Marooned Spacemen, Forgotten Planets, and Alien Dragons: Rich Horton on Rocannon’s World/The Kar-Chee Reign

Friday, February 5th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Rocannon's World-small The Kar-Chee Reign-small

The Ace Doubles were a fairly low-paying market by most measures, and they didn’t always attract top authors. But they did publish early books by many writers who would go on to become top authors. Such is the case with the pairing of Rocannon’s World, the first novel by the great Ursula K. LeGuin, and The Kar-Chee Reign, an early novel by SF master Avram Davidson.

Rich Horton examined both novels as part of his ongoing series of Ace Double reviews at his blog Strange at Ecbatan. Here’s what he said, in part:

Seeing that Ursula K. Le Guin’s first novel was an Ace Double came as a mild surprise to me, some time back when I encountered this pairing. Since then I’ve realized that that wasn’t really that rare, for example, Samuel R. Delany also had early novels published as Ace Doubles, as did many other great writers…

Rocannon’s World is a curious novel. It is a “Hainish” novel, thus fitting into Le Guin’s main “future history,” but it doesn’t seem wholly consistent with novels like The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. What it mainly is is a fantasy novel with SF trappings. Except for the prose, which is excellent as one might expect from Le Guin, it feels strikingly pulpish. The plot and feel would not have been out of place in an early 50s issue of Planet Stories

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Amazing Science Fiction Stories, March 1960: A Retro-Review

Thursday, January 21st, 2016 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Science Fiction Stories March 1960-smallThe cover of this issue gives Robert Silverberg’s byline as “Bob Silverberg,” though the Table of Contents shows “Robert Silverberg.” Bob Silverberg seems to have been given as his byline on a few stories (including his first publication), as well as some letters.

The cover is by Albert Nuetzell, showing a spaceship and some people investigating an archaeological site, presumably on another planet, complete with strange writing and an enormous stone humanoid head (click on the image at left for a bigger version). It doesn’t go with any of the stories in the magazine. Interior illustrations are by Mel Varga and by Virgil Finlay.

Norman Lobsenz’ very brief editorial is about Project Ozma, Frank Drake’s pioneering attempt to detect signals from intelligent extraterrestrials using radio. S. E. Cotts’ brief book review column, The Spectroscope, covers Benjamin Appel’s The Funhouse, Murray Leinster’s The Pirates of Zan, and Adam Lukens’ The Sea People.

The letters in “Or So You Say …” come from Jacqueline Brice, Jess Nash, Bob Adolfsen, Paul H. Taylor, Frank H. Terrell, and Dr. Raymond Wallace, none of those names familiar to me. The biggest common theme is praise for Alan Nourse’s novel Star Surgeon.

The stories are:


Seven from the Stars, by Marion Zimmer Bradley (42,800 words)

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Galaxy, October 1967: A Retro-Review

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016 | Posted by Rich Horton

Galaxy October 1967-smallA bit of a change of pace here, a late ’60s issue of Galaxy. Frederik Pohl was the editor. It is billed as the “Seventeenth Anniversary Issue, and the conceit is that the contributors are all celebrating an anniversary in the field. For example, Pohl himself published a poem in an SF magazine in 1937, making this his 30th anniversary. George O. Smith’s first story was published in 1942, so his 25th anniversary. H. L. Gold is here as the founding editor. Fair enough. The contributor that puzzles me is Roger Zelazny. The cover says “representing his 17th anniversary, but never explains that. This was the fifth anniversary of his first published story. Does it mean he started reading SF in 1950? I don’t know – it’s not explained at all.

The cover is by Gray Morrow, illustrating Gold’s story accurately enough. Interiors are by Gaughan, Morrow, and R. Dorfman (his or her only appearance, according to the ISFDB, in SF). Willy Ley contributes a science essay in his “For Your Information” series, which ran from 1952 through 1969. This one, “The Worst of all the Comets,” is about the great comet of 1680, which has a 574 year period, and which one writer speculated was the comet that caused the Biblical Flood (by raining water on the Earth when it passed very close). Pohl’s brief editorial is about the changes since his poem was published, in 1937.

