Vintage Treasures: Farewell Fantastic Venus! edited by Brian W. Aldiss with Harry Harrison

Friday, December 15th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Farewell Fantastic Venus!-small Farewell Fantastic Venus!-back-small

One of the things I love about pulp SF is its romanticized view of our solar system. The ancient canals and lost cities of Mars, the steaming dinosaur-ridden swamps of Venus. I can still remember the bitter disappointment I felt when I first learned that science had proven Venus completely inhospitable to life. It felt like the solar system had been robbed of its greatest potential for extra-planetary adventure.

Many SF writers felt very much the same way. Two recent anthologies from Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin, Old Mars and Old Venus, have done a splendid job re-capturing some of that old pulp magic with a generous sampling of modern tales set in retro-versions of both planets.

But they weren’t the first books to celebrate a cherished (and now obsolete) vision of our solar system. That honor probably goes to Farewell Fantastic Venus!, a 1968 anthology released shortly after the first probes reached Venus, and the hard truth was revealed. The book contains classic Venusian fiction by Arthur C. Clarke and John & Dorothy de Courcy, and two novellas by Poul Anderson, including a Psychotechnic League tale. There’s also a rich sampling of novel excerpts by Olaf Stapledon, Edgar Rice Burroughs, C. S. Lewis, and others. All that plus science articles by Frank R. Paul, Carl Sagan, Sir Bernard Lovell, Willy Ley, and others.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Cthulhu Casebooks (Vol 2) & The Thinking Engine

Monday, December 11th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Lovegrove_MiskatonicLast December I wrote about Sherlock Holmes & the Shadwell Shadows, volume one of James Lovegrove’s Cthulhu Casebooks trilogy. And this December, it’s on to book two, Sherlock Holmes and the Miskatonic Monstrosities. I wasn’t quite as fond of the second installment, though not because it’s a bad book.

As I wrote in that first review:

The basic premise of the… trilogy is that Watson made up the sixty stories in the Canon. He did so to cover up the real truth behind Holmes’ work. And that’s because the truth is too horrible to reveal. In a nutshell, Watson has written three journals, each covering events fifteen years apart, to try and get some of the darkness out of his soul.

The darkness exists because Holmes, with Watsons’s assistance, waged a career-long war with the otherworld beings of the Cthulhu mythos.

Somewhere in another Black Gate post, I calculated the percentage that Holmes is absent in each of the four novellas which Doyle wrote featuring the great detective. Lovegrove chose to use that novella model and it’s my biggest complaint about the book. Holmes and Watson find a journal and read it. It reminds me of the Mormon interlude in A Study in Scarlet and it takes up thirty-five percent of the book.

Fully one-third of this novel has nothing to do with Holmes or Watson. It provides background to the mystery, but it could be a standalone story and it would have no more tie-in to Holmes than an account of my going out to lunch yesterday.

The flashback takes place in Arkham and it is essentially a Cthulhu short novella. Lovegrove got to write a Lovecraft pastiche within a Holmes pastiche. Of course, these three books are aimed at fans of the Cthulhu stories, so it’s not totally out there. I’ve read stories by Lovecraft, Derleth and others. I don’t mind them, but I’m not a particularly big fan. So, I’m not the target audience for the trilogy.

Those who are avid Holmes and Cthulhu fans are likely to enjoy this second book more than I did. But the fact is that this was a third of the book with no Holmes and/or Watson.

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My All-Story Story, or, A Tale of Tarzan (Not Triumphant)

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017 | Posted by Doug Ellis

all story 1912 10 uk edition modified-small

Those who know me well are aware that I’m not a morning person (to put it mildly). Accordingly, they’d be shocked to learn that not only did I get up on Saturday, November 25th morning at 5:00 a.m., I did so voluntarily and eagerly! As collectors will attest, however, no price – even missing hours of delightful sleep! – is too great to pay in the pursuit of one of your collecting grails. Of course, it’s much more gratifying when the pursuit pays off. Unfortunately for me, it did not. Even so, I’m glad I got up to give it a shot.

