Space Empires, Ruined Civilizations, and Lovable Aliens: The Best of Eric Frank Russell

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

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Cover by H. R. Van Dongen

The Best of Eric Frank Russell (1978) was the eighteenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. Alan Dean Foster (1946–) provides the introduction, his first and only introduction for the series. H. R. Van Dongen (1920–2010) does his seventh cover (far surpassing Dean Ellis’s five). Since Eric Frank Russell (1905–1978) was unavailable at the time this volume was compiled, no Afterword is included.

Alan Dean Foster relates in the introduction that during a lunch with John Campbell they realized they both had the same favorite sci-fi writer: Eric Frank Russell. But both lamented (this was 1968) that Russell no longer wrote that much. This seems like very high praise, since it comes from two very influential figures in the sci-fi field. But who was Eric Frank Russell, and why did he quit writing?

Eric Frank Russell was a British writer (which I found surprising since his dialogue sounds American to my reading). He grew up in a military family, but didn’t serve in the military until World War II. Most of his early life was spent writing for American and British pulp magazines. He also produced a few novels, some fairly successful, including Sinister Barrier (1943) and Wasp (1957), which was optioned by Ringo Starr of The Beatles, but never filmed.

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Vintage Treasures: The Quiet Invasion by Sarah Zettel

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Steve Youll

Sarah Zettel launched her career in pretty spectacular fashion in 1996 with the novel Reclamation, which was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award and won the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Her second, Fool’s War (1997), came in 8th in the Locus poll for Best SF Novel, and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

The Quiet Invasion (2000) was her fourth novel, a tense and original tale of First Contact. Publishers Weekly said Zettel’s “aliens soar forward in unexpected and wonderful ways, making this a first-contact novel worth reading and relishing.” Here’s a snippet from their review.

Zettel (Fool’s War, etc.) has a gift for creating fascinating aliens with rich cultures and radically different, though still comprehensible, mindsets… a nearly omnipotent United Nations on Earth controls what happens to the colonies on Mars, the Moon and, especially, Venus. The Venus colony is the life’s work of Dr. Helen Failia, who has done everything possible to make the base a self-sufficient outpost rather than a temporary research station. Just as Helen is about to lose funding for her beloved city, the surface of Venus sprouts what appears to be an alien artifact. Closely monitoring the humans’ discovery of the artifact are aliens from another planet, who are looking to claim Venus as their new home… Their complicated belief system dictates that they cannot colonize Venus if humans have a legitimate claim to the planet, but if they judge the humans insane, they can destroy them like weeds.

When I was editor of SF Site back in the 90s, we previewed the complete first chapter of The Quiet Invasion. Twenty years later it’s still posted for your reading enjoyment here — who says nothing lasts on the internet?

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Of Horizons and Common Sense Lost

Friday, September 13th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

51G8TVzla+L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_I recently got around to reading Gerry Conway’s introduction to Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Omnibus, Volume One for a forthcoming article. If there was a retroactive Astounding Award for Best Self-Loathing Writer of 2016, Mr. Conway would surely be a contender. There is nothing wrong with a writer looking back in some embarrassment over past work or even admitting their good intentions now seem naive from the vantage point of the present, but Mr. Conway apologizes so profusely for several thousand words one would be forgiven for thinking he committed a capital crime.

Truth be told, Mr. Conway’s unforgivable sin was his cultural appropriation in daring to cast people of color as heroes in his fiction of the 1970s. For you see, by some cruel twist of fate, he had the misfortune to be born to a white family and raised in a white neighborhood in the 1950s. Personally, I thought his having created diverse characters to appeal to minority readers and encourage tolerance among all readers in the decade following the Civil Rights movement is something he should be proud of, but apparently not so.

What’s more, all of his wailing and grinding of teeth is in the form of an introduction to a volume reprinting the work he is so ashamed of. One wonders what the purpose is of writers telling readers who just spent money buying reprints of their work how truly offensive those same works are. Given that Mr. Conway spent much of his career at Marvel Comics channeling Stan Lee’s voice, one wonders why Stan Lee isn’t likewise condemned for cultural appropriation for creating Black Panther and the Utopian nation of Wakanda. Of course, logical thinking isn’t advisable in a society that feeds off emotional reactions to maintain a constant state of division.

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Vintage Treasures: Minds Unleashed, edited by Groff Conklin

Thursday, September 12th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Minds Unleashed, Tempo Books, 1970. Cover by, well, no one really knows.

