Birthday Reviews: Lloyd Arthur Eshbach’s “The Valley of Titans”

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Leo Morey

Cover by Leo Morey

Lloyd Arthur Eshbach was born on June 20, 1910 and died on October 29, 2003.

Eshbach founded Fantasy Press in 1946 and ran it for 9 years, publishing nearly fifty books during that time, including titles by Doc Smith, Stanley Weinbaum, Jack Williamson, A.E. van Vogt, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and others.

Eshbach’s novel The Land Beyond the Gate was nominated for the Compton Crook Stephen Tall Memorial Award. In 1988, he received the Milford Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Gallun Award for contributions to science fiction, and the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award. In 1949, he was the pro Guest of Honor at the Cinvention, the 1949 Worldcon in Cincinnati and in 1995, he was the Publisher Guest of Honor at the World Fantasy Convention.

Originally published as by “L.A. Eshbach,” “The Valley of Titans” originally appeared in the March 1931 issue of Amazing Stories, edited by T. O’Conor Sloane. It was Eshbach’s fourth published story. Interestingly, underneath his byline, the magazine touted him as “Author of ‘A Voice from the Ether’,” which wouldn’t appear until the May issue of the magazine. In 1968, Ralph Adris reprinted the story in the March issue of Science Fiction Classics.

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On to Khatovar: Shadow Games by Glen Cook

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_193232fSIKM2J0If the previous book, The Silver Spike, told of endings, Shadow Games (1989) is about beginnings.

Picking up at the end of The White Rose (and taking place at the same time as The Silver Spike), Croaker, newly elected captain of the Black Company, decided he and any remaining members would return to Khatovar. With only six soldiers and Lady, it’s the only thing Croaker can think of doing: return the Company to its home. Unfortunately, neither Croaker nor anybody else knows precisely where Khatovar is (other than two continents away to the south) nor what it is. The Company’s annals describe it as one of the Free Companies of Khatovar, but the volumes from the first of the Company’s four centuries of existence were lost somewhere along the way. Trouble magnet that it is, and with a lost history brimming with evil deeds, the Black Company is certain to have a difficult path to Khatovar.

Shadow Games is the fifth of The Black Company books I’ve revisited, and so far my favorite. I suspect some will cry “Heretic!” So be it. Again be warned, there be spoilers below.

Even more than in the earlier books, Croaker is the lead character. As Captain, it’s he who is now responsible for the Company’s actions. Before, he was only an observer of the goings on of great men and women, now he is one of them. Cook presents him as the same snarky romantic from the previous volumes, but now he’s constrained by his position as the face and brains of the Company. The reader also gets to see the various levels of military preparation, only alluded to before, that go on in the Black Company.

As given to introspection as he’s always been, several of Croaker’s ruminations are deeper, and underline his separation from the world beyond the Company.

I ordered a day of rest at the vast caravan camp outside the city wall, along the westward road, while I went into town and indulged myself, walking streets I had run as a kid. Like Otto said about Rebosa, the same and yet dramatically changed. The difference, of course, was inside me.

I stalked through the old neighborhood, past the old tenement. I saw no one I knew — unless a woman glimpsed briefly, who looked like my grandmother, was my sister. I did not confront her, nor ask. To those people I am dead.

A return as imperial legate would not change that.

Something Croaker has mentioned several times over the series is that the Company is constantly changing. At one point in past centuries, the men of the Black Company were actually all black. By the time of the original trilogy, the only such member is One-Eye. As Croaker and friends go south, they slowly enroll new members. The greatest find are the Nar in the city of Gea-Xle. They are the descendants of members of the original Company who put the city’s reigning dynasty in power and stayed on as a hereditary caste of warriors. Croaker describes their leader, Mogaba, as the “the best pure soldier” he ever met. Gradually, Croaker builds on his pitiful remnant and something resembling a real fighting force, able to at least protect itself from the dangers of the road, is reborn.

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Birthday Reviews: Robert Moore Williams’s “Quest on Io”

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Albert Drake

Cover by Albert Drake

Robert Moore Williams was born on June 19, 1907 and died on May 12, 1977. He published under his own name as well as the pseudonyms Robert Moore, John S. Browning, H.H. Harmon, Russel Storm, and the house name E.K. Jarvis. He may have been best known for his Jongor series.

Moore’s story “Quest on Io” appeared in the Fall 1940 issue of Planet Stories, edited by Malcolm Reiss. The story was never picked up for publication elsewhere, but in 2011, that issue of Planet Stories was reprinted as a trade paperback anthology.

