Vintage Treasures: Davy by Edgar Pangborn

Thursday, May 16th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Davy Edgar Pangborn-small Davy Edgar Pangborn-back-small

1982 Ballantine paperback reprint; cover by Boris Vallejo

Edgar Pangborn died in 1976. His last book, the collection Still I Persist in Wondering, was published in 1978. The first Pangborn story I can recall reading was his splendid tale of the first landing on an alien world, and the majestic and deadly creatures found there, “The Red Hills of Summer,” in Gardner Dozois’ anthology Explorers (2000). It was enough to turn me into an instant fan.

I never read any Pangborn during my formative teen years, but he still managed to feature prominently in my early science fiction education. That’s chiefly because the reviewer I read most avidly at the time, Spider Robinson, was a late convert and a huge fan. In his column in the March 1976 Galaxy magazine, Spider raved:

I’ve only just discovered Edgar Pangborn. I haven’t been so delighted since (years ago, thank God) I discovered Theodore Sturgeon. In fact, the comparison is apt. I like Pangborn and Sturgeon for very similar reasons. Both are thoughtful, mature writers, and both remind me at times of [John] Brunner’s Chad Mulligan [the hero of Stand on Zanzibar], bitter drunk, crying at the world, “Goddammit, I love you all.” Both are bitterly disappointed in man’s evil, and both are hopelessly in love with man’s good. Both are addicted to creating and falling in love with warmly human, vibrantly alive characters, and making you love them too.

In the November 1976 issue of Galaxy, shortly after he learned of Pangborn’s death, Spider wrote a bitter rant of his own, lamenting the loss of a great writer and the fact that the world had stubbornly refused to acknowledge his achievements. He held up Pangborn’s 1964 novel Davy as a testament to what the field had lost. I’m not sure there’s a short story from 1976 that’s lived in my mind as vividly for the past four decades as Spider’s review of Davy. Here it is.

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A Slender, Forgotten Gem: The Deep by John Crowley

Monday, May 13th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Case

The Deep John Crowley-small

1984 Bantam paperback edition; cover by Yvonne Gilbert

Some authors create slender, nearly flawless works of fiction. Books like little jewels on the shelf — cut just right, gleaming, standing alone. Beagle managed this a few times: A Fine and Private Place, The Last Unicorn. Goldman turned his into a movie that was nearly as good: The Princess Bride. Swanwick and Wolfe have done it with literary science fiction: Stations of the Tide and The Fifth Head of Cerberus, respectively. The Deep is a book like this: finely wrought, chiseled, alien.

Is this tiny 1975 volume science fiction or fantasy? On the one hand, the book starts with the Visitor, a damaged android who arrives in the book’s world with no memory of what he is or his mission. But the world he’s in, the culture and factions of which his ignorance provides the perfect excuse for a narrator’s artful explanation, is purely fantasy: a kingdom riven by conflict between Reds and Blacks, with a city at its center and wild wastes surrounding, ringed on all sides by the Deep.

The world, as different characters explain at different times, is a platter or a plate suspended on the Deep by a great pillar. And even when the android journeys to the edge of this world and meets the Leviathan who dwells there, when he learns the nature of the engineered conflict and how humans were first settled on the world, Crowley doesn’t ever default to pure science fiction. Even if the reader can credit a resettled humanity in the far future, reset to medieval technology with continual wars to control the population, the story still leaves you with a flat world upon the Deep. Somehow, this central oddity works; it keeps a surreal wrinkle in the heart of the world Crowley creates.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Skylark Award: Larry Niven

Sunday, May 12th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

World of Ptavvs-small The Long ARM of Gil Hamilton-small Ringworld-small

The Skylark Award, also called the Edward E. Smith Award for Imaginative Fiction, has been presented by the New England Science Fiction Association (NESFA)

to  some person, who, in the opinion of the membership, has contributed significantly to science fiction, both through work in the field and by exemplifying the personal qualities which made the late “Doc” Smith well-loved by those who knew him.

The Award is presented at Boskone – alas, I missed the presentation the two times I’ve attended Boskone (a favorite convention of mine based on those two visits) – in 2017 it went to Jo Walton, and in 2019 to Melinda Snodgrass.

