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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Aztec Empires, Amazons, and the Spanish Armada: Rich Horton on John Brunner’s Times Without Number

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Times Without Number Ace-small Times Without Number Brunner-small Times Without Number Del Rey-small

In addition to his reviews here at Black Gate, Rich Horton has been quietly reviewing neglected SF and fantasy classics on his own blog, Strange at Ecbatan, to great effect for the past few years. We recently highlighted one of his more intriguing choices, the 1961 Ace Double Wandl the Invader/I Speak For Earth.

This month he turns his attention to another neglected John Brunner masterwork, the 1962 fix-up novel Times Without Number, originally published as an Ace Double in 1962 (cover here).

This is one of my favorite time travel/alternate history novels, and it’s a novel that to my mind does not get the notice it deserves… This book is about Don Miguel Navarro of the Society of Time. It is set in an alternate 1988/1989 in which the Spanish Armada succeeded, and established an Empire. The Moors reconquered Spain, but much of Western Europe, including England, remained under Spanish rule, and the independent Mohawk nation in North America was also allied to the Empire. In 1892 the secret of time travel was discovered, and under the auspices of the Pope the Society of Time was established…

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Fantastic, June 1965: A Retro-Review

Thursday, August 20th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

fantastic June 1965-smallAt last I return to an issue of Fantastic from the Cele Lalli era. Indeed, this is the very last issue of the Cele Lalli era.

The June issues of Amazing and Fantastic were the last published by Ziff-Davis. They were sold to Sol Cohen’s Ultimate Publishing, and resumed appearing as bimonthlies with the August Amazing and then the September Fantastic.

At this time they began publishing mostly reprints, drawing on the huge library of stories published originally in Amazing and Fantastic, for which they had, legally, unlimited reprint rights. (Eventually Cohen was forced or shamed into paying a small fee.)

Perhaps because this is the last issue before the transfer to new ownership, there are no features: no interior art, no book review, no editorial, nothing. The cover is by Gray Morrow, never a favorite of mine, illustrating Roger Zelazny’s “Thelinde’s Song.”

Click the image at left for a bigger version.

I don’t like it much – the color is a muddy red, and the menaced virgin on the altar isn’t very attractive. (Shallow of me, I know, but there you are!)

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, August 1963: A Retro-Review

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

fantasy_and_science_fiction August 1963-smallHere’s an issue of F&SF from Avram Davidson’s tenure, and Davidson’s stamp is, to my eye pretty evident. It’s a reasonably significant issue simply in that it includes part of a Heinlein serial.

The features include a book review column by Davidson, in which he covers a piece of non-fiction by Patrick Moore and Francis Jackson on the possibility of Life in the Universe, some Burroughs reissues (Davidson, in recommending the books, writes “Hark! Is that the squeal of an angry throat?,” which later (slightly changed) became a story title for him), Walter Tevis’ The Man Who Fell to Earth (Davidson was unimpressed), a book on whales, and (very briefly) Cordwainer Smith’s You Will Never Be the Same, taking time to deny that “Cordwainer Smith” was ever a pseudonym of Robert Silverberg – and here I was, hoping that he would at long last reveal this in one of his bibliographic posts right here!

The cover is quite impressive – it’s by Ed Emshwiller, for Ray Nelson’s “Turn Off the Sky” – there’s a bit of a Richard Powers vibe to it, though it’s still of course Emsh… and a rare case where beautiful woman on the cover doesn’t look like his wife Carol.

There is also of course a science column by Asimov (“T-Formation,” a relatively weak outing, about large numbers), a Feghoot (about time travel and a couple of women of loose virtue – I’m sure you can guess the pun), a quite nice poem on the loss of the mystery of Venus due to Mariner II, by R. H. and Kathleen P. Reis; and, surprisingly, a letter column! Notable letters include one from James Blish complaining about the term “Science Fantasy” (“… stands as a warning that the author reserves the right to get the facts all wrong”); and one from a reader complaining about Davidson’s editorial hand and declining to renew his subscription – who was the reader? One E. Gary Gygax!

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Martian Pirates, Brain Creatures, and Hive Minds: Rich Horton on Ray Cummings and John Brunner

Saturday, August 8th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Wandl the Invader-small I Speak For Earth-small

Brigands of the Moon-smallRich Horton’s personal blog, Strange at Ecbatan, is a great place to hang out if (like us) you love vintage paperbacks and magazines. In addition to his reviews here at Black Gate (not to mention his editing duties for The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, the 2015 Volume of which just arrived last month), Rich also reviews forgotten bestsellers, neglected classics, and obscure books by writers who later became highly regarded. This week he takes a look at an Ace Double from 1961.