Despite the title of Williams’s “Quest on Io,” there isn’t really a quest. Andy Horn is a navigator who is spending some downtime while his spaceship is being repaired prospecting on Io with his talking Ganymedian honey bear companion, Oscar. The two come under attack from another prospector who believes they are claimjumpers and when Andy confronts the other prospector, he discovers it is a woman, Frieda Dahlem. While the two of them quickly straighten out their differences, it becomes apparent that there are three claimjumpers who are out to kill both of them (plus Oscar) in order to keep their activities secret.

The story is essentially a western, although the action has been moved to Io. It feels written for an audience of young boys who know women exist, but think there are gross, only around to get in the way. Andy’s relationship with Frieda is very basic. Frieda appears to be a competent woman until a man is around, whether Andy, who becomes her hero, or the three claimjumpers, who turn her into a puddle of incompetence. Oscar seems to exist in the story purely for comic relief, although the humor misfires repeatedly.

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Bloody Court Intrigue: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Monday, June 18th, 2018 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

Ash-Princess-smallTheodosia just wants to survive.

Ten years ago, the Kaiser’s forces invaded and slit her mother the Queen’s throat. Theo’s been the Kaiser’s prisoner ever since. She tries to forget she was once heir to the throne, rather than a princess of nothing but ashes. She tries to forget the magical powers the old gods used to give humans, now that their temples lie in ruins. She tries to forget that her best friend’s father was the one who murdered her mother.

Whatever it takes to survive, Theo does. As long as she doesn’t look at her countrypeople, she won’t have to see their suffering. As long as she censors her speech, her three Shadows won’t guess what she really thinks. As long as she does whatever the Kaiser wants, he’ll keep her alive. Someday, one of the rebels will save her.

But ten years of playing it safe, of hiding and assimilating, come to an abrupt end in the opening chapter of Ash Princess.

It all starts when the Kaiser sends for her. The only time he ever does that is when he’s going to punish her. It doesn’t matter that Theo hasn’t misbehaved. The Kaiser whips her in public whenever he catches a rebel.

This time, he’s caught the head of all the rebels, the one she always dreamed would lead her rescue – her father.

And this time, the Kaiser commands Theo to kill her father in order to prove her loyalty.

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Birthday Reviews: Vivian Vande Velde’s “The Granddaughter”

Monday, June 18th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Bran Weinman

Cover by Brad Weinman

Vivian Vande Velde was born on June 18, 1951.

Her novel Never Trust a Dead Man received the Edgar Award for Best YA Novel in 2000 and Heir Apparent was nominated for the Mythopoeic Award for Children’s literature in 2003.

Vande Velde initially published “The Granddaughter” in her 1995 collection Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird. The story was selected by Terri Windling for inclusion in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Ninth Annual Collection, edited with Ellen Datlow. Asdide from those appearances, the story has not been reprinted.

Retellings of fairy tales have a long established role, in fact the earliest version of fairy tales are often just the first version of a retelling of an oral tradition. Vivian Vande Velde has targeted the story of “Little Red Riding Hood,” which dates back at least as far as the tenth century and has been retold by both Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. In “The Granddaughter,” Vande Velde’s focus is on the wolf, who can speak and is good friends with the title character’s grandmother.

Little Red Riding Hood, who is also known as Lucinda in this version, although she prefers the nickname, is an aspiring actress, almost completely self-centered, and horrified that her grandmother would be friends with a wolf, even one who can speak. The wolf, for his part, is equally horrified at Lucinda’s attitudes and inability to allow anyone else speak during a “conversation.” Not, at first understanding the grandmother’s reluctance to have Lucinda visit, the wolf quickly comes around to her point of view and works to rescue the woman from her granddaughter’s visit.

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Birthday Reviews: Andrew Weiner’s “Bootlegger”

Sunday, June 17th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Joyce Kline

Cover by Joyce Kline

Andrew Weiner was born on June 17, 1949.

Weiner’s story “The Third Test” was nominated for the British SF Association Award. He has also been nominated for the Aurora Award three times, for the original story “Station Gehenna” (which he expanded to a novel), “Eternity, Baby,” and “Seeing.”

“Bootlegger” was published in 1997 by Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink in the anthology Tesseracts6. The story has not been reprinted.

