We lost David Hartwell on January 20th. This is our fourth article in a series that looks back at one of the most important publishers in our industry.
David Hartwell’s first anthology, The Battle of the Monsters and Other Stories, was published through tiny Gregg Press in 1976. He reached a bigger audience ten years later with his second, Christmas Ghosts (1987), co-edited with Kathryn Cramer. After that came his real breakout book, the massive The Dark Descent (1987), which Tor kept in print for a decade, and eventually reprinted in three paperback volumes.
David had found his forte: huge retrospective anthologies that put both his exceptional taste and his encyclopedic knowledge of the field on full display. Libraries snapped them up, they garnered him major awards, and they established him as one of the most respected editors in the field. He produced roughly a dozen of them in his career, each one a feast that readers can return to time and again.
Today I want to look at two of his best from the early 90s: Foundations of Fear (1992), the companion volume to The Dark Descent, which convincingly made the case for the thriving genre of 20th Century supernatural horror, especially at novella length; and The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF (1994), a massive 990-page tome that aimed to be the definitive exploration of science fiction’s “visionary core,” co-edited by Kathryn Cramer.
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Eric Stedman of The Serial Squadron has a well-deserved reputation for restoring vintage serials (in many cases salvaging otherwise lost serials) and preserving them for posterity. As Sax Rohmer’s 133rd birthday is rapidly approaching, I thought I would turn our attention to a vintage 1919 serial that borrowed quite a few elements from Rohmer’s work, The Trail of the Octopus. The Serial Squadron released their restored version of this forgotten gem in 2012.
The original serial produced by Hallmark Pictures nearly a century earlier comprises 15 chapters. The serial is centered around an Asian criminal mastermind, Wang Foo (known as “The Octopus”) who commands an international gang of Egyptians, Chinese, Africans, Turks, Jews, even a cult of devil worshippers in pursuit of an ancient Egyptian artifact, the Sacred Talisman of Set. While Fu Manchu was the head of an international secret society that contained Europeans as well as Asians and Arabs, it’s impossible not to see that The Octopus commands all of the stereotypical foreign and/or exotic elements feared by white Europeans just after the First World War.
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From time to time I’ve posted in various places material I acquired at an auction many years ago from the estate of Jack Darrow. In the 1930’s, Darrow (whose real name was Clifford Kornoelje) was pretty much science fiction fan #2 behind Forry Ackerman.
Darrow’s best friend was science fiction pulp author Otto Binder – who, with his brother, Earl, formed half of the writing tandem of Eando Binder (their other brother was pulp/comic artist Jack Binder). By 1936 however, although the byline often continued to read Eando, the stories were written solely by Otto. In 1939, Binder also began working in comics, particularly for Captain Marvel and the other Fawcett titles, though he would eventually work for all the major publishers. Among the material in Darrow’s estate was a box of correspondence between him and Binder about a foot thick.
Among these letters was one from Binder to Darrow, dated July 10, 1937, which was accompanied by two snapshots. On the back of each, Binder writes that these are photos of “science fiction authors at Mort Weisinger’s home June 1937” (the home was in New Jersey). At the time, Weisinger was the editor of Thrilling Wonder Stories.
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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has put some delightful old content on their website for those who care to look, and earlier this month I came across their reprint of Thomas M. Disch’s Book column from the February 1981 issue, in which he compares the three Best of the Year volumes published the previous year.
1979 was a marvelous year for short SF, with many stories destined to become classics — including George R.R. Martin’s brilliant “Sandkings,” and his Hugo Award-winning “The Way of Cross and Dragon,” Barry B. Longyear’s novella “Enemy Mine,” Donald Kingsbury’s “The Moon Goddess and the Son,” Vonda N. McIntyre’s “Fireflood,” Orson Scott Card’s “Unaccompanied Sonata,” Richard Cowper’s “Out There Where the Big Ships Go,” and many others. Of course, Disch was as curmudgeonly as always.