Algis Budrys’ Galaxy Bookshelf covers Damon Knight’s anthology Worlds to Come (he objects that too many of the stories aren’t really SF), a reissue of Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time (which, Budrys reminds us, is really a play), Robert A. Heinlein’s landmark collection The Past Through Tomorrow (his big Future History collection, which Budrys praises highly), and, most significantly, Samuel R. Delany’s The Einstein Intersection. In the Thomas Disch piece just reprinted in Stories for Chip Disch writes of Delany telling him happily that Budrys had declared him (Delany) the best SF writer in the world. I don’t know if this is the review that prompted Delany’s happiness (apparently it was his review of Nova), but it would certainly make one happy. One quote: “The man simply operates on a plane that Robert Heinlein never dreamed of.”

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Hypnojewels, Smugglers, and Ancient Alien Races: Rich Horton on The Plot Against Earth/Recruit for Andromeda

Sunday, December 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Plot Against Earth-small Recruit for Andromeda-small

“Calvin M. Knox” is one of Robert Silverberg’s most well-known pseudonyms. He used it extensively to write reviews, over two dozen short stories (frequently in magazines where he also had a story under his own name), and three novels: Lest We Forget Thee, Earth (1958), The Plot Against Earth (1959), and One of Our Asteroids is Missing (1964), all Ace Doubles.

Milton Lesser was born in Brooklyn in 1928, and changed his name to Stephen Marlowe in 1956. Under that name he wrote 40 crime novels and fictional autobiographies. He began publishing SF under his original name while still a teenager, and he continued to to do so through the 50s and 60s, producing seven novels and nearly 100 short stories between 1950 and 1965.

Silverberg and Lesser were published back-to-back in Ace Double D-358 in 1959, with the novels The Plot Against Earth and Recruit for Andromeda. The latter has never been reprinted, and has now been out of print for over 55 years.

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The Cover and TOC for Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction 2016

Friday, December 25th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Years Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016Ten years ago Rich Horton, who’d already published several highly detailed survey articles in the print edition of Black Gate (including “Building the Fantasy Canon: the Classic Anthologies of Genre Fantasy” and “The Big Little SF Magazines of the 1970s”) wrote the first installment of what was to become a highly ambitious series: Rich Horton’s Virtual Best of the Year.

Rich surveyed virtually every piece of short fiction published in the genre in 2005 (an astounding 9.5+ million words), and compiled a list of the best, and we published it here at Black Gate. He repeated that feat in 2006 and 2007, and his reports on the field became more in-depth and insightful each year.

In 2006, Rich also began publishing two anthologies with Prime Books: Fantasy: The Best of the Year and Science Fiction: The Best of the Year. In 2009 those books merged into one massive volume, The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, which quickly became one of the most respected and acclaimed anthology series in our industry. It has been published every year since.

Last week Prime Books released the cover of the 2016 edition (at right, click for bigger version), the eighth volume in the series, alongside the Table of Contents. This one contains fiction from C.S.E. Cooney, Kelly Link, Vonda M. McIntyre, Catherynne M. Valente, Naomi Kritzer, Seanan McGuire, Chaz Brenchley, Elizabeth Bear, Ian McDonald, Geoff Ryman, Genevieve Valentine, and many others.

Here’s the complete TOC.

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Amazing Science Fiction Stories, October 1959: A Retro-Review

Saturday, December 12th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Science Fiction Stories October 1959-smallHere’s an issue from the first year of Cele Goldsmith’s tenure, and a significant month for me – I was born October 5, 1959. It has an interesting mix of authors – the first (and arguably only) SF novel by a Grand Master, a fine early story by one of my personal favorite writers in the field, and four stories by obscure names (though one of those at least is a pseudonym for a fairly well-known writer).

