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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Frontier Guard, Robot Ships, and Rascal Traders: Rich Horton on Space Service, edited by Andre Norton

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Space Service Andre Norton-big

Andre Norton is one of the most revered science fiction writers of the 20th Century. True, much of her work is out of print these days, and she seems to have more or less fallen out of favor with modern readers (except Fletcher Vredenburgh, naturally), but there are still plenty of SF fans who credit her with their introduction to science fiction.

Many readers don’t know that Norton made a name for herself as an editor before she became acclaimed for her own writing. Her three SF anthologies for World Publishing Co., all published between 1953-56, remain some of her most collectible work. Party that’s due to their relative rarity, but the Vigil Finlay covers are also a big factor. These are gorgeous books, eagerly sought by collectors, especially in good condition.

Over at his website Strange at Ecbatan, Rich Horton reviews the first one, Space Service. It appeared in hardcover in 1953 and, like the other two, has never been reprinted.

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Amazing Stories, July 1964: A Retro-Review

Thursday, August 10th, 2017 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories July 1964-smallThis was the last issue edited by Cele Goldsmith — with the next issue she became Cele Lalli, after her marriage.

Ed Emshwiller contributes the cover this time, to my taste not one of his best. Interiors are by Virgil Finlay, George Schelling, and a couple I don’t recognized, identified in the magazine only by their last names: McLane and Blair. Norman Lobsenz’ editorial discusses the effects of space and alien environments on humans, and goes on to wonder how we can justify terraforming planets on which other species live. Ben Bova’s science article, “Operation Shirtsleeve,” then discusses exactly that — how to terraform other planets so that humans can live comfortably there (in “shirtsleeves”).

Robert Silverberg’s book review column, The Spectroscope, first takes on Edgar Rice Burroughs, both on his own (The Cave Girl) and via a slavish imitator (Otis Adelbert Kline, with Prince of Peril). Silverberg’s verdict: “unmitigated trash, subliterate claptrap barely worth the time of children.”

(My verdict, based on a very limited sample (ERB’s first novel, A Princess of Mars aka “Under the Moons of Mars“) is a bit more forgiving — claptrap and trash it may be, but it’s definitely mitigated — at least early in his career Burroughs offered an energetic glee that made him worth reading despite the silliness.)

Next he reviews a couple of collections by major writers — one is an SFWA Grand Master, the other died too young to be named a Grand Master but would certainly have been one eventually, and one of the very best. So: Silverberg finds James Gunn’s Future Imperfect somewhat disappointing next to the best of Gunn’s work; but he finds Sturgeon in Orbit surprisingly better: even though it features uncollected early ’50s stories it manages to surprise with some good stuff, particularly “The Incubi of Parallel X,” a wild piece full of cliches from Planet Stories in 1951 that Sturgeon redeemed with his panache. (I read that story in the Planet Stories issue it appeared in (not in 1951 though!) and I completely agree!)

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Super-Intelligent Cats, Shape-Shifting Aliens, and Mysterious Footprints in the Snow: Rich Horton on 9 Tales of Space and Time, edited by Raymond J. Healy

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

9 Tales of Space and Time-small 9 Tales of Space and Time-back-small

Earlier this week I wrote a brief Vintage Treasures piece about Raymond J. Healy’s groundbreaking anthology New Tales of Space and Time. Groundbreaking because it virtually invented the original science fiction anthology, way back in 1951. I was inspired to write that article by Rich Horton’s review of Healy’s follow-up, 9 Tales of Space and Time, at his blog Strange at Ecbatan. Here’s Rich.

Raymond J. Healy (1907-1997) is primarily remembered within the SF field for his role as co-editor (with J. Francis McComas, one of the founding editors of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) of the absolutely seminal 1946 anthology Adventures in Time and Space, with was the first introduction in book form to short SF for many post-War readers. It was reprinted numerous times, including a Modern Library edition in 1957.

Healy edited three other SF anthologies, one more reprint book with McComas, the much shorter and less good More Adventures in Time and Space (1955); and two original anthologies on his own: New Tales of Space and Time (1951) and the book at hand, 9 Tales of Space and Time (1954)… Both books are very good, and both seem to have been quite significant at the time, but I don’t think they are much remembered. The first book had two major stories, Kris Neville’s “Bettyann” and Anthony Boucher’s “The Quest for Saint Aquin,” as well as contributions from the likes of Asimov and Bradbury. The second book has no story as good as those, but it is still quite interesting.

Like Rich, I consider Healy’s first book, Adventures in Time and Space, to be enormously important, perhaps the most important SF anthology of the Twentieth Century.

