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Five Things I Think I Think (January, 2024)

Five Things I Think I Think (January, 2024)

It’s the first 2024 version of Ten Things I Think I Think – albeit, in abbreviated form. And awaaaay we go!

1) ARCHER KNOWS HOW TO DO HOMAGE

Back in November’s What I’m Watching post, I mentioned I would talk about Archer Later. I’m not yet ready to do a deep dive, but I want to give a shout out for a couple seasons I just watched.

The adult cartoon just wrapped up its fourteenth and final season, last month. It had its ups and downs, but it was terribly wrong and almost always funny, for 144 episodes. Archer is the chief spy at the international Secret intelligence Service. The fact that their name is ISIS, tells you all you need to know about this satirical show. Archer is the most self-absorbed, irresponsible person imaginable, and his office mates are all terribly flawed as well (though Lana is pretty close to normal).

A lot happens over fourteen seasons (I’m on season eleven). A few seasons take place with Archer in a coma – they’re dream seasons. The first of those was an homage forties hardboiled/noir. Centered on The Maltese Falcon, with a dash of Chinatown thrown in, I LOVED it. Visually it was wonderful. As a fan of the genre, it was clear that the show’s staff were as well. Still ‘wrong’ in that Archer way, it was a terrific take on the genre. Extremely well done.

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The Best of Bob – 2023

The Best of Bob – 2023

Happy 2024! Let’s kick butt for another year. Or at least, limp to the finish in 52 weeks. I take what I can get.

One of my greatest talents as a blogger, is finding folks more talented than I, to write my weekly column for me. Hey – the reader gets a better end product, so they win, right? I brought Talking Tolkien to Black Gate in 2023. And I had some great help yet again for A (Black) Gat in the Hand.

So some of you Black Gaters may be surprised that I occasionally actually write my own essays for the Monday morning slot. John O’Neill is too savvy an editor for me to completely fool him for almost ten years.

So here are what I thought were ten of my better efforts in 2023. Hopefully you saw them back when I first posted them. But if not, maybe you’ll check out a few now. Ranking them seemed a bit egotistical, so they’re in chronological order. Let’s go!

Don’t Panic! We’ve Got Douglas Adams Covered Here at Black Gate (January 2, 2023)

If I do say so myself, things absolutely started off strong, the second day of the new year! Black Gate has a bunch of Douglas Adams fans. This was my eighth Adams-related post, and I included links to five prior posts by Black Gaters (Steven H Silver, and M. Harold Page).

Thirteen posts about Douglas Adams. SURELY you can find something interesting. This current post included me fooling around with a new entry for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I think it’s pretty funny. And if you’re not familiar with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, that’s actually my favorite Adams book. Click on this one and get a larf.

 

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The Sword & Planet of Gardner F. Fox: The Llarn Novels

The Sword & Planet of Gardner F. Fox: The Llarn Novels

Warrior of Llarn and Thief of Llarn by Gardner F. Fox (Ace Books,
1964 and 1966). Covers by Frank Frazetta and Gray Morrow

I discovered Thief of Llarn in my small hometown library. The swordsman on the cover screamed John Carter to me, and the demon skull with the gem in it didn’t hurt any.

I fell in love with this book and finally found a copy for myself. It’s not in great shape. It took me another fifteen years (pre-internet) or so to find Warrior of Llarn, which was actually the first book of the two book series.

I was somewhat disappointed in Warrior, probably because Thief had become almost mythically good to me in my memories. These are solid entries in Sword & Planet fiction. They were published in 1964 and 1966 respectively.

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Vintage Treasures: A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski

Vintage Treasures: A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski


A Door Into Ocean (Avon, February 1987). Cover by Line

Joan Slonczewski’s first novel, Still Forms on Foxfield, was published in 1980, but it was their second novel, A Door Into Ocean, which made a real splash, winning the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (not to be confused with the old Campbell Award for Best New Writer, now called the Astounding Award, on account of Campbell being a racist goofball.)