The cover is by Leo Summers, and depicts some sort of anti-spaceship installation hidden in a small asteroid, firing on a spaceship. Interiors are by Summers and Finlay (with one uncredited). There is a cartoon by “Frosty.”

Norman Lobsenz contributes his usual brief editorial, this one referring to Eric Frank Russell’s attack on astronomy as an “inexact science.” S. E. Cotts’ book review column, The Spectroscope, was at this time only allotted two pages. The reviews are of George O. Smith’s The Fourth R (fairly positive), Brian Aldiss’ collection No Time Like Tomorrow (very positive), and Jeff Sutton’s Bombs in Orbit (mistitled, amusingly, Bombos in Orbit in the review), not too positively.

The letter column, “… Or So You Say”, has mostly short letters, with only one name I recognized (Paul Zimmer, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s brother). The other letter writers are Edward J. Lynch (liked Silverberg’s “Collision Course”), Paul Shingleton (hated “Collision Course”, even though Bob S. is his favorite author), W. C. Brandt (loved “Collision Course”), Zimmer (seemed snarky about Doc Smith though it’s hard to say), Dave Boyer (loved stories by Sheckley and Douglas), David Locke (hated Doc Smith), Clark Peterson (is in favor of book length novels in the magazine), and Harry Thomas (defending Doc Smith from his detractors). Those who know fandom better than I remember David Locke particularly, as an active fan and letter writer, and also Shingleton and Brandt.

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Decadent Alien Races and Electricity Creatures: Rich Horton on Warlord of Kor/The Star Wasps

Friday, November 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Warlord of Kor-small The Star Wasps-small

Terry Carr made his reputation in the field as an extremely talented editor. He edited 16 volumes of the Best SF of the Year, from 1972-1987, five volumes of Fantasy Annual (1978-1982), 17 volumes of Universe, and over a dozen standalone anthologies. But early in his career he also wrote a small number of novels, starting with Warlord of Kor, an Ace Double paired with Robert Moore Williams’ The Star Wasps (1963). Over at Strange at Ecbatan, Rich Horton took a look at the book as part of his ongoing series of Ace Double reviews.

This one qualifies as pretty forgotten, and mostly for good reasons… But it does feature a major major SF figure, Terry Carr. Carr is not widely known as a writer, but he was a hugely significant editor… while he didn’t write a whole lot of fiction, some of it was very good, including an admired novel (Cirque (1977))…

In all honesty, Warlord of Kor isn’t all that bad, though it’s not all that great either… The protagonist is Lee Rynarson, something of an archaeologist who is studying the only intelligent race humans have ever found in their expansion through the Galaxy (or perhaps multiple galaxies). These are the Hirlagi, sort of a horse/dinosaur mix on Hirlaj. There are only 26 Hirlaji surviving — they seem a tired [and] decadent race. They have a long racial memory, and Rynarson, in talking with one of them, hears stories of a warlord in the distant past, who united much of the planet, only to decide, after “communing” with the mysterious god Kor, that the Hirlaji must abandon not just war but science… a reasonable first effort.

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Fantastic, January 1962: A Retro-Review

Saturday, November 7th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Fantastic Stories January 1962-smallA Goldsmith era Fantastic, again, also from the stash I picked up at Sasquan. This one has a cover by Lloyd Birmingham, illustrating, rather faithfully, Randall Garrett’s “Hepcats of Venus” (a story probably published at about the last time one could have published it). The cover also advertises an Erle Stanley Gardner (of Perry Mason fame) SF story, “The Human Zero.” Interior illustrations are by Virgil Finlay, Leo Summers, and one Kilpatrick. I don’t recognize the last one, by name or style, and the ISFDB shows only 5 appearances by him or her, all in Amazing or Fantastic in 1961/1962.

