Birthday Reviews: Josepha Sherman’s “River’s Friend”

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Jim Holloway

Cover by Jim Holloway

Josepha Sherman was born on December 12, 1946 and died on August 23, 2012.

Sherman’s debut novel, The Shining Falcon, won the Compton Crook Stephen Tall Memorial Award in 1990. Sherman has collaborated with Mercedes Lackey, Laura Anne Gilman, Susan Shwartz,and Mike Resnick.  She  co-edited the non-fiction folklore collection Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts with Toni Weisskopf.

“River’s Friend” saw print in the issue #178 of Dragon under editor Roger E. Moore and fiction editor Barbara G. Young in February 1992.  As with so many of the stories which appeared in Dragon, this one was never reprinted.

Sherman sets her story in an alternative Russia during the reign of Vladimir the Great. Souchmant has the unique position at Vladimir’s court as a peasant who has managed, through the prince’s good graces, to become one of the bogatyrs. Souchmant knows that he is part of the nobility only at the sufferance of his lord. He also has a secret that, if found out, will force him from Vladimir’s court.  Vladimir is known in this world for his distaste for anything that smells of the supernatural, the Other, and ever since he was a young boy, Souchmant has been in communication with the Other, specifically the spirit of the River Niedpra.

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The Return of a Fantasy Landmark: The Unfortunate Fursey by Mervyn Wall

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Unfortunate Fursey-small The Return of Fursey-small

While I was standing in front of the Valancourt Books booth at the World Fantasy Convention (so I could buy a copy of the classic horror novel The Fungus by Harry Adam Knight, as I reported last week), I took the time to look over all their latest releases. Valancourt is one of the great treasures of the genre — their editorial team has excellent taste, and they scour 20th Century paperback backlists to bring long-neglected classics back into print. I’m pretty familiar with 20th Century genre stuff, but they consistently surprise me with their diverse and excellent selections.

I ended up taking home a pile of books, including the one-volume edition of Michael McDowell’s complete Blackwater Saga and Steve Rasnic Tem’s new collection Figures Unseen. But I was hoping for new discoveries, and I wasn’t disappointed. There were plenty of eye-catching titles vying for my attention, but the most interesting — and the ones I ended up taking home with me –was the pair of novels above.

Set in 11th century Ireland, where demonic forces have launched an assault on the monastery of Clonmacnoise, The Unfortunate Fursey was originally published in 1946. The sequel The Return of Fursey followed in 1948. Written by Irish writer Mervyn Wall, they were praised as “landmark book in the history of fantasy,” by Year’s Best SF editor E. F. Bleiler. More recently, Black Gate author Darrell Schweitzer wrote:

The Unfortunate Fursey and The Return of Fursey are not quaint esoterica for the specialist, folks, they are living masterpieces. They haven’t dated slightly and are as fresh and as powerful as when they were first written.

Both novels were reprinted in handsome trade paperback editions by Valancourt last year, with new introductions by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Dirda.

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Birthday Reviews: M. Rickert’s “The Super Hero Saves the World”

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Walter Velez

Cover by Walter Velez

M. (Mary) Rickert was born on December 11, 1959.

In 2007, Rickert won the two World Fantasy Awards,  for her collection Map of Dreams and for the short story “Journey Into the Kingdom. She won the 2012 Shirley Jackson Award for “The Corpse Painter’s Masterpiece.” Map of Dreams also received the William L. Crawford – IAFA Fantasy Award for best first fantasy novel. Rickert has also published using her full name.

Rickert originally published “The Super Hero Saves the World” in the June 2003 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Gordon van Gelder.  She also included the story in her first collection, Map of Dreams.  It has not otherwise been reprinted.

“The Super Hero Saves the World” is a story of magic realism about a young girl, Marcado, who as a young child managed to survive an attack by a python that killed her mother.  Rickert follows the relationships between Marcado and her sister, Elsine, and their relationship with their father, who was with Mercardo when the snake killed her mother and swallowed her, although Marcado was cut from the snake’s belly.  Perhaps because of her experiences inside the snake, Marcado grew up distant from the rest of her family and saw the world in a different way.