The first winner, in 1966, was Frederik Pohl (Smith having died in 1965.) Over the years it has gone primary to writers, but also to artist, editors, and fans. In 1973 the award went to Larry Niven. One implication of the association of the award with Doc Smith might be that it would go to writers of Space Opera, but that really hasn’t been the case, by and large. That said, while Larry Niven didn’t exactly write Space Opera in the Doc Smith mode, I think what he wrote qualified.

As the title of this series – Golden Age – might suggest, I started reading SF seriously in 1972, when I was 12. I was certainly reading Niven not long after, and I read him with intense pleasure in those years. I remember in particular encountering his story collection Tales of Known Space at Paradise Bookshop in Naperville, IL (located at the site of the now well-known Anderson Books, though I believe the stores have no other connection) in 1975, with the glorious Rick Sternbach “Star Map” cover. I devoured Niven’s books back in the day – Protector might have been my favorite, but I liked them all – A Gift From Earth, World of Ptavvs, the Gil Hamilton stories. (Oddly, perhaps, his Hugo and Nebula winner Ringworld was never a favorite.) And of course the short stories were wonderful.

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An Offshore Haul

Saturday, May 11th, 2019 | Posted by Tony Den

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Latest Haul

As I’m sure regular visitors have noticed, Black Gate has over time become a home for like-minded people, introducing readers to new authors. The regular posts that really appeal to me are, not surprisingly, John O’Neill’s reports on the book collections he’s secured online, or via visits to local conventions like Windy City Pulp & Paper. Nick Ozment has also come across the odd windfall while glancing about thrift stores.

Not to be outdone this side of the Atlantic, I’ve also made some cool finds, often at bargain prices. Recently I killed an hour in a second hand bookshop, and it’s a testament to Black Gate that the books I came away with were far different from what I would have sought out a decade ago.

The shop in question is a bit of a mess, with volumes haphazardly stacked. They have (for the most part) separated books into genres, but between inattentive browsers — and perhaps just lack of diligence on the part of the owners — the books are all over the show, with only a minor nod to any sort of alphabetic sorting. Faced with this challenge, I dug in and soon found myself sporting a decent pile of overlooked volumes, including the sought after Panther version of Farewell Fantastic Venus (discussed at Black Gate some time back).

While nowhere near the size of many of John’s hauls, I am fair impressed with what I managed to pick up for the princely sum of ZAR97 (about USD6.75). The only duplicate, that I am aware of (mistakes have been made before), is the Lyndon Hardy, which I chose to complete the set by the same publisher.

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Vintage Treasures: Tea With the Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy

Saturday, May 11th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Tea With the Black Dragon was R.A. (Bertie) MacAvoy’s debut novel — and what a debut it was. It was the book everyone was talking about in 1983, and it was nominated for the Locus Award for Best First Novel (which it won), as well as the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, and Philip K. Dick Awards (which it lost to Startide Rising, The Dragon Waiting, and The Anubis Gates, respectively.  You can’t say it wasn’t a year with worthy competition.)

In his 2015 Throwback Thursday article at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Jeff Somers helped re-introduce the book to a lot of modern fantasy readers, with a rather clever description of the plot.

I like to think of R.A. MacAvoy’s marvelous Tea with the Black Dragon as a quantum state fantasy, because it both is and is not a fantasy novel. The waveform collapse occurs inside your head when you read it… Martha Macnamara is a middle-aged, free-spirited musician who travels to California at the request of her semi-estranged daughter, who works in a finance role in the burgeoning California software industry. Put up in a swanky hotel, Martha meets Mayland Long, an older Asian man with elegant manners and a lot of money. Their conversation hints that he was an eyewitness to momentous events throughout history, and counts as close friends many long-dead historical figures. He and Martha strike up a thoroughly charming, adult relationship, instantly and believably drawn to one another. When Martha’s daughter goes missing, Long agrees to assist in tracking her down. Which could be useful, as he claims to be a 2,000-year old black dragon in human form. Boom.