The features are as usual for Fantastic on the scant side – Norman Lobsenz’ editorial and the letter column, According to You. The latter features a long letter by Mrs. Alvin A. Stewart on the subject of her dislike for David Bunch, in the process rehashing an ongoing debate. There are letters praising two serials in previous issues, James White’s Second Ending (which is excellent) and Manly Banister’s Magnanthropus, which I haven’t read, though I found the sequel (Seed of Eloraspon) to be fitfully enjoyable but far from a masterwork, and on the whole kind of preposterous. Paul Zimmer (presumably Marion Zimmer Bradley’s brother, and an author in his own right, Paul Edwin Zimmer) thought Magnanthropus the best serial Fantastic ever published. (Zimmer also takes a swipe at Bunch.) On the other hand, Fred Patten (a name to conjure with in fandom!) thought Magnanthropus a tremendous letdown after Second Ending.

I have to say I somewhat miss lettercols with that sort of spirited discussion of the stories in previous issues.

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Human Enclaves and Experimental Planets: Rich Horton on The Sun Saboteurs/The Light of Lilith

Sunday, October 18th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Sun Saboteurs-small The Light of Lilith-small

Over at Strange at Ecbatan, Rich Horton reviews another great old Ace Double, this one featuring Damon Knight’s The Sun Saboteurs, paired with G. McDonald Wallis’ The Light of Lilith.

Damon Knight of course was one of the great writers in SF history, a Grand Master. The Sun Saboteurs was his second of four Ace Double halves (three separate books). It is an expansion of his 1955 novella “The Earth Quarter,” and it is about 37,000 words long. G. (for Geraldine) McDonald Wallis is almost unknown in the SF field — this novel and her 1963 Ace Double half Legend of Lost Earth are her only in-genre publications. However, she had an extensive career under the name “Hope Campbell”…

I don’t really think that Don Wollheim (or whoever else selected Ace Double pairings) necessarily chose stories that were thematically or otherwise related, but every so often it happened. This is a particularly striking case. Both The Sun Saboteurs and The Light of Lilith present a strikingly anti-Campbellian theme. In both, humans are presented as evil warmongers amid a generally peaceful Galaxy. In both, humans are forced to accept their inferiority to many alien species, and in both, many or most humans simply fail to do so. In both, humans are faced with isolation in the Solar System, and eventually with extinction. That said, one novel is far better than the other.

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Amazing Stories October 1960: A Retro-Review

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories October 1960-smallAt the 2015 Worldcon, Sasquan, one of the dealers had a nice stash of old magazines. I bought a bunch of Goldsmith-era Amazings and Fantastics. This is one from quite early in Cele Goldsmith’s editorial career. Indeed, Norman Lobsenz’s editorial calls it “the first issue of the “new” Amazing that we have been talking about.”

He adds “There is one problem facing us … the constant shortage of first-rate stories.” This is a point he would make other times in editorials (and in the letter column), to a greater degree than I have ever seen from an editor in the pages of a magazine.

The cover here is by Alex Schomburg. The interiors are by two of the greatest artists in the field’s history, Virgil Finlay and Ed Emshwiller, and a name I didn’t recognize, Bernklau, who seems to have been active in the field only from 1959 to 1961 (in a variety of magazines). He was probably the Art Bernklau who did covers for Beacon Books in the same period.

Besides the editorial, the features include S. E. Cotts’ book review column, the Spectroscope; a science article by Lester Del Rey, “Homesteads on Venus,” and the lettercol, “Or So You Say.”

Cotts opens the book review column be celebrating that the column has more space. There is mention of SF in other media: an article in the National Review (“SF seems a strange bedfellow for such a right-wing magazine” says Cotts – a curious remark), SF on TV (Twilight Zone), on record, and an opera. This last is Harry Martinson’s Aniara (music by Karl-Birger Blomdahl). Martinson eventually (quite controversially) shared a Nobel Prize for literature.

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