Birthday Reviews: Peter S. Beagle’s “King Pelles the Sure”

Friday, April 20th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Lisa Snelling

Cover by Lisa Snelling

Peter S. Beagle was born on April 20, 1939.

Beagle received the Nebula Award and Hugo Award for his novelette “Two Hearts,” set in the same world as his classic novel The Last Unicorn. He received the Mythopoeic Award in 1987 for his novel The Folk of the Air and in 2000 for the novel Tamsin.  His collection The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche and Other Odd Acquaintances received the Grand Priz de l’Imaginaire and his story “El Regalo” received the WSFA Small Press Award. He has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award seven times, and in 2011 received their Lifetime Achievement Award. In about a month, Beagle will be inducted as a SFWA Grand Master at the 2018 SFWA Nebula Conference in Pittsburgh, PA.

“King Pellas the Sure” was first published in the chapbook Strange Roads, which contained three original stories by Beagle. David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer included the story in Year’s Best Fantasy 9 and Rich Horton included it in The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2009 Edition. Beagle has included the story in two of his own collections, We Never Talk About My Brother and Mirror Kingdoms: The Best of Peter S. Beagle.

“King Pelles the Sure,” focuses on the monarch of an infinitesimal kingdom who yearns for the glory that he sees warrior kings attaining. Despite the protestations of his Grand Vizier, who has already seen what war really does, as opposed to the glorification of war that is the stuff of bards and legend, King Pelles insists that they arrange to be invaded by one of their neighbors.

In this strangely manufactured war, Beagle’s story recalls the 1955 Leonard Wibberley novel The Mouse That Roared, although Beagle’s story is much less satirical than Wibberly’s. After the war begins, King Pelles finds that no matter what his intentions, once the dogs of war have been loosed, they can not be effectively reined in. The tale could have been a trite fairy tale, but the manner in which Beagle teaches Pelles a variety of lessons makes it a memorable fable.

Reviewed in its original publication in the collection Strange Roads, by Peter S. Beagle, DreamHaven, 2008.

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Birthday Reviews: Adrian Rogoz’s “The Altar of the Random Gods”

Thursday, April 19th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Almanahul literar

Almanahul literar

Adrian Rogoz was born on April 19, 1921 in Bucharest Romania, and died on July 28, 1996. He was a founding member of the first science fiction fan club in Romania, SF Cenacle. In addition to his own work, Rogoz translated works by Ivan Efremov and Stanislaw Lem into Romanian.

“The Altar of the Random Gods” was originally published in Almanahul literar in 1970 as “Altarul zeilor Stohasrici.” Its English translation first appeared in Franz Rottensteiner’s anthology of European science fiction View from Another Shore, and has been included in several reprints of that volume. The story has also been translated into French, Dutch, Hungarian, German (twice), Serbian, and Italian.

In this translation of “The Altar of the Random Gods,” by Matthew J. O’Connell, Rogoz describes the trip from Mobile to Huntsville Alabama via a superfast highway of computer controlled cars. Homer is making the journey and looking forward to seeing Barbara at the end of it when a freakish malfunction occurs.

The story is interesting not because of its predictions about technology or the way Homer takes the superhighspeed transportation for granted, but rather because of the way it feels like a mixture of science fiction and fantasy. The first half of the story, up until the collision, is clearly in the realms of science fiction, tothe point where Rogoz’s descriptions (or at least the translations of those descriptions) feels clichéd.

Following the accident, the story moves more into the realm of fantasy, with Homer meeting three gods, who may well be aliens, who explain to him what has happened. Rather than speak in the terms gods in fantasy stories usually use, the gods in “The Altar of the Random Gods” speak in terms of probability, using mathematics to tell Homer what has happened to him and what he can expect for his life going forward.

