The Novels of Tanith Lee: Days of Grass

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Days of Grass-smallWe’re continuing with our look at the extraordinary 40-year career of Tanith Lee, who passed away on May 24th. So far I’ve focused on her highly regarded series work, but I don’t want to neglect her standalone novels.

Today I’d like to briefly highlight Days of Grass, subtitled After the Fall of Humanity, one of the first Tanith Lee novels I ever bought. I wish I could tell you I was drawn by her reputation, but truthfully it was Michael Whelan’s gorgeous cover that seduced me. Click on the image at right for a bigger version — and be sure to note the man hiding in the rocks, and the alien striding machine rounding the cliffs on the far left.

Days of Grass might do better today than it did when it was first published. It’s a postapocalyptic dystopia with a strong female protagonist, and the world didn’t know how to treat a book like that in 1985. As it is, it has never been reprinted, and has now been out of print for 30 years. Copies are available online for not much more than the original cover price.

The free humans lived underground, secretive, like rats. Above, the world was a fearsome place for them – the open sky a terror, the night so black, and the striding machines from space so laser-flame deadly.

Esther dared the open; she saw the sky; she saw the Enemy. And she was taken – captive – to the vast alien empty city. Surrounded by marvels of science not born on earth, Esther did not know what they wanted of her. There was mystery in the city, dread in the heavens, and magic in the handsome alien man who came to her.

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The Dark Island by Henry Treece

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

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Britain is a dark island of mists and woods. It lies farther north than any other known land, so that the sun is seldom seen there. The people of this island are brave in battle but fearful of their gods and priests.

Arminius Agricola, Ambassador to Camulodunum, A.D. 25 – A.D. 30

The first written of Henry Treece’s Celtic Tetralogy, the second chronologically, and the third to be reviewed by me, The Dark Island (1952) is a story of 1st century AD Britain. I’ve previously reviewed The Great Captains and Red Queen, White Queen here at Black Gate. The fourth is The Invaders. Together, they present one of the most artistically successful attempts to portray ancient Britain and its people. Treece’s ancient Britons are the inhabitants of a dark and violent world, where signs and portents are seen in every event. For them, the gods and their blessings and curses are real. Fiercely independent as they believe themselves to be, even kings and princes bow down before the blood-soaked hands of the Druids. Under their direction human sacrifices to the gods are a regular occurrence. It is a world alien to us today and Treece presents it without condescension or sentimentality, and as completely believable.

The Dark Island is a story of trying to hold on to ideals in the face of overwhelming forces. Gwyndoc, cousin of Caradoc (better known as Caractacus), is a prince and a warrior. He was raised to be loyal, brave, and to fear the gods. In the wake of the Roman invasion, the shattering of the British army at the Battle of the Medway, and the easy acquiescence of most of the population to Roman rule, holding true to his ideals becomes difficult and self-destructive.

Gwyndoc and Caradoc are as close as brothers when they are young. They come of age during the golden days of the rule of Caradoc’s father, Cunobelin (more commonly known as Cymbeline). While Caesar’s invasions of Britain in 55 and 54 BC failed, Roman commerce and culture have made great inroads there. The merchants of Camulodunum and the tribal kings and princes have become richer than ever before. Their sons are educated by Roman tutors. Times are peaceful and plentiful.

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Vintage Treasures: The Sioux Spaceman by Andre Norton / And Then the Town Took Off by Richard Wilson

Saturday, June 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Sioux Spaceman-small And Then The Town Took Off-small

The Sioux Spaceman was one of the very first Andre Norton novels I ever laid eyes on (other than The Last Planet and Daybreak — 2250). It was certainly one of the first Ace Doubles I ever encountered. It was first published in 1960, paired with Richard Wilson’s And Then the Town Took Off, with covers by Ed Valigursky (above).

The Norton volume was the first book in her Council/Confederation series, which eventually grew to encompass four novels:

  1. The Sioux Spaceman (1960)
  2. Eye of the Monster (1962)
  3. The X Factor (1965)
  4. Voorloper (1980)

The entire series was collected in an omnibus volume from Baen in 2009, The Game of Stars and Comets (2009; see below).

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Goth Chick News: Logan Returns – In a Big Way

Thursday, June 25th, 2015 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Logans Run Centipede Press-smallLong before the dystopias inhabited by Peeta and Katnis, or Tris and Four, there was life under the domes with Logan 3 and Jessica 6.

Originally published in 1967, Logan’s Run is a classic science fiction novel that has rarely been out of print in the subsequent years. It has also been a movie (and about to be a remake), a television show, several iterations of comics, music and even a computer game.

