Vintage Treasures: King of Morning, Queen of Day by Ian McDonald

Sunday, October 13th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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British novelist Ian McDonald burst onto the scene in 1988 with his science fiction novel Desolation Road, set in an oasis town on a far future Mars. It won the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in the same category. He followed that with Out on Blue Six (1989), the tale of pain criminals in a civilization where pain and unhappiness are illegal.

His third novel, and his first fantasy, was King of Morning, Queen of Day. Like his first two, it was published by the most prestigious SF imprint at the time, Bantam Spectra (which is now dead). It was nominated for the Locus Award, and won the Philip K. Dick Award for Best Novel. In her insightful 2009 review at, Jo Walton observed that the book is about “the need to make new myths, dream new dreams, to have a new future. Astonishingly, it does this in Ireland, a country full of old myths, and it uses those old myths to wonderful effect.”

King of Morning, Queen of Day is, however, definitely fantasy. And it’s urban fantasy too, it’s set in modern Ireland between 1913 and 1990, and is about five generations of a family who have a propensity to “mythoconsciousness,” bringing archetypal mythic creatures into reality. It wasn’t part of the current wave of urban fantasy, and it would sit a little oddly with it. I don’t know if it was an influence or a precursor to it — it’s hard to think of it as influential when it seems as if only six people have read it and they’re all friends of mine, but maybe it was a stealth influence, a zeitgeist influence. Certainly this is a magical secret history, set in our world but with magical things going on below the surface.

The book falls into three distinct parts. The first section is set in 1913, in the Desmond family home of Craigdarragh. This part of the story is told in the form of diary entries, letters and newspaper clippings. Teenager Emily Desmond sees and photographs fairies while at the same time her father is convinced that aliens are approaching riding a comet. There’s all the background of 1913 Ireland, Yeats, paranormal investigators, the stirrings of independence, Freudian psychology, and a sepia photograph of Emily’s mother a generation earlier marked “Caroly, Wood nymph…” What the book’s really about is the need to make new myths, dream new dreams, to have a new future. Astonishingly, it does this in Ireland, a country full of old myths, and it uses those old myths to wonderful effect. This is a book that could only have been written by someone steeped in the culture and the country and the folk-mythology. McDonald has always been brilliant on sense of place—there’s a description here of Liverpool as a foreign city that’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. He makes the place and time entirely alive and three-dimensional. This is mythologically significant Ireland, but it is deeply rooted in the real changing growing country and the real Twentieth Century… This is a story about the dreams of the real Ireland, and they’re not pretty, even though they’re always beautifully written.

King of Morning, Queen of Day was published in June 1991 by Bantam Spectra. It is 389 pages. priced at $4.99. The cover is by Heather Cooper. See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

Giving People What They Want: James Nicoll on The Traveler in Black by John Brunner

Thursday, October 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Traveler in Black (Ace Books, 1971). Cover by Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon

Outside of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock, the 20th Century didn’t produce a great many enduring Sword and Sorcery series. Which is why we cherish those we have, like John Brunner’s The Traveler in Black.

The Traveler in Black first appeared in a short story in Science Fantasy in 1960. He was a captivating and enigmatic figure, and he proved popular enough that Brunner returned to his creation four more times in the next two decades. The first four tales were collected in The Traveler in Black, a 1971 paperback original from Ace Books, part of Terry Carr’s famed Ace SF Special series. James Nicoll turned a fresh eye to them this summer, saying:

Chaos is losing its grip on reality. The Traveller in Black does his humble best to accelerate the process. In most cases he does this by using his power to warp reality to give people what they want — at which point they find they didn’t really want it after all…

There are parallels between the Traveller stories and Tanith Lee’s later Flat Earth books. While Brunner might have influenced Lee, I think it more likely that both are playing in a sub-genre of fantasy now unfashionable, in which fantastic worlds evolve towards the mundane.