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Sorcery and Science: The Broken Lands by Fred Saberhagen

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

The Broken Lands Saberhagan-smallI wonder if Fred Saberhagen suspected that his short 1968 novel, The Broken Lands, was laying the groundwork for a series that would ultimately run 15 volumes. The initial three books, The Broken Lands, The Black Mountains (1971), and Changeling Earth (1973) — collected together as The Empire of the East — take place in America a long time after some yet-undefined catastrophe. While bits and pieces of technology — one giant piece in particular — survive, there is also magic. Wizards, familiars, demons, elementals, even love charms, they’re all there in a very unfamiliar landscape.

The setup for The Broken Lands is one only the slackest of readers haven’t encountered a hundred times or more: young boy faces off against evil empire, discovering and drawing on heretofore unknown skills and abilities. Along the way he encounters unrequited love, a wise mentor, and a villain with honor (and more style than everyone else). The primary narrative concerns the search for a secret thing with which to fight the empire. Did I mention the empire was evil?

I like this book way more than I should. Stock as the characters are, routine as the setup feels, at some point we start getting hints that something bigger and better is going on. In fact, that it feels like what’s coming next is going to be familiar, and then it isn’t, is a big part of the book’s success for me. In the meantime Saberhagen’s writing is clean and the story’s pacing is brisk. There’s little poetry in The Broken Lands, but there is an economy that keeps the undertakings lively and enjoyable.

Only recently has the much-feared Empire of the East expanded its grasping hands into the West. The people of the region, mostly farmers, have been easily conquered and cowed into submission. In addition to bronze-helmeted soldiers, the forces under the local Satrap, Ekuman, include intelligent flying reptiles and a pair of wizards. It is with his wizards the Satrap is conferring as the book begins.

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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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Birthday Reviews: Kingsley Amis’s “Mason’s Life”

Monday, April 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

The Young Oxford Book of Nightmares-small

Cover by George Smith

Kingsley Amis was born on April 16, 1922 and died on October 22, 1995.

Amis won the 1977 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for his alternate history novel The Alteration. In 1990 he was knighted and made a Commander of the British Empire for his services to literature. Some of his major works included the novel Lucky Jim and the essay collection New Maps of Hell. He edited the five volume anthology series Spectrum with Robert Conquest. Amis’s son, Martin, also became a novelist and has written within the speculative fiction genre.

Amis originally published “Mason’s Life” in The Sunday Times in 1972. Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss included it in their Best SF: 1973. Helen Hoke included the story in Ghostly, Grim and Gruesome. The story reappeared in Amis’s collection Collected Short Stories. Peter Haining used it in Ghost Tour and Sebastian Wolfe included it in The Little Book of Horrors: Tiny Tales of Terror. When James E. Gunn expanded his The Road to Science Fiction, he included the story in volume 5, The British Way, and in 2000 it was included in The Young Oxford Book of Nightmares, edited by Dennis Pepper. “Mason’s Life” was translated into French in 1979 and 1984.

“Mason’s Life” is an existential piece of fiction that describes an encounter between Daniel Pettigrew and George Herbert Mason. In their encounter, Pettigrew seems exceedingly pushy, demanding personal information of Mason moments after the two meet. Although Mason balks, he does provide Pettigrew with the requested details. Pettigrew eventually explains that he needs them so he can discover if Mason is part of Pettigrew’s dream or one of the few real people in the world.

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Birthday Reviews: Jim C. Hines’s “Spell of the Sparrow”

Sunday, April 15th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Sword and Sorceress XXI-small Sword and Sorceress XXI-back-small

Cover by Arthur Rackham, 1910

Jim C. Hines was born on April 15, 1974.

Hines took first place in the Writers of the Future first quarter contest in 1999 for his story “Blade of the Bunny.” His novel Red Hood’s Revenge was nominated for the Gaylactic Spectrum Award. In 2012, he won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer.

“Spell of the Sparrow” first appeared in Sword and Sorceress XXI, edited by Diana L. Paxson. An audio version was included in PodCastle 13, edited by Rachel Swirsky. Hines included it in his e-book collection Kitemaster and Other Stories and it was also reprinted in his collection The Goblin Master’s Grimoire.

