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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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis goes West(ern)

Monday, December 9th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Davis_DeadMansBrandEDITED

You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Wasn’t sure what to write about this morning. I went on a mini Sword and Sandals kick and recently finished Scott Oden’s Men of Bronze, and Howard Andrew Jones’ Desert of Souls (reviews coming, time willing). I’ve played a lot of Conan Exiles the past few months (when I could) and I definitely want to do a post on that. It’s Minecraft on Steroids (now THERE’S a post title!). My Game Night group dug into Shadows of Brimstone earlier this year and that was a lot of fun (not as brutal as Descent). And my son and I are revisiting Star Wars Destiny (a neat card/dice game).

I’ve continued to work on what I hope will be the definitive Max Latin (Norbert Davis) essay. Though, to be honest, there isn’t really much competition for that honorific. His Latin stories are even more woefully neglected than Davis himself is. Being in a Davis mood, I decided to get Black Dog Books’ Dead Man’s Brand. Davis is best known for his screwball hardboiled comedies (a style that didn’t get him many sales to Cap Shaw, famed editor of Black Mask).

But he wrote for several pulp genres, as well as for the higher-paying slicks. This collection includes eight solid westerns from the pulps, including Dime Western Magazine and Star Western. There’s a good introduction by Bill Pronzini, and in the afterword, Ed Hulse talks about the lone movie adapted from a Davis story (there’s further proof of the under-valuing of Davis’ work).

Maybe I can talk James Reasoner or Duane Spurlock into doing a much better essay on Davis’ westerns than I could possibly ever hope to write, but I’m just going to talk about the first story: “A Gunsmoke Case for Major Cain,” which appeared in Dime Western in October, 1940.

We don’t learn all the details right away, but the story opens with a young girl named Missy trying to crawl under a covered wagon while her drunken uncle (Pops Reese) whips her with a quirt (a short-handled riding whip with a braided leather lash). The coffee she gave him was too hot and burned his tongue. That’s the kind of guy he is. Well, that, and he’s taking her to the town of Cranston to sell her to the local boss – presumably to become a whore in his saloon.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Forry Award: C. L. Moore

Saturday, December 7th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Astounding Science Fiction Judgment Night August 1943-small

Astounding Science Fiction August 1943,
containing “Judgment Night” by C.L. Moore

The Los Angeles Science Fiction Society (LASFS) began presenting the Forry Award in 1966 for Lifetime Achievement in Science Fiction. The first award went to Ray Bradbury, who, besides his towering achievements in SF, was a prominent member of LASFS. Over the years, the list of Forry Award winners is a curious mix of the obvious (Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Fritz Leiber, Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, A. E. Van Vogt, Ursula K. Le Guin, Lois McMaster Bujold, etc.), with those whose accomplishments are not as writers but still seem significant (Mike Glyer, Chuck Jones, Fred Patten, Ray Harryhausen), and with those whose importance I have probably unforgivably missed (Charles Lee Jackson II, Len Moffat, John de Chancie.)

The 2002 award went to the award’s namesake, Forrest J. Ackerman. Here I will confess a personal bias… If awards like the Campbell and the Tiptree are going to have their names changed, can the Forry Award retain its name for long? Some of my bias is undoubtedly unfair: I think Ackerman’s taste in science fiction was appalling. But that’s just “taste”, and surely he can be forgiven that, and his enthusiasm for the type of SF he loved was no doubt real. But his ethics as an agent, for one, were distressing. But much more seriously, there are credible accusations of sexual harassment and abuse of women fans, and indeed very young women, at least as young as 13. I can’t but feel icky about the worship some express towards him, and while I’m opposed to changing the name of the Tiptree Award, and ambivalent about changing the names of the Campbell Awards, it seems to me that the Forry Award (justified as it may be by Ackerman’s strong association with LASFS) is right out.

But that doesn’t mean the Forry Award winners (Ackerman himself excepted) should be thrown out with the bathwater. And the 1973 winner, C. L. Moore, qualifies as one of the “obviously worthy” winners.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Nine

Friday, December 6th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Master_of_Kung_Fu_Annual_Vol_1_1Master of Kung Fu Annual #1 was a reworking of what would have been Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #5 had Marvel’s short-lived line of quarterly publications not been prematurely discontinued. As it stands it was the only King-Size Annual Marvel published for the series. Marvel Annuals were generally a mixed bag and this is no exception. A few select ones offered truly special longer stories which were a delight for loyal readers, but most were either hurriedly produced or generally disappointing tryouts for aspiring Marvel writers and artists to demonstrate their handling of established properties. Master of Kung Fu Annual fell in the former category with Doug Moench and Keith Pollard tossing off Shang-Chi’s first encounter with Iron Fist.