Slonczewski is referred to as ‘she’ and ‘her’ on virtually every bio and interview I’ve found on the web — including the Kenyon College faculty page where Slonczewski is a Chair of Biology — but their website and Wikipedia page give their pronouns as they, them, theirs, so that’s what I’ll use here.

A Door Into Ocean was the book that made readers sit up and take notice of Slonczewski. They followed it with three more books in what became known as the Elysium Cycle: Daughter of Elysium (1993), The Children Star (1998), and Brain Plague (2000). Often compared to Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, A Door into Ocean explores a colony planet covered entirely by water, occupied by an all-female offshoot of humanity who have become skilled genetic engineers.

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Vintage Treasures: The Bard Series by Keith Taylor

Vintage Treasures: The Bard Series by Keith Taylor


Bard, Volumes I-IV (Ace Books, 1981-97). Covers by Don Maitz

In October 1975 an unknown author named Dennis More made his debut in Fantastic magazine with “Fugitives in Winter,” the rousing tale of Felimid mac Fal of Eire, a bard whose tools are his ancient harp Golden Singer, and his magic sword, Kincaid. Eight more tales of Felimid followed, in places like Fantastic, Weird Tales, and Andrew Offutt’s Swords Against Darkness.

‘Dennis More,’ as it turned out, was Australian writer Keith Taylor, who began writing under his own name with the story “Hungry Grass” in Swords Against Darkness V (1979). In 1981 Taylor collected four of his early Felimid stories  — along with a brand new novella — in the fix up novel Bard, which Fletcher Vredenburgh called “a perfect artifact from the glory days of 1970s swords & sorcery.” It spawned a long-running series that lasted five volumes (with rumors of a sixth in the pipeline).

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Vintage Treasures: Tales By Moonlight edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson

Vintage Treasures: Tales By Moonlight edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson


Tales by Moonlight, volumes One and Two (Tor, January 1985
and July 1989). Covers by Mark E. Rogers and Jill Bauman

Jessica Amanda Salmonson has produced only a handful of anthologies, but they are all highly regarded. Her first, Amazons!, won the World Fantasy Award in 1980, and the two Heroic Visions volumes she edited in the mid-80s are still enjoyed and discussed today, with an original Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novella by Fritz Leiber, plus terrific sword and sorcery tales by Jane Yolen, Phyllis Ann Karr, F. M. Busby, Alan Dean Foster, Robert Silverberg, Joanna Russ, Michael Bishop, Keith Roberts, Ellen Kushner, Avram Davidson, Manly Wade Wellman, Grania Davis, and Thomas Ligotti.

Salmonson’s held in such high regard that I recently decided to investigate her two Tales by Moonlight anthologies, published by Tor in the late 80s, and I’m very glad I did. They contain a rich assembly of talent, including Thomas Ligotti, Ruth Berman, H. P. Lovecraft, Janet Fox, Steve Rasnic Tem, W. Paul Ganley, Spider Robinson, John Varley, Charles L. Grant, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Jayge Carr, W. H. Pugmire, Ramsey Campbell, Joseph Payne Brennan, Phyllis Ann Karr, Eileen Gunn, and many more.

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Terror at Sea, Nightmares on the Beach: The Year’s Best Horror Stories XIV, edited by Karl Edward Wagner

Terror at Sea, Nightmares on the Beach: The Year’s Best Horror Stories XIV, edited by Karl Edward Wagner


The Year’s Best Horror Stories XIV (DAW Books, October 1986). Cover by Michael Whelan

The Year’s Best Horror Stories XIV was the fourteenth in the DAW Year’s Best Horror series and the seventh volume edited by the great Karl Edward Wagner (d. 1994). The book was copyrighted and printed in 1986. This volume marked Michael Whelan’s eleventh cover for the series, which presents a pretty horrifying monster-in-the-closet, something out of any 11-year old’s worst nightmares! The cover layout is the most marked design change yet in the series. The format and font are very different from previous volumes, and the colon and word “Series” have been dropped completely. Why? Briefer I suppose.