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Vintage Treasures: Infinite Dreams by Joe Haldeman

Sunday, May 5th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Clyde Caldwell

Joe Haldeman is chiefly known for his Hugo and Nebula award-winning novels, including The Forever War (1974), Forever Peace (1997), and Camouflage (2004). But he’s equally adept at shorter length, and in fact has been nominated for many major awards for his short fiction, including the novellas “Hero” and “The Hemingway Hoax,” and the stories “Tricentennial,” “Graves,” “None So Blind,” and “Four Short novels.”

Over the years I’ve hunted down several of his collections, including Dealing in Futures (1985), A Separate War and Other Stories (2006), and the huge retrospective volume from Subterranean Press, The Best of Joe Haldeman (2013). But I only recently became aware of his first collection Infinite Dreams, published in paperback by Avon in 1979 with a cover by popular TSR artist Clyde Caldwell.

Infinite Dreams gathers much of the best of his early short fiction, published 1972 – 1977 in magazines like Analog, Galaxy, F&SF and Cosmos, and anthologies like Damon Knight’s Orbit 11, and Kirby McCauley’s Frights. It contains “To Howard Hughes: A Modest Proposal,” “The Private War of Private Jacob,” “The Mazel Tov Revolution,” and his Hugo and Locus Award winner “Tricentennial.”

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Vintage Treasures: On Wings of Song by Thomas M. Disch

Wednesday, May 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Bantam Books, 1985. Cover by Kid Kane

Last time I wrote about Thomas M. Disch I got a cranky note from Michael Moorcock, taking me to task for calling him a “tragic figure.” Fair enough. He’s not quite as forgotten as I made him out to be, either. There are still people whispering about Thomas Disch in dusty corners of the internet, if you know where to look.

Me, for one. Disch is a fairly recent discovery for me, I admit, and I probably would never have tried him if it hadn’t been for a few lone voices out there still championing his quirky brand of SF, including Rich HortonTed Gioia, and Jo Walton. It was Jo who helped pique my interest in his 1979 novel On Wings of Song, with her 2011 review at Tor.com.

It’s a fascinating complex world. There are machines which you hook up to and sing sincerely, and if you do it right you have an out of body experience. They call this flying, and it’s banned in the same way that drugs are banned — illegal but available… There are famines when rations get cut to starvation levels, and prisons where you have to get McDonalds takeout to survive…

We don’t seem to have a word to describe the kind of story this is. It’s the whole life story, from age five to death, of Daniel Weinreb… He wants to fly, he wants it more than anything. His life is complicated and largely unheroic, the kind of life people actually have in reality and seldom have in fiction. But it’s a life he could only have in that time and place, in the world he lives in. It’s a book about how he grows up and what happens to him and what he wants and what he has to do to get by.

The book is depressing and hilarious in a way that’s very hard to describe. Most of Disch is brilliant and depressing, this is brilliant and depressing and moving and funny… You really want to read On Wings of Song. You might not like it, but it’s one of the books that marks the boundaries of what it’s possible to do with SF.

On Wings of Song was a Hugo nominee, and won the Campbell Award. But I’m certain I would have bounced off it when it was first published. In 1980 I was discovering Roger Zelazny, Robert A. Heinlein, and Stephen R. Donaldson, and busy falling in love with the sweeping adventure epics SF had to offer. I was just one of the many science fiction readers who ignored Disch completely. Definitely my loss.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Nebula Award for Best Novella: “A Meeting With Medusa” by Arthur C. Clarke

Saturday, April 27th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

A Meeting with Medusa Tor Double-small

Tor Double #1, October 1988. Cover by Vincent Di Fate

Arthur C. Clarke, of course, was a towering figure in SF circles – when I began reading SF, there was an indisputable “Big Three”: Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and Clarke. And, indeed, that’s how I saw things at that age. Curiously, Heinlein was not really central to my earliest reading, and I didn’t read the bulk of his juveniles until a couple of decades later (though I had read his adult work in my teens.) But Clarke and Asimov were among the “adult” SF writers I first discovered, and I was reading novels like Against the Fall of Night when I was 12.

