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Category: Vintage Treasures

Science Fiction With Real Humans: The Best of James Blish

Science Fiction With Real Humans: The Best of James Blish

The Best of James Blish (Del Rey, 1979). Cover by H. R. Van Dongen

The Best of James Blish (1979) was the twenty-first (and penultimate!) installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. (Only one more to go!) Science fiction author Robert A. W. Lowndes (1916–1998) provided the introduction — his only one in the series. Sci-fi artist H. R. Van Dongen (1920–2010) provides the ninth cover in the series, the most used artist of the series.

James Blish (1921–1975) was an American science fiction and sometimes fantasy author. He was one of the original Futurians, and besides writing oodles of short fiction and novels, he became also well-known for writing a series of Star Trek novelizations with his second wife J. A. Lawrence. According to Wikipedia, Blish is credited with inventing the term “gas giant” to refer to large planetary bodies. Blish is someone I had never read before, but whose name often comes up in discussion of classic science fiction.

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Vintage Treasures: Mars, We Love You edited by Jane Hipolito and Willis E. McNelly

Vintage Treasures: Mars, We Love You edited by Jane Hipolito and Willis E. McNelly

Mars, We Love You (Pyramid Books, 1973) and its British reprint, The Book of Mars
(Orbit, 1976). Covers: unknown (left), and Patrick Woodroffe (right)

The 70s was the golden age of science fiction anthologies, and especially themed anthologies. You didn’t find a lot of books collecting SF cat tales, mermaid legends, or vampire love stories in those days (not that there’s anything wrong with those, I hasten to add).

But take Mars, We Love You, for example. Originally published in hardcover in 1971, the heyday of the Mariner program, it was an affectionate look back at classic SF about the Red Planet. It was a goodbye to the pulp dream of Mars, really, in the cold new age of space probes, which closed the door forever on the SFnal vision of a sister world of planet-spanning canals, ancient Martian civilizations, and alien wonder. Though tinged with pulp nostalgia, and a yearning for a time when many of us still dreamed of finding intelligent life right here in our own solar system, Mars, We Love You is nonetheless a fine anthology that makes enjoyable reading today. 

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Vintage Treasures: The Best Science Fiction of the Year #8 edited by Terry Carr

Vintage Treasures: The Best Science Fiction of the Year #8 edited by Terry Carr

The Best Science Fiction of the Year #8 (Del Rey, July 1979)

Terry Carr died 34 years ago, in 1987. A whole generation of fans has arrived since his death, discovered science fiction, argued over the Star War sequels, and settled comfortably into middle age to raise contentious young SF fans of their own.

So fans today could be forgiven for not understanding how thoroughly Carr dominated the field during his lifetime. Before he died in 2018, Gardner Dozois was seen as the preeminent editor and taste-maker in 21st Century science fiction, winning the Hugo Award for Best Professional Editor a record-shattering 15 times, and editing 35 volumes of the perennially popular The Year’s Best Science Fiction. But in 1979, the year Best Science Fiction of the Year #8 appeared, that crown belonged to Carr, and he had no less than four books — including three Year’s Best — place ahead of Dozois’ own Year’s Best installment in the annual Locus Poll for Best Anthology.

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Lin Carter’s Imaginary Worlds #3: Tricks of the Trade and Reflections

Lin Carter’s Imaginary Worlds #3: Tricks of the Trade and Reflections

I’m doing a deep dive into Lin Carter’s Imaginary Worlds (first article), and I’ve finally gotten to his last chapter in which he gives advice to writers:

When a writer first begins evolving in his imagination and his notebooks, the raw materials that he intends to shape into an imaginary world, he should think through the problem through to its logical ramifications.

Because…

…despite the convictions of occultists and the religiosi of the several faiths, in the actual world magic simply does not work… and an invented world, therefore, that includes the super natural element must be–has to be–very different from his own. Any writer…. should think through all its implications.

If you’ve just tuned in, Lin Carter was a Fantasy author and editor who flourished roughly from the 50s to the 70s. He was a far better editor than author, however his stories are reliable comfort reads, and compensate for lack of depth with fast pacing and unconstrained imagination. No surprise, then, that his thoughts  on Fantasy worlds are worth reading. He gives them in X entertaining secions.

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Vintage Treasures: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Vintage Treasures: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

The Forever War (Ballantine Books, 1976). Cover by Murray Tinkelman

Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War is one of the most honored science fiction novels of all time. First published by St. Martin’s Press in 1975, it swept every major SF Award, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. A decade later, in 1987, it placed 18th on Locus’ list of All-Time Best SF Novels, ahead of The Martian Chronicles, Starship Troopers, and Rendezvous with Rama.

Unlike many SF classics, its reputation has grown steadily over the decades. It’s been widely praised by critics, from Thomas M. Disch (“It is to the Vietnam War what Catch-22 was to World War II, the definitive, bleakly comic satire”) to contemporary authors such as Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz.