About a week ago, I learned that an auction house in England would be auctioning off a copy of the October 1912 issue of The All-Story, which features Edgar Rice Burroughs’ complete novel, Tarzan of the Apes. All other things being equal in terms of condition, that issue is the most valuable of all the pulp magazines (the nicest copy I’m aware of having sold at auction, in fine condition, sold over a decade ago for nearly $60,000). This auction house clearly had no idea of its value, as their pre-sale estimate was between 20 and 40 pounds! A decent copy of this pulp has been my number one pulp grail for decades, and I hoped that this one would slip through the collecting cracks on its way to me. The auction house only had one photo of it online, and I couldn’t obtain any other photos of it, so condition was a bit of a guess, which complicated bidding. The front cover had some overall wear, but generally looked decent, but I had no clue on the condition of the spine, back cover or paper. See the photo above.

What made this particularly interesting was that it was the British edition of The All-Story, rather than the American edition. For a period of time in the teens (and I think going back a little earlier than that), The All-Story was also published in Britain, with the same cover date as the American edition. The covers noted that the price was Six Pence, rather than Ten Cents, and I believe the ads were different, but the fiction content was the same. I assume that the British edition was published at least a few days later than the American edition (the October 1912 American edition actually went on sale on September 10, 1912), but I don’t know how much of a delay there was. My guess is that it was later than the American edition, so technically this was not the first printing of the story, unlike the American.

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Vintage Treasures: The American Fantasy Tradition edited by Brian M. Thomsen

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The American Fantasy Tradition Brian M Thomsen-small

Brian Thomsen’s first anthology was Halflings, Hobbits, Warrows & Weefolk: A Collection of Tales of Heroes Short in Stature, a 1991 Questar paperback co-edited with Baird Searles. He followed that with more than a dozen more over the next 20 years — including The Reel Stuff (1998), Oceans of Magic (2001), and Masters of Fantasy (2004) — most co-edited with Martin H. Greenberg. He was the Senior Editor of SF and Fantasy at Warner Books and then Director of Books and Periodicals at TSR, where he wrote several Forgotten Realms novels, including Once Around the Realms (1995) and The Mage in the Iron Mask (1996).

He eventually became a Consulting Editor at Tor, where he produced in my opinion the most significant book of his career, and indeed one of the most important fantasy anthologies of the 90s: The American Fantasy Tradition, a massive 600-page hardcover surveying two centuries of American fantasy, containing stories by Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Henry James, Ambrose Bierce, Kate Chopin, Stephen Vincent Benét, Edith Wharton, Robert W. Chambers, H. P. Lovecraft, Manly Wade Wellman, Charles Beaumont, Henry Kuttner, Theodore Sturgeon, Richard Matheson, Fredric Brown, Ray Bradbury, R. A. Lafferty, Alan Dean Foster, Shirley Jackson, Avram Davidson, Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, Gene Wolfe, Karl Edward Wagner, Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Bishop, and many others.

The American Fantasy Tradition is one of the finest survey anthologies of Western fantasy ever assembled, and it would serve as a splendid textbook for any introductory course to modern fantasy. It stands with David Hartwell’s The Dark Descent, Gardner Dozois’s Modern Classics of Fantasy, and Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s The Weird as one of the essential texts of the fantasy canon.

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Remembering Frank M. Robinson’s Legendary Pulp Collection

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

William F Nolan and Franks Pulps300-small

William F. Nolan pointing at the Hammett Black Mask

Frank M. Robinson lived an incredible life. He was drafted into the navy in World War II, wrote his first novel The Power in 1956, and saw three of his books transformed into major motion pictures, including The Power (1968),  The Towering Inferno (1974), and The Fifth Missile (1986). His other novels include Blow-Out! (1987, with Thomas N. Scortia) and The Dark Beyond the Stars (1991). He wrote the Playboy Advisor column from 1969 to 1973, and played himself in the 2008 film Milk, as one of Harvey Milk’s political inner circle.