The story itself isn’t terrible, but Shang-Chi is almost a guest star in what is essentially an Iron Fist story that is centered on the character’s origins. The visit to the otherworldly dimension that Iron Fist calls home to take on an invasion force led by a sorcerer really seems to be more of a martial arts spin on Doctor Strange. The artwork utilizes some of Steve Ditko’s interdimensional concepts, but without any of his sense of abstract wonder. I was not acquainted with Iron Fist having a mystical background and the story did nothing to make me care much either way as it was clearly knocked off quickly by the overworked Doug Moench. Like the companion magazine, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, this seemed largely a wasted opportunity. Fans of the character may be interested that there is a brief continuity reference to an ongoing storyline involving Daughters of the Dragon in the companion magazine which one suspects might have made for a more engaging crossover for Shang-Chi, although based on their crossovers in the magazine, perhaps it would have fared no better.

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Rich Horton on Poul Anderson, Frederik Pohl, and L. Sprague de Camp

Wednesday, November 27th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Worlds of If May 1963-small Turn Left at Thursday-small The Continent Makers-small

Cover art by John Pederson, Jr., Richard Powers, and Bob Pepper

I know a lot of writers, and one of the reasons I hang out on Facebook is to find out what the heck they’re all up to. For example, this morning Rich Horton left this brief but intriguing update:

For the third day in a row, I have posted a Birthday Review compendium of reviews of older short fiction from an SFWA Grand Master. In this case, it’s for L. Sprague de Camp.

I checked out his blog Strange at Ecbatan, and sure enough, Rich has had a busy week. It started Monday:

Here’s my first Birthday Review is a while. (I’ve used up most of the birthdays!) This is a pretty significant one — Poul Anderson. He’d have been 96 today. This is a collection of reviews of magazine fiction (with one very late anthology story), including two serializations of a couple of his lesser known novels. And most of the stories here are not that well known either.

In a lengthy post, Rich reviewed 16 Anderson pieces from Super Science Stories, Worlds Beyond, Planet Stories, Space Science Fiction, Science Fiction Adventures, Cosmos, Galaxy, and many more. Here’s his thoughts on Anderson’s cover story for the May 1963 issue of Worlds of If (above left).

“Turning Point” is a neat little story. Kind of Cargo Cult in reverse. Humans come to an isolated alien planet, where the people apparently live primitive lives. But it turns out they are incredible geniuses, who simply never had the spur to develop technology. Once they see human tech, all bets are off.

Read Rich’s complete tribute to Poul Anderson here. Next up was the centenary of Frederik Pohl’s birth, which Rich celebrated with another lengthy review survey yesterday.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 First Fandom Award: Clifford D. Simak

Saturday, November 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Simak city permabooks-small Simak Way Station-small Cemetery World Simak-small

First Fandom was organized in 1959 to celebrate those who had been active science fiction fans since 1938, that is, “before the Golden Age.” (Some define true “first fandom” as dating to 1936 and before.) One of the founders, and first president, was Robert Madle, who is still alive, approaching his 100th birthday.

Beginning in 1963, a First Fandom Hall of Fame Award was instituted, given to a fan active prior to 1938 who was deemed to have given great service to fandom. Over time, as fans of that vintage became rarer, two categories were established: Dinosaurs, who had to have been active prior to the first Worldcon, in 1939; and Associate Members, who have to have been active for at least 30 years. The Hall of Fame Award can be given to anyone active in fandom for at least 30 years.

At the 1973 Worldcon, the First Fandom Hall of Fame winner was Clifford D. Simak. Simak (1904-1988) was born in rural Millville, WI, and much of his fiction reflected that “pastoral” background. His primary career was as a journalist, and he worked for the Minneapolis Star beginning in 1929, retiring only in 1976. He began publishing SF in 1931 with “The World of the Red Sun” in the December Wonder Stories. Simak’s early pulp fiction (which included some Westerns as well as SF) was fairly minor, but he started to make a mark writing for John W. Campbell’s Astounding beginning in 1938. His novel City (1952), a fixup of a number of 1940s stories, won the International Fantasy Award. He won three Hugos, most notably for the 1963 novel Way Station, but also for “Grotto of the Dancing Deer” as late as 1981. He also won a Nebula, and his story “The Big Front Yard,” another Hugo winner, appears in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume IIB. His last novel, Highway of Eternity, was published when he was 82.