Volume XIV contains nineteen different authors. All male but one. Eleven were American, six were British, and there is again the returning Canadian author, Vincent McHardy and returning German-born but American author, David J. Schow. Thirteen of these stories came from professional magazines. Three came from anthologies, one from a fanzine, one from a convention program, and one from a chapbook.

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The Mystery of Alan Burt Akers, Author of The Dray Prescot Series

The Mystery of Alan Burt Akers, Author of The Dray Prescot Series

The first eight Dray Prescot books (DAW Books, 1972-1975).
Covers by Josh Kirby, Tim Kirk, Jack Gaughan, and Richard Hescox

As I started collecting and reading the Dray Prescot series of Sword & Planet novels, I tried to find out more about the author: Alan Burt Akers. The early books, published by DAW books starting in 1973, had no description or details of Akers, although they had ample details on Dray Prescot, who supposedly had recorded his adventures on tapes, which Akers then transcribed.

At the time I was sure Alan Burt Akers was a real person. It was many years before I learned the truth. Akers was a pseudonym for Henry Kenneth Bulmer (1921-2005). I don’t know why he chose that particular pseudonym, although I noted that it included all three parts of the name, and I was sure this was an homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs and Otis Adelbert Kline.

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Vintage Treasures: The Med Series by Murray Leinster

Vintage Treasures: The Med Series by Murray Leinster


The Med Series (Ace, May 1983). Cover by James Warhola

For most of its life John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction was the most important SF magazine on the stands. It was the beating heart of the genre in a way that’s tough to comprehend today, in a market that’s grown far beyond print.

Campbell made his mark by discovering, nurturing, and publishing the most important writers of his day. But — quite cleverly, I think — he also cultivated lifetime readers by making Astounding home to exciting and highly readable series, many of which were later successfully packaged as bestselling books. Readers of Astounding knew they were getting an early look at the titles everyone would eventually be talking about.

A study of the major SF series launched in Astounding would fill several volumes, but they include Frank Herbert’s Dune, Asimov’s Foundation and Robot tales, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, H. Beam Piper’s Paratime and Federation/Empire sagas, Gordon R. Dickson’s Dorsai!, Poul Anderson’s Psychotechnic League, James Schmitz’s Telzey Amberdon and The Hub tales, and countless others.

One of my favorite story cycles from the Campbell era of Astounding was Murray Leinster’s The Med Series, the tales of the intrepid doctors of the Interplanetary Medical Service “roving through the uncharted vastness of deep space.” They were eventually repackaged in a handful of paperbacks that are long out of print, but still fondly remembered by a few of us old timers.

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A Fantasy City That Feels Alive: The Burnished City by Davinia Evans

A Fantasy City That Feels Alive: The Burnished City by Davinia Evans


Notorious Sorcerer and Shadow Baron (Orbit, September 13, 2022,
and November 14, 2023). Cover Design by Lisa Marie Pompilio

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a groundswell of interest like I’ve witnessed for Notorious Sorcerer, Davinia Evans’ debut novel and the opening book in her Burnished City series. It didn’t get a lot of attention when it was released in trade paperback last year, but over the last twelve months I’ve seen a lot of discussion. Everyone is talking about this book.

The Book Nook says it’s “compelling… a remarkable and ambitious debut,” and Every Book a Doorway calls it “Dazzling… badass and honestly wondrous… the story never has a dull page.” Publishers Weekly labels it an “energetic epic… This is a charmer,” and Book Page doesn’t rein in their enthusiasm, saying it “deploys genre tropes with delirious glee and builds a rich and fascinating world.”

All this recent buzz is good timing, since the sequel, Shadow Baron, arrives next month, and that gives me just enough time to finish the first volume and get some hot cocoa ready in time for Book Two.

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