In the world of 2116, a person’s maximum age is strictly legislated: twenty one years, to the day. When people reach this “Lastday” they report to a “Sleepshop” in which they are willingly executed via a pleasure-inducing toxic gas. A person’s age is revealed by their palm flower crystal embedded in the palm of their right hand that changes color every seven years, yellow (age 0-6), then blue (age 7-13), then red (age 14-20), then blinks red and black on “Lastday”, and finally turns black at 21. The story follows the actions of Logan, a Sandman charged with enforcing the rule, as he tracks down and kills citizens who run from society’s lethal demand, only to end up running himself.

Logan’s Run has been one of my favorite books since I first discovered a dog-eared paperback at a library book sale in high school. Since then I’ve never not had a copy on my shelf and periodically go back to reread it – the story never ceases to entertain.

That is why I could not have been more excited a couple months back to learn about a new edition distributed by Centipede Press. I nearly burned up my keyboard preordering a copy.

This new edition of Logan’s Run features striking dustjacket art, and over a dozen full page and spot black & white interiors, by artists Jim and Ruth Keegan. It has a new introduction by Jason V Brock, two bonus stories in Logan’s Return and The Thunder Gods, a gallery of old editions of the novel, excerpts from the original manuscript, and a few images from William F. Nolan’s personal notebook.

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Werewolves, Ancient Alien Evil, and Babylonian Witches: Tales of the Werewolf Clan by H. Warner Munn

Thursday, June 25th, 2015 | Posted by christopher paul carey

Weird Tales July 1925 The Werewolf of Ponkert Munn-small Weird Tale July 1927 The Return of the Master Munn-small Weird Tales October 1928 The Werewolfs Daughter-small

In the March 1924 issue of Weird Tales, a letter by H. P. Lovecraft appeared proclaiming that:

Popular authors do not and apparently cannot appreciate the fact that true art is obtainable only by rejecting normality and conventionality in toto, and approaching a theme purged utterly of any usual or preconceived point of view… Take a werewolf story, for instance — who ever wrote a story from the point of view of the wolf, and sympathizing strongly with the devil to whom he has sold himself?

Enter young Harold Warner Munn, who took up the elder author’s challenge by submitting a story with the curious title of “The Werewolf of Ponkert” to editor Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales.

The story appeared in the magazine’s July 1925 issue, the first of fifteen tales penned by Munn set in the same cycle, which have all recently been collected by Altus Press and published in a handsome omnibus edition titled Tales of the Werewolf Clan.

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Vintage Treasures: Through the Reality Warp by Donald J. Pfeil

Thursday, June 25th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Through the Reality Warp-smallI have friends who wonder why I bother with old paperbacks. If there’s one thing tablets have made obsolete, it sure seems to be the need to collect books. Of course, I collect old paperbacks because I love them, not because it’s the only way to enjoy them. But in many cases, it really is the only way to get a copy of an old book. I type the words “There is no digital edition” at the bottom of at least a third of these Vintage Treasures posts (and about 15% of New Treasures, now that I think about it.)

The latest example is Donald J. Pfeil’s 1976 space adventure Through the Reality Warp. Pfeil is a minor SF writer with a brief career and only two other novels to his name, Voyage to a Forgotten Sun (1975) and Look Back to Earth (1977). Not one of his books was ever reprinted. If you have a Kindle or a Nook, Pfeil will remain ever a mystery. But copies of the Ballantine paperback start at $0.01 online — cheaper than that digital book you were going to order.

“You mean even if I succeed, it’s still a suicide mission?”

Latham Billiard stared at the four men standing before him… the four men who could not meet his eyes, the four men who were asking him to navigate a ship through a one-way black hole — into an alien universe — to destroy something totally unknown.

Billiard could not believe what he was hearing!

“If you don’t succeed,” the Guild General said, “It’s death for every living thing in our universe.”

What could a soft-hearted, thick skinned, cracker-jack mercenary like Billiard say? After all , it wasn’t every day a man was asked to save a universe he would never see again…

An Exciting Space Adventure

Through the Reality Warp was published by Ballantine Books in February 1976. It is 164 pages, priced at $1.50 in paperback. The cover is by Boris Vallejo. It has never been reprinted, and there is no digital edition.


Alien Invasions, Transporters, and Restarting the Sun: A Review of Beyond Belief

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 | Posted by William I. Lengeman III

Beyond Belief Richard J Hurley-smallBeyond Belief
Edited by Richard J. Hurley
Scholastic Book Services (188 pages, $0.45, April 1966)

Given that Scholastic was the publisher of this anthology, it’s probably fair to assume that it was aimed at what was once called the juvenile demographic. I was in that demographic when the 1973 paperback edition was published.

However, as the publishing credits reveal, most of the stories are drawn from SF magazines of prior decades. None of which were geared to juveniles, as far as I’m aware. It’s a mixed bag, as anthologies often are, but for me the ups outweighed the downs by a bit.