You know what I try hard to do every day? Not sit around and talk about the good ‘ole days. It takes effort, let me tell you.

Not that everything was better in the good ‘ole days, Lord knows. But you could get terrific original anthologies in spinner racks at the supermarket for under a buck, and let’s face it, that’s what really matters.

Anthologies like Groff Conklin’s Minds Unleashed (Tempo, 1970). Just look at that gorgeous cover. A big red brain with a glowing blue ball representing… I dunno? The super brainpower we’d all have fifty years in the future, probably? I love it. I don’t love that Tempo Books was such a low-budget operation that they couldn’t afford to tell you who painted the damn cover, but these are the burdens we live with. Mind you, if you do the math, that far-off future fifty years after 1970 is… the year 2020. Which means my blue floaty brainball should show up any day now. Come on, future brainpower.

While we’re waiting, we can all can help prepare our superbrains by reading great science fiction stories about “the potential of human imagination and the range of strength of human intelligence” by Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Murray Leinster, Robert A. Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Eric Frank Russell, Isaac Asimov, William Tenn, and many others. Let’s have a look at the table of contents.

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Vintage Treasures: Strange Invasion by Michael Kandel

Sunday, September 8th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Bantam Spectra Special Edition (1989), cover by Edwin B. Hirth, III

Michael Kandel began his career translating Stanislaw Lem’s Polish novels into English, including The Futurological Congress, The Cyberiad, and The Star Dairies. He was twice nominated for a National Book Award for his efforts. In 1989 he published his first novel with Bantam Spectra, Strange Invasion, followed quickly by In Between Dragons (1990), Captain Jack Zodiac (1991), and Panda Ray (1996). Since then he’s been writing mostly short fiction, most recently two stories in Gordon van Gelder’s 2017 anthology Welcome to Dystopia.

At the time Strange Invasion appeared, Bantam Spectra was the most prestigious imprint in the business. Founded by Lou Aronica when he was just 27 years old, its first release was David Brin’s Startide Rising (1983), which claimed a Hugo and a Nebula award. Spectra followed up with multiple hits, including Neal Stephenson’s debut Snow Crash (1992) and bestsellers from Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Raymond Feist, William Gibson, and Neil Gaiman — and, in 1996, a little book called A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin. His acclaimed Full Spectrum anthology series ran for five volumes. Before he left Bantam in 1994, Aronica acquired five consecutive Nebula Award winners. In recent years the imprint has become moribund, and I believe it is now dead.

Strange Invasion came in 5th in the annual Locus Award for Best First Novel. But it has never been reprinted, and hasn’t seen a lot of modern attention. In some quarters it is still considered a modern classic, however. For example, here’s Don Web’s review at Bewildering Stories.

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The Dawn of Comics in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon

Saturday, September 7th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


It isn’t often that comic books are a legitimate topic in works of literature, or that when they are, the book in question wins a Pulitzer. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon, is such a novel. It was published in 2000 to near universal acclaim. It tells the story of two Jewish cousins from 1939 to 1953.

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Dinosaurs, Mermaids, and Haunted Lumber: The Best of L. Sprague De Camp

Saturday, September 7th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

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The Best of L. Sprague de Camp
(Science Fiction Book Club edition, 1978. Cover by Richard Corben)

The Best of L. Sprague De Camp (1978) was the fifteenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. Poul Anderson (1926–2001) gives the introduction. Darrel Sweet (1934–2011) does his second cover of the series, the first being The Best of Cordwainer Smith. L. Sprague De Camp (1907–2000), still living at the time, wrote the afterword.

I’m a fairly late-comer to science fiction. I grew up with Star Wars and typical sci-fi shows and movies of the late 70s and 80s, but my reading picks tended to be more towards fantasy and horror. So, like many of these classic sci-fi authors in the Del Rey series, L. Sprague De Camp was a new name to me. And it’s interesting, I think, how one can come to a new writer.

In all honesty, I was not looking forward to reading this volume. Most of what I’ve read of and about De Camp hasn’t given me the most favorable impression. Case in point: A couple of years ago I compared De Camp’s Robert E. Howard (REH) biography with Mark Finn’s. If you know anything about De Camp’s reputation among many REH fans, you’ll know that it is usually less than favorable (again, see my earlier post for more details). And, after reading De Camp’s REH bio, I came around to agreeing with some of this critical press. In short, I thought that De Camp could often come off as conceited with his overly bold claims, especially given his tendency of providing insufficient evidence — or none at all!

