Carol Emshwiller wins the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award

Saturday, July 20th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Author Carol Emshwiller, who died in February of this year at the age of 97, has won the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award, which honors overlooked and neglected science fiction and fantasy writers who deserve to be discovered by modern readers.

I met Carol only a couple of times, always at the World Fantasy Convention. I’m pretty sure she was in her 90s both times we met. She was friendly, approachable, and absolutely charming. Many writers have a late flowering in their career; Carol, who was the wife of Ed Emshwiller, one of the most popular and prolific SF cover artists of the 50s and 60s, and who famously was the model for most of the beautiful women in his paintings, published her first stories in 1955, but wrote the majority of her substantial body of short fiction from 1985 – 2011, after she turned 60. She published the first of her four SF novels, Carmen Dog, in 1988, when she was 67.

It took far too long for Carol to be acknowledged as a serious writer, but it eventually happened. Her short story “Creature” won a Nebula Award in 2002; she won again for “I Live With You” in 2005. Her 2002 novel The Mount was nominated for a Nebula and won the Philip K. Dick Award. Her 1990 collection The Start of the End of It All won the World Fantasy Award, and she received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 2005.

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Vintage Treasures: Science Fiction of the 40’s, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg, Joseph Olander, and Frederik Pohl

Saturday, July 20th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Earle Bergey

In 1972, Knight famously wrote a cranky essay for Robin Scott Wilson’s Clarion II about the disappearance of SF’s old guard, focusing on the long-forgotten pulp writer Henry J. Kostkos, who published a dozen stories in Amazing and Astounding from 1933-1940. Knight complained that it was impossible to sell pulp reprints to a modern audience, mostly because the stories were crap.

In 1974 Isaac Asimov published Before the Golden Age, a massive 928-page retrospective of the early science fiction pulps, wth stories by Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Murray Leinster, P. Schuyler Miller, Clifford D. Simak, Stanley G. Weinbaum, John W. Campbell, Jr., Charles R. Tanner, and many others. It was picked up by the Science Fiction Book Club and became a huge hit, remaining in print for nearly 15 years.

Two years after Asimov proved just how wrong he was, Knight published his own pulp anthology, Science Fiction of the 30’s. He opened with this mea culpa in his introduction.

In compiling this volume I have partially fulfilled an old ambition, one which I thought I had give up years ago — to reread all the old science fiction magazines I loved when I was young and write their critical history. I wrote about this in an essay called “Goodbye. Henry J. Kostkos, Goodbye” [Clarion II, edited by Robin Scott Wilson], where I said the project was no longer possible because there was no audience for the old stories, and, in addition, because they were all junk. This was sour grapes. In fact, as you will see, many of the forgotten stories of thirties are neglected gems.

Science Fiction of the 30’s was a success, and it was quickly followed by Science Fiction of the 40’s (1978) and Science Fiction of the 50’s (1979), all three of which were reprinted as oversize trade paperbacks by Avon Books. For the 40’s volume the editing reins were picked up by Martin Harry Greenberg, Joseph Olander, and Frederik Pohl, who assembled a very fine book that still reads well today, with a robot story by Isaac Asimov, a Martian Chronicles tale by Ray Bradbury, a City story by Clifford D. Simak, a classic novella by William Tenn, and Retro Hugo Award nominees by CL Moore, Leigh Brackett, and Fredric Brown.

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Mourning the Loss of a Way of Life

Friday, July 19th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

REHfrazetta barsoomIt may seem a bit peculiar to write an article about the decline in reading for a site that has done so much to promote the works of writers past and present. Most assuredly, regular visitors to this site are readers. Unfortunately, they are the exception and not the rule in the present day.

During the pulp era, writers were sometimes referred to disparagingly as the Penny-a-Word Brigade. Flash forward to the end of the second decade of the 21st Century and you’ll find far too many pulp writers who would salivate at the thought of earning a penny a word for their efforts. Far too many receive no financial compensation at all, some do not even receive comp copies of their own titles.

The purpose of this article isn’t to disparage small presses that are labors of love for publishers who regularly soldier on year after year failing to turn a profit. When you are a small operation, economies of scale aren’t even a concern. You could publish two dozen titles a year and still lose money. Paying writers or artists is not always possible for those who are in it for something other than financial return.

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Vintage Treasures: The Year’s Best SF 9, edited by Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best SF9 Aldiss Harrison-small The Year's Best SF9 Aldiss Harrison-back-small

I’ve been collecting Year’s Best Science Fiction volumes for years. Many fine editors have tried their hand at them, starting with The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949 from Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty, and carried on for the next seven decades, almost without interruption, by Judith Merril, Donald Wollheim, Lester del Rey, Terry Carr, Arthur W. Saha, Gardner Dozois, David Hartwell, and all the way up to the current crop of annual Best of volumes from Neil Clarke, Rich Horton, Jonathan Strahan, John Joseph Adams, and Paula Guran.

