Vintage Treasures: Solomon Kane 1: Skulls in the Stars by Robert E. Howard

Saturday, February 10th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Solomon Kane 1 Skulls in the Stars-back-small Solomon Kane 1 Skulls in the Stars-small

I’m treading a little on Bob Byrne’s territory with this lengthy post, so I hope he’ll forgive me.

The first Robert E. Howard character I discovered wasn’t Conan, but Solomon Kane. The story was “Skulls in the Stars,” originally published in the January 1929 issue of Weird Tales, and which I read in the 1969 Centaur Press collection The Moon of Skulls. Kane is about to cross a great moor when a lad from the village he’s just left races up behind him, urging him to take the longer swamp road instead. When pressed, the boy tells him why.

“It is death to walk those moors by night, as hath been found by some score of unfortunates. Some foul horror haunts the way and claims men for his victims.”

“So? And what is this thing like?”

“No man knows. None has ever seen it and lived, but late-farers have heard terrible laughter far out on the fen and men have heard the horrid shrieks of its victims.”

Well of course, that just serves to fire up our doughty hero (“A strong man is needed to combat Satan and his might. Therefore I go.”) And go he doth, right out onto the moor with the creepy horror and everything.

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Unbound Worlds on a Century of Sword and Planet

Friday, February 2nd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

A Princess of Mars Penguin Classics-small Planet of Adventure Jack Vance-small Old Venus-small

Who doesn’t love Sword & Planet? No, don’t send me a bunch of declarative e-mail; it was a rhetorical question. Anyway, there’s only one kind of person who doesn’t love Sword & Planet: someone with no joy in their life.

But it’s perfectly okay to not know where to start. Despite celebrating its 100th birthday last year, Sword & Planet is not as popular as its sister genres (Sword & Sorcery, Sword & Six-Gun, Sword and Sandal, Sword & Sextant, Sword & Slupree….). And that’s okay, we love it just the same. But what is Sword & Planet? Matt Staggs does a fine job recapping the rich history of this venerable sub-genre at Unbound Worlds.

Mash together fantasy’s sword-swinging heroes, and the far-out alien civilizations of early science-fiction, and you’ve got Sword and Planet fiction. Arguably the brainchild of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sword and Planet tales usually features human protagonists adventuring on a planet teeming with life, intelligent or otherwise. Science takes a backseat to romance and derring-do… Where Sword and Planet can really be seen today is in the influence it has had on popular culture. The lightsabers, blasters, and planet-hopping heroics of Star Wars probably wouldn’t exist were it not for Sword and Planet. Neither would Avatar or Stargate.

Interested? Matt also recommends some classic titles by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jack Vance, Leigh Brackett, Kenneth Bulmer, Chris Roberson, and others. Here’s a few of his recs.

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Short Sharp Adventures: World of the Masterminds / To the End of Time and Other Short Stories by Robert Moore Williams

Monday, January 29th, 2018 | Posted by Tony Den

World of the Masterminds-small To the End of Time and Other Stories-small

At the very top of my Books to Read shelf I have a slowly growing collection of Ace Doubles. I usually work my way forward numerically, starting with the D series, but will occasionally jump back a few if a new addition arrives. Thanks to this habit (and some other haphazard literary tastes) I am still, pleasantly, stuck within the Ace Double D range.

The next one in the schedule is a well preserved book with both sides by the same author, Robert Moore Williams. Ace Double D-427 comprises a “complete” novel, World of the Masterminds, and a collection of short stories, To the End of Time and Other Stories.

Robert Moore Williams wasn’t an author I was familiar with, although Black Gate readers will have encountered the odd mention of him, including a 2015 review by Rich Horton of the Ace Double The Star Wasps by Robert Moore Williams, paired with Warlord of Kor by Terry Carr.