The annuals are out, and here, if we can trust the amalgamated wisdom of our four editors, are the thirty best stories of 1979. It is in the nature of annual reports to pose the question, Was it a good year? and it pains me, as both a shareholder and a consumer, to answer that for science fiction, as for so many other sectors of the economy, 1979 was not a good year.
Against such a sweeping judgment it may be countered that sf is not a unitary phenomenon nor one easily comparable to a tomato harvest. Sf is a congeries of individual writers, each producing stories of distinct and varying merit. A year of stories is as arbitrary a measure as mileage in painting. Nevertheless, that is how the matter is arranged, not only by anthologists but by those who organize the two prize-giving systems, SFWA, which awards the Nebulas, and Fandom, which gathers once a year to hand out Hugos. The overlap between the contents of the annuals and the short-lists for the prizes is so great that one may fairly surmise that something like cause-and-effect is at work. As the nominating procedures are conducted in plain view, it seems certain that the editors will keep their eyes open for the likeliest contenders, since the annual that most successfully second-guesses the awards nominees has a clear advantage over its rivals.
Tomato harvest! At least he makes me laugh.
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Dee owned many books on astronomy. In the notes he wrote in the margins of this one, he discussed the two lunar eclipses he saw in 1556 and 1566. When a comet appeared in 1577, Queen Elizabeth asked him if it was an ill omen but Dee reassured her that it wasn’t. I apologize for the quality of some of this photos. There were bright lights over the glass cases. Good for viewing, not so good for photography!
The name John Dee conjures up images of a Tudor-era mage plumbing the mysteries of the occult and speaking with angels through his system of Enochian magic. This is how most people know Dr. Dee, and it is all I knew about him until I visited an excellent exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians in London.
Scholar, Courtier, Magician: The Lost Library of John Dee sets the record straight on a misunderstood and often maligned Renaissance man. Far more than a mere occultist, Dee was a geographer, mathematician, astronomer, world traveler, and cryptographer. He was influential in two royal courts and was an early advocate for the colonization of the Americas.
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Nancy Kress is one of the finest science fiction writers we have. She’s won the Nebula Award six times, the Hugo twice, and the John W. Campbell Award. Her novels include the acclaimed Sleepless series (Beggars in Spain, Beggars and Choosers, Beggars Ride), An Alien Light (1988), and Steal Across the Sky (2009).
But before all of that, she began her career with three fantasy novels that are still fondly remembered today.
The Prince of Morning Bells (Timescape/Pocket, 224 pages, $2.75, October 1981) — cover by Carl Lundgren
The Golden Grove (Berkley, 246 pages, $2.95, January 1986) – cover artist unknown
The White Pipes (Berkley, 218 pages, $2.95, August 1986) — cover artist unknown
The books are not connected, but their publication did signal the arrival of a major new voice in fantasy.
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And so we come to the end of the First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (follow the links to read my reviews of the previous two books, Lord Foul’s Bane and The Illearth War). While not an upbeat book by any degree The Power That Preserves (1977) provides a satisfying and hope-filled conclusion to a series heretofore characterized mostly by loss and despair. Those elements still figure heavily in this story, but this time around they more clearly serve to prepare Covenant for the confrontation with Lord Foul.
The events of the crushing, sorrow-filled The Illearth War have left Thomas Covenant a broken man. He is pulled back and forth by the weight of what he did and his continued disbelief in the Land’s reality. Compelled by his reawakening need for human contact, he falls into a sort of madness and takes to haunting the woods and backstreets of his town, a place from which he’s been exiled because of people’s fear of his disease. When he stops taking the meds that suppress it, his leprosy is triggered.
While trying to save a little girl being menaced by a timber snake Covenant is summoned to the Land by the new High Lord, Mhoram. Under command of the Raver-possessed Giant, Satansfist, a vast army has destroyed Revelwood and laid siege to Revelstone. For weeks Lord Foul has called down perpetual winter on the Land and sent packs of marauders to kill any who defy his will.