Where Lee’s Flat Earth revels in decadence, the world of the Traveller in Black is one in which one finds a sardonic pleasure in watching people get their just desserts. The delight is redoubled in that one can predict a catastrophe, but one cannot predict just HOW foolish choices will backfire. If that’s the way your sense of humour rolls, you’ll enjoy this book.

It’s always great to read a thoughtful review of a nearly 50-year old S&S vintage paperback (and it’s especially great that we’re not the only ones writing them.)

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials, by Wayne Barlowe

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Wayne Barlowe

Cover by Wayne Barlowe

The Locus Awards were established in 1972 and presented by Locus Magazine based on a poll of its readers. In more recent years, the poll has been opened up to on-line readers, although subscribers’ votes have been given extra weight. At various times the award has been presented at Westercon and, more recently, at a weekend sponsored by Locus at the Science Fiction Museum (now MoPop) in Seattle. The Best Art or Illustrated Book Award was only given in two years, 1979 and 1980 and was won by Ian Summers for Tomorrow and Beyond. In 1994, Locus introduced the Best Art Book Award, which was won by Michael Whelan for The Art of Michael Whelan: Scenes/Vision. The category has been dominated by the Spectrum series, which has won in all except six subsequent years. In 1980. The Locus Poll received 854 responses.

Wayne Douglas Barlowe and Ian Summers have created a catalog of aliens as described in numerous works of science fiction, by authors as diverse as Larry Niven, Ursula Le Guin, and Jack Vance. Each alien is according a two page spread in which the author and artist provide the name of the alien’s race, the author who created them and the work in which they appear and a full page image of the creature. The aliens are also described and frequently Barlowe has illustrated details of their hands, textures, or other things that make each race unique.

The book includes a fold-out centerfold that shows 48 of the aliens more or less at their relative sizes, from the wormlike Mesklinites from Hal Clement’s novel Mission to Gravity to Jack Williamson’s jellyfish-like Medusians from The Legion of Space. Summers admits that in many cases the size comparisons are approximate since the authors often just gave hints about an alien’s size relative to humans, who are also included in the comparison chart.

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Vintage Treasures: Through the Heart by Richard Grant

Tuesday, October 8th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Through the Heart (Bantam Spectra, 1992). Cover by Wil Cormier

When I think of Richard Grant I usually think of his high-profile 80s novels, his Philip K. Dick Award-nominated debut Saraband of Lost Time (1985), the minor classic Rumors of Spring (1986), and the post-holocaust Views from the Oldest House (1989). The last two were published by Bantam Spectra and went a long way towards cementing Grant’s reputation as a modern fantasy master.

So I was surprised to discover a Grant novel I’d never heard of on eBay a while back. I was even more surprised to discover it’s perhaps his most acclaimed book — his only novel to win a major award, the Philip K. Dick (beating out Colin Greenland’s Take Back Plenty, and Æstival Tide by Elizabeth Hand, whom he was living with at the time). I bought it immediately — for a measly $2.50 — and it arrived last month, and it’s been pulsing powerfully on my TBR pile ever since. Despite being perhaps his most celebrated work, it doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact with readers, vanishing pretty much without a trace. It had a single paperback edition in 1992, and that was it. No reprints; not even a digital edition. I couldn’t find a single real review online. Though I did come across this brief Goodreads review (by Nicholas Barone) that summarizes it nicely, comparing it to A Canticle for Leibowitz and Christopher Priest’s The Inverted World.

This well written book tells the story of Kem, a young nomadic boy in a dystopian future. He is traded to a place called the Oasis by his father in exchange for tools and supplies needed for the further survival of his family. The Oasis is a vast machine – a town on treads – that travels across the wastes on a yearly cycle, trading with the remnants of humanity as it goes.

As Kem investigates his new home, he begins to wonder and worry at the puzzle that is the Oasis’ reason for existing, as well as the meaning of his own existence.

The book reminded me at times of Christopher Priest’s classic The Inverted World and at other times of Walter Miller Jr’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. As I neared the end of the novel I found myself pulled more and more into the story – eager to finally piece together the puzzles uncovered by Kem in his tale. Some puzzles were solved, some were left unanswered, leaving the reader to ponder them on his own.