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Birthday Reviews: Janny Wurts’s “The Snare”

Monday, December 10th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Janny Wurts

Cover by Janny Wurts

Janny Wurts was born on December 10, 1953 and is married to speculative fiction artist Don Maitz.

Wurts is both an author and artist, publishing her own fiction and novels as well as three novels in collaboration with Raymond E. Feist. Her collection That Way Lies Camelot was nominated for the British Fantasy Award in 1995.  She has also won three Chesley Awards for her artwork.  In 1993, she won in the color art, unpublished category for The Wizard of Owls. She won the hardcover illustration award in 1995 for the cover to her own novel, The Curse of the Mistwraith, and in 1998, she received a special award for her contributions to ASFA. Wurts was guest of honor at the World Horror Con in 1996 in Eugene, Oregon, and a the World Fantasy Con, held in Tempe, Arizona in 2004.

“The Snare” was originally published in Wurts’s 1994 collection That Way Lies Camelot.  It has never been reprinted. The story is based on a painting by Don Maitz entitled “The Wizard,” which originally appeared on the cover of the January 1983 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Wurts’s story I one of vengeance.  The Wizard Iveldane has been imprisoned by his mentor, the Great Wizard of Trevior, for countless centuries, first bound by air, then water, then earth, and finally by fire.  Through the ages, Iveldane has gone through all the emotions possible, wondering what his master was trying to teach him, cursing his master with hatred, and eventually vowing to exact a terrible price from his master, which is how the story opens.

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Birthday Reviews: Jon DeCles’s “The Power of Kings”

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Gary Ruddell

Cover by Gary Ruddell

Jon DeCles was born as Donald Studebaker on December 5, 1941.

In addition to writing, DeCles is also a Mark Twain interpreter, performing as Twain and giving lectures about the man’s life and career. He collaborated with Paul Edwin Zimmer on the novel Blood of the Colyn Muir. Studebaker married author Diana L. Paxson.

“The Power of Kings” was written for the eleventh Thieves’ World anthology, Uneasy Alliances, edited by Robert Lynn Asprin and Lynn Abbey and published in 1988. He would write a follow-up story for the next, and final, volume of the original series as well.

A troupe of actors led by Feltheryn has arrived in Sanctuary, where High Priest Molin Torchholder is building them a new theatre and has commissioned them to perform a play. Once a major actor in the capital of Ranke, Feltheryn and his crew are hoping to reestablish themselves in Sanctuary, unaware that Torchholder has specifically chosen a play that couldn’t help be political in nature and set to offend Prince Kadakithis and his lover, the Beysa. The story is clearly part of the woven tapestry of Thieves World and would not work well standing on its own.

The story deals with Feltheryn’s need to get the theatre in order, rehearse himself and his troupe, and keep tabs on his troupe, from his partner/lover Gisselrand, who is as focused as he is, to Rounsnouf, the comedian given a key dramatic role who is spending all his time at the infamous Vulgar Unicorn tavern. Into this schedule are thrown random groups of street toughs who want to avenge themselves on Feltheryn for not being able to rob him, as well as meetings, chance or otherwise, with various denizens of Sanctuary.

For someone who thrived in the capital, Feltheryn seems to have a poor sense for when he is being used a as pawn. Not only is Torchholder using him and the troupe for his own purposes, but many others who he or Rounsnouf come into contact with see the theatrical troupe as a means of advancing their own agenda. Even without the troupe being aware that anything is happening, they are moved in a political agenda which could (and should) be disastrous until Feltheryn’s quick thinking allows him to cast the situation in a more positive light.