I haven’t paid as much attention to the British editors however, and that’s an oversight. In particular, I only recently (like, six days ago) discovered that there were nine volumes in The Year’s Best SF series edited by Brian Aldiss and Harrison, which began in 1967. That’s because I rather foolishly based my count on the US reprint editions, published in paperback by Berkley Medallion with gorgeous covers by Paul Lehr.

But you know what? Turns out Berkley only reprinted the first seven volumes in the series. Who knew?? That meant there was a two-book hole in my proudly spotless Year’s Best collection that needed to be fixed, stat.

Fortunately. there’s really no such thing as an expensive science fiction paperback — not if you hunt long enough. Rare, sure. Overpriced, certainly. But I have tens of thousands of vintage SF paperbacks in my house, and I don’t think I’ve paid than ten bucks for more than a handful of them. And I sure didn’t in this case.

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From the Pen of a Great Pulpster: The Best of Robert Bloch

Monday, July 15th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

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The Best of Robert Bloch (Del Rey, 1977). Cover by Paul Alexander

The Best of Robert Bloch (1977) was the thirteenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. Lester Del Rey himself gives the introduction to this volume. Paul Alexander (1937–) does his first cover for the series, a very lively one based upon Bloch’s folktale “The Hell-bound Train.” The afterword was by Robert Bloch (1917–1994) himself.

When John O’Neill began first doing posts on some of these Del Rey editions a few years ago, the one that most intrigued me was his post on this Bloch volume. I was of course familiar with Bloch as the author of Psycho (1959), which was famously made into the Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name in 1960. I also knew that Bloch was part of the vaunted “Lovecraft Circle,” having exchanged letters as a young author with famed weird author H. P. Lovecraft, even having the honor of becoming a protagonist/victim, named “Robert Blake,” in one of Lovecraft’s tales: “The Haunter of the Dark” (1936).

But I hadn’t really read that much of Bloch. But buying The Best of Robert Bloch soon fixed that.

Like most writers who cut their teeth on the early pulps, Bloch wrote widely and in various genres. Most pulp writers, in order to make anything close to approaching a living, had to be able to write everything from sci-fi to suspense thrillers. Bloch did as well. But given his association with Lovecraft, and his fame in connection with Psycho, I would’ve thought that The Best of Robert Bloch would tend to focus more on horror, or horror-related themes. And there was much here that fits with that genre.

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Vintage Treasures: The Demu Trilogy Omnibus by F.M. Busby

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Vincent di Fate

F.M. Busby was a well known science fiction fan who graduated to professional writer in the early 70s. He won a Hugo in 1960 for his fanzine Cry of the Nameless, and when he took early retirement in 1971 he became a full time science fiction writer at the age of 50. He was enormously productive for the next quarter century, publishing 19 novels and numerous short stories between 1973 and 1996.

He never broke out of midlist, and gave up writing after that, blaming the infamous Thor Power Tools ruling in an email to fan George Willick.

No, I haven’t been writing fiction for some time. Many if not most of us “midlist” writers have been frozen out like a third party on an Eskimo honeymoon. The IRS started it by getting the Thor Power Tools decision stretched to cover an inventory tax on books in publishers’ warehouses (so they don’t keep ’em in print no more), and the bookchains wrapped it up by setting one book’s GROSS order on that writer’s previous book’s NET sales. 4-5 books under those rules, and you’re road kill; a publisher can’t be expected to buy a book the chains won’t pay out on.

Busby (“Buz”) produced four novels in The Rebel Dynasty (Star Rebel, Rebel’s Quest, The Alien Debt, and Rebels’ Seed), three Rissa Kerguelen novels, and the Slow Freight trilogy. But his most popular series was probably The Demu Trilogy, which Pocket Books kept in print for nearly seven years in an omnibus collection.

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Vintage Treasures: After Midnight edited by Charles L. Grant

Sunday, July 7th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

After Midnight Charles L Grant-small After Midnight Charles L Grant-back-small

The 80s were a very fertile ground for horror anthologies. Karl Edward Wagner kicked off the decade with the first volume of the seminal The Year’s Best Horror Stories in 1980, and he produced one volume per year until 1994. Dark Harvest published nine volumes of the superb Night Visions anthology series beginning in 1984; Stuart David Schiff edited six volumes of Whispers (1977-1987); J. N. Williamson produced three volumes of Masques; and there were many others.

Charles Grant, who died in 2006, was one of the most prolific horror anthologists of the 80s. His well respected Shadows began in 1978 and ran for 11 volumes before ending in 1991. He edited four volumes of the shared world horror series Greystone Bay (1985-1993), and numerous standalone anthologies, including Night Visions 2 (1985), Horrors (1981), Terrors (1982), Gallery of Horror (1983), Fears (1983), and Midnight (1985).

After Midnight was published by Tor in 1986, and it’s fairly typical of Grant’s anthologies from this period. It’s a mix of new and reprint fiction, including reprints from Ramsey Campbell, Reginald Bretnor, R. Chetwynd-Hayes, and David Langford, and original stories by Alan Ryan, Joe R. Lansdale, Ellen Kushner, Ardath Mayhar, Joseph Payne Brennan, and even fellow Ottawa local Galad Elflandsson, who used to moonlight at The House of Speculative Fiction and recommend horror books to me.

