Time Travel, Shoggoths, and the Land of the Witches: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2018 edited by Rich Horton

Thursday, August 9th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2018-smallI always enjoy Rich Horton’s introductions to his annual Year’s Best collection, and this one doesn’t disappoint. I was especially delighted to see him select one of my favorite stories of last year for this year’s volume, and to see him call it out in the intro:

One source of originality is new voices, and thus I am excited every [year] to see new writers producing excellent work… But one of the reasons I choose stories by some writers over and over again is that they are always fresh. What story this year is stranger than C.S.E. Cooney’s “Though She Be But Little?”

This year’s volume is dedicated to Gardner Dozois, who passed away in May, and I was particularly touched by Rich’s thoughtful reminiscence.

As for Gardner Dozois, who was closer to me in a personal sense — I was really shaken by news of his passing. He was one of the greatest editors in the field’s history (an argument can be made — and I’ve made it — that he ranks at the top); and he was also a very significant science fiction writer…

We who produce these similar books, the best of the year volumes, never regard ourselves as rivals. Our books are paragraphs in a long conversation about science fiction. I talked with Gardner about science fiction for years, in different ways — face to face, or on message boards, discussing our different ideas about who should have won the Hugo in 1973 or whenever; month by month in our columns in Locus; or in the tables of contents of these books, each of us proposing lists of the best stories each year. I always looked eagerly for Gardner’s “list,” and his stories for me represented a different and completely interesting angle on what really mattered each year.

I already miss that voice.

Rich’s 2018 volume is so crammed with fiction that the publisher had no room for the traditional “About the Authors” and “Recommended Reading” sections in the print edition; instead they’ll make them available online for free at the Prime Books website (and in the ebook version). They’re not available yet — and in fact the Prime website looks like it hasn’t been updated since 2016? — but presumably they will be soon.

This year’s volume has stories by Samuel R. Delany, Rich Larson, Sarah Pinsker, Michael Swanwick, Peter Watts, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Charlie Jane Anders, Robert Reed, Maureen McHugh, Sofia Samatar, Yoon Ha Lee, Kameron Hurley, and many others. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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A Pair of Gonzo Mysteries from a Fantasy Master: Rich Horton on Pink Vodka Blues and Skinny Annie Blues by Neal Barrett, Jr.

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Pink Vodka Blues-small Skinny Annie Blues-small

Neal Barrett, Jr. received a Hugo and Nebula Award nomination for his 1988 story “Ginny Sweethips’ Flying Circus,” and in 2010 he was named Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. A discussion of his four Aldair novels — which Fletcher Vredenburgh called “a blast of strangeness and adventure” — broke out in the comments section of my 2013 post about Mark Frost’s The List of 7. And in his 2014 review of The Prophecy Machine, Fletcher wrote:

The late Neal Barrett Jr. wrote around thirty novels and seventy short stories. I’ve only read a little bit from his works, which include sci-fi and fantasy as well as crime fiction and magic realism. He seems to have slipped under the radar of most genre readers. On the other hand, everything I’ve read about the man marks him as one of those special authors held in high esteem by other writers.

As usual, Fletcher is bang on in his assessment. I haven’t read any of Barrett’s crime fiction either, and I’ve always been very curious about it.

But that’s why we have Rich Horton. Over at his website Strange at Ecbatan Rich reviews two of Barrett’s mid-90s mystery novels, Pink Vodka Blues (1992) and Skinny Annie Blues (1996), calling them ‘funny’ and ‘wild.’ That qualifies them for a closer look in my book.

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Imaginative Tales, July 1957: A Retro-Review

Sunday, May 6th, 2018 | Posted by Rich Horton

Imaginative Tales July 1957-small Imaginative Tales July 1957-back-small

Imaginative Tales was the adventure oriented companion magazine to William Hamling’s Imagination. Imagination (often called Madge) is still affectionately remembered by some older fans — it was a fun magazine, though I can’t say it published much really memorable fiction. Imaginative Tales arguably tried to be even funner, but I think less successfully, based on my limited exposure.