While there are many tales of changelings and children who are abducted by fairies, Hines goes for a different story in “Spell of the Sparrow.” Alycia and James are two happily married former thieves with a daughter who, against her mother’s wishes, sneaks off to practice magic. Their lives are thrown into turmoil when Basi, a Cloudling, turns up, having cast a love spell on James. Although Hines explains that Cloudlings use bird magic, and Basi has a sparrow as a familiar, he never fully explains what she is, nor why she chose to cast a spell on James.

“Spell of the Sparrow” is a puzzle story, with James in love with both Alycia and Basi, unable and unwilling to betray either one. Alycia and their daughter, Mel, must try to figure out a way to break the spell, although Basi, and Hines, set enough strictures on the way Cloudling magic works and Mel’s abilities that breaking the spell becomes nearly impossible.

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Vintage Treasures: Witch Blood by Will Shetterly

Friday, April 13th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Witch Blood Will Shetterly-small Witch Blood Will Shetterly-back-small

Will Shetterly’s first novel Cats Have No Lord was published in 1985, the same year he launched his groundbreaking Liavek shared world anthology series, which he co-edited with his wife Emma Bull. Cats Have No Lord placed sixth in the annual Locus Poll for Best First Novel (losing to Tad Williams, Guy Gavriel Kay, Michael Swanwick, and Carl Sagan, but placing ahead of Geoff Ryman, Judith Tarr, Sheila Finch, and Dan Simmons — man, 1985 was a competitive year!)

Over the next few years Shetterly quickly established a solid reputation, with novels like The Tangled Lands (1989), Nevernever (1993), and especially Dogland (1997), the tale a of child growing up in a dog-themed amusement park. It was inspired by his early years at the Dog Land tourist attraction, which was owned by his parents. His novel Elsewhere (1991), part of Terri Windling’s shared universe The Borderland, won the Minnesota Book Award. He has largely given up writing since producing his last book, Midnight Girl, a self-published online novel, in 2009.

Witch Blood was his second novel; it was released as a paperback original by Ace in April 1986. It has never been reprinted, although Shetterly released a digital edition in 2012. When it was released Orson Scott Card called it “”A funny, exciting adventure story that delighted me from beginning to end.” Modern readers draw strong parallels to Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels, which seems like a fair comparison. It’s not hard to find; I bought a copy last weekend at Half Price Books for $1.49. It is 197 pages, with a cover price of $2.95. The cover is by Penalva.


Birthday Reviews: Emil Petaja’s “Found Objects”

Thursday, April 12th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Hannes Bok

Cover by Hannes Bok

Emil Petaja was born on April 12, 1915 and died on August 17, 2000.

Petaja published thirteen novels and more than 150 short stories. His Otava series, beginning with the novel Saga of Lost Earths, is based on the Finnish epic the Kalevala. Petaja was a close friend of artist Hannes Bok and founded the Bokanalia Foundation, which included a small art press, in 1967. He published three portfolios of Bok’s work as well as a commemorative volume. He was also the chairman of the Golden Gate Futurians, a San Francisco based science fiction club for professionals and fans. He was named the first Author Emeritus by SFWA in 1994.

“Found Objects” was originally published in Petaja’s collection Stardrift and Other Fantastic Flostsam in 1971, published by William L. Crawford’s Fantasy Publishing Company. Robin Wayne Bailey chose the story as one of five stories to represent Petaja in Architects of Dreams: The SFWA Author Emeritus Anthology, which covered the first five Author Emeriti named by SFWA.

Set in a contemporary San Francisco, “Found Objects” revolves around a party for a group of amateur artists as one of their number, the benefactor Triptich, is planning on departing San Francisco. He tells one of the guests, Jack Clay, that the purpose of the party is to help all of the attendees achieve a crest in their lives, a moment of perfect enjoyment before he has to leave, a concept which dovetailed neatly with thoughts Jack had while driving to the party.

Jack and his wife Mab don’t see eye to eye on things.  Jack just wants to do his own thing and move forward, while Mab likes to make life as difficult for those around her as possible, making a big show at the end to draw attention to herself. Her actions are passive-aggressive and for the purposes of Triptich’s party take the form of a refusal to wear the clothing he selected for her and then to disappear once she is at the party.