But for science fiction and fantasy collectors, Frank is chiefly known for an entirely different reason: he had one of the most valuable and complete pulp collection ever assembled. His collection was legendary for the incredible condition of most of the magazines, including some of the rarest pulps in existence. Last week Jason V. Brock posted several unseen photos of Frank’s collection on Facebook, and was kind enough to offer us high-resolution versions we could share with Black Gate readers.

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I Was Paper Trained by Philip K. Dick

Saturday, November 18th, 2017 | Posted by Thomas Parker


My oldest son Sam loves the movie Blade Runner above almost any other, and so he was at least provisionally interested when the recent and long-delayed sequel, Blade Runner 2049 hit the theaters. Myself, I didn’t care much one way or the other. I like the original movie well enough (though it’s not the touchstone for me that it seems to be for many others) but as for the sequel, well… the two hours that will forever go down in infamy as Prometheus did a lot to damage my moviegoing relationship with Ridley Scott, which was never that warm to begin with. (I know Scott was “just” the executive producer on 2049, but still. Once someone has charged you twelve dollars for the privilege of farting in your face, you don’t forget it.)

In any case, the merits of the movies are beside the point. It has long irked me, as a science fiction fan and as a father, that Sam’s enthusiasm for Blade Runner has always been untempered by any encounter with Philip K. Dick’s actual novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or indeed, with anything by the man who I regard as the greatest of all science fiction writers. Before you call Child Protective Services, please know that I didn’t fail in every way as a parent — Sam has a wife and a home and a job, he can tie his shoes and put together a coherent English sentence, he’s kind to animals and considerate to everyone he meets, at least until he finds out who they voted for, and he’s a hell of a cook. He’s a fine and productive person and my pride in him is unbounded… but really, c’mon — Phillip K. Dick!

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Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Pellucidar Saga: Series Wrap-Up

Saturday, November 18th, 2017 | Posted by Ryan Harvey


Last week I concluded my book-by-book look at Edgar Rice Burroughs’s seven novels of Pellucidar, the prehistoric world inside the Earth’s crust where the stationary sun eradicates the passage of time. The complete series consists of seven books:

Compared to Burroughs’s other two long-running science-fiction series, Mars/Barsoom and Venus/Amtor, Pellucidar is more difficult to summarize. The Venus novels were written over a short period of time during the end of Burroughs’s career and all feature the same hero, Carson Napier. There are no Venus classics, with the best (Lost on Venus) only middling and the rest ranging from bland to unreadable. The Mars series presents a vast canvas that arcs across Burroughs’s career, but it’s the most consistently high quality of any of his series, including the Tarzan novels, so it’s not too difficult to give it a broad analysis that primarily looks at changes in protagonists.

The Pellucidar books, however, present conundrums when consumed in a short period. Like Mars, Pellucidar spans the major phases of ERB’s career: success in the ‘teens, a stabilizing period in the twenties, a steepening decline throughout the thirties, a World War II revival, and a “lost” story and final volume published posthumously in the sixties. Unlike Mars, Burroughs visited Pellucidar sporadically, with a fourteen-year lapse after the first two paired novels, and later a seven-year gap.

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Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Pellucidar Saga: Savage Pellucidar

Saturday, November 11th, 2017 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

savage-pellucidar-canaveral-press-edition-coverHave we already arrived at the end of Pellucidar? It feels like I started examining this Edgar Rice Burroughs series only a few months ago — but it’s been almost a year since I drilled down to visit At the Earth’s Core. A year may have passed for me, but thirty has passed for Burroughs, and counting the time until the last unpublished novella was collected in Savage Pellucidar, the gap widens to fifty years. If you read At the Earth’s Core in the pulps as an enthusiastic thirteen-year-old, you’d be close to retirement age by the time you could buy the last book and have a complete Pellucidar set.

Wait, what am I talking about? This is Pellucidar. Time is meaningless here! I started writing this article series yesterday — or maybe a century ago, and the books were all published either over a span of one year or five hundred years. It’s all the same under the perpetual noonday sun.