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Amazing Stories, October 1963: A Retro-Review

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories October 1963-smallBack to Cele Goldsmith’s era at Amazing. This issue has a couple of middling stories by two of the strangest and most original of SF writers. The cover is by Lloyd Birmingham, illustrating Cordwainer Smith’s “Drunkboat.” Interiors are by Birmingham, George Schelling, and Frank R. Paul (who had just died). Indeed, Norman Lobsenz’ editorial opens by mentioning Paul’s death (Paul, of course, famously painted the cover for the very first issue of Amazing); and goes on somewhat randomly to mention a National Spelling Bee winner who credited reading SF for his vocabulary (though reading Amazing could hardly have helped his spelling, given the standard of proofreading displayed this issue!); and then mentions Groff Conklin’s latest anthology, Great Science Fiction About Doctors (which in fact made a point of including a number of stories BY doctors, though none by the Good Doctor*).

(*Of course, Isaac Asimov was not a medical doctor, though he was a professor at a medical school.)

“Or So You Say …,” the letter column, features letters by Kathryn Avila (complaining about the low quality of the July issue), Norman M. Davis (praising Robert Young’s “Redemption,” one of the stories Avila had complained about), and Paul Scaramazza, theorizing that the then low (he says) status of fantasy literature is the fault of readers without imagination.

In The Spectroscope, S. E. Cotts reviews a now quite obscure book, The Fools of Time, by William E. Barrett, and an anthology from Sam Moskowitz, The Coming of the Robots. (She [as I now assume Cotts was] didn’t like the first, did like the second.) Moskowitz himself contributes a Profile of Edmond Hamilton.

The stories are:


“Drunkboat,” by Cordwainer Smith (11,200 words)
“The Prince of Liars,” by L. Taylor Hansen (17,300 words)

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Rebellion Worlds, Rocklike Aliens, and Cubes from Space: Rich Horton on The Rebellious Stars by Isaac Asimov & An Earth Gone Mad by Roger Dee

Thursday, June 1st, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Rebellious Stars Isaac Asimov-small An Earth Gone Mad Roger Dee-small

Rich Horton continues his tireless exploration of the Ace Doubles, this time looking at a 1954 pairing of Isaac Asimov’s second novel The Stars, Like Stars (re-titled here The Rebellious Stars), and the only SF novel by Roger Dee, An Earth Gone Mad. Here’s Rich.

The Rebellious Stars is better known as Tyrann, under which title it appeared as a Galaxy serial in 1951. (OK, it’s even BETTER known as The Stars, Like Dust…) In this edition it is about 67,000 words long, and the book is labeled “Complete and Unabridged,” so as far as I know it’s the same as the standard edition….

I was perhaps only 12 when I read The Stars, Like Dust. I’ve always remembered it, if only dimly, with pleasure… The story opens as Biron Farrill, the heir of the Rancher of Widemos on the planet Nephelos, is about to graduate from his university studies on Earth. He is wakened one night by a ticking which he soon determines is a bomb — an assassination attempt. Soon Sander Jonti, a friend of his from the university reveals that his father has been arrested by the Tyranni, the harsh ruling class that controls some 50 planets near the Horsehead Nebula, including Nephelos. It seems Biron’s father was involved in a resistance movement, and Jonti is as well. Jonti convinces Biron that his life is in immediate danger… The plot takes several twists from that point — it is all rather intricately designed — before reaching a somewhat surprising (though dare I say rather guessable) conclusion… while the plot is perhaps overcomplicated, and depends quite a lot on people acting in extremely convoluted ways, it is worked out somewhat satisfactorily in the puzzle-unraveling sense.

Matthew Wuertz reviewed the novel for us in its original Galaxy incarnation from 1951, and noted the similarities to a certain multi-billion dollar SF property.

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Future Treasures: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2017, edited by Rich Horton

Monday, May 22nd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Rich Horton Years Best SF 2017-smallThe Year’s Best season is now in full swing. Jonathan Strahan‘s volume arrived April 18th from Solaris, and Neil Clarke‘s April 4th from Night Shade. Couple that with the 2017 Nebula Awards Showcase released last week from Pyr, and you have the beginnings of a decent SF library.

So why would anyone who has those volumes need another Year’s Best?

Simple, really. Where else will you find Lavie Tidhar’s groundbreaking novella “The Vanishing Kind?” Or Paul McAuley’s “Something Happened Here, But We’re Not Quite Sure What It Was?” Or Carrie Vaughn’s Hugo nominee “That Game We Played During the War?” Or Jason Sanford’s Nebula nominee “Blood Grains Speak Through Memories?” Or Cat Rambo’s almost-Nebula-nominated “Red of Tooth and Cog?”