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Are We Fans of a Dying Art Form? James Wallace Harris on Old Science Fiction Stories

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The-Best-Science-Fiction-Stories-1951-small The-Best-Science-Fiction-Stories-1951-back-small

I’ve been enjoying James Wallace Harris’ blog Auxiliary Memory. Recent topics include A History of the SF Best-of-the-Year Anthology, a cover survey of the Del Rey Classic Science Fiction series and, a particular favorite of mine, his review of Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg’s The Great SF Stories 1 (1939). I think one of the reasons I enjoy his blog is that, like a few of us here at Black Gate, James particularly enjoys classic SF stories, which is kind of a speciality interest these days. Although James seems to worry more about declining readership than I do.

There are a handful of blogs that reflect a love for old science fiction short stories. That suggests we are the keepers of a very weak flame. I see many of the same names posting comments at these sites. Are we the fans of a dying art form? I don’t think science fiction is dying out, but I do think new science fiction gets most of the attention… There are more anthologies than ever collecting the best short science fiction of the year, including one from the prestigious Best American Series. And there’s plenty of places that publish new short science fiction. I believe the readership is smaller today than we I was growing up, but the science fiction short story is still going strong despite the overwhelming popularity of media science fiction.

Yes, new science fiction gets most of the attention — and that’s because it is blessed with talented newcomers producing terrifically exciting new work, like Lavie Tidhar, Linda Nagata, Sarah Pinsker, Kelly Link, Yoon Ha Lee, Charlie Jane Anders, C.S.E. Cooney, Rich Larson, Aliette de Bodard, and many others. And that’s exactly as it should be. There’s a word for a genre that focuses too much on the past: Dead. Science Fiction is not dead, it is very much alive and thriving. That’s takes nothing away from the great old SF we enjoyed decades ago — it’s still there waiting for readers of a new generation to discover. But first we have to win over that new generation of readers, and it takes modern writers to do that.

You can read the complete text of James’ rambly but entertaining post Remembering Old Science Fiction Short Stories here.


Birthday Reviews: David Langford’s “Waiting for the Iron Age”

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Tim Gray

Cover by Tim Gray

David Langford was born on April 10, 1953.

Langford may be best known as the holder of twenty-one Hugo Awards for Best Fan Writer, including an unprecedented nineteen year winning streak. During that time he also won six Hugo Awards for Best Fanzine for Ansible and a Best Short Story Hugo for “Different Kinds of Darkness.” In 2012, he won his 29th and most recent Hugo for Best Related Work for The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Third Edition, edited with John Clute, Peter Nicholls, and Graham Sleight. Langford has tied with Charles N. Brown for the most Hugo Awards won.

In addition to his Hugo Awards, Langford has won a FAAN Award for Best Fan Writer at Corflu, and three British SF Awards, for his short story “Cube Root,” his non-fiction Introduction to Maps: The Uncollected John Sladek, and the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. His Ansible Link column won a Non-Fiction British Fantasy Award. In 2002, Boskone awarded Langford a Skylark Award.

“Waiting for the Iron Age” was originally published by Brian Stableford in the anthology Tales of the Wandering Jew in 1991. Langford later included it in his collection Different Kinds of Darkness.

Langford explores the life of the immortal in “Waiting for the Iron Age.” His narrator is unidentified, but has clearly lived for millennia and has acquired and retained knowledge over that time, although it is also clear that at various times throughout his lifespan he’s undergone a series of rebirths of a sort, which don’t imply death, but do indicate a new start in life. During the Twentieth Century the narrator acquires the scientific terms to discuss his situation and begins to use scientific theories to express himself and a prognosis for his future.

“Waiting for the Iron Age” lacks a plot, focusing on the philosophical with a strong dose of the mathematical to look at the situation the narrator finds himself in. The lack of a storyline will make the story less accessible to many readers, but Langford does offer a distinctive take on the mental processes of someone who has lived an extremely long time with no end in sight.

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