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Horrors, Marvels, Gods and Demons: C.L. Moore’s Tales of Northwest Smith

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Northwest of Earth-small Northwest Smith Ace-small Northwest of Earth Planet Stories-small

As Steven Silver has already noted, today is C.L. Moore’s birthday. To celebrate Steven reviewed “Lost Paradise,” from the July 1936 Weird Tales, “one of her stories featuring her space-faring rogue Northwest Smith… essentially a bar story with a twist.”

Northwest Smith is one of the enduring serial characters C.L. Moore created for Weird Tales (the other was Jirel of Jorey) — and I do mean enduring. The tales of this “space-faring rogue” have been collected multiple times, and over 80 years later they are still in print. It’s pretty clear that George Lucas, a noted fan of Planet Stories and other SF pulps, drew on Smith as his inspiration for Han Solo, as the two characters are cut from the same cloth.

Over at, Alan Brown has a more detailed look at C.L. Moore’s Northwest Smith tales, which have been reprinted in a number of highly collectible volumes over the years. Here’s my favorite quote.

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Birthday Reviews: C.L. Moore’s “Lost Paradise”

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Margaret Brundage

Cover by Margaret Brundage

C.L. (Catherine Lucille) Moore was born on January 24, 1911 and died on April 4, 1987. From 1940 until his death in 1958, she was married to science fiction author Henry Kuttner. The two had their own careers and also collaborated together, although they claimed that they each worked on all of the other’s stories, sitting down and continuing whatever was in the typewriter at the time. Moore (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. She received the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award in 1972, the Forry Award in 1973, and the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1981. Moore was the Guest of Honor at Denvention Two, the 1981 Worldcon in Denver. Posthumously, she was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1998 and, along with Kuttner, was named the recipient of the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award in 2004.

“Lost Paradise” is one of her stories featuring her space-faring rogue Northwest Smith and was originally published in the July 1936 issue of Weird Tales, edited by Farnsworth Wright. Moore included it in various collections, including Northwest of Earth, Shambleau, and Scarlet Dream. It has seen additional reprintings and has been translated into French and Italian.

“Lost Paradise” is essentially a bar story with a twist. Northwest Smith and his Venusian friend Yarol are enjoying a meal in New York when Yarol sees a strange man walking along the street below them. When the man is mugged, Yarol manages to retrieve the man’s package and, having recognized him as a member of a strange, secluded race, the Seles, who live in central Asia but don’t intermingle with any other peoples, he tells him that the only reward he desires is to know the great secret of the Seles.

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Birthday Reviews: Judith Merril’s “Barrier of Dread”

Sunday, January 21st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

 Cover by Earle K. Bergey

Cover by Earle K. Bergey

Judith Merril was born Judith Grossman on January 21, 1923 and died on September 12, 1997. She adopted the pseudonym Judith Merril for her writing. Merril received an Aurora Award in 1983 for Lifetime Contributions to the field and a second Aurora Award in 1986 for Lifetime Achievement in Editing. She was the subject of the non-fiction book Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril, written by her granddaughter, Emily Pohl-Weary, which won the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Related Work.

In addition to her writing career and her activities as an editor, Merril founded the Spaced Out Library in Toronto, now the Merril Collection of Science Fiction. In addition to her own writing, Merril collaborated with C.M. Kornbluth, publishing work under the joint pseudonym Cyril Judd. She was married twice, first to Dan Zissman, and later to science fiction author Frederik Pohl.

“Barrier of Dread” was originally published in the July-August 1950 issue of Future Combined with Science Fiction Stories and was later picked up by Martin Greenberg for his Gnome Press anthology Journey to Infinity. It also appeared in Selected Science Fiction Magazine issue 5 in 1955. It was next reprinted in Homecalling and Other Stories: The Complete Solo Short SF of Judith Merril, published by NESFA Press.

In “Barrier of Dread,” Merril posits a future which seems to have been popular among mid-twentieth century authors: A galactic-spanning empire in which humans have complete luxury while robots and automata do all the hard work. As Managing Director Dangret is preparing to open up a new galaxy for human colonization, his wife, the artist Sarise makes an offhand comment about the speed with which new galaxies are being opened.