(Hamling, by the way, is a controversial figure, not really remembered, I gather, as affectionately as his magazine. He lived to be 95, dying in 2016. He is reported to have rather gruffly rebuffed any attempts to discuss his SF publishing career over the past few decades of his life. He started Rogue magazine in 1955, as a competitor to Playboy, and much of his latter-day publishing efforts were in the “adult” genre.)

The cover is by Malcolm Smith. The interiors are uncredited, though I recognize a signature for “Becker,” and the ISFDB suggests W. E. Terry for another. The interiors are 2 color, by the way.

This issue features a novella, “World of Never-Men,” by Edmond Hamilton, and five short stories. One is by Robert Moore Williams, “The Red Rash Deaths,” and the other four are by some combination of Randall Garrett and Robert Silverberg, who, as I recall, were working together at the time, producing reams of fiction for the likes of Hamling.

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Birthday Reviews: Steven H Silver’s “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium”

Thursday, April 19th, 2018 | Posted by Rich Horton

Galaxy's Edge March 2018-smallSteven H Silver was born on April 19, 1967. Despite allegations that the H stands for Hodputt, Horatio, or Horseshoes, in fact the initial is his entire middle name.

Silver has been nominated for the Best Fan Writer Hugo 12 times, putting him in contention for the Susan Lucci Award in that category. He is the long-time editor and publisher of Argentus. He has edited three anthologies for DAW in collaboration with Martin H. Greenberg, celebrating the first sales of prominent SF, Fantasy, and Horror writers. His first story appeared in Helix magazine in 2008, and he has published several further stories in anthologies such as Zombie Raccoons and Killer Bunnies; and Little Green Men — Attack! He is widely regarded as the primary heir to the legacy of the great Jerome Walton.

“Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” was published in the March 2018 issue of Galaxy’s Edge magazine. Shockingly, the story has not been reprinted since.

As the titles of the anthologies mentioned above might hint, many of Silver’s stories are comical in nature. So it is with “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium.” The narrator, Garoa, is an alien who has come to the title location, a notorious black market. He’s planning to sell his crop of hydroponically grown Brussels Sprouts, which evidently are a prized drug to a certain category of aliens.

He is accosted by a thug working for a gangster with whom he had done business, accusing him of cheating his boss before. He denies this, and things might get tricky, but the huge Hodputt intervenes. However, when Garoa unwisely agrees to leave the premises with a prospective customer, he is beaten up by the aforementioned thug, and on reviving, realizes that all his valuables are gone, including the key to his spaceship. He makes his way back there and begins to take revenge — but the prospective customer instead makes him an offer…

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Temporal Surges and Shapeshifting Invaders: Rich Horton on Threshold of Eternity by John Brunner and The War of Two Worlds by Poul Anderson

Monday, April 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Threshold of Eternity John Brunner-small The War of Two Worlds Poul Anderson-small

One of the reasons I collect Ace Doubles — aside from the great cover art, and their historical significance — is that they frequently featured early work by some of my favorite authors. That’s definitely the case with Double D-335, which paired very early novels from two of the greatest SF writers of the late 20th Century, John Brunner’s Threshold of Eternity and Poul Anderson’s The War of Two Worlds.

Neither volume was reprinted in a standandalone edition after their original back-to-back appearance in 1959, so you can be forgiven if you’re unfamiliar with them. At his website Strange at Ecbatan, interplanetary paperback expert Rich Horton admits he was unaware of them until recently as well. Why review yet another obscure Ace Double?

I realized that it comprised two novels by writers I always enjoy that I was completely unaware of… I figured Anderson and Brunner are always worth a try, and anyway I have a certain quasi-completist attitude towards both of them.

Fair enough. Rich usually does his homework on the background for each book, often digging up some fascinating tidbits, and as usual he doesn’t disappoint.

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Beyond Fantasy Fiction, May and July, 1954: A Pair of Retro-Reviews

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018 | Posted by Rich Horton

Beyond Fantasy Fiction May 1954-small Beyond Fantasy Fiction July 1954-small

Most long-time SF fans are aware of the early ’40s fantasy magazine Unknown, edited by John Campbell as a companion to Astounding, and famous for encouraging a sort of “rational” fantasy. Much less well-known is the early 50s magazine Beyond, conceived by H. L. Gold as a fantasy companion to Galaxy. I recently read a couple of issues. I found interesting the degree to which they seem to be a sort of fantasy Galaxy-analogue in a way similar to the way Unknown was a fantasy Astounding-analogue. (That last pun definitely intended.)