Covenant insists he will help the Land, but must be allowed to return home and save the girl first. He does, but is poisoned himself. Once he’s satisfied she is safe, he says, “Come and get me. It’s over now.,” and is brought back to the Land. But he doesn’t arrive back in front of the Lords and inside the besieged Revelstone. Instead, he is called back to Kevin’s Watch where he first arrived in the Land in Lord Foul’s Bane. This time he has been summoned by Triock, one-time suitor of Lena (the woman he raped), and the Giant Saltheart Foamfollower. After he helps them fight off a vicious attack on Mithil Stonedown, Covenant decides the time has finally come to take a stand.
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Back in December I talked about a few of my favorite anthologies, The Good Old Stuff (1998) and The Good New Stuff (1999), which collected some of the best adventure SF from the last century, alongside Gardner Dozois’ detailed and affectionate commentary. Dozois followed up with another fine pair of anthologies focused on deep space exploration and the far future, Explorers: SF Adventures to Far Horizons and The Furthest Horizon: SF Adventures to the Far Future, both published in 2000. All four were released in trade paperback from St. Martin’s/Griffin, and the set is the equivalent of a Master’s level course in SF of the 20th Century.
In 2001/02, Dozois produced a final two anthologies in this format, exploring two more common themes in 20th Century SF, terraforming and advanced human evolution:
Worldmakers: SF Adventures in Terraforming (459 pages, December 2001, $17.95) — cover by Chesley Bonestell
Supermen: Tales of the Posthuman Future (463 pages, January 2002, $17.95) — cover by Nick Stathopoulos
Like the first volumes, they include Dozois’ lengthy and highly informative intros to each story. Together with the first four, these books form the basis of a very solid library of 20th Century science fiction.
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In the March, 1953 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, H. L. Gold announed a novel contest. Simon and Schuster and Galaxy partnered together to offer a $6,500 prize, “guaranteed to the author of the best original science fiction novel submitted.”
The $6,500 was only a minimum for the first world serial and TV rights. It was the largest cash prize offered to date for a science fiction novel. Other details were that the contest closed October 15, 1953, and the novel had to be between 60,000 and 75,000 words. Anyone could enter, with the following caveats:
…except employees of the Galaxy Publishing Corp. and of Simon and Shuster, Inc., and their families; AND authors who are ineligible because of contractual obligations to their present publishers… which means, in effect, that contestants will NOT be competing with most of the established ‘big names’ of science fiction.
When you consider that cars could be purchased for about $2,000 in 1953, this was an enormous prize. And let’s face it: how many of us would still be happy to sell a novel in today’s market for $6,500?
Given that the contest ended long ago, I had to find out who won. The winner was Edson McCann, whose novel Preferred Risk was serialized in Galaxy in 1955 and later published by Simon and Schuster that same year. Congratulations, Edson!
Oh… except there never was an Edson McCann.
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The Ace Doubles were a fairly low-paying market by most measures, and they didn’t always attract top authors. But they did publish early books by many writers who would go on to become top authors. Such is the case with the pairing of Rocannon’s World, the first novel by the great Ursula K. LeGuin, and The Kar-Chee Reign, an early novel by SF master Avram Davidson.
Rich Horton examined both novels as part of his ongoing series of Ace Double reviews at his blog Strange at Ecbatan. Here’s what he said, in part:
Seeing that Ursula K. Le Guin’s first novel was an Ace Double came as a mild surprise to me, some time back when I encountered this pairing. Since then I’ve realized that that wasn’t really that rare, for example, Samuel R. Delany also had early novels published as Ace Doubles, as did many other great writers…
Rocannon’s World is a curious novel. It is a “Hainish” novel, thus fitting into Le Guin’s main “future history,” but it doesn’t seem wholly consistent with novels like The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. What it mainly is is a fantasy novel with SF trappings. Except for the prose, which is excellent as one might expect from Le Guin, it feels strikingly pulpish. The plot and feel would not have been out of place in an early 50s issue of Planet Stories…
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