After Midnight never kicked off a new horror anthology series, although to my speculative young eyes I thought for sure it would have. Maybe it didn’t sell well enough; maybe Grant just had too many other series on the go. Whatever the case, it’s a fine book, and still deserves a look today. Here’s the Table of Contents.

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The Early John Wyndham: Sleepers of Mars and Wanderers of Time

Friday, July 5th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Sleepers of Mars, Coronet 1973, cover by Chris Foss

Last month I wrote a Vintage Treasure piece about John Wyndham’s 1953 novel Out of the Deeps, and while I was researching it I was reminded that Wyndham — one of the 20th Century’s most successful science fiction writers — got his start in the American pulp magazine Wonder Stories, edited by Hugo Gernsback, and Walter H. Gillings’ British pulp Tales of Wonder. Someone with authentic pulp roots like that deserves a lot more attention than he’s received here at Black Gate over the years.

Much of Wyndham’s early pulp fiction was collected by Coronet in two slender paperback anthologies in 1973, Sleepers of Mars and Wanderers of Time, and they look like a great place to start. Neither were reprinted in the US, so I was unaware of them until recently (like, two weeks ago). But thanks to the wonders of eBay, I was able to locate the copy of Sleepers above for a reasonable price ($11.33). That’s more than I like to pay for a vintage paperback…. but it was almost as old as me, and definitely in better shape, so I made an exception.

Both books had introductions by Gillings. Though it’s short (2 pages), I found his intro to Sleepers of Mars entertaining and informative, especially since it shows how the first story in the collection relates to Stowaway to Mars, one of Wyndham’s pulp-era novels (and perhaps not coincidentally, also re-released in paperback by Coronet in 1972). Here’s the relevant snippet.

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The Stark House Algernon Blackwood, edited by Mike Ashley

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Face of the Earth & Other Imaginings-small The Face of the Earth & Other Imaginings-back-small

I’ve been enjoying the attractive and affordable Stark House reprints of the work of Algernon Blackwood, much of which has been out of print for many decades. If I’ve counted correctly (and no guarantee of that) there have been ten volumes so far, collecting some dozen novels and six collections, all released under their Supernatural Classics banner in handsome trade paperbacks. Two more have arrived recently(ish), a slender collection titled The Face of the Earth and Other Imaginings, and an omnibus of two lesser-known novels, The Promise of Air/The Garden of Survival, both edited with fascinating introductions by Mike Ashley. Here’s a snippet from Mike’s intro to the latter.

Unfortunately for Blackwood, no sooner had he completed The Promise of Air, than tragedy struck. His brother, Stevie, who had long been in poor health, died on 16 June 1917 aged only forty-nine. There were deaths of other close friends, along with Blackwood’s every day witness of death working as an Intelligence Agent in Switzerland and as a Searcher for the Red Cross. Blackwood needed to express his innermost feelings and those emerged in a highly personal document later called The Garden of Survival. Blackwood had no intention of publishing it until others who read his manuscript implored him to do so.

The Garden of Survival is more a novella (taking up a mere 52 pages in this edition), but it made an impact. The Bookman called it “A remarkable psychological study,” and the Boston Herald said, “Mr. Blackwood makes the occult seem part and parcel of daily life.”

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Vintage Treasures: Pilgrims through Space and Time: A History and Analysis of Scientific Fiction by J. O. Bailey

Thursday, June 27th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Ronald Clyne

You never know what strange wonders you’ll find at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Show. This year, among many other treasures on the $1 table, I found a coverless copy of J. O. Bailey’s 1947 nonfiction tome Pilgrims through Space and Time, which grew out of his 1934 Ph.D. thesis at the University of North Carolina.

You’d think a dissertation would be too dry to become a classic of genre (and in most cases you’d be right), but this was one popular enough to inspire the Pilgrim Award, given annually by the Science Fiction Research Association for contributions to the study of SF. It was first given to Bailey in 1970, and is still awarded today. Recipients have included Jack Williamson, Damon Knight, James E. Gunn, Brian W. Aldiss, Sam Moskowitz, Gary K. Wolfe, Joanna Russ, John Clute, L. Sprague de Camp, Brian Stableford, Mike Ashley, Gary Westfahl, Gérard Klein, Algis Budrys, and Pamela Sargent.

Pilgrims is a little dry for light reading, but I did find Bailey’s discussions of Lovecraft (“splendid”), and the pulp stories of Stanton Coblentz, Ray Cummings, A. Hyatt Verrill, John Taine, and others, to be entertaining enough to make me want to pick up some of my favorite pulp anthologies again — and maybe look at them in a new light.

Thomas Clareson, in his 1972 foreword to the Greenwood Press reprint edition, did a fine job summarizing the importance of this book to early SF scholarship. Here’s what he said.

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