Basically, I see the early 50s Galaxy as focusing on near-contemporary SFnal extrapolation, with typical “women’s magazine” characters (stereotypical housewives, stereotypical middle managers, etc.) dealing with mildly futuristic concepts. That’s an exaggeration, of course, and rather a caricature, but still I think it is true of at least a good portion of the early Galaxy. And in Beyond we see the same sort of characters, in almost exclusively contemporary situations, dealing with mildly fantastical concepts: genies, the devil, witches, wishes granted with undesirable side-effects, etc. I suppose another categorization might be “low-grade John Collier imitations.”

Each issue opens with a novella, and features a novelette or two and a few short stories. In longstanding Galaxy tradition, the dividing line between short story and novelette is pretty low — about 6000 words maybe, and one of the two novellas is about 16,000 words. Still, there was certainly no formal definition then, so who could complain? At least they didn’t label 10,000 word stories “Complete Novels.”

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Space Pirates, Stowaways, and a New Frontier: Rich Horton on The Planet Strappers by Raymond Z. Gallun

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Planet Strappers Raymond Z Gallun 2-small The Planet Strappers Raymond Z Gallun-back-small

Over at his website Strange at Ecbatan, Rich Horton continues to do excellent work highlighting books old and new. Check out his review of John Crowley’s new novel Ka earlier this week to see what I mean. Rich calls it “Wonderful… I feel humbled by my inability to truly capture the wonder of this book.”

Of course, for crusty old vintage paperback fans like myself, the real joy of Rich’s blog is in his almost whimsical selections of older titles. While he makes a focused effort to read the major new novels each year in preparation for Hugo voting (see his detailed thoughts on the 2018 Hugos here), when it comes to older books he seems perfectly content to review whatever library discard falls into his hands each week.

That gives his blog a delightfully unpredictable quality. No one in their right mind, for example, would review Raymond Z. Gallun’s The Planet Strappers, an undistinguished novel that was hurriedly forgotten a few short weeks after it appeared in 1961. But Rich would. You have to salute that kind of undaunted faith in the genre.

The truly marvelous thing about Rich’s exploration into the dimmest recesses of science fiction is how he manages to find so much genuine enjoyment in it all. And it ain’t generally due to the books. Rich has an almost unique ability to make fascinating connections between writers, pick up the nearly invisible threads of evolving tropes, and find enjoyment in the echoes of great ideas lost in muddled plot lines. A ridiculous plot, Rich has taught me, needn’t trouble you so much when it’s paired with a fascinating setting or a clever idea — especially when you can see how that idea was harvested and put to use years later by the writers that follow.

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Hugo Nomination Thoughts, 2018

Sunday, March 4th, 2018 | Posted by Rich Horton

Shiny Hugo Awards

Time for my annual post on what I’m thinking about for Hugo nominations. As ever, I’ll caution that I have read a lot of short fiction, but that I am less up on the other categories. I have seen a fair quantity of movies, too, however.

Let me reiterate something I said last year – though I participate with a lot of enjoyment in Hugo nomination and voting every year, I am philosophically convinced that there is no such thing as the “best” story – “best” piece of art, period. This doesn’t mean I don’t think some art is better than other art – I absolutely do think that. But I think that at the top, there is no way to draw fine distinctions, to insist on rankings. Different stories do different things, all worthwhile. I can readily change my own mind about which stories I prefer – it might depend on how important to me that “thing” they do is (and of course most stories do multiple different things!) – it might depend on my mood that day – it might depend on something new I’ve read that makes me think differently about a certain subject. And one more thing – I claim no special authority of my own. I have my own tastes, and indeed my own prejudices. So too does everyone else. I have blind spots, and I have things that affect me more profoundly than they might affect others. I’ve also read a lot of SF – and that changes my reactions to stories as well – and not in a way that need be considered privileged.