Thumbs Up

“Phoenix,” by Clark Ashton Smith

When you’re listing writers who have a truly distinctive voice, Clark Ashton Smith should probably be near the top. I wasn’t aware that he wrote much science fiction, but this story of humans living on a cold Earth and striving to restart the sun fits the bill. The best story in the book, for me, and one of the best I’ve read for a long time.

“It’s Such a Beautiful Day,” by Isaac Asimov

An interesting effort from Asimov, set far enough in the future that no one goes outside anymore, instead getting from point A to B by using Doors. Any resemblance to transporters is coincidental, since Star Trek came along more than a decade after this story was published. The hook is that one day a young boy decides that he’d rather get around by using old-fashioned doors to go outside and walk from place to place. Naturally, his well-bred, high-toned mother is aghast over this turn of events.

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Vintage Treasures: Secret of the Lost Race by Andre Norton / One Against Herculum by Jerry Sohl

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Secret of the Lost Race Andre Norton-small One Against Herculum-small

Time to get back to some Ace Doubles.

I’ve covered 20 in the series so far, which, as die-hard collectors will know, is only scratching the surface of this marvelous series. As long as we’re returning to our survey after a lengthy hiatus, we might as well return in style. And that means Andre Norton.

So today we’ll look at Secret of the Lost Race, one of her classic novels of space adventure, paired with an early novel by future Star Trek writer Jerry Sohl, One Against Herculum. It was published as Ace Double #D-381 in 1959. Both short novels were original publications.

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Death Angel’s Shadow by Karl Edward Wagner

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Best Kane cover ever – by Stan Zagorski

Best Kane cover ever – by Stan Zagorski

I’ve read  Karl Edward Wagner‘s Death Angel’s Shadow (1973), with its three stories of Kane, the Mystic Swordsman, numerous times since first finding it in my attic in the 1970s. Before Conan’s or Elric’s, Kane’s adventures sparked my interest in swords & sorcery. Only a few years ago, I wrote a long piece about Wagner and this book over at my site, Swords & Sorcery: A Blog. I figured it was time to give it a reread and review here at Black Gate.

For the uninitiated, Kane is, in Wagner’s own words, a villain-hero. Cursed with immortality, over the course of his career he’s been an evil wizard, a crime lord, a bandit, and the general of a demon cult’s army. Sometimes he’s up against someone more diabolical than he is, but he’s never the good guy, never the hero.

This description of him gives you a sense of the wrongness that clings to him even when he’s not embarked on some nefarious plan:

It was his eyes that bothered Troylin. He had noticed them from the first. It was to be expected, for Kane’s eyes were the eyes of Death! They were blue eyes, but eyes that glowed with their own light. In those cold blue gems blazed the fires of blood madness, of the lust to kill and destroy. They poured forth infinite hatred of life and promised violent ruin to those who sought to meet them. Troylin caught an image of that powerful body striding over a battlefield, killer’s eyes blazing and red sword dealing carnage to all before it.

The three Kane novels, Darkness Weaves, Bloodstone, and Dark Crusade, are decent enough, but it’s in the short stories that Wagner’s immense talents shine most brightly. Two years ago I reviewed the collection, Night Winds (1978) at Black Gate. That book contains some of the best and darkest S&S stories ever set to paper. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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Adventures In Shape-Shifting: Robert Stallman’s The Orphan

Monday, June 22nd, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

The Orphan Robert Stallman-smallI write this on an emotional high, a plateau from which I never wish to descend, for I’ve just managed the impossible: I’ve gone back in time. The vehicle employed? A book, prose, a worn paperback. It’s Robert Stallman’s The Orphan.

I first encountered this title somewhere in the Dark Ages, probably around 1980. I re-read it perhaps two years later, along with its two sequels, The Captive and The Beast. Even though large swaths of plot have faded from my mind over the years, I have never, ever forgotten the book’s opening lines.

I am and will be. There is no time when I am not.

This is the first lesson.

My need creates myself.

This is the second lesson.

Alone is safe.

This is the third lesson.

I’ve spent the last thirty-five years considering those quotes (and the ideas behind them), polishing each like a gem-cutter finishing off a jewel. I’ve road-tested them, too, as a survival mechanism when, in my earliest teens, I tried out (as actors might try a cape) the attitude of Kipling’s cat, the one that walked by himself. It was necessary, in a way, but also foppish, affected. Even so, I found in The Orphan echoes of that chilly, solo stance — the same adopted in Westerns by virtually every gunslinger known, from Joel McRae to John Wayne and back again.

So once upon a time, my time, these lines held great personal weight. They were talismans, of a sort, and in picking up this gorgeous, dangerous title afresh, I was face to face with my past and the self I have since become.

For a moment, I had to look away.

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