This week’s Old Bestseller post is on a book that was by no means a bestseller — it’s another Ace Double review, this time a new one (for me) — the 1961 pairing of a rather dreadful 1932 pulp serial by Ray Cummings (Wandl the Invader) with one of John Brunner’s better early short novels (I Speak For Earth), written as by “Keith Woodcott.”

Wandl the Invader was serialized in Astounding in 1932. It was a sequel to Brigands of the Moon, which began its serialization in the third issue of Astounding, in 1930. It is set in a future in which space travel is well-established within the Solar System, and essentially human civilizations have been discovered on both Venus and Mars. (Interbreeding is possible, for instance.) A small planet called Wandl has appeared in the Solar System, and Gregg Haljan (hero of Brigands of the Moon) is recruited to captain a spaceship to resist the evil intentions of the planet’s inhabitants.

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The 2015 Hugo Shortlist, Short Fiction: A Review

Thursday, July 9th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

2011 Hugo Award-smallI promised to read all the short fiction Hugo nominees, and report on them, so here you go.

I’ll begin by mentioning that I haven’t come close to reading the novel nominees: I have only read Ancillary Sword, by my almost-neighbor Ann Leckie, and while I quite enjoyed it I thought it not as good as Ancillary Justice. A middle-book thing, in some ways – in other ways, I think this post by lightreads gets at some of the problems I had pretty well.

I’m also about halfway through The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu –- I’m not sure what to think yet. There’s some neat ideas, but some of them seem distinctly pulpy, and the writing is a bit dodgy. We’ll see how it works out in the end.


So, to the novellas. The final list of nominees is:

Big Boys Don’t Cry, Tom Kratman
“Flow,” Arlan Andrews, Sr.
One Bright Star to Guide Them, John C. Wright
“Pale Realms of Shade,” John C. Wright
“The Plural of Helen of Troy,” John C. Wright

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New Treasures: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015, edited by Rich Horton

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015-smallIn his introduction to this year’s volume, Rich provides a penetrating breakdown of the current state of our genre’s magazines:

Trevor Quacchri… [is] introducing some intriguing new writers, while not abandoning Analog’s core identity. Last year he published Timons Esais’ “Sadness,” clearly one of the very best stories of the year. Even more recently, F&SF has changed editors… the editing reins have been handed to C.C. Finlay, who “auditioned” with a strong guest issue in July-August 2014, from which I’ve chosen Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i” for this book. Asimov’s stays the course with Sheila Williams, and 2014 was a very good year for the magazine….

I choose four stories each from two other top online sources, Clarkesworld (three-time Hugo Winner for Best Semiprozine) and LightspeedClarkesworld publishes almost soley science fiction, and Lightspeed publishes an even mixture of science fiction and fantasy, so it can be argued that another online ‘zine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, is the top fantasy magazine online, and the two outstanding stories I chose from it should support that argument. And it would be folly to forget…

The New Yorker regularly features science fiction and fantasy (including a pretty decent story by Tom Hanks this year), and New Yorker stories have appeared in these anthologies. Tin House in particular is very hospitable to fantastika, and this year I saw some outstanding work at Granta.

Since I was on stage to present the Nebula Award for Best Novelette to Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” I can personally attest that Rich knows how to pick ’em. The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015 was published by Prime Books on June 11, 2015. It is 576 pages, priced at $19.99 in trade paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition. See the complete Table of Contents here.

The Future of Fantasy: The Best New Releases in June

Friday, June 12th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

A Book of Spirits and Thieves-small The-Years-Best-Science-Fiction-Fantasy-2015-small The Birthgrave Tanith Lee-small

There are precisely 30 days in June, and we’ve compiled a list of the 30 most exciting and anticipated novels, collections and anthologies being released this month. You know what that means — if you want to keep up, you’ll need to read at least one book a day (and since we’re already a dozen days into June, you better get hopping… you’re behind already!)

Our June catalog of the best new fiction includes new releases from Stephen King, Garth Nix, Mark Lawrence, John R. Fultz, Terry Brooks, Jon Sprunk, and others, as well as some spiffy reprints from James Blaylock,  Tanith Lee, Lev Grossman, Michael Moorcock, and others. But time’s a-wasting; let’s get started!

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