Vintage Treasures: The Passing of the Dragons by Keith Roberts

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Passing of the Dragons-small The Passing of the Dragons-back-small

Keith Roberts, who was active as an SF writer from the 60s through the 80s, has had the kind of posthumous success most authors can only dream of. His 1968 fix-up novel Pavane was called “Alternate History’s Lost Masterpiece” by io9 in 2009, nine years after his death:

I found it dense, unclear…and brilliant… This is a book to read once, get stuck, return to with a clear head, blast through, and then read again in search of deeper meanings. They are definitely there, and they are definitely worth finding.

In a 2016 piece at Tor.com Dave Hutchinson called Pavane “a significant achievement, by any measure. I was utterly bowled over by it.” And in his SF Site review back in 2001, Rich Horton compared it favorably to The Man in the High Castle:

The recent crop of alternate history stories, enjoyable as some of them may be, seem largely minor works… The shadows of two great AH novels of the 60s loom over the present-day offerings, both books with their ambition and success, and their moral centre, trivializing the current work. These are Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1963), winner of the Hugo Award, and Keith Roberts’ Pavane.

Okay, okay, I get it. I should read Pavane. But, you know, I’m busy. Doesn’t Keith Roberts have anything shorter I can read, just so I can nod along at science fiction cocktail parties, and mumble things like, “Yeah, totally love the guy?” Yes. Yes he does. Thank God. Turns out he has no less than nine collections, including a sort of “Best of” collection of his early short fiction, The Passing of the Giants, published in paperback by Berkley Medallion in 1977.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Dragondrums, by Anne McCaffrey

Friday, February 15th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Steve Weston

Cover by Steve Weston

Cover by Fred Marcellino

Cover by Fred Marcellino

Cover by Elizabeth Malczynski

Cover by Elizabeth Malczynski

The Balrog Award, often referred to as the coveted Balrog Award, was created by Jonathan Bacon and first conceived in issue 10/11 of his Fantasy Crossroads fanzine in 1977 and actually announced in the final issue, where he also proposed the Smitty Awards for fantasy poetry. The awards were presented for the first time at Fool-Con II at the Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas on April 1, 1979. The awards were never taken particularly seriously, even by those who won. The final awards were presented in 1985. A Balrog Award for Novel was presented each of the years the award existed.

Anne McCaffrey first introduced her world of Pern in “Weyr Search,” the cover story of the October 1967 issue of Analog. Although the story had all the trappings of a faux Medieval fantasy tale, McCaffrey claimed from the very beginning that it was a science fiction story, a claim bolstered by its presence in Analog, a science fiction magazine. The story went on to win the Hugo Award and McCaffrey used it in her first Pern novel. By 1978, she had published three novels in the Dragonriders of Pern series and the first two novels in the related Harper Hall series, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger. She had also clearly demonstrated the science fictional underpinnings of her world.

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Vintage Treasures: Doomsday Morning by C.L. Moore

Thursday, February 14th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Doomsday Morning-small Doomsday Morning-back-small

Art by Vincent DiFate

C.L. Moore is a name to conjure with. One of the finest early contributors to Weird Tales, she helped define and create the sword-&-sorcery genre alongside Robert E. Howard, with her tales of Jirel of Joiry. Her other great pulp hero was Northwest Smith, whose adventures have remained in print for the greater part of the past eight decades.

Perhaps best remembered today for her nearly career-long collaboration with her husband Henry Kuttner, Moore nonetheless made numerous major solo contributions to the genre, including the groundbreaking collections Judgment Night (1952) and Shambleau and Others (1953). Her last novel, Doomsday Morning (1957), would be called dystopian science fiction today. Something of a departure for Moore, it’s a more thoughtful and mature work that still reads well. Here’s an excerpt from Sandy Ferber’s review at the Fantasy Literature blog.

[Moore] capped off a glorious writing career with a solo SF novel, her last, Doomsday Morning.