Despite his lofty title, it appears that Dangret has plenty of time on his hands because his niggling concerns at his wife’s comment leads him to lock himself away for several hours watching a history of humanity, which gives Merril a chance to provide the background for this world to her reader.

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Birthday Reviews: Nat Schachner’s “Ancestral Voices”

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Howard V. Brown

Cover by Howard V. Brown

Nat Schachner was born on January 16, 1895 and died on October 2, 1955. Schachner was an attorney who began writing in collaboration with fellow attorney Arthur Zagat. After about a year working together, each man began writing solo, but after publishing science fiction for a decade, Schachner turned his attention towards biographies, focusing on early Americans.

“Ancestral Voices” was a solo effort published by F. Orlin Tremaine in the December 1933 issue of Astounding Stories.It has never been reprinted in English, although a French translation appeared in 1973 and an Italian translation ten years later.

Schachner opens “Ancestral Voices” with a brief look at several people for whom their ancestry helps define who they are in a very basic way, from a Hitlerian dictator of “Mideuropa” (although Hitler is also mentioned) to the crème-de-la-crème of Boston society, to an accountant who is convinced of his superiority over his boss because he is Anglo-Saxon rather than Spanish. Schachner also posits a boxing match between an Aryan champion, Hans Schilling and a Jewish challenger, Max Bernstein, clear stand-ins for Max Schmeling and Max Baer, who fought in the year the story was published.

The main thrust of the story, however, is the arrogant scientist Emmet Pennypacker, who has created a time machine. Denying his assistant any part of the glory, Pennypacker travels backwards in time, without knowing when or where he’ll wind up. To his chagrin, he finds himself in Aquileia during the Hunnic attack of July 18, 452. Unable to return to his own time until the machine is ready to take him there, he winds up rescuing a Roman girl from her Hun rapist.

Although the idea of going back in time and stopping your parent from being born has become cliché, that is the scenario Schachner wrote. However, given the fifteen centuries that separated Pennypacker from his distant forebears, it means he eradicated the common ancestor of about 50,000 people living in the Twentieth Century.

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War Eternal: Beyond the Farthest Star by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Saturday, January 13th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

beyond-farthest-star-ace-frazetta-coverIn 1940, Edgar Rice Burroughs created his final new adventure setting, the extrasolar planet Poloda. For the first time in a career that had ignited pulp science fiction back in 1912, Burroughs pushed beyond the solar system to the region of pure speculation. But what he discovered four hundred and fifty thousand light-years from Earth wasn’t an E. E. Smith space opera, or even an old-fashioned romp on a weird planet of monsters and savage humanoid tribes. Against the grain of its romanticized title, the incomplete short novel Beyond the Farthest Star isn’t an escapist tale, but a bleak meditation on a world mired in unending warfare. The title makes you anticipate Star Wars. Instead you find just Wars.

This is a stark work. It offers no illusions. There’s a dash of humor and some winking satire, but the overwhelming sensation of Beyond the Farthest Star is resignation to carnage. There are no valiant heroes on Poloda who become beacons for others to follow. There are only stalwart soldiers who fall in line to fight the fight, whatever it may be, and die in numbers tabulated by the hundreds of thousands.

We’re used to Edgar Rice Burroughs as a master of sweeping adventure in worlds where fighting means hope. It’s a shock to see him sitting glumly among the ruins of hope, waiting for the next wave of barbarians. Looking at Poloda from the perspective of the twenty-first century is to see a prophetic futurist emerging in Old Man Burroughs. The story the Old Man tells is not much fun. But it’s enthralling — and there’s nothing else like it in the ERB canon, even among the strange evolutions his work took during his last decade.