“Bootlegger” tells the story of Marshall Baron, a washed up musician who discovers that there are CDs being circulated that purport to be bootlegs of some of his early music. The problem is that he knows that he never recorded or wrote the songs that are on the albums, although voice analysis claims they are by him. He has Alderman, one of his agents, try to find the source of the bootlegs so they can figure out what is happening.

Alderman’s investigations lead him to Greenspan, a fan of Baron’s who has written several gossipy books about the singer. Although Baron wants nothing to do with the man, whom he considers a crank, Greenspan will only reveal his source of the bootlegs to Baron, nobody else. Greenspan’s revelation is that he has access to another world where Baron’s career had a different, more successful, trajectory. He feels that Baron could still make a difference in their own world, spark the revolution that his early music promised, although Baron disagrees, feeling that the revolution has passed.

Greenspan is not only a fan of Baron’s work, but also jealous of him and something of a radical. If Baron isn’t going to use his talents to make the world a better place, Greenspan is going to use his ability to access other worlds to create the world that he feels is necessary, even if it means taking Baron away from everything that he has achieved. Greenspan’s plans work within the context of the story, although when fully explored, there were other, less disruptive options he could have chosen.

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Birthday Reviews: Murray Leinster’s “Pipeline to Pluto”

Saturday, June 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by William Timmins

Cover by William Timmins

Murray Leinster was born William F. Jenkins on June 16, 1896 and died on June 8, 1975.

Murray Leinster was one of many nom de plumes used by William Fitzgerald Jenkins. He won the Liberty Award in 1937 for “A Very Nice Family,” the 1956 Hugo Award for Best Novelette for “Exploration Team,” and a retro-Hugo in 1996 for Best Novelette for “First Contact.” Leinster was the Guest of Honor at the 21st Worldcon in 1963 and in 1969 was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame. In 1995, the Sidewise Award for Alternate History was established, named after Leinster’s story “Sidewise in Time.”

Jenkins holds patent #2727427, issued on December 20, 1955 for an “Apparatus for Production of Light Effects in Composite Photography” and patent 2727429, issued the same day for an “Apparatus for Production of Composite Photographic Effects.”

Leinster first published “Pipeline to Pluto” in the August 1945 issue of Astounding, edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. Ten years later, Groff Conklin included it in his anthology Science Fiction Terror Tales. It appeared in both versions of The Best of Murray Leinster, the British volume edited by Brian Davis and the American volume edited by J.J. Pierce (each book had a completely different table of contents). The story most recently appeared in First Contacts: The Essential Murray Leinster. Over the years, it has been translated into Japanese, Croatian, German, Italian, and Russian.

“Pipeline to Pluto” is a slight story, focusing on Hill’s attempts to get from Earth to Pluto via a system of cargos shuttles. A bruiser, all that Leinster lets the reader know about him is that he has an urgent need to stowaway in the “pipeline” and he has bought another stowaway’s rights to a place. The majority of the action looks at Hill’s attempts to convince Crowder and Moore, who run the smuggling ring, to get him off Earth that evening.

Hill’s pleading and threats to the men are punctuated with exposition in which Leinster explains how the pipeline works. A series of cargo ships, one launched each day from Pluto and one launched from Earth, forming a long line carrying supplies to Pluto and ores mined on Pluto back to the home planet. Leinster not only describes the vessels and how they launch, but eventually describes the impact of being on board the vessels to humans.

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In 500 Words of Less: Early Review of Rejoice: A Knife to the Heart by Steven Erikson

Friday, June 15th, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Rejoice A Knife to the Heart US-smallRejoice: A Knife to the Heart
By Steven Erikson
Promontory Press (460 pages, $26 hardcover, October 2018)

I’ve been a Steven Erikson fan for a long time, ever since a friend handed me the first Malazan novel, Gardens of the Moon, when I was in university. You might have seen on here a few months ago that I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Steven at Can*Con in Ottawa, where he was Author Guest of Honor. That whole experience was cool all on its own, but following that I got the privilege of reading an ARC of his forthcoming novel Rejoice: A Knife to the Heart, which Bennett R. Coles has already called “a stunning work of literature.”

Honestly, the literature side of Rejoice is what surprised me the most. In our interview, Steven and I talked about how his first publications before Malazan were literary, which struck me since it’s rare for authors in our industry to jump genres like that. But what’s particularly interesting with Rejoice is that he takes the large-scale worldbuilding, extensive cast of characters and air of mystery of his fantasy work and applies is to the present day – or a twist on the present day, involving Earth’s first contact with an alien race. The novel’s already been described as “a first contact story without contact”; since this isn’t Independence Day or Close Encounters, the focus is instead on us, and how we’d react if an alien intelligence showed up and gave us a chance to improve ourselves.