Anyway, as ever, in the lists below, I’ll suggest somewhere between 3 and 8 or so items that might be on my final ballot. Those will be in no particular order. And the other stories I list will all really be about as good – and I might change my mind before my ballot goes in.

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Amazing Stories, December 1961: A Retro-Review

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories December 1961-smallAnother issue from fairly early in Cele Goldsmith’s tenure. The cover is by Lloyd Birmingham, his first of a fair quantity of covers for Amazing, Fantastic, and also Analog through 1964. Interiors are by Virgil Finlay, Dan Adkins, and (as a reprint from 1930) Leo Morey.

S. E. Cotts’ book review column, the Spectroscope, begins with a look at one of the most famous of SF novels, Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. She disliked it — “408 pages of pretentious balderdash.” (I confess I tend to agree.) She also reviews Heinlein’s collection 6XH, which she likes a great deal, especially “The Man Who Traveled in Elephants.” She also covers Clifford Simak’s Time is the Simplest Thing, which was one of the first adult SF novels I read, and which I remember fondly if dimly. (Cotts gives it a thumbs-down.) Also: more thumbs down for Manly Wade Wellman’s Islands in the Sky; a highly qualified approval for Curt Siodmak’s Skyport, and general if mild appreciation of a satirical book I haven’t heard of: Take Me to Your Leader, by Louise and Leslie Waller.

Sam Moskowitz’ historical article is about “Murray Leinster” (real name Will F. Jenkins), quickly summarizing his career from his first published work at the age of 13 to well-respected mid-50s work such as the Hugo-winning “Exploration Team.” He emphasizes Leinster’s range, and his ability to transition from the early crude SF to mature later work.

Lots of letters this month: from Moiya Virginia Norton (criticizing the logic in a recent Stanley Lee story), Ron Smith (praise for the controversial David R. Bunch), Robert E. Briney (sensibly complaining about Moskowitz conflating a character named Conan in the Bradbury/Brackett story “Lorelei of the Red Mist” with Howard’s Conan), H. Conard and Richard Bartlett (taking opposite sides regard to an earlier editorial), E. E. Evers (with a poem), Bob Adolfsen, Charles D. Cunningham (complaining about Moskowitz’ “inept” profile of Van Vogt), followed by a note from Van Vogt himself praising the profile, David B. Williams, Robert Thrun, and Joseph Billings.

Several of these are fairly well-known fans of the day, the most interesting perhaps being Evers, who left fandom – and his entire previously established identity – after he came to the rescue of a woman who was being attacked by another man. Evers beat the guy up, only to learn he was an off-duty cop, and that the police department weren’t going to give up going after him. So he disappeared, and people tend to think he took a new identity.

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Robots, Telepathy, and Alien Anthropology: Rich Horton on Time Thieves by Dean R. Koontz/Against Arcturus by Susan K. Putney

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

Against Arcturus Susan K. Putney-small Time Thieves Dean Koontz-small

The Ace Doubles were published between 1952 and 1978, though it’s chiefly the early D-series, with their delightfully vintage covers by Emsh, Valigursky, and others, that have become truly collectible. Budgets were cut after Ace was sold in 1968, and founder Donald Wollheim left in 1971 to found DAW Books. Occasionally, however, the later Ace Doubles still published authors of quality after Wollheim’s departure, including novels by Jack Vance, Samuel R. Delany, Doris Piserchia, Neal Barrett Jr, and Philip K. Dick.

At his website Strange at Ecbatan Rich Horton looks at one example from May 1972: Susan K. Putney’s Against Arcturus, paired with an early novel by Dean R. Koontz, Time Thieves.

This is one of the latest Ace Doubles, appearing about a year before the program ended. Don Wollheim and Terry Carr had both left Ace a year earlier. Fred Pohl was editor until June 1972, about when Time Thieves/Against Arcturus appeared, so presumably he acquired these novels.

Note that Rich dates the end of the Ace Double era as 1973, when the publisher stopped releasing back-to-back novels in the classic format. But the imprint officially died in five years later (see the complete list of Ace Doubles here.)

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