Through the Heart is something of a literary mystery… and I love a good literary mystery. I’ll give it a try this weekend.

Through the Heart was published by Bantam Spectra in January 1992. It is 376 pages, priced at $5.99 in paperback. There is no digital edition. The cover is by Wil Cormier. See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

The Case Against Environmental Exploitation: The Deathworld Trilogy by Harry Harrison

Friday, October 4th, 2019 | Posted by James Enge

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The Deathworld Trilogy, Science Fiction
Book Club edition (1974). Cover by Richard Corben

James Nicoll recently reviewed Harry Harrison’s The Deathworld Trilogy on his blog, saying “The Deathworld books haven’t aged badly. They were dire in the 1960s and they are still dire.”

I still have fond memories of the first book in this series (which may or may not be dispelled by a reread). For one thing, it really made a case against hyper-militarism and environmental exploitation. Because it’s Harrison we’re talking about, the case was not subtle, but I think it was effective.

The second novel is a self-righteous, tedious morality play about a self-righteous, tedious character who has the misfortune to partake in a different morality than his self-righteous, tedious creator. The third book is a step up from that, because anything would be. The laziness of the worldbuilding pained me even as a teenager: a cartoony version of Harold Lamb’s version of Mongols, inexplicably transplanted to another planet. On the other hand, I always enjoyed Harold Lamb’s books about Mongols, so…

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Vintage Treasures: The World of Science Fiction: The History of a Subculture by Lester Del Rey

Saturday, September 28th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Lester del Rey is one of the most important figures in the long history of Science Fiction. Along with his fourth wife Judy-Lynn del Rey, he was the editor at Del Rey Books, the hugely successful fantasy and science fiction imprint of Ballantine Books, from 1977 until his death in 1993. He wrote the long-running The Reference Library review column in Analog magazine, and was a member of the Trap Door Spiders, the New York supper group that was the basis for the Black Widowers, Isaac Asimov’s fictional group of dining detectives. But he was also a gifted writer, author of over three dozen novels and collections.

But I think my favorite book by Del Rey is his non-fiction SF history The World of Science Fiction: The History of a Subculture, written in 1979. which looked back at fifty years of genre history from 1926-1976. This is an entertaining and embracing read for true SF fans, one which wraps us up in a warm hug and lets us know we’re not alone in obsessing over obscure stories published in Galaxy magazine in the 1950s.

The World of Science Fiction is not an objective history of SF. There’s plenty of those out there — and besides, that’s not what we want or expect from del Rey. This is the story of an enormously successful publisher, the man who published the first true bestselling science fiction book in North America in 1977 (The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks), yet who remains a steadfast fan in his heart. A man whose primary emotion, as he sits atop the publishing empire he built with his own hands, is ill-concealed resentment that it took so long for the rest of the world to finally accept the genre he loves.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: “Songhouse,” by Orson Scott Card

Friday, September 27th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Paul Lehr

Cover by Paul Lehr

Cover by Lucinda Cowell

Cover by Lucinda Cowell

Analog Award was launched in 1979 for works published in the magazine in the preceding year. The award for Best Novelette has been given every year. The first award, presented in 1979, was presented to “Fireship” by Joan D. Vinge, although Orson Scott Card’s “Mikal’s Songbird” was also up for the award. In 1980, Card won the award for the sequel to “Mikal’s Songbird,” “Songhouse,” which appeared in the September, 1979 issue.

“Songhouse” related the story of a young boy over several years, although the passage of time is vague, as he is being trained in the Songhouse on Tew. Ansset Originally came to the Songhouse as an orphan, although the story does mention that he was a kidnap victim, a background feature which is mostly ignored within the confines of this specific novella. The Songhouse trains singers, who use songs, melodies, and harmonies to communicate on a variety of levels. Ansset is early on pegged to be trained for the highest honor of the house, the position of Songbird, and then to be given over to Mikal, the benevolent dictator of the galaxy.

