Lovecraft in China: The Flock of Ba-Hui by Oobmab

Saturday, April 4th, 2020 | Posted by David Neil Lee

The Flock of Ba-Hui and Other Stories-small The Flock of Ba-Hui and Other Stories-back-small

Cover by Roger Betka

The Flock of Ba-Hui and Other Stories
Oobmab (translated by Arthur Meursault and Akira)
Camphor Press (254 pages, $24.99 hardcover/$14.99 paperback/$6.99 digital, February 2020)

Beyond the protective barrier of Europe’s vast libraries, Latinate languages, aristocratic bloodlines, and imperial armies, there lurks a malign chaos of ancient knowledge and alien science. To our Western eyes, this chaos is a universe of black magic and monsters but there is, alas, much more to it than that, when one considers the full span of inhuman evil that extends from ancient creatures long outcast, brooding and breeding sinister vengeance in the Earth’s depths, to the latest incursions by loathsome entities whose blasphemous technologies have carried them to this green and innocent planet from the mist-shrouded globes circling the farthest stars.

This is essentially Lovecraft country: a universe that has become known as the “Cthulhu Mythos.” Ever-fearful of dark forces from the outside, in daily life the American author H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an enthusiastic exponent of modernity – the expansion of northern European cultures throughout the world to the disadvantage, even appropriation, even erasure, of indigenous and non-European cultures. As America itself blossomed into an imperial power, Lovecraft’s United Empire loyalism (which to be fair, was greatly mitigated in his later years) envisioned a USA that “must ever remain an integral and important part [as he wrote at age 24] of the great universal empire of British thought and literature.”

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Lovecraft treasured his native New England not only for its green fields, stone churches, and stately mansions, but for the ways these things embodied the culture of an even-more-native England, a just and civilized seat of a white, English-speaking empire, an island across the sea that he felt linked to in spirit, although he never saw it in person.

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John Bullard on Robert E. Howard’s “Beyond the Black River”

Sunday, March 29th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Beyond the Black River-smallKeith West dropped me a note this week to alert me to the publication of an intriguing 3-part article on his blog Adventures Fantastic.

“Beyond the Black River”: Is it Really “Beyond the Brazos River”? was written by Robert E. Howard scholar John Bullard, who’s been editing Howard’s correspondence for the next edition of his collected letters. The article examines Howard’s influences when writing the classic Conan tale “Beyond the Black River,” and particularly how he drew from a famous incident in Texas history to create the ending.

I’m not a Howard scholar myself, and generally leave these debates on Howard’s sources to the experts, but Bullard’s piece weaves together fascinating tidbits from letters to H.P. Lovecraft, Carl Jacobi, and others, plus an interview with Novalyne Price Ellis, to make a compelling case for his theory. Just as interesting to me was the intimate glimpse into Howard’s creative process, and his close friendships with his fellow pulp writers. Here’s a sample:

Robert E. Howard’s Conan story, “Beyond the Black River” is considered to be one of his best stories by his fans. It tells of an attack by Howard’s favorite historical peoples, the Picts, against the encroaching colonization of the Aquilonians on the Picts’ deeply forested land between the Thunder River to the East, and the Black River to the west in his fictional Hyborian world setting…

Howard’s recounting of Texas history and characters enthralled his pen pals, and in several of the surviving letters, they encouraged him to write about this history in his fiction…. Yet, prior to the second half of 1934, Howard was unsure of how to incorporate his knowledge of the settling of the Texas frontier into his stories….

Yet sometime after writing the letter to Jacobi, Howard seems to have had a breakthrough in how to incorporate his knowledge of Texas history into his stories and began writing what is generally considered to be one of his finest stories sometime during the Summer or possibly early Fall of 1934… In a December 1934 letter to Lovecraft, Howard wrote:

“My latest sales to Weird Tales have been a two-part Conan serial: “Beyond the Black River” — a frontier story; …in the Conan story I’ve attempted a new style and setting entirely — abandoned the exotic settings of lost cities, decaying civilizations, golden domes, marble palaces, silk-clad dancing girls, etc., and thrown my story against a background of forests and rivers, log cabins, frontier outposts, buckskin-clad settlers, and painted tribesmen. Some day I’m going to try my hand at a longer yarn of the same style, a serial of four or five parts.”(Lovecraft, Dec. 1934)

We’ve discussed “Beyond the Black River,” and its importance to the modern fantasy canon, previously at Black Gate. Recent coverage includes:

Hither Came Conan: Keith West on “Beyond the Black River”
Discovering Robert E. Howard: Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward Re-Read “Beyond the Black River”

Read John Bullard’s complete 3-part article at Adventures Fantastic, starting here.