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A Spectacularly Gruesome Nasty: The Fungus by Harry Adam Knight

Monday, December 3rd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Fungus Harry Adam Knight-small The Fungus Harry Adam Knight-back-small

I first discovered Valancourt Books at their wondrous booth in the Dealer’s Room of the 2014 World Fantasy Convention in Washington DC (I wrote about that revelatory find here.) So as soon as I entered the Dealer’s Room at this year’s WFC in Baltimore I searched them out, and was delighted to find them with a well-stocked booth again this year. I stocked up on several of their recent releases, including a new collection from Steve Rasnic Tem, Michael McDowell’s creepy novel Cold Moon Over Babylon, a pair of novels by Mervyn Wall, and the latest volumes of The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories. But I think my most interesting acquisition was The Fungus, a reprint of a gonzo 1985 horror novel by “Harry Adam Knight” (the pseudonym of British writers John Brosnan and Leroy Kettle). Ramsey Campbell called it “A spectacularly gruesome nasty, written with inventiveness, grisly wit, and considerably more intelligence than almost any of its competitors,” and Publishers Weekly raved about it, saying:

What would happen if, through a genetic experiment gone awry, fungi–mushrooms, toadstools, molds and yeasts — were to go out of control and grow with unprecedented vigor and speed and tenacity, and in places formerly inimicable (sic) to them? Knight has pulled out the stops to produce an imaginative and fast-paced sci-fi horror tale set in the British Isles. The protagonist is Barry Wilson, a semi-successful author of spy novels and a former mycologist. Barry’s wife Jane, from whom he is separated, is the scientist whose experiment has lead (sic) to the disaster, and the British government has called upon Barry to help find Jane and her lab notes. Crossing London in an armored tank, Barry and two other volunteers observe all sorts of grotesqueries: people and animals covered with multicolored fungi, some still alive, some now quite insane; farms and buildings and forests draped in spongy shrouds; mushrooms tall as skyscrapers…. A first-rate and vivid thriller.

That’s some great press, but I think what really sold me was the marvelous cover by M.S. Corley. The Fungus was published by Valancourt Books on October 2, 2018. It is 191 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $6.99 for the digital version. See all of our coverage of the excellent Valancourt Books here, and check out their website here.


Birthday Reviews: John Helfers’s “The Final Battle”

Thursday, November 29th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by John Howe

Cover by John Howe

John Helfers was born on November 29, 1972.

Helfers has been nominated for the Hugo Award, both times in the Best Related Work category. In 2009 he and Lillian Stewart Carl were nominated for The Vorkosigan Companion: The Universe of Lois McMaster Bujold and in 2013, he shared a nomination with Martin H. Greenberg for I Have an Idea for a Book…: The Bibliography of Martin H. Greenberg. While Helfers has written numerous short stories and novels, he is perhaps best known as an editor for Tekno Books and Five Star Press and he has worked on many anthologies which did not include his name on the cover. He has collaborated on fiction with Jean Rabe, Russell Davis, and his wife Kerrie L. Hughes. His editing collaborations are too numerous to mention. He has also published works under the house name James Axler.

“The Final Battle” was published in Martin H. Greenberg’s anthology Merlin in 1999. The story has never been reprinted.

In Helfers’s story, Merlin, recently escaped from his confinement by Nimue, is shown to be a tremendously powerful magic user. Rather than showing Merlin participating in rituals to call down lightning, the magic Merlin does is almost an afterthought. A wave of his hand conjures a massive castle and, once inside, he uses magic as readily as anyone else would use breathing. Difficulties occur when he grafts himself onto a familiar, a sparrow, who flies out and discovers that Arthur’s nemesis, Mordred, is approaching Merlin’s castle. Mordred’s casual destruction of the sparrow and Merlin’s bond to it warns the magician of Mordred’s intent and that Arthur’s bastard is more powerful than Merlin expects.

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New Treasures: Terra Incognita: Three Novellas by Connie Willis

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Uncharted Territory-small Remake Connie Willis-small D.A. Connie Willis-small

I need to read more Connie Willis. She’s one of the most acclaimed modern SF writers, and what I’ve read of her so far has been fabulous.

I don’t even have the excuse that her books are all too long — she’s made it a habit to regularly publish short, digestible novels over the years, like the alien western Uncharted Territory (1994), Remake (1994), a tale of future Hollywood, and D.A. (2006), an SF conspiracy thriller. In fact, I’d read all three of those if they weren’t all long out of print and impossible to find.