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Lost Classics of the Pulps: Guy Boothby’s The Curse of the Snake

Friday, November 22nd, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Curse of the SnakeThe Curse of the Snake is the Guy Boothby title I have been waiting years to read. I previously covered the five books in his Dr. Nikola series as well as his 1899 novel, Pharos the Egyptian for Black Gate. Boothby is an author whose works have fallen into relative obscurity, but his influence was quite pervasive. A contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker, he turned out works that stand up well against their more celebrated efforts. Most importantly, the influence of Dr. Nikola is felt heavily upon Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series and the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Boothby’s great flaw was that he was a prolific author of serialized novels who made no effort to correct inconsistencies when his works were published in book form. This hurt his reputation and, along with the speed with which he produced new works, unfairly suggested he was little more than a hack.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Will Murray on The Spider

Monday, November 11th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Murray_SpiderdoomLegionEDITED“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

You know, of course, that Will Murray carried on the adventure tales of the Doc Savage – because you read about it here!  Will is also carrying on the adventures of another legendary pulp figure – The Shadow.  So, he’s making another guest post here in the series. Read on for: Secret Origins of the Spider.

I have to confess that writing The Spider is a completely different experience for me than writing the Wild Adventures of Doc Savage, Tarzan, John Carter, or any of the other classic pulp heroes I’ve been privileged to bring back to life in new novels.

With these other pulp heroes, it’s largely a matter of concocting a logical plot and having the heroes go through their customary pieces, although I seem to have quickly become an accidental king of crossovers since I’ve managed to convince the various license holders to permit me to have a few of them collide, such as Doc Savage and The Shadow, Tarzan of the Apes and King Kong. Most recently, the Spider encountered both Jimmy Christopher of Operator #5 magazine fame and G-8, but without his Battle Aces in my first Spider novel, The Doom Legion. So some of their customary paces are not so customary.

When I acquired a license to the Spider a few years ago, I asked the late Joel Frieman of Argosy Communications about a mystery that had vexed me for a long time. Namely, why did Canadian novelist R.T.M. Scott write only the first two Spider novels, and then give way to Norvell W. Page, who worked under the house name of Grant Stockbridge?

Joel knew Popular Publications founder Harry Steeger and got the answer from him.

Watching the phenomenal sales growth of Street & Smith’s Shadow Magazine, he naturally itched to produce something in that emerging category. But Steeger didn’t want to get sued. So he conferred with his attorney and asked, essentially, how do we do something like The Shadow and not risk an expensive lawsuit?

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The Return of The Thing: Frozen Hell by John W. Campbell

Saturday, November 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Frozen Hell John W Campbell-back-small Frozen Hell John W Campbell-small

Cover by Bob Eggleton

Several years ago, while researching his groundbreaking book Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction (which Thomas Parker reviewed for us here), Alec Nevala-Lee found a yellowing letter from John W. Campbell that mentioned he’d donated his papers to Harvard Library. Alec tracked them down, and inside a carton in an offsite storage facility he made a major discovery: the original uncut version of “Who Goes There?”, which Alec calls “The greatest science fiction horror story of all time.” Last year John Gregory Betancourt of Wildside Press launched a hugely successful Kickstarter to publish it (raising $155,366 on a $1,000 goal), and the book appeared last month. Here’s John’s Kickstarter description.

In 1938, acclaimed science fiction author John W. Campbell published the novella “Who Goes There?,” about a team of scientists in Antarctica who discover and are terrorized by a monstrous, shape-shifting alien entity. The story would later be adapted into John Carpenter’s iconic movie The Thing (following an earlier film adaptation in 1951). The published novella was actually an abridged version of Campbell’s original story, called “Frozen Hell,” which had to be shortened for publication. The “Frozen Hell” manuscript remained unknown and unpublished for decades, and it was only recently rediscovered. “Frozen Hell” expands the Thing story dramatically, giving vital backstory and context to an already incredible tale. We are pleased and honored to offer Frozen Hell to you now, as Campbell intended it.

Frozen Hell will include a preface written by Alec Nevala-Lee, who rediscovered the “Frozen Hell” manuscript while doing research for his upcoming book Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction (Dey Street Books).

This is a highly anticipated book, and for good reason. I don’t know if the post-Worldcon negative publicity around John W. Campbell will impact sales at all, but I’m certainly still interested, and I know I’m not the only one. Frozen Hell was published by Wildside Press on October 8, 2019. It is 158 pages, priced at $15 in trade paperback and $6.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Bob Eggleton.

See all of our recent New Treasures here.


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