But after reading The Best of L. Sprague De Camp, I have to say that despite his reputation with many an REH fan, this has become one of my favorite volumes in the Del Rey series. I found De Camp to be a very fascinating writer. Two things, I think, really stand out in his science fiction writing.

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Vintage Treasures: Cold Iron and Sister to the Rain by Melisa Michaels

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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I was preparing a Vintage Treasures article on Melisa Michaels on Saturday, and particularly her two-volume urban fantasy series featuring private eye Rosie Levine, Cold Iron (1997) and Sister to the Rain (1998), when I stumbled on this disturbing Facebook post by Rich Horton:

I have just learned that Melisa Michaels has died. I knew she had cancer, and she had recently reported that there wasn’t much more to be done, but it’s still sad news, and it seems to have come more quickly than she thought.

But I wanted to celebrate her — she was one of the first people to, as it were, welcome me to the SF community, when I first went online, and when I joined SFF Net. We had many great conversations (online) about SF and other matters. She is one of the people I really owe a debt to for helping me make friends in this field.

I read her novels, the Skyrider SF series and the Rosie Levine Fantasy/Mystery series, with much enjoyment… Melisa always made tremendous contributions to SFWA — as I recall, she was the first webmaster of the SFWA web page, right at the dawning of the WWW. I didn’t keep close track of her later on, especially after the demise of SFF Net, but we had reconnected to a small degree on Facebook. I offer condolences to her family, and I celebrate a life well-lived.

I didn’t know Melisa the way Rich did, but I was still very saddened by the news. And I thought we could help celebrate her life here by showcasing her novels. Rich discussed Cold Iron when it first appeared over 20 years ago; here’s an excerpt from the review at his website, Strange at Ecbatan.

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Vintage Treasures: In the Drift by Michael Swanwick

Friday, August 30th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Ace Special edition of In the Drift (1985). Cover by Ron Lieberman

In the Drift was Michael Swanwick’s debut novel. It came in third for the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and was warmly reviewed by the usual sites, including Analog, Locus, and the New York Daily News.

It’s a science fantasy novel that imagines what might have happened if the 1979 partial meltdown of Reactor Number 2 at Three Mile Island, New York — a PR nightmare that almost single-handedly brought America’s brief infatuation with atomic power to an end — had instead been a full-blown nuclear disaster, contaminating the surrounding geography for hundreds of years and precipitating an era of mutants and monsters.

Now, that already sounds like something I’d be interested in. But what drew me to In the Drift — sucked me in like a nuclear-powered vacuum cleaner — was a casual read of the very first page. It’s a gorgeously rendered visualization of a postapocalyptic dark age, filled with vampires and mutants, laser guns, and an Italian Market. Seriously. Check it out below.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Donald M. Grant

Friday, August 30th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Richard Robertson

Cover by Richard Robertson

Photo by Andrew Porter

Photo by Andrew Porter

Cover by Stephan Peregrine

Cover by Stephan Peregrine

The World Fantasy Awards are presented during the World Fantasy Convention and are selected by a mix of nominations from members of the convention and a panel of judges. The awards were established in 1975 and presented at the 1st World Fantasy Convention in Providence, Rhode Island. Traditionally, the awards took the form of a bust of H.P. Lovecraft sculpted by Gahan Wilson, however in recent years the trophy became controversial in light of Lovecraft’s more problematic beliefs. The Professional Special Award has been part of the award since its founding. In 1980, the year Grant received the award for his work on Fantasy Newsletter, the convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland. Grant had previously received the award in 1976 and would receive the award again in 1983. In addition, Grant received A World Fantasy Con Special Convention Award in 1984 and was named a Grand Master in 2003.

Donald M. Grant became interested in reading science fiction and fantasy when he was 10 years old. He co-founded his first publishing company, Grant-Hadley, with Thomas Hadley in 1945 and they published Rhode Island on Lovecraft. The next year, Kenneth Krueger joined the company and Grant was inducted into the military. The company changed its name to The Buffalo Book Company and they published The Time Stream, by John Taine and the first edition of The Skylark of Space, by E.E. “Doc” Smith. Grant and Krueger wound up leading the company, which took on the name The Hadley Publishing Company, which published four more volumes over the next three years.

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