A companion piece in title only to Moore’s 1943 novel Judgment Night, this is a very fine tale indeed. It is a bit unusual for the author in that its setting is not Venus, or deep space, or the distant future, or some unusually named fantasy world, but rather America — New York City and rural California, to be precise — of only 50 years in the future; in other words, around 2007, or right now! The America of Moore’s early 21st century has become a quasi-totalitarian regime run by a far-reaching entity known as Comus (short for Communications of the United States). This government department in essence controls not only all the communications in the country, but also the schools, transportation network, the hospitals, the entertainment industry, the military divisions, et al. Howard Rohan, a washed-up alcoholic wreck who had once been one of Broadway’s greatest stars, is pressured by Comus into putting on a traveling, open-air play called “Crossroads,” along with a troupe of five other actors, to entertain in California. That state, it seems, had been rebelling openly against Comus, and activists there had been purportedly hard at work perfecting some kind of “Anti-Com” device that might miraculously bring about Comus’ downfall. The story of how Rohan becomes a whole man again, after three years of grieving for his late wife, and how he becomes involved in nothing less than a second Revolutionary War of sorts, is the story of Doomsday Morning.

Read Sandy’s complete review here.

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Vintage Treasures: Classic Science Fiction: The First Golden Age, edited by Terry Carr

Sunday, February 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Classic Science Fiction The First Golden Age UK-small Classic Science Fiction The First Golden Age UK back-small

Terry Carr may be my all-time favorite editor. His Creatures From Beyond (1975) was one of the very first SF anthologies I read in Junior High, and the sixteen volumes of The Best Science Fiction of the Year he produced remain a high water mark for the genre. Carr died in 1987, at the too-young age of 50, but I still read his books with enormous pleasure today.

It may be a sign of age (mine, not Carr’s), but I usually associate him with modern science fiction. So I was a little surprised to discover his anthology Classic Science Fiction: The First Golden Age, which collects a dozen stories published in pulp magazines in 1940-41. This is not an easy book to find; it had a single hardcover printing from Harper & Row in 1978, a UK reprint from Robson a year later, and then promptly vanished. There’s been no paperback, no reprint since 1979, and no digital version. If I hadn’t stumbled on a copy on Amazon through blind luck back in 2011, I probably still wouldn’t know this book existed.

I love pulp SF, so it’s always nice to get a new selection of Golden Age tales, especially from an editor with Carr’s eye. Here he includes a handful of classics, like Asimov’s “Nightfall,” Kuttner’s “The Twonky,” and Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps,” and “–And He Built a Crooked House–,” but also stories I’ve never seen before, like Lester del Rey’s “The Smallest God,” Ross Rocklynne’s “Into the Darkness,” and Leigh Brackett’s “Child of the Green Light.”

But even more interesting than that, at least for me, is Carr’s lengthy editorial material exploring the history of SF’s Golden Age, the major personalities involved, and the stories behind the fiction. Easily 20% of this book (some 90 pages) is written by Carr, and he draws from a great many sources, including a lot of personal correspondence and interviews, to tell some fascinating anecdotes and illuminate the surprising history of some of the greatest science fiction ever written. This is a book that belongs in every serious library of pulp SF, alongside The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Asimov’s Before the Golden Age, and Healy and McComas’ Adventures in Time and Space.

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Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Saturday, February 9th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Analog December 1971 A Spaceship for the King-small The Mercenary Jerry Pournelle-small The Mote in God's Eye-small

Steven Silver has been doing a series covering the award winners from his age 12 year, and Steven has credited me for (indirectly) suggesting this, when I quoted Peter Graham’s statement “The Golden Age of Science Fiction” is 12, in the “comment section” to the entry on 1973 in Jo Walton’s wonderful book An Informal History of the Hugos. You see, I was 12 in 1972, so the awards for 1973 were the awards for my personal Golden Age. And Steven suggested that much as he is covering awards for 1980, I might cover awards for 1973 here in Black Gate.

