Vintage Treasures: The Blessing Trilogy by William Barnwell

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Blessing Papers-small Imram-small The Sigma Curve-small

William Barnwell isn’t a name well remembered today. He published only three novels, a postapocalyptic fantasy trilogy set in Ireland called The Blessing Trilogy, and a short prequel, before he vanished.

The Blessing Papers (1980)
Imram (1981)
The Sigma Curve (1981)

All three books in the trilogy were published by Pocket/Timescape.

The 80s, the decade of The Road Warrior and The Terminator, was a popular time for these nuclear postapocalytpic epics. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, they seemed to fall out of style. Today, the future is a grim young adult dystopia. I don’t know about you, but I preferred the future in the 80s.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward Re-Read “The Tower of the Elephant”

Monday, August 31st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Art for "Tower of the Elephant" by Mark Schultz

Art for “Tower of the Elephant” by Mark Schultz

Over at Howard Andrew Jones’ blog, Bill Ward and Howard Andrew Jones continue their re-read of the first Del Rey Conan volume, The Coming of Conan, with the classic “The Tower of the Elephant,” originally published in the March 1933 issue of Weird Tales.

Howard: THIS is Robert E. Howard at his absolute best, in complete control of his narrative, knowing his character better than his closest friend. His Hyborian history article was written just prior to his penning of “The Tower of the Elephant,” which makes sense, because he knows the history and societies so well that he casually mentions cultures in such a way we can usually intuit what he’s talking about…

Bill: Here Conan is a “gray wolf among gutter rats,” to paraphrase just one of the great lines in the opener. From the first paragraph of this section that paints a vivid picture of The Maul, the thieves district of Zamora where the guards have been bribed with “stained coins” to leave the criminals alone, all the way to the conclusion… I think this opener, and this story in general, is one of the best introductions to Conan, and probably the one I would hand a novice that was interested in seeing what all the fuss is about…

Howard: And damn, there are giant spider fights, and then there’s the fight with the thing in the top room of the tower. The only giant spider fight I’ve read that’s on the same level is the one from the first Bard book by Keith Taylor. You can see this monster and its dripping venom, so virulent that it scars Conan for life… It’s just incredibly well written, so much so that even after reading this story multiple times I still find it thrilling. And unsettling.

Their previous posts on this topic have included discussions of Howard’s “The Hyborian Age,” and “The Phoenix on the Sword.” Read the complete exchange here.


Vintage Treasures: The Martian Inca by Ian Watson

Saturday, August 29th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Martian Inca-smallBritish author Ian Watson has published 34 SF and fantasy novels and eleven short story collections, including The Books of the Black Current trilogy, The Embedding, Alien Embassy, God’s World, The Gardens of Delight, and Queenmagic, Kingmagic. He’s also the author of The Inquisition War trilogy, three early novels in the Warhammer 40K universe.

His fourth novel, published in hardcover by Charles Scribner’s Sons and reprinted in paperback by Ace Books in 1978, was The Martian Inca. When a Martian probe returning to Earth crash-lands in the Peruvian Andes, a virulent infection wipes out whole tribe…. all except one man, who awakens from a fever with miraculous powers — and a strange destiny.

The Mars Probe has crashed.

A triumph of Soviet technology, the first two-way interplanetary probe performed brilliantly until the final stage of its return. Then something went wrong: rather than following its programmed course to a soft landing in its country of origin, the probe crashed in the Peruvian Andes.

Now a weird infection beyond the understanding of medical science has wiped out an entire village — except for one man, who, alone and undiscovered by medics, survives. He has awakened to find himself become his own ancestor, and a god. Suddenly the flames of an Indian revolution are spreading South America; he is the Martian Inca.

The Martian Inca was published by Ace Books in October 1978. It is 299 pages in paperback, priced at $1.95; it remained out of print in the U.S. until a digital version was published in 2011. The cover is by Stephen Hickman.

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.


The Three Phases of Adam Warlock: Return from the Dead

Saturday, August 29th, 2015 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Infinity_Gauntlet_Vol_1_1_001I’ve been taking a look at Adam Warlock, one of my favorite comic characters. In previous posts, I’ve written about his early period as a failed messiah figure on Counter-Earth in the early- and mid-1970s, and then his Jim-Starlin-written tragic middle period as the cosmic champion of life, which led to his heroic death in 1977.

Today, I want to take up the thread of the Adam Warlock saga fourteen years later, when both he and the Champion of Death, Thanos, were resurrected as the core of a massive cross-over event called The Infinity Gauntlet.

This may be timely for some folk who had never read the original or reprinted Warlock runs, because Marvel movies have already teased us with a hero-sized cocoon in a Thor movie and have announced an Infinity War movie for 2018.