Our Saga: Beneath our feet lies a realm beyond the most vivid daydreams of the fantastic … Pellucidar. A subterranean world formed along the concave curve inside the earth’s crust, surrounding an eternally stationary sun that eliminates the concept of time. A land of savage humanoids, fierce beasts, and reptilian overlords, Pellucidar is the weird stage for adventurers from the topside layer — including a certain Lord Greystoke. The series consists of six novels, one which crosses over with the Tarzan series, plus a volume of linked novellas, published between 1914 and 1963.

Today’s Installment: Savage Pellucidar (1963)

Previous Installments: At the Earth’s Core (1914), Pellucidar (1915), Tanar of Pellucidar (1929), Tarzan at the Earth’s Core (1929–30), Back to the Stone Age (1937), Land of Terror (1944)

The Backstory

I’ve told this tale before with Escape on Venus and Llana of Gathol, the sister works of Savage Pellucidar, but once more won’t hurt. At the start of the 1940s, Edgar Rice Burroughs experimented writing novels in three of his settings — Mars, Venus, and Pellucidar — as sets of four linked novellas. Each novella was capable of standing on its own but could later fit together with the other three for book publication. The idea may have been the suggestion of Cyril Ralph Rothmund, business manager for ERB Inc., who first wrote a letter to the editor of Ziff-Davis Magazines with the format proposal. It was an experiment of necessity, since the pulps were turning away from serializations as more of the weekly magazines dropped to monthly publication. Burroughs approached the three books as a round-robin, changing from one setting to the next to finish all the novellas.

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The First Three Laws of Robotics

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017 | Posted by Steve Carper

Sidney, the Screwloose Robot, illustration by Julian S. Krupa , Fantastic Adventures, June 1941

Sidney, the Screwloose Robot, illustration by
Julian S. Krupa (Fantastic Adventures, June 1941)

Who first came up with three laws of robotics? Want three guesses? Try. Isaac Asimov? No. John W. Campbell? No. William P. McGivern? Yes. William P. McGivern? That seems impossible, but there it is in black and white. “You must be industrious, you must be efficient, you must be useful. Those are the three laws that are to govern your behavior.”

McGivern was only 21 when in 1940 he became one of Ray Palmer’s house writers for Amazing and Fantastic Adventures. In-house writers, really, for he shared an office with David Wright O’Brien at the Ziff-Davis Chicago headquarters. Thirty-five of his stories appeared under various names in those two magazines in 1941, along with a picture that makes him look about twelve.

Buried deep in the June 1941 issue of Fantastic Adventures lay “Sidney, the Screwloose Robot,” part of the plague of farcical stories Palmer demanded and often titled. (Others from McGivern in 1941: “The Quandary of Quintus Quaggle,” “Al Addin and the Infra-Red Lamp,” and “Rewbarb’s Remarkable Radio”)

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in September

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The God in the Bowl-small

The top articles at Black Gate in July and August were both features on Conan, and last month Bob Byrne managed to nab the top slot with his look at a strange mash-up of police procedural and sword & sorcery, the Conan tale “The God in the Bowl.” Conan was created by Robert E. Howard in the pages of Weird Tales in 1932; 85 years later, he’s still the most popular character among our readers. That’s durability.

The second most popular article at Back Gate in September wasn’t about Conan, but it did feature a sinister cosmic entity also created in Weird Tales, this time in H.P. Lovecraft 1928 story “The Call of Cthulhu” — our report on the latest Call of Cthulhu solo module, Alone Against the Flames. At #3 was Elizabeth Crowen’s interview with popular cosplay photographer Bruce Heinsius. Fletcher Vredenburgh placed two articles in the Top Ten last month; the first was his review of Roger Zelazny’s 1983 novel Dilvish, the Damned, which placed at #4. Rounding out the Top Five was an article on famous book hoarders, “What do George Lucas, Michael Jackson, and Harry Houdini Have in Common?”

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