Maybe that’s what was going through the mind of the editors at Del Rey when they decided to publish Terra Incognita, an affordable trade paperback collecting all three short novels. The reviews have been terrific, especially for a reprint collection: Kirkus Reviews said “A master of fantasy playfully combines science fiction with other genres in three antic novellas… Clever, funny, thought-provoking, and sweet, these stories are classic Willis,” and Shelf Awareness said:

Willis’s lively, funny forays into futuristic territory shine as brightly today as when originally released… In all three stories, the protagonists find their narrow concepts of life challenged and expanded by possibilities created through technology. As a collection, these smart, accessible shorts make for an entertaining initiation or reintroduction into the world of one of sci-fi’s greatest treasures.

Here’s all the details.

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A Tale of Two Covers: Outside the Gates by Molly Gloss

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Outside the Gates Molly Gloss-small Outside the Gates Molly Gloss Saga-small

Molly Gloss has published only a handful of novels, but she’s accumulated an enviable number of awards and nominations, including the Ken Kesey Award and Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award for the non-genre The Jump-Off Creek (also a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award), and a James Tiptree, Jr. Award for SF novel Wild Life (2000). Her first novel Outside the Gates was published as a slender hardcover by Atheneum in 1986 (above left, cover by Michael Mariano), and Ursula K. Le Guin called it “The best first novel I’ve seen in years.” It has been out of print for over three decades, but Saga Press is finally rectifying that situation by reprinting it in January with a spare new cover by Jeffrey Alan Love (above right). Hard to say which one I like more; they’re both clear products of their time. Here’s the description.

Villagers were always warned that monsters live outside the gates, but when a young boy named Vren is cast out, he finds a home in the world beyond, in Whiting Award winner Molly Gloss’s classic fantasy novel.

Vren has always been told that the world beyond the gates of his village is one filled with monsters, giants, and other terrifying creatures. But when he confides with his family about his ability to talk to animals, he’s outcast to the very world he’s been taught to fear his whole life. He expects to die alone, lost and confused, but he finds something different altogether — refuge in a community of shadowed people with extraordinary powers.

Thirty years later, Molly Gloss’s dystopian fantasy novel is just as timely, poignant, and stirring as ever, in a brand-new edition!

This slender book is more a novella than a true novel; to sweeten the deal Saga is packaging it with Gloss’ 18-page story “Lambing Season,” which was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Outside the Gates was published by Atheneum in September 1986. It was 120 pages, priced at $11.95 in hardcover. It will be reprinted by Saga Press on January 1, 2019. It is 115 pages, priced at $14.99 in trade paperback and $7.99 for the digital edition. See all our recent Tales of Two Covers here.


Vintage Treasures: The Dreamhaven Box

Monday, November 26th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Windycon box-small

49 beautiful vintage paperbacks for $36, courtesy of Dreamhaven Books

On years I attend the World Fantasy Convention I don’t usually do Windycon, the local convention here in Chicago, the very next week. I don’t typically have the stamina for two back-to-back cons. But this year Richard Chwedyk, who runs the Saturday Writer’s Workshop at Windycon, asked me to fill in as a judge, and I learned that my friend Rich Horton and his wife Mary Anne were making the long drive from Missouri. So I decided to register for the con.

I made it to the Dealer’s Room only a few minutes before they closed Friday night. And who did I find in the back but the tireless Greg Ketter and his wife Lisa Freitag, manning the well-stocked Dreamhaven Books table. I’d seen both of them at World Fantasy, where they’d also had a table. They’d packed that up, driven from Baltimore to Minneapolis, and then here to Chicago — with brand new stock! Talk about stamina.

While we were chatting in front of their booth I discovered eight boxes at my feet, tightly crammed with paperbacks. “They’re all a dollar,” Lisa said, noticing my distracted gaze. “Less than that if you buy a bunch.”

Gentle reader, I bought a bunch.

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