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:


“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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Old Empires and Armored Planets: Rich Horton on The Sun Smasher by Edmond Hamilton and Starhaven by Ivar Jorgenson

Sunday, December 10th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Sun Smasher Edmond Hamilton-small Starhaven Ivar Jorgenson-small

Rich Horton has been reading through the Ace Double library over at his blog Strange at Ecbatan. His last few selections have been duds, but I’m optimistic about Edmond Hamilton’s The Sun Smasher and Ivar Jorgenson’s Starhaven, Double #D351, published in 1959. Edmond Hamilton was my favorite pulp SF writer, and “Ivar Jorgenson” was a pen name for none other than Robert Silverberg.  Here’s Rich.

Each of these novels was published earlier in a single issue of a magazine, possibly (especially in the case of the Jorgenson novel) in shorter versions. The Sun Smasher appeared as “Starman Come Home” in the September 1954 Universe Science Fiction, while Starhaven appeared as “Thunder Over Starhaven” in Science Fiction Adventures for October 1957. (I suspect the Hamilton novel, which is the shorter of the two at about 30,000 words, probably is the same version as appeared in the magazine, but the “Jorgenson” story, some 40,000 words long or more, is expanded, as Silverberg discusses below.)

The covers of the magazine editions of these stories are something of a real delight, so I’ve reproduced them here.

I always enjoy Rich’s reviews of classic SF. But when he starts throwing in vintage magazine covers, you know he’s really speaking my language.

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

Monday, November 27th, 2017 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Science Fiction Stories February 1960-smallHere’s a pretty early Cele Goldsmith issue. The names on the TOC reflect that — a lot different than in the 1963-1965 era — only Ben Bova would be familiar from latter days, and he mostly did nonfiction.

The cover is by Edward Valigursky, another contributor who didn’t appear as much later on. (His last cover was for the May 1960 issue.) Interiors are by Leo Summers, Varga, and Virgil Finlay. The editorial, extremely brief, is as ever by Norman Lobsenz, and concerns suspended animation. S. E. Cotts’ book reviews cover Manly Wade Wellman’s The Dark Destroyers, which she enjoyed a great deal more than I did; The Outward Urge, by John Wyndham and Lucas Parkes, a fixup of four stories from Fantastic, which she didn’t like much at all; and John Brunner’s The World Swappers, which she thought quite good.

The lettercol has contributions from Chester F. Milburn, Mike Deckinger, Ronald Felty, Philip A. Harrell, Arthur B. Prag, and Tobey Reed.

The stories are:

Complete Novel

“Transient,” by Ward Moore (35,000 words)

Short Stories

“A Long Way Back,” by Ben Bova (6,000 words)
“Divvy Up,” by Milt Lesser (4,700 words)
“It’s a Good Trick If …,” by Kate Wilhelm (1,900 words)
“A Jar of Jelly Beans,” by Franklin Gregory (4,900 words)

To begin with the short novel. Ward Moore (1903-1978) published five novels, beginning with Greener Than You Think (1947). His most famous novel by far is Bring the Jubilee (1953), a very well-regarded alternate history in which the South wins the Civil War. He is also remembered for his last novel, Joyleg (1962), a collaboration with Avram Davidson, about a Revolutionary War veteran discovered to be still alive in the present time; and for a stunning post-Apocalyptic (or “during the Apocalypse”) story, “Lot,” along with its sequel, “Lot’s Daughter.” As a writer he started late and finished early, with the great bulk of his fiction appearing between 1947 and 1962 (though a few more stories appeared in the ’70s).

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Star Kings, Virtual Reality, and Genetic Monsters: Rich Horton on Crown of Infinity by John M. Faucette/ The Prism by Emil Petaja

Sunday, November 5th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Crown of Infinity James M Faucette-small The Prism Emil Petaja-small

Over at his website Strange at Ecbatan, Rich Horton takes a look at a long forgotten Ace Double from 1968. So forgotten, in fact, that I’ve never even heard of it. I dug through the dusty pile of Ace Doubles by my bed but, nope, it ain’t in there.

Assuming Rich didn’t just make this book up, it looks like a fascinating artifact, although maybe not for the usual reasons. Here’s Rich on the first half:

The lure for me in this Ace Double is the first novel by John M. Faucette, a fairly little known writer these days, but one of a very small set of African American SF writers before, really, the 1980s, which is amazing and a bit embarrassing for the field… I approached Crown of Infinity, Faucette’s first published novel, with interest and a real desire to like it. The publisher’s copy compares it to Doc Smith and Olaf Stapledon, and, oddly enough, that comparison makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, the comparison ultimately is utterly to the disadvantage of Crown of Infinity. Indeed, I’d say this book reads as if written by a teenager completely in love with Doc Smith’s work … and with enough talent to imitate aspects of it effectively, but with no ability to structure a novel, nor enough originality to really make the novel “new.”

Here’s the inside cover, with the full description.

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Fantastic Stories of Imagination, January and February 1964: A Retro-Review

Thursday, October 12th, 2017 | Posted by Rich Horton

Fantastic Stories of Imagination January 1964-small Fantastic Stories of Imagination February 1964-small

These issues are significant in that they include the serialization of a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novella — but not just any novella: this includes the first and nearly only contribution to the series from Leiber’s original collaborator, and supposed model for the Mouser, Harry Fischer.