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Vintage Treasures: The Opener of the Way by Robert Bloch

Monday, September 23rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Panther edition paperbacks (1976). Covers by Anthony Roberts.

The Opener of the Way was Robert Bloch’s very first collection, published by Arkham House way back in 1945, when he was all of 28 years old. It contained 21 stories, all but two of which originally appeared in Weird Tales, including classics such as “Waxworks,” “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” and the Cthulhu Mythos tale “The Shambler from the Stars,” which inspired Lovecraft to write “The Haunter of the Dark,” his last work.

The Opener of the Way was to be Bloch’s only fantasy collection until Pleasant Dreams—Nightmares was published by Arkham fifteen long years later. Like most early Arkham House collections, it is a very expensive book these days. It has never been reprinted in the US, which hasn’t hurt its collectability any. Fortunately Panther reprinted it in the UK in 1976, splitting it into two paperback volumes: The Opener of the Way and House of the Hatchet.

Of course, those two paperbacks are now highly sought after as well (the set pictured above sold on eBay this summer for $72.51). Which figures. I only learned about the Panther reprints recently, and after a brief search tracked down a copy of The Opener of the Way paperback for $9.95, which made me happy. Here’s a look at the contents.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel: The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

Sunday, September 22nd, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

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Galaxy and IF magazines serializing Asimov’s The Gods Themselves in 1972. Covers by Jack Gaughan

In 1973 the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards for Best Novel were each won by The Gods Themselves, by Isaac Asimov. The Gods Themselves also won Australia’s Ditmar Award for Best International Novel.

Isaac Asimov had won two previous Hugos, but neither was a “Regular” Hugo – he won a Special Award for his F&SF Science articles in 1963, and in 1966 the Foundation Series was named Best All-Time Series, a one-time category, beating out (to his expressed great surprise) Robert A. Heinlein’s Future History, Doc Smith’s Lensmen novels, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Asimov had largely stopped writing fiction in the late 1950s, slowing down to roughly a short story a year through the 1960s. Beginning in the early ‘70s, however, he began to produce more fiction, including the Black Widower mysteries, and some more SF. Robert Silverberg coaxed a story out of him for his new original anthology series, New Dimensions, and Asimov wrote “Plutonium-186,” but soon realized it should be a full novel. (He gave Silverberg another story, “Take a Match.”) “Plutonium-186” became The Gods Themselves, his first novel in 15 years (not counting the novelization of the movie Fantastic Voyage.)

The novel was first serialized in a strange way. Galaxy and If were sister magazines, each published bi-monthly. So the three (fairly separate) parts of The Gods Themselves appeared in Galaxy for March-April 1972, If for March-April 1972, and then Galaxy for May-June. The hardcover appeared from Doubleday in May.

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Space Empires, Ruined Civilizations, and Lovable Aliens: The Best of Eric Frank Russell

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

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Cover by H. R. Van Dongen

The Best of Eric Frank Russell (1978) was the eighteenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. Alan Dean Foster (1946–) provides the introduction, his first and only introduction for the series. H. R. Van Dongen (1920–2010) does his seventh cover (far surpassing Dean Ellis’s five). Since Eric Frank Russell (1905–1978) was unavailable at the time this volume was compiled, no Afterword is included.

Alan Dean Foster relates in the introduction that during a lunch with John Campbell they realized they both had the same favorite sci-fi writer: Eric Frank Russell. But both lamented (this was 1968) that Russell no longer wrote that much. This seems like very high praise, since it comes from two very influential figures in the sci-fi field. But who was Eric Frank Russell, and why did he quit writing?

Eric Frank Russell was a British writer (which I found surprising since his dialogue sounds American to my reading). He grew up in a military family, but didn’t serve in the military until World War II. Most of his early life was spent writing for American and British pulp magazines. He also produced a few novels, some fairly successful, including Sinister Barrier (1943) and Wasp (1957), which was optioned by Ringo Starr of The Beatles, but never filmed.

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