As with Savage Pellucidar and its sister books set on Mars and Venus, the Poloda novellas were planned to form a connected sequence for later hardcover publication. Part I, “Beyond the Farthest Star,” was written in October 1940 over twelve days, and Part II, “Tangor Returns,” was finished in December in five days. “Beyond the Farthest Star” appeared in the January 1942 issue of Blue Book, but Burroughs never submitted Part II for publication, probably because he scrapped the series after starting work as a war correspondent. “Tangor Returns” wasn’t discovered until thirteen years after Burroughs’s death. It was published along with “Beyond the Farthest Star” in the 1964 Canaveral Press omnibus Tales from Three Planets. Ace Books later released a paperback of the unfinished Poloda saga as Beyond the Farthest Star, with the first novella retitled “Adventure on Poloda.”

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Birthday Reviews: Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Maze of Maal Dweb”

Saturday, January 13th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover of Double Shadow, artist unknown.

Cover of Double Shadow, artist unknown.

Clark Ashton Smith was born on January 13, 1893 and died on August 14, 1961. Along with H.P. Lovecraft, he was one of the major authors at Weird Tales, writing stories which were similar to the dark fantasies Lovecraft wrote.

Smith maintained a correspondence with Lovecraft for the last 15 years of Lovecraft’s life. While Lovecraft wrote about Cthulhu, Smith wrote about the far future Zothique. Smith was named the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award winner in 2015.

“The Maze of Maal Dweb” first appeared in a limited edition chapbook, The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies, published by Smith in 1933. A the time the story was called “The Maze of the Enchanter.” It received its first general publication, and under its better known title, in the October 1938 issue of Weird Tales, edited by Farnsworth Wright.

Smith included it in his 1944 collection Lost Worlds and it has frequently been reprinted since, including translations into Dutch, German, French, and Italian. Maal Dweb also appeared in Smith’s story “The Flower-Women.”

“The Maze of Maal Dweb” has Tiglari working his way through a swamp to retrieve his beloved, Athlé, from the titular lord of the solar system. Despite Maal Dweb’s palace being impregnable, Tiglari has somehow managed to acquire knowledge of the dangers that lie within, so he can arm himself appropriately for his quest.

Similarly unexamined is how Maal Dweb, a recluse who is never seen by anyone except the women he orders sent to him, can successfully rule his vast domains. Similarly, the palace is seemingly unpopulated except by the petrified forms of Maal Dweb’s previous victims. Rather than a living home in which to live, Maal Dweb sits like bait in his trap, waiting for doomed adventurers to come to him.

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Heroic Signatures: REH Digital Rights Part of $10 Million Deal

Monday, December 18th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne


Funcom is the developer of the Age of Conan (AoC) MMORPG. They’ve currently got a resource/action RPG, Conan: Exiles, in beta, scheduled for a May, 2018 release. I’ve played quite a few hours of AoC and think it’s a very good MMO, mixing elements from Robert E. Howard’s original stories and some of the pastiches. I haven’t tried Exiles yet.

Cabinet Group LLC owns the rights to Robert E. Howard’s non-public domain works. Cabinet Group and Funcom each will own 50% of a new venture entitled Heroic Signatures. Heroic Signatures will control the interactive (gaming) rights to 29 properties — most of them based on the works of Robert E. Howard. REH characters and stories included are:

Conan, Solomon Kane, El Borak,  Dark Agnes, “Children of the Night,” Bran Mark (yes, they spelled it incorrectly!) Morn, James Allison, Cormac Mac Art, Black Turlogh, Kirby O’Donnell, Cormac Fitzgeoffrey, Steve Harrison, “Black Canaan,” Almuric, Steve Costigan, “The Black Stone,” “The Fire of Asshurbanipal,” “The Cairn of the Headland,” “The Horror from the Mound,” “The Dead Remember” and “Pigeons from Hell.”

The announcement said that Funcom will be focusing on partnerships and third party developers, indicating they want to license the properties to get games made. Funcom isn’t a mass-producer, so this may well be a way to leverage the REH property. As part of this move, Funcom got a $10.6 million investment from a Swedish company.

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