Each cover is by Ed Emshwiller, and they both illustrate the serial. The interiors in January are by Emsh, Lutjens (first name perhaps Peter?), Dan Adkins, Lee Brown Coye, and Virgil Finlay. In February they are from the same folks except for Coye.

The editorials concern, in January, Harry Fischer’s role in the creation of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and in February, serious research in both the US and the Soviet Union into telepathy. There is a brief book review column in January, by S. E. Cotts, in which she praises Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial very highly, and is somewhat more reserved on R. DeWitt Miller’s Stranger Than Life, one of those books about “unexplainable events.” The February issue includes a lettercol, According to You, with letters from Bill Wolfenbarger (praise for Schomburg, and for the more horrific side of fantasy), E. E. Evers (much disdain for the November 1961 issue, even for the Le Guin story), and Norman Masters (hated Sharkey’s “The Aftertime,” likes Le Guin).

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Invasion Fleets and Rogue Stars: Rich Horton on Who Speaks of Conquest by Lan Wright & The Earth in Peril, edited by Donald A. Wollheim

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Who Speaks of Conquest-small The Earth in Peril-small

Over at his website Strange at Ecbatan, Rich Horton continues his survey of the Ace Double line of 50s science fiction novels with Who Speaks of Conquest by Lan Wright, paired with the anthology The Earth in Peril, edited by Donald A. Wollheim. It was originally published in 1957. Here’s Rich on the Wright novel.

The first Terran starship lands at Sirius (why they didn’t go to Alpha Centauri first is never explained — it turns out to be inhabited, so it can’t be for lack of planets). There they find a welcoming committee, from an intelligent race that has colonized these planets. They learn that the entire Galaxy is under the rule of the Rihnans, apparently a mostly benign rule, but an unquestioned one. Humans are expected to meekly accept their position. Of course, they don’t, and soon an invasion fleet is dispatched from Alpha Centauri. But to the invaders’ surprise, the plucky humans decide to fight back, and moreover they have been able to develop some surprisingly good tech, and the humans win.

The Rihnans don’t take that lying down, and begin plans for a much bigger fleet to suppress Terra. But the humans have their own ideas, and they decide to take the fight to the rest of the Galaxy…

The flip side is a little more interesting from my perspective — an anthology of tales focused on the invasion of Earth, edited by the founding editor of Ace, Donald A. Wollheim himself. The Earth in Peril contains short stories by Murray Leinster, A. E. van Vogt, C. M. Kornbluth, Edmond Hamilton, Bryce Walton, and H. G. Wells.

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Amazing Stories, December 1964: A Retro-Review

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories December 1964-smallThe cover to this issue is by Robert Adragna. Interiors are by Adragna and George Schelling. The editorial concerns Sam Moskowitz’ series of Profiles of SF writers, and signals a change to essays by Moskowitz addressing SF’s treatment of certain themes, beginning in this issue with a discussion of Philip Jose Farmer and — you guessed it! — sex and SF.

The article — a fairly long one — begins with a review of some of the SF stories that occasioned controversy by brushing up against sexual issues, and continues with a detailed look at Farmer’s career to date (1964), including of course the controversy surrounding “The Lovers,” but also mentioning I Owe For the Flesh, the first version of To Your Scattered Bodies Go, which had been written for a contest in the early ’50s, and won, and was lost (I understand) after the contest sponsor (Shasta) ran out of money. On the whole, it’s an interesting and worthwhile piece, one of the better things I’ve seen from Moskowitz.

Robert Silverberg’s book review column covers Alfred Bester’s collection The Dark Side of the Earth, Fritz Leiber’s novel The Wanderer, and The Astounding Science Fiction Anthology, edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. Silverberg approves of all three books, and reserves especial praise for The Wanderer — a book which, I would suggest, has not retained much of a reputation (I myself have not got through it on two tries, though it has been a long time, and I suppose I should give it another chance.)

The stories are:

Short Novel

“The Further Sky,” by Keith Laumer (20,000 words)

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Literary Wonder & Adventure Podcast: The Golden Age of Science Fiction, Part II

Saturday, September 9th, 2017 | Posted by Brian Murphy

Literary Wonder and Adventure Show The Golden Age of Science Fiction Part 2 Rich Horton

Part II of II; read a review of Part I here.

Host Robert Zoltan has returned with his second installment of a look back at the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Zoltan and (Edgar the Raven’s) guest for Part II is Rich Horton, editor of The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy (Prime Books), reprint editor for Light Speed, and columnist for Locus and Black Gate.

Horton endorses the standard narrative of the start and finish of science fiction’s “golden age,” which begins with editor John Campbell fully assuming the reigns of Astounding Stories around 1938, and ends when the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy began publishing in 1949 and 1950, respectively. These latter two magazines moved the genre in new directions, though not necessarily worse ones: Horton in fact argues that the fiction published in the silver age of the 1950s was often higher in quality, which seems to undercut the Golden Age moniker affixed to the Campellian era. But the golden age had the benefit of the “shock of the new”; it was a time when new ideas sprang from the pages of Astounding Stories with each new issue. It saw the emergence of some of science fiction’s greatest ideas and lasting tropes, if not consistently high execution or literary sophistication.

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