So, since the Infinity Gauntlet series is now 24 years old, I’m not going to issue spoiler alerts; I’ll likely just berate you for not having read this already (you can, incidentally, stop reading this post, go pick up the Infinity Gauntlet at comixology.com, and then come back when you’re done; I don’t own Marvel stock or anything, it’s just that much fun).

To remind readers where we left off, in 1977, Adam Warlock, the lonely, tragic Champion of Life, killed Thanos, the nihilistic, insane cosmic Champion of Death. Fast forward to 1991 to Infinity Gauntlet #1, and we find that quite a bit has happened. Death has been chaffing at the imbalance between Life and Death and has pulled out her greatest admirer and lover, Thanos to rectify things.

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How G.O.G. Rescued the Classic Forgotten Realms Computer Games

Thursday, August 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Pool of Radiance SSI Gold Box-smallLast year I signed up at GOG.com, the digital video game distribution platform, because they had great deals on classic RPGs. I’m not kidding — this site requires some serious self control. I got Starflight & Starflight 2 for just $2.99, Planescape: Torment for $3.99, Wizardry 6 & 7 for $2.99, and Baldur’s Gate for $3.99. Best of all, they did all the hard work of converting the games to run on modern versions of Windows, so I could stop fussing around with DOSBox and my Amiga emulator. GOG is owned by CD Projekt, a Polish company that also owns CD Projekt RED, the developer behind the popular Witcher games.

A few weeks ago I was delighted to discover they were now offering a package deal on my all-time favorite computer role playing games — SSI’s Pool of Radiance and its various sequels, the so-called Gold Box games. I bought a package of eight games for $9.99 (and I swear I’m going to play them soon. All of ‘em!) But I hadn’t realized the amazing story behind GOG’s new offering — that in order to secure these classic games, the company had to navigate a legal ownership maze to obtain the rights, before they could begin the hard work of converting them for modern platforms. Dan Griliopoulos at PC Gamer posted an excellent article yesterday exploring just what was involved:

With the trail running cold, GOG tracked down SSI’s original President and founder, Joel Billings. “As a huge fan of D&D he was willing to help walk us through a detailed history behind SSI mergers and narrow the search down to two potential candidates: Mattel, or Gores Technology Group (who had acquired The Learning Company). The latter was a hit. We had found the actual rights owners to the Forgotten Realms games, and after several more months of negotiations, they agreed to sell them to us outright.”

GOG managed to recover thirteen games this way. They are: the party-based RPG Pool of Radiance; its sequels Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades and Pools of Darkness; C&C creators Westwood’s minigame RPG Hillsfar; the RPG construction kit Unlimited Adventures; Westwood’s first-person Eye of the Beholder Trilogy; the roguelike FPS Dungeon Hack; the two Savage Frontier games; and the Ultima Underworld-like Underdark exploration game Menzoberranzan.

Then they had the not-so-small matter of getting all thirteen running and bug-free for modern systems including Windows 10. Considering these were huge games — and not bug free in their release versions — that’s a massive task that the GOG team has been working on since April.

Read the complete article at PC Gamer — and check out the amazing and fast-growing library of old games at GOG.com.


Vintage Treasures: The Pocket Games of Task Force Games, Part One

Thursday, August 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Starfire Task Force Games-small Asteroid Zero-Four-small Valkenburg Castle-smaller

The Shiva Option-smallTask Force Games, based in Amarillo, Texas, was one of the very best board game companies in the business in the 80s, especially for science fiction fans. They published the majestic Federation & Empire (and its follow-up, Federation Commander), Kings Bounty, Godsfire, Battlewagon, Armor at Kursk, Musketeers, and the RPGs Crime Fighter, Prime Directive (based on Star Trek), and the glorious Heroes of Olympus — among many, many others — before the company was sold to Might & Magic developer New World Computing in 1988, and then went out of business.

Of course, who could afford big games like that? Not me, that’s for sure. But that’s okay, because Task Force Games was also a pioneer in the microgame market, with a line of truly stellar Pocket Games, starting with Starfire in 1979. Starfire was one of the most successful microgames ever released. It sold a zillion copies, went through six different editions, and is still being sold today by Starfire Design Studio. It was so popular it eventually inspired a series of novels by David Weber and Steve White, including the New York Times bestseller The Shiva Option.

Starfire wasn’t even the most popular Task Force pocket game. That honor belongs to the ubiquitous Star Fleet Battles. Everybody owned a copy of Star Fleet Battles in the 80s. I think it was required by law. I’d tell you how many editions of Star Fleet Battles exist, but no one truly knows. Academics around the world have gone insane, just trying to figure out how many editions of Star Fleet Battles there are. It’s like writiing your Ph.D. thesis on the Necronomicon.

