of Dream Valley”

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Howard V. Brown

Cover by Howard V. Brown

Raymond Z. Gallun was born on March 22, 1911 and died on April 2, 1994.

Gallun was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame in 1979. He wrote during a period when many authors focused on short fiction, and he did, although he also published several novels, including The Planet Strappers, Skyblaster, and Bioblast. His short fiction has been collected in two volumes, The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun and Anthology of Sci-Fi V4: Raymond Z. Gallun.

Gallun has collaborated with Robert S. McReady, Jerome Bixby, and he based a story on an outline by fan John B. Michel. In 1936, he participatws in a series novel with Eando Binder, Jack Williamson, Edmond Hamilton, and John Russell Fearn. Gallun has also used the pseudonyms Dow Elstar, William Callahan, and Arthur Allport.

“Magician of Dream Valley” was first published in the October 1938 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, edited by John W. Campbell. Forrest J. Ackerman and Pat LoBrutto included it in Perry Rhodan #71: The Atom Hell of Grautier in 1975 and in 1978 it was reprinted in The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun. In 1982, the story was translated into Italian for inclusion of a short collection of Gallun stories.

Jack Vickers in a reporter who had traveled to the moon to interview a recluse, Clyde Athelstane, also known as the “Magician of Dream Valley.” The valley, near Mare Imbrium, has a strange phenomenon known as Hexagon Lights. Vickers wants to learn what they are and what Athelstane might have to do with them.

Athelstane isn’t what Vickers was expecting and the hermit immediately presses the newsman into his service to care for the Hexagon Lights, which Athelstane claims are being threatened by human lunar mining and may, in fact, be sentient beings. Even as Vickers realizes the Athelstane is insane, he works with him to try to protect the Hexagon Lights against possible destruction. In the end, however, Vickers breaks free from Athelstane’s spell, believing the Lights to be more dangerous than endangered.

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Spotted in a Cairo Kiosk: Arabic Pulp Science Fiction!

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


Here’s a random treasure I noticed one day while strolling past my local kiosk in Cairo. These little books of science fiction and horror can still be found in Egypt, although they were more common back in the 90s when I first started coming here.

I’m not sure what they’re called in Arabic, but in Spanish they’re called bolsilibros (“pocket books”). These bite-sized paperbacks measure roughly 15 x 10 cm (6 x 4 inches) and run 90-120 pages. In Spain, the main genres were romance and western, although there were a fair number of horror, science fiction, war, and various other genres as well. Several publishers churned out a huge variety of lines. Now only a few reprints of the big western and romance writers can still be found at the kiosks.

In Egypt, judging from what I’ve unearthed in Cairo’s wonderful used book market, the most popular bolsilibros were cop thrillers, although science fiction and horror appear to be the only genres that are still being published in that format. Other genres are now found in trade paperback, like the more serious science fiction.

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STRANGE! WEIRD! EERIE! The Odd, Unusual, and Uncanny Biography of Lionel Fanthorpe

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

The Return Lionel Fanthorpe-small The Return Lionel Fanthorpe-back-small

Some writers agonize over every line. Some are prolific like Andre Norton. Others are hyperprolific like Isaac Asimov.

But Lionel Fanthorpe stands alone. He isn’t the most prolific author out there, having written “only” about 200 books, but he had the distinction of having written 168 books in less than a decade. Many he wrote in a week. Some he wrote over a three-day weekend.

This fervid output was the result of his association with Badger Books, a cheap-as-they-come UK publisher that emphasized quantity over quality. The publisher would commission the cover art first (or steal it from some old American paperback), send it to the author, and have them write a 45,000 word novel, usually with a deadline of one week.

Fanthorpe wrote 168 books for Badger between 1961 and 1967, dictating his tales into a reel-to-reel recorder and sending the tapes into the publisher’s typist. Often he’d stay up late into the night, covering his head with a blanket so he could concentrate. The results were overwritten, padded, and compellingly bad.

The only biography of Lionel Fanthorpe, Down the Badger Hole by Debbie Cross, has long been out of print but has now been revised, expanded, and released as a free ebook on the TAFF website.

And what a book it is! Cross gives us generous helpings of Fanthorpe’s prose, including masterful examples of padding through repetition.

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Birthday Reviews: Wyman Guin’s “Trigger Tide”

Thursday, March 1st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Ed Cartier

Cover by Ed Cartier

Wyman Guin was born on March 1, 1915 and died on February 19, 1989. Guin only published seven stories and one novel, The Standing Joy during his career. His most famous stories may have been “Beyond Bedlam” and “Volpla,” the latter of which was adapted for the radio show X Minus 1 in August 1957. Guin was declared the winner of the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award in 2013.

Guin’s first story was “Trigger Tide.” When it was first published in Astounding in October 1950, edited by John W. Campbell Jr., it appeared under the pseudonym Norman Menasco, although Guin reverted to his own name for his second story, “Beyond Bedlam.”

The story was reprinted by Groff Conklin in Omnibus of Science Fiction and was included in his collection Living Way Out (a.k.a. Beyond Bedlam). It was again reprinted in The World Turned Upside Down, edited by Eric Flint, David Drake, and Jim Baen.

Guin’s story is about an agent on a distant planet who is trying to assassinate a fascist leader, a task assigned to earlier agents who have failed. When the story opens, he is lying, beaten, on a shelf of quartzcar near the beach and must try to get away from the shore before the tide comes in.

The setting is the most intriguing part of the story. The world is made up of archipelagos of quartzcar. The crystalline structure of the material means that any landmass above the water line is a series of shelves. In addition, the five moons orbiting the planet caused a wide variation of tides. Furthermore, the tides wreaked havoc with the piezoelectrical currents inherent in the quartz.

The impact of this strange situation is felt at the climax of the story, which doesn’t feel like a deus ex machina only because the story feels like it is a set up to exploit the strange parameters of the world.

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