It seems appropriate in a year that represents my dawning as an SF reader, I should cover the dawning of an award that since then has celebrated the dawning of what we (as fans) think might be a significant career. This is the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Some people think the full name of the award includes a parenthetical addition: (Not a Hugo). This is because the award is sponsored by Dell Magazines (publisher of Analog, where John Campbell was the long time Editor), but administered by the World Science Fiction Society, and as such voted on using the same process and schedule as the Hugo Awards.

The very first Campbell Award, in 1973, went to Jerry Pournelle. Writers are eligible for the award for the two years after their first professional SF/Fantasy publication. While Pournelle had published a thriller, Red Heroin, in 1969 under the name Wade Curtis, his first SF story was “Peace With Honor,” under his own name, in the May 1971 Analog. This was the first story in his Co-Dominion future history, and the first to feature John Christian Falkenberg, one of his primary heroes. His nomination was based on that story, on another Falkenberg story, “The Mercenary,” and on the novel A Spaceship for the King (set much later in the Co-Dominion universe), as well, perhaps, on three stories that appeared in Analog under the “Wade Curtis” name: “Ecology Now!”, “A Matter of Sovereignty,” and “Power to the People.”

I first encountered Pournelle with some stories in Analog in 1974, such as “Extreme Prejudice.” I soon searched out his earlier stories in back issues of Analog borrowed from my library, and I remember reading, with particular enjoyment, the serialized version of A Spaceship for the King.

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Hector DeJean on Why Jack Vance Was Science Fiction’s Tightest Worldbuilder

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Jack Vance Gateway Omnibus-small The Jack Vance Treasury-small The Narrow Land-small

Jack Vance died in 2013, but his work continues to be avidly discussed and appreciated. New readers are still discovering his timeless SF adventures like Big Planet, and publishers like Subterranean have produced gorgeous collections like The Early Jack Vance (five volumes) and The Jack Vance Treasury. And his mass market paperbacks from DAW, Ace and others remain inexpensive and continue to circulate, winning him new readers.

I’ve quite enjoyed some of the more recent discussions of Vance, like Hector DeJean’s January 11 Tor.com article “A Lean, Mean, Writing Machine: Jack Vance Was Science Fiction’s Tightest Worldbuilder,” which looks at three of Vance’s early novels from a rather different perspective. Here’s the opening paragraphs.

I’m a big fan of concise stories. If a writer fills a three-volume science fiction epic with 2000 pages of detailed worldbuilding, intriguing speculative concepts, and captivating character arcs, that’s all well and good, but if that writer can get that down to 300 pages, that’s better. And if a writer goes further and nails it in 150 pages — well then, that writer can only be Jack Vance.

Vance produced well over 70 novels, novellas, and short story collections over the course of his writing career, creating fantasy stories and mysteries as well as science fiction, and even producing a substantial number of doorstoppers that would have impressed George R. R. Martin with their girth. Vance’s extensive oeuvre has its imperfections — especially glaring today is his near-complete lack of interesting female characters — but at their best the books set an excellent standard for the construction of strange new worlds. Three tales in particular, The Languages of Pao (1958), the Hugo Award-winning The Dragon Masters (1962), and The Last Castle (1966), squeeze artfully assembled civilizations into focused, tight paragraphs. Other authors might have used these worlds as settings for bloated trilogies, but Vance quickly builds each society, establishes his characters, delivers the action, and then is off to create something new. I can’t think of any other author who put together so many varied worlds with such efficiency.

I think DeJean has a fine point. Vance’s early experiences writing for the markets, and especially the painful and arduous task of substantially cutting his first novelBig Planet for publication in hardcover (and later at Ace), taught him the valuable skill of spinning a complex tale in a very small space.