When Six Americans Defeat an Invading Army: Robert A. Heinlein’s Sixth Column

Thursday, February 20th, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly

SixthColumn1stEd

Sixth Column by Robert A. Heinlein. First Edition:
Gnome Press, 1949. Cover by Edd Cartier

Sixth Column
by Robert A. Heinlein (Gnome Press, 1949, 256 pages, $2.50 in hardcover; serialized earlier in Astounding Science Fiction, January-March 1941)

Sixth Column was the earliest novel-length work by Robert A. Heinlein, though it was serialized in Astounding magazine (Jan, Feb, and March 1941, under the pseudonym Anson MacDonald) and not published in book form until 1949, by which time three or four other Heinlein novels had been published as books (Rocket Ship Galileo (1947), Beyond This Horizon (1948), Space Cadet (1948), and perhaps Red Planet, also 1949).

First published in hardcover by Gnome Press under the magazine title Sixth Column (adding the subtitle “A Science Fiction Novel of Strange Intrigue”) it was reprinted for many years in paperback by Signet under the blander title The Day After Tomorrow (a 7th printing with a Gene Szafran cover is shown below, along with the 2012 Baen edition I’ve read for this review). The book isn’t long; 174 pages in the Baen edition, 144 with Signet’s tinier print.

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January 2020

Monday, January 20th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Garrett_SweetsilverEDITED“Say, Bob, it’s been an ENTIRE month since you told us what you’ve been reading lately. The suspense is keeping me up at night.” OK – so nobody said that to me. I’ll tell you some of the stuff I’ve taken off of the shelves lately, anyways.

GLEN COOK – SWEET SILVER BLUES

I’ve already written about Glen Cook’s terrific hardboiled, fantasy PI series featuring Garrett. It combines Raymond Chandler, Nero Wolfe, and Terry Pratchett in a terrific fashion. I have a hard time imagining a better series. I’ve talked to a couple fellow Black Gaters about a round-robin look at several books in the series: So many ideas, so little time.

I’m working on this essay on Sunday evening, mere hours ahead of deadline, because I spent a couple hours yesterday re-reading book one, Sweet Silver Blues, instead of sitting at the keyboard and writing. I like it quite a bit, but it’s in book two, Bitter Gold Hearts, that the series really settles in. I’ve read most of the series at least twice before over the years. A few of my friends didn’t care for 2013’s Wicked Bronze Ambition, the last (but hopefully not final) book. It’s definitely not one of my favorites, but it’s still Garrett, and I hope there will be at least one more.

This is one of my favorite series’ in both the fantasy and private eye genres. HIGHLY recommended. And I’m also a huge fan of Cook’s The Black Company, which is light years away in tone and style. He’s simply a very good writer. Black Gate buddy Fletcher Vredenburgh did a fantastic walk-through of the entire series last year.

JOHN D MACDONALD

John MacD has been my favorite author for about three decades now. I enjoy his standalones, his short stories, and his Travis McGee books. I’ve written about him several times, and if all I did was write for Black Gate (sadly, I need to pay my bills and other such nonsense), you’d be reading a LOT about him here.

Earlier this month, after holding off for over twenty-five years, I finally watched the 1970 adaptation of Darker ThanAmber, with Rod Taylor as Travis McGee. Then, I went and re-read the book over the next couple of days. Taylor grew on me as the movie progressed, and they followed the book fairly faithfully. The final fight scene between McGee and Terry was really something to see.

I think this is a better version of a McGee novel than the 1983 film starring Sam Elliot (why in the world would you transplant McGee to California?!).

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Vintage Treasures: The Space Magicians, edited by Alden H. Norton and Sam Moskowitz

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Space Magicians-small The Space Magicians-back-small

Cover artist unknown (which is kinda tragic)

And so my quest to write up all the interesting science fiction anthologies of the 20th Century brings us to The Space Magicians.

This is kind of an oddball anthology. Yes, it has a theme. (That theme is not space magicians.) The idea appears to be a collection of rare and hard-to-find science fiction tales by “science fiction’s major talents… each one a masterpiece in its own right,” and each of which has never been reprinted in paperback before.