That might sound like this is a novel that preaches or proselytizes, but it really doesn’t. Instead what you see is snapshots of people’s lives around the planet, from politicians to scientists to media tycoons to refugees in developing countries, all facing situations beyond their control (and almost their comprehension) and needing to decide what they should do about it. If you’re hoping for flashy energy weapons or epic journeys like in the Malazan books, you won’t find it here – but the debates and conversations between the characters in Rejoice, and the steps they take in response to this alien influence, are often tense and always intriguing. At the end of the day, a lot of our way of life (regardless of political ideology or religious belief) is about having some measure of control over our lives, and when that’s taken away very interesting things can happen.

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Birthday Reviews: Richard Parks’s “Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng”

Friday, June 15th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Black Gate Issue 1

Black Gate Issue 1

Richard Parks was born on June 15, 1955.

At the beginning of his writing career, Parks published a few works as B. Richard Parks. He has also used the pseudonym W.J. Everett. Parks received a World Fantasy Award nomination for his collection The Ogre’s Wife: Fairy Tales for Grownups. In 2012, his novel The Heavenly Fox was nominated for a Mythopoeic Award.

“Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng” is the first story to appear in the first issue of Black Gate magazine in the Spring 2001 issue, published by John O’Neill. The story was picked up by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer for inclusion in the inaugural volume of their Year’s Best Fantasy anthology series. Parks also used the story in his 2002 collection The Ogre’s Wife: Fairy Tales for Grownups.

In “Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng,” Seven is a young man living in an ancient China. On a trip to the city, he sees a woman, Jia Jin, and falls immediately in love with her. When it is explained to him that she is a gift to the Marquis of Zeng, who is near to death, and will be entombed with the Marquis along with his other concubines, Seven determines that he must rescue her and marry her.

Seven’s quest takes him far from the capital city and along the way he learns more of Chinese burial customs and a spirit tells him to seek a woman named Golden Bell. Upon finding her, he learns that he must sacrifice his heart and his soul to her in order to gain the knowledge to save Jia Jin from her fate. Although Parks glosses over it, the idea that Seven can give his heart and soul to one woman but later give it to another is glossed over, although it is an interesting point not often included in stories.

Eventually, Seven finds himself confronting the Marquis of Zeng in an attempt to marry Jia Jin, whose desires are not particularly important to either the Marquis or Seven.

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Birthday Reviews: Harry Turtledove’s “Half the Battle”

Thursday, June 14th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Tony Roberts

Cover by Tony Roberts

Harry Turtledove was born on June 14, 1949.

Turtledove began publishing using the pseudonym “Eric G. Iverson” and has also published under the names “Mark Gordion,” “H.N. Turteltaub,” and “Dan Chernenko.” Known for his alternate history novels and epics, he has also published numerous science fiction and fantasy works. In 1994 his novella “Down in the Bottomlands” received the Hugo Award. He won the Sidewise Award for Alternate History twice, for his novels How Few Remain and Ruled Britannia. Two of the novels in his Young Adult Crosstime series have won awards. Gunpowder Empire won the 2004 Golden Duck Hal Clement Award given by SuperConDuckTivity and The Gladiator received the 2008 Prometheus Award. His novel WorldWar: In the Balance received the Italia Award in 1996. Turtledove served as Toast Master at Chicon 2000, the Worldcon. In 1995 he received the Forry Award from LASFS.

“Half the Battle” was published by Jerry Pournelle in 1990, in volume 9 of his There Will Be War anthology series, After Armageddon. The story has not been reprinted.

The story opens sometime after an apocalyptic event has destroyed civilization in southern California. A new society has arisen around several small kingdoms, with Turtledove looking at the king of Canoga. When a book is found that describes a machine that the ancients had that can spit bullets, a machine gun, King Byron has his artificers try to replicate the lost device to replace the slow matchlocks his troops are using. The fact that King Byron and his people knew the gun could exist gave them the edge in re-creating it.

The story uses several time jumps to explore where this future will go. In each period, King Byron’s descendants have managed to extend and consolidate the kingdom’s power and in each period, they come across other devices of the ancients that they work to replicate, because knowing it can be done is “half the battle.”

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