Clarke was born in 1917. He began publishing SF in 1946 with “Rescue Party” (a story that still gives me a thrill.) He made his mark in SF in the next decade or so with many further fine stories and with novels like The City and the Stars and Childhood’s End. He made his mark in the wider world when the movie 2001 appeared in 1968 – Clarke had written the original story (“The Sentinel”) upon which it was based, and he also worked with Kubrick on developing the story for the movie, and wrote the “novelization.” He had moved to Sri Lanka in 1956, partly because of his interest in scuba diving, but also possibly because he was gay, and homosexual activity was still illegal in England. He was knighted in 1998, at which time disturbing stories accusing him of pedophilia surfaced. He was cleared by the Sri Lankan police, and died a decade later.

“A Meeting with Medusa” first appeared in Playboy in December 1971. (I’m not sure why it was still eligible for the Nebula ballot in 1973 – this was before the “rolling eligibility” period of the Nebulas.) I’d have reproduced a cover image of its first place of publication, but Black Gate is a family website, as so well evidenced by the Margaret Brundage paintings we sometimes feature! I should also mention that this was a period when Playboy published a fair amount of excellent SF — for example, Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Nine Lives”, just a couple of years earlier.

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Tor.com on Abandoned Earths and Inhospitable Planets

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Everyone knows that Top Ten lists are irresistable clickbait for bibliophiles. That’s why there are so damned many. Top Ten Science Fiction novels of the 80s. Top 50 Fantasy Novels of All Time. Top 100 Hobbits in Science Fiction, Yo. Don’t lie to me, you know you love ’em.

Anyway, over the last few years book sites have gotten a little more clever, spicing up run-of-the-mill Top Ten lists with more interesting themes. A couple of my recent favorites both appeared at Tor.com: James Davis Nicoll’s SF Stories Featuring Abandoned Earths, and Kelly Jensen’s Five Inhospitable Planets from Science Fiction. Both feature topics near-and-dear to my old school heart and, even better, they showcase classic books from Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda McIntyre, Poul Anderson, Michael Swanwick, Arthur C. Clarke, Joe Haldeman, Mel Odom, and Kim Stanley Robinson, and more, with nods to films like The Chronicles of Riddick and Interstellar.

Really, these things are just excuses to write about books we love, and what’s wrong with that? Nuthin’, that’s what’s wrong with that. This is what the internet is for, people.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Hugo Award for Best Editor: Ben Bova

Sunday, April 21st, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

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The 1973 Hugo Award for Best Editor went to Ben Bova. This was the first year of the Best Editor Hugo. It has been awarded every year since then, though in 2007 it was split in two, with a Best Editor Award given for Short Form and Long Form editors. This last reflected the fact that the Best Editor was a de facto award for Best Editor Short Form all along. (While I completely agree that “Long Form” editors are tremendously important to the field, and deserve recognition, I still think that the Hugo voters – even people, like me, who are pretty well connected – are not really competent to evaluate Long Form editing.) The original impetus, I believe, for the Best Editor Award was as a replacement for the Best Professional Magazine award, and the idea was that the increased importance of original anthologies to the short fiction market meant that just awarding a “Best Prozine” award would miss some really important editors. In the event, however, the only two Best Editor awards not linked to magazines were Terry Carr in 1985 and 1987, and Judy-Lynn Del Rey in 1986 (award refused by her widower, Lester Del Rey.) Indeed, the only winner of the Best Professional Editor Short Form Hugo who is not primarily associated with a magazine has been Ellen Datlow (whose win in 2005 of the Best Professional Editor Award can be partly attributed to her role editing Sci Fiction, but whose later Hugos presumably result from her original anthologies and her editing of the Best Fantasy and Horror (now just Best Horror) collections).

Bova’s fellow nominees in 1973 were two additional magazine editors, Edward Ferman at F&SF and Ted White at Amazing/Fantastic. (Bova, of course, was the editor of Analog.) Terry Carr was nominated, presumably for the original anthology series Universe and for his Best Science Fiction of the Year series. And Donald Wollheim was nominated, probably for his role as chief acquiring editor at DAW, and for editing The 1972 Annual World’s Best SF. Conspicuous by his absence is Ejler Jakobsson, editor of Galaxy and If.

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