The result is an eclectic mix of pulp tales by, yes, seven major SF writers: John Wyndham, Henry Kuttner, Isaac Asimov, Clifford D. Simak, Eric Frank Russell, Robert Bloch, and Robert W. Chambers. The stories within originally appeared between 1899 and 1953, in Wonder Stories, Super Science Stories, Astonishing Stories, Science-Fiction Plus, Universe Science Fiction, and other fine venues. They include the first reprint of Asimov’s “Half-Breed,” written when he was 19 years old, and Robert W. Chambers science fiction story “In Search of the Unknown.”

The stories are packaged in a 206-page paperback with a gonzo wraparound cover featuring cartoon characters on a gloriously colorful alien landscape. The artist, tragically, is unknown. The editors offer a chatty two-page introduction in which they wonder aloud why none of these stories have been reprinted, and tell us a bit about each one to whet our appetite. Here’s the complete intro.

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Bob’s Books: “Fast, Loose Money” by John D. MacDonald

Monday, January 6th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

MacDonald_EndTigerCover2EDITEDJohn D. MacDonald broke in near the end of the Pulp Era, writing for science fiction and mystery magazines. He appeared in Dime Detective his first year of writing, and made it into Black Mask the next. Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw became his agent after the legendary editor left the magazine. He quickly became a staple for Fawcett Gold Medal’s paperback origscoinal novels, while still writing short stories, including for slicks like Redbook and Cosmopolitan. With seven stories in 1958 (the same as in 1957), Macdonald effectively ended his run as a short story writer and shifted almost completely to novelist.  He would only write that many short stories in a year twice more for the rest of his life.

The last story published in 1958 was “The Fast, Loose Money,” in the July issue of Cosmopolitan. It was included in the 1966 collection, End of the Tiger and Other Stories. One of the fourteen other stories in that book is “The Trap of Solid Gold,” which I think is one of his best; and which Steve Scott used to name his blog – the best John D. MacDonald site on the web. You can read Steve’s two-part essay on MacDonald’s Park Falkner, here.

At eleven pages of tightly spaced small print, it’s a little longer than almost every other story in the book.

During World War II, MacDonald was an ordnance officer in the India-China-Burma Theater, working in procurement. He was initially assigned to New Delhi, and he did not like India, writing over forty years later, that it “was a sorry country, full of sorry people.”

He was transferred to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which became the CIA. He worked out of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Burma, and China. MacDonald would use his experiences and knowledge of his wartime service in the Far East, in several of his short stories. 1958’s “Taint of the Tiger” was expanded into a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback, Soft Touch. Another ‘war-roots’ story from that year is “Fast, Loose Money.”

Something has gone very wrong in Jerry Thompson’s day. Jerry owns three parking lots in a nearby city. He and his wife Marie live well enough off of them, but as he says, “If you play by the rules, you’re a sucker.” So, Jerry had been using a duplicate ticket scheme to grab some off-the-book income, totaling about $26,000, which he kept at home in a wall safe, and spent low-key, to avoid the danger of getting caught.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Ten

Friday, January 3rd, 2020 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

MOKF 44Master of Kung Fu #44 kicks off an eight-part story arc that builds upon the events of the series’ preceding six issues while also serving as the culmination of the ongoing storyline involving Shang-Chi’s father Fu Manchu and sister Fah lo Suee and their decades-long battle for control of the Si-Fan. Marvel approved a six-part story with some reluctance, but the team of writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy were making the series one of Marvel’s very best of the 1970s and had the clout to push boundaries further so long as sales and critical recognition continued. Of course, the first thing the two men did was plot a prelude and epilogue which extended the story from six chapters to eight. The results are both more and less than what one might reasonably expect, though they certainly succeed in terms of ambition and scope.

The principal difference in quality is Gulacy’s art. While never disappointing, he simply fails to match the standard of the previous five issues he illustrated. The challenge of maintaining such a high standard month after month was wearing and would result in Gulacy’s decision to leave the series that had brought him such acclaim. Likewise, Moench remained one of Marvel’s most overworked writers and despite the care he took in structuring the story, it was inevitable that moments appeared rushed and even underwritten. It was never a question of Moench’s skills, simply that he also could not maintain the same high level of quality writing when juggling so many titles each month.