Nowhere but in Rich Horton’s upcoming Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2017, coming next month from Prime Books. This is Rich’s ninth volume, and over the years he’s proven to have both excellent taste and genuine skill ferreting out future classics in out-of-the-way places (such as private Patreon feeds, and the Beloit Fiction Journal.) He may well be the most widely-read of all the Year’s Best editors, and it shows in his Table of Contents every year.

Speaking of which, here’s the impressive TOC for his 2017 volume, with fiction from Charlie Jane Anders, Ian R. MacLeod, Genevieve Valentine, Rich Larson, Kameron Hurley, Carlos Hernandez, Chaz Brenchley, Adrian Tchaikovsky, and many others.

“Seven Ways of Looking at the Sun-Worshippers of Yul-Katan” by Maggie Clark (Analog)
“All that Robot Shit” by Rich Larson (Asimov’s)
“Project Empathy” by Dominica Phetteplace (Asimov’s)
“Lazy Dog Out” by Suzanne Palmer (Asimov’s)

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Fantastic Stories of Imagination, February 1962: A Retro-Review

Friday, May 19th, 2017 | Posted by Rich Horton

Fantastic February 1962-small Fantastic February 1962-back-small

The cover for this issue is by Leo Summers. Interior illustrations are by Dan Adkins (who also contributes the back cover) and Walker. The editorial recounts two recent cases of apparently fantastical occurrences in real life — with, in both cases, pretty straightforward mundane explanations. The letter column features letters from Leo A. Brodeur (a professor of French Literature at Laurentian University), discussing SF writers as “the poets of science”; and R. Martinkivi, praising the magazine.

The stories are:


“A Bit of the Dark World,” by Fritz Leiber (12,500 words)
“A Silence of Wings,” by Daniel F. Galouye (10,500 words)

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Evil Wizards, Robot Guardians, and the Maze of the Minotaur: Rich Horton on The Reign of Wizardry by Jack Williamson

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Unknown March 1940-small The Reign of Wizardry Lancer The Reign of Wizardry Sphere-small

Jack Williamson’s novel The Reign of Wizardry was originally published in three installments in the grand old pulp magazine Unknown, beginning in the March 1940 issue (above left, cover by M. Isip). Its first complete appearance was as a 1964 Lancer paperback (middle), with a cover by none other than Frank Frazetta. It’s been reprinted nearly a dozen times since, including a 1981 paperback edition from Sphere in the UK (right, artist uncredited), and most recently in the 2008 Haffner Press collection Gateway to Paradise.

Jack Williamson was a SFWA Grand Master. His first story appeared in Amazing Stories in 1928 when he was 20 years old and, in a remarkable career than spanned nearly eight decades, he was still winning major awards in his 90s, including a Hugo and a Nebula for his novella “The Ultimate Earth” (Analog, December 2000). He died in 2006, at the age of 98.

The Reign of Wizardry enjoyed multiple editions over the decades, and last year it was nominated for a Retro Hugo for Best Novel of 1941 (it lost out to A.E. van Vogt’s Slan). Recently Rich Horton gave it a warts-and-all review at his website Strange at Ecbatan.

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Rich Horton on the 2017 Hugo Nominations

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

All the Birds in the Sky Charlie Jane Anders-smaller Ninefox-Gambit-smaller A-Closed-and-Common-Orbit-smaller

The 2017 Hugo Award Nominees were announced earlier this month, and there’s lots of great stuff on the ballot this year. Over at his website Strange at Ecbatan, Rich Horton has a look at the results, and compares them to his predictions. Here’s his thoughts on the nominees for Best Novel.

I think this shortlist looks very impressive indeed. I had already read All the Birds in the Sky and Too Like the Lightning before my previous article, and I had suggested that I’d nominate All the Birds in the Sky (which I did). I also praised Too Like the Lightning… Since then I’ve gotten to Ninefox Gambit, and I very enthusiastically support its nomination. (I’m working on a review post about it.) Ninefox Gambit is complicated Military SF, which sort of teaches you how to read it as you go along. It’s got a fierce moral core, which is slowly revealed, and it opens up beautifully at the end, so that I don’t think the second book in the trilogy will be a “middle book.” And – this novel is reasonably speaking complete in itself.

I haven’t read the other three. But everything I’ve seen about A Closed and Common Orbit suggests I’ll like it – and also suggests that I really need to get to Chambers’ previous novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. The other two novels are sequels to the past two Hugo winners, and I have no reason to doubt their quality as well. This is probably the Best Best Novel shortlist in at least 5 years.

And, hey, three first novels! Is that the first time that’s ever happened?

See Rich’s complete piece here, and his preliminary Hugo Nomination Thoughts for 2017 here.

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