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The Most Ambitious First Contact Saga in Science Fiction: The Foreigner Series by CJ Cherryh

Sunday, February 3rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

CJ Cherryh Foreigner 10th Anniversary Edition-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 2 Invader-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 3 Inheritor-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 4 Precursor-small
CJ Cherryh Foreigner 5 Defender-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 6 Explorer-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 7 Destroyer-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 8 Pretender-small
CJ Cherryh Foreigner 9 Deliverer-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 10 Conspirator-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 11 Deceiver-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 12 Betrayer-small
CJ Cherryh Foreigner 13 Intruder-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 14 Protector-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 15 Peacemaker-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 16 Tracker-small
CJ Cherryh Foreigner 17 Visitor-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 18 Convergence-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 19 Emergence-small CJ Cherryh

Art by Michael Whelan (1,2,6,7), Dorian Vallejo (3), Stephen Youll (4,5), Donato Giancola (8,9), and Todd Lockwood (10-19)

I like to talk about SF and fantasy series here, and last week I dashed off a quick article about a 9-volume space opera that caught my eye, Lisanne Norman’s Sholan Alliance. The first two commenters, R.K. Robinson and Joe H, both compared her novels to the queen of modern space opera, C.J. Cherryh. That certainly got me thinking. Like Norman, Cherryh is published by DAW, and as I said last week,

For many years DAW’s bread and butter has been extended midlist SF and fantasy series that thrive chiefly by word of mouth… You won’t connect with them all of course, but when you find one you like they offer a literary feast like no other — a long, satisfying adventure series you can get lost in for months.

More than any other writer, Cherryh may be responsible for DAW’s success with space opera. She’s been associated with the publisher for over four decades, since her first two novels, Gate of Ivrel and Brothers of Earth, were purchased by founder Donald A. Wollheim in 1975. Cherryh has produced many of DAW’s top-selling series, including the popular Chanur novels, the Company War (including the Hugo Award-winning Downbelow Station), The Faded Sun trilogy, and especially the 19-volume Foreigner space opera, perhaps the most ambitious and epic first contact saga ever written.

C.J. Cherryh became a SFWA Grand Master in 2016, and the Foreigner books are perhaps her most celebrated achievement. The first, Foreigner, was published in 1994, and has remained in print for the last 25 years; the most recent, Emergence, arrived in hardcover last year, and was reprinted in paperback less than four weeks ago. Four of the books were shortlisted for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, and all 19 titles remain in print today.

If you’re truly on the hunt for “a long, satisfying adventure series you can get lost in for months,” Foreigner — all 7,200 pages of it — may be the most important literary discovery you ever make.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Ballantine/Del Rey

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Darrell K. Sweet

Cover by Darrell K. Sweet

The World of Science Fiction

The World of Science Fiction

Cover by Doug Beekman

Cover by Doug Beekman

Peter Graham is often quoted as saying that the Golden Age of Science Fiction is 12. I was reminded of this quote last year while reading Jo Walton’s An Informal History of the Hugo Awards (Tor Books) when Rich Horton commented that based on Graham’s statement, for him, the Golden Age of Science Fiction was 1972. It got me thinking about what science fiction (and fantasy) looked like the year I turned twelve and so this year, I’ll be looking at the year 1979 through a lens of the works and people who won science fiction awards in 1980, ostensibly for works that were published in 1979. I’ve also invited Rich to join me on the journey and he’ll be posting articles looking at the 1973 award year.

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 Book Publisher Award dates back to 1972, although in 1975 and 1976 the Publisher Award was split into paperback and hardcover categories. Ballantine Books won the award each year from its inception through 1977 (winning the paperback for the two experimental years with the Science Fiction Book Club winning the hardcover award). In 1978, when Del Rey was established as an imprint of Ballantine, Ballantine/Del Rey began winning the award. The award was not presented in 1979 for works published in 1978, but when it was reinstituted in 1980, Ballantine/Del Rey picked up its winning streak. In 1980, the Locus Poll received 854 responses.

