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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When Science Fiction Sucks: Rich Horton on Alien Sea, by John Rackham and C.O.D. Mars, by E. C. Tubb

Saturday, January 27th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Alien Sea John Rackham-small C.O.D. Mars E C Tubb-small

Black Gate has some very prolific reviewers. Ryan Harvey has produced 290 articles for us, Matthew David Surridge 330, and Sue Granqust has written exactly 400. But the most prolific reviewer in our small community is doubtless Rich Horton who, in addition to his duties here, writes a regular monthly column for Locus, contributes short fiction reviews to places like Tangent Online, and maintains his own blog, Strange at Ecbatan. Not long ago Rich posted his 100th Ace Double Review at his blog, covering the forgotten novels Alien Sea by John Rackham and C.O.D. Mars by E. C. Tubb, published in 1968.

I started these on the wonderful old Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written back in the early 2000s. I retain an interest in Ace Doubles for an intersection of reasons… the feeling that they give room for an awkward story length (25,000 to 45,000 words, say); the fact that they provided space for new writers to get published; the sometimes goofy subject matter; the fact that they could be a home for unpretentious adventure SF; and their uncommon format. But it must also be said that a lot of the stories published as Ace Doubles were downright crappy. And indeed this review, the 100th, perhaps appropriately features a couple of awfully weak short novels.

Even though the novels sucked, Rich gives it his all, as always. Here’s his thoughts on two bad science fiction novels by John Rackham and E.C. Tubb.

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Peter S. Beagle will be the Next SFWA Grand Master

Thursday, January 25th, 2018 | Posted by Rich Horton

Peter S Beagle Grand Master-small

Is it OK to post now on the other significant SF news from Tuesday (happier news)? Because it does seem worthwhile to mention that Peter Beagle has been named the latest SFWA Grand Master.

I confess — somewhat bewilderedly — that I had not thought of him when I speculated on who the next GM might be. (I believe that’s because early in his career he was not a “core genre writer,” in that he didn’t publish in the magazines. (Yes, Fantasy & Science Fiction published “Come Lady Death,” but as a reprint.) That’s not a good reason, it’s just what I think must have made me forget him.) But on seeing the announcement, I thought, well, of course! Peter Beagle IS a Grand Master, and this is an award he eminently deserves.

I (with many other fans, to be sure) absolutely adore The Last Unicorn. And his other fiction is quite marvelous as well. I’ve used a few of his stories in my books.

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Amazing Stories, November 1962: A Retro Review

Sunday, January 7th, 2018 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories November 1962-smallThe cover to this issue is by George Schelling. Interiors are by Schelling, Virgil Finlay, Jack Gaughan, Leo Morey, and Leo Summer. The editorial is about using computers to determine national policy.

S. E. Cotts’ book review column, the Spectroscope, reviews three anthologies: The Sixth Galaxy Reader, The Best from F&SF, 11th Series, and Groff Conklin’s Worlds of When. Cotts is disappointed in the two magazine-based collections, suggesting that in neither case was there enough first rate material for a book. She is happier with Conklin’s anthology, reserving the highest praise for Fritz Leiber’s “Bullet With His Name.”

I think Cotts was pretty much correct about the Galaxy Reader, which is weak, but dead wrong about the F&SF book — in particular, she failed to note the brilliance of Avram Davidson’s “The Sources of the Nile,” one of the greatest SF stories of all time. She also reviews Robert Silverberg’s The Seed of Earth, and is fairly well pleased with it (noting that it features a cliched setup) — and I pretty much agree with her judgment there.

The science article is the fourth in Ben Bova’s series about extraterrestrial life, this time dealing with the possibility of life around fairly nearby stars. Dr. Bova recently sent me a note crediting Isaac Asimov for his chance to write this series — it seems Goldsmith had asked Isaac to do a series about extraterrestrial life, but he demurred and suggested Bova as an alternative.

The letters are from Charles Dixon (complaining about Edgar Rice Burroughs), J. J. Tilton (responding in an annoyed fashion to S. E. Cotts, who had criticized him for criticizing her for disliking Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land), and Larry Shellum, also mad at Cotts, this time for a recent review of a Damon Knight anthology.

The stories are:

Novelets

“Left Hand, Right Hand,” by James H. Schmitz (12,200 words)
“The Planet of the Double Sun,” by Neil R. Jones (15,300 words)

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