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Sixty Years of Lunar Anthologies

Saturday, December 28th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Men on the Moon-small The Moon Era-small Blue Moon-small

Men on the Moon (Ace, 1958, cover by Emsh), The Moon Era (Curtis Books, 1969), Blue Moon (Mayflower, 1970, Josh Kirby)

This past July was the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing — a pretty major milestone in human civilization. A major milestone for science fiction fans as well, and we celebrated it in our own way. Most notably, Neil Clarke published The Eagle Has Landed: 50 Years of Lunar Science Fiction, a fat 570-page reprint anthology that I finally bought last week.

Neil’s book is the best moon-centered anthology I’ve ever seen, but it builds on a long history of classic SF volumes dating back at least six decades. While I was preparing a New Treasures article about it I kept going back to look at favorite moon books in my collection, and eventually I got the idea to craft a longer piece on half a dozen Lunar anthologies that all deserved a look.

I don’t mean to slight Neil’s excellent book, which we’ll dig into in detail. But if you’re like me and you can’t pick up a modern book about the moon without thinking of Donald A. Wollheim’s Ace Double Men on the Moon (from 1958), or Mike Ashley’s terrific Moonrise: The Golden Era of Lunar Adventures, then this article is for you.

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Back to the Books for the Theater of the Mind

Friday, December 20th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Johnny Dollar tradeI came to Old Time Radio late in life. My parents were born in 1940 and 1942, respectively. They remembered radio shows from their childhood, but the advent of television made more of an impact on them. During my teen years, one of our local UHF stations briefly picked up reruns of the jazz noir detective series Peter Gunn (1958-1961) in the mid-1980s and I was instantly hooked. A set of Peter Gunn episodes on VHS followed in 1989 from Rhino Records. Before long, I was hunting for Henry Kane’s well-written paperback tie-in and the goofy Dell Comic (where Pete tracks down villains trafficking in counterfeit collectible postage stamps). 2002 would bring the first DVD sets of Peter Gunn. By the time the entire series was on DVD, so was its companion series, Mr. Lucky (1959-1960); and then I discovered the imitation series, Johnny Staccato (1959-1960) which successfully blended concepts from both series before adding a healthy dose of angst-ridden method acting to the mix.

I couldn’t stop there of course, not with gray market sets of Peter Gunn‘s progenitor, Richard Diamond (1957-1960) and Mr. Lucky‘s successor, Dante (1960-1961) circulating among collectors. Eventually, I discovered a terrific, but nearly forgotten television adventure series, Hong Kong (1960-1961) and reached back to find Dante had actually preceded Mr. Lucky via an earlier series, Dante’s Inferno (1956). Having reached the end of the line for the uniquely sophisticated and stylish Golden Age of Television detective and adventure series that appealed most to me, I decided to venture into the largely unknown waters of Old Time Radio.

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Vintage Treasures: The Astounding-Analog Reader edited by Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss

Saturday, December 14th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Astounding Analog Reader Volume 1-small The Astounding Analog Reader Volume 2-small

The Astounding-Analog Reader (Sphere 1972 and 1973). Covers by unknown (left) and Chris Foss (right)

I used to scoff at the idea of online bookstores. How will you browse for books?, I demanded to know. You’ll never replace that wonderful moment of discovery, of serendipity, finding a treasure you weren’t looking for, which happens all the time in great bookstores.

Of course, these days I find books online all the time. I’m a huge fan of Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss’s top-notch science fiction anthologies, like the long-running The Year’s Best SF series and Farewell Fantastic Venus! But I had no idea they’d collaborated on a two-volume collection of Golden Age pulp SF, The Astounding-Analog Reader, until I stumbled on a copy of the second volume on eBay a few weeks ago. I tracked down the first one, ordered both, and have been dipping into them ever since they arrived.

The Astounding-Analog Reader is a fantastic assortment of (generally longer) fiction from the pages of Astounding, circa 1937 — 1946. It was originally published in hardcover as The Astounding-Analog Reader, Volume 1 by Doubleday in 1972, and reprinted in paperback in the UK by Sphere as The Astounding-Analog Reader, Book 1 and Book 2 in October 1973. It has never has a paperback edition in the US.

The editors completed the series a year later with The Astounding-Analog Reader, Volume 2 (Doubleday, 1973), which contained stories from 1947-1965. That volume has never had a paperback edition, which makes me sad.

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