Del Rey published eight hardcovers in 1979, including Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonquest, Katherine Kurtz’s Camber of Culdi, Roger Zelazny’s Roadmarks, Han Solo at Stars’ End and Han Solo’s Revenge, by Brian Daley, and Dark Is the Sun and The Lovers, by Philip José Farmer. The three trade paperbacks they published included a reprint of Raymond Healy & J. Francis McComas’s landmark anthology iAdventures in Time and Space, the collection The Fantasy Worlds of Peter S. Beagle, and Lester del Rey’s non-fiction work The World of Science Fiction: 1926-1976: The History of a Subculture. They also published more than 100 mass market paperbacks with several, such as McCaffrey’s Dragonflight and Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Power That Preserves having multiple reprints throughout the year.

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Dreams More Perfect Than Your Own: J.G. Ballard: The Complete Short Stories, Volumes One & Two

Sunday, January 27th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

JG Ballard The Complete Short Stories Volume One and Two-small

In the world of science fiction, J.G. Ballard is a Big Deal.

His early work includes the novels The Wind from Nowhere (1962), The Drowned World (1962), and High-Rise (1975), and the seminal collection Vermilion Sands (1971). Outside science fiction, Ballard is also a Big Deal. His 1984 novel Empire of the Sun, loosely based on his experiences as a child in Shanghai during Japanese occupation, was described by The Guardian as “the best British novel about the Second World War” and filmed by Steven Spielberg in 1987, starring a young Christian Bale. His influence on modern literature has been powerful enough that “Ballardian” has become a common term, defined by the Collins English Dictionary as “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J. G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity…” He died in 2009.

Ballard’s short fiction, virtually all of it SF, is some of the most vital and studied science fiction of the 20th Century. His stories “Souvenir” (1965) and “Myths of the Near Future” (1983) were nominated for the Nebula Award, and his collections — including Passport to Eternity (1963), The Terminal Beach (1964), Vermilion Sands (1971) and Chronopolis and Other Stories (1971) — are very highly regarded. In 2006 Harper Perennial published J.G. Ballard: The Complete Short Stories in two thick volumes in the UK; they were reprinted in 2014 by Fourth Estate with an introduction by Adam Thirlwell. There aren’t a lot of writers for whom it pays to read their complete short work; Ballard I think is the exception.

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Embers to Ashes: Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

Sunday, January 27th, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Earth Abides-small Earth Abides-back-small

Maybe it’s just the times we live in, but I increasingly find myself drawn to narratives of defeat: Confederate military memoirs, histories of the Decline and Fall of This and That, accounts of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow or Custer’s Last Stand. I suppose that’s why this summer, forty years after I blew it off when it was assigned in one of my first college classes, I finally got around to reading Earth Abides.

George R. Stewart’s 1949 post-apocalyptic novel is one of the most famous one-offs in the history of science fiction; it won the first International Fantasy Award in 1951, and in all the decades since, the book has rarely been out of print.

Stewart was primarily an English professor and historian and an only occasional novelist. In his first specialty he wrote books on English verse technique and composition; in the latter his most well-known works are a history of the Donner party, Ordeal by Hunger (1936), and a finely detailed, minute-by-minute account of the climax of the battle of Gettysburg, Pickett’s Charge (1959). Storm (1941) and Fire (1948), two novels Stewart wrote before his sole foray into science fiction, show his concern with large, impersonal forces and their effects on the enduring land and the ephemeral creatures that inhabit it. His most famous book takes that scientific detachment and interest in process many steps further, to powerful effect.

Earth Abides tells the story of Isherwood Smith, a young college student who lives in Berkeley, California. When the book begins, Ish is camping in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, doing the fieldwork necessary for his graduate thesis, The Ecology of the Black Creek Area, intended to be an investigation of “the relationships, past and present, of men and plants and animals” in the region. The thesis will never be written, though Ish will spend the rest of his life wrestling with fundamental questions regarding the connections between human beings and the natural world they so briefly occupy.

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