Anyway, Task Force Games had a huge hit with their Pocket games line. Shipped in zip locks bags (eventually shrinkwrap), and priced at $3.95, the games were designed to be easy to learn and quick to play. All told they released twenty-two, all but three with science fiction or fantasy themes, including many that are still highly regarded today. The most successful, like Starfire, Star Fleet Battles, Armor at Kursk, and Swordquest, eventually graduated to  full-fledged boxed editions, but the zip-lock versions were fully playable (and a lot more portable).

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Adventures In Benign Cults: Parable Of the Talents

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Parable Of the Talents-smallIf a book vaults from mere printed text to a work of serious literature by virtue of posing a question, and then exploring it through the course of the story, then Octavia Butler’s The Parable Of the Talents fits the bill very neatly indeed.

Its primary question seems to be discovering meaning in what is for Butler a necessarily godless world, but it takes on secondary questions galore. Among these: what is the difference, if any, between a religion and a cult? How fine is the line between healthy determination and destructive obsession? And just how often do we reject others simply on the grounds that they challenge those (shaky) convictions on which we’ve built our lives? In other words, we blame and hold accountable people who represent our own failings.

Butler has a field day with all of these and more in charting the life of Lauren Oya Olamina, founder of Earthseed, a cult that locates God in change — the concept of change — and sets its sights on the stars when life on earth (or at least in the Disunited States of the 2030s) is nothing but chaos.

Formally, Butler’s Parable Of the Talents (the sequel to Parable Of the Sower) is epistolary work. The story is related through select journal entries, mostly Olamina’s, with other voices interspersed. These include her husband, her lost daughter, and her estranged younger brother.

First published in 1998, Parable Of the Talents won the Nebula Award in 1999. Like a good many other Nebula winners (such as The Speed Of Dark, which I wrote about here recently), this is not hard science. If you’re looking for the nuts and bolts engineering or chemistry found in Kim Stanley Robinson or Andy Weir, look elsewhere. Butler’s near-future tale focuses on social disintegration, and its rebirth via the benign (?) cult of Earthseed.

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Vintage Treasures: The Timescape Clark Ashton Smith

Monday, August 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The City of the Singing Flame-small The Last Incantation-small The Monster of the Prophecy-small

Clark Ashton Smith is one of the greatest pulp writers of all time, and certainly one of the greatest early fantasy writers. Over a century after his first collection appeared (The Star-Treader and Other Poems, in 1912) virtually all of his work is still in print. That’s an extraordinary statement.

Of course, when I say “in print,” I mean it’s available in an assortment of limited edition hardcovers and trade paperbacks from Night Shade Books, Prime Books, Penguin Classics, and others. Meaning the majority of volumes are priced chiefly for the collector. There hasn’t been a mass market edition of Clark Ashton Smith in over three decades, since Pocket Books’ Timescape imprint released a handsome three-volume paperback collection of his most popular stories between 1981 and 1983.

The City of the Singing Flame (1981)
The Last Incantation (1982)
The Monster of the Prophecy (1983)

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Vintage Treasures: Flamesong by M.A.R. Barker

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Flamesong back-small Flamesong spine-small Flamesong-small

In my last Vintage Treasures article, I talked about M.A.R. Barker’s first novel The Man of Gold, the first of five fantasy novels set in the famed world of Tékumel, one of the most celebrated fantasy settings ever created.

Barker followed The Man of Gold a year later with an even more ambitious sequel, Flamesong. Flamesong was highly acclaimed… but only by those few who read it. It’s a tough find today; unlike the first book, which was reprinted by DAW, had a British edition, and is currently in print in both trade paperback and digital formats, Flamesong vanished shortly after it appeared. It has never been reprinted, and is highly sought today by Tékumel fans.

Click on the image at left to read the back cover text (or any of the images above for bigger versions.)

Flamesong was published by DAW Books in September 1985. It is 412 pages, priced at $3.50. The wraparound cover is by Richard Hescox. It is currently out of print, and there is no digital edition.


Fantastic, June 1965: A Retro-Review

Thursday, August 20th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

fantastic June 1965-smallAt last I return to an issue of Fantastic from the Cele Lalli era. Indeed, this is the very last issue of the Cele Lalli era.

The June issues of Amazing and Fantastic were the last published by Ziff-Davis. They were sold to Sol Cohen’s Ultimate Publishing, and resumed appearing as bimonthlies with the August Amazing and then the September Fantastic.

At this time they began publishing mostly reprints, drawing on the huge library of stories published originally in Amazing and Fantastic, for which they had, legally, unlimited reprint rights. (Eventually Cohen was forced or shamed into paying a small fee.)

Perhaps because this is the last issue before the transfer to new ownership, there are no features: no interior art, no book review, no editorial, nothing. The cover is by Gray Morrow, never a favorite of mine, illustrating Roger Zelazny’s “Thelinde’s Song.”

Click the image at left for a bigger version.

I don’t like it much – the color is a muddy red, and the menaced virgin on the altar isn’t very attractive. (Shallow of me, I know, but there you are!)

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