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Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen: Piper’s Connecticut Yankee Tale

Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen: Piper’s Connecticut Yankee Tale

Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen (1965), Ace, cover art by Jack Gaughan (left)
Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen
(1984), Ace Science Fiction Books, cover art by Michael Whelan (right)

I think most people are familiar with Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). (Certainly, there’s a delightful musical from 1948 featuring Bing Crosby that I loved as a kid.) Twain’s hero is an engineer from Connecticut who receives a blow to the head and is somehow transported in time and space to King Arthur’s England. Although the story is a social satire, it celebrates homespun ingenuity and democratic values, among other things. Although not a satire, Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen (1965) by H. Beam Piper, similarly celebrates good old American ingenuity and values, but takes place on an alternate 20th century timeline instead of the far past. It’s Piper’s last work and part of his Paratime universe.

In this article I’m going give you six (relatively) spoiler-free reasons to read the book, and one reason that has a spoiler, but that I think will only enhance your enjoyment of the work.

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Vintage Treasures: Stellar Fist by Geo. W. Proctor

Vintage Treasures: Stellar Fist by Geo. W. Proctor

Stellar Fist (Ace, 1989). Cover by Martin Andrews

George Wyatt Proctor (1946 – 2008) was an prolific Texas author who produced some two dozen novels and collections after he retired from The Dallas Morning News in 1976. He wrote both science fiction and westerns, and collaborated with a host of well known writers, including Arthur C. Clarke, Howard Waldrop, and Steven Utley. With Robert E. Vardeman he produced nine Swords of Raemllyn sword & sorcery novels in the 80s and 90s, and with Andrew J. Offutt he contributed two novels to the Spaceways series (as John Cleve). In 1985 he wrote two novels in the long-running series V, based on the hit NBC series.

Stellar Fist was his last standalone science fiction novel, following Fire at the Center (1981) and Starwings (1984). From a modern perspective, it’s pretty much exactly what you expect from an 80s military SF novel. But that may not be a bad thing, as put so eloquently in this 2-star Goodreads review by Mark.

This book was pretty much awful, but I found myself really enjoying it — from the ridiculous interstellar-sexpot-spy-turned-time-traveling-lounge-singer-returned-interstellar-spy to the last 20 pages of complete story- and character-breaking chaos. Would highly recommend reading it if you’ve got a sense of humor and nothing better lying around.

That reads like a solid recommendation in my book.

Stellar Fist was published by Ace Books in January 1989. It’s 229 pages, priced $3.50. The cover is by Martin Andrews. It has never been reprinted, which really isn’t very surprising.

See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

Vintage Treasures: The Empire of Kaz by Leslie Gadallah

Vintage Treasures: The Empire of Kaz by Leslie Gadallah

Cat’s Pawn and Cat’s Gambit (Del Rey, 1987 and 1990). Covers by Barclay Shaw

Canadian writer Leslie Gadallah isn’t well known today. She produced a handful of novels in the late 80s for Del Rey, including two books in a highly regarded space opera, Cat’s Pawn and its sequel Cat’s Gambit, the first volumes in what’s now called the Empire of Kaz trilogy. Here’s an excerpt from Delia Sherman’s enthusiastic coverage in the May 1987 issue of Fantasy Review.

Cat’s Pawn is a first novel in the aliens-befriends-human mode. The plotting is masterful. The novel is made up of three complexly interrelated stories, and Gadallah moves easily among them, revealing what we need to know just when we need to know it. Bill Anderson, a linguist. suffers a heart-attack after the starship he is on is captured by pirates. Taran, a cat-like Orian diplomat, keeps him alive, rescues him, heals him, and generally takes a disconcerting interest in his health and welfare. When Bill moves to the port city of Space Central, he is taken up by its villainous boss Steven Black, who blackmails him into agreeing to assassinate Taran. Woven into all this is a plot to take over the galaxy by a race of murderous bugs…

Cat’s Pawn is always exciting. It is smoothly written and deals forthrightly with the question of how basic xenophobia is to human nature. And toward the end there are a coupe of scenes in the deserts of Orion which are truly strange and wonderful

Gadallah, now in her 80s, is — according to recent interviews at least — still writing.

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A Calm Book for a Mad Time: Inherit The Stars by James P. Hogan

A Calm Book for a Mad Time: Inherit The Stars by James P. Hogan

Inherit the Stars (Del Rey, 1990 reprint). Cover art by Darrell K. Sweet

James P. Hogan’s Giant’s Trilogy has been a presence at my parents’ house since the late 70s. Sometimes on the shelf, sometimes on the coffee table, sometimes on the end table. I had to move my mom into assisted living last year and in sorting the books (oh, the books!) into ‘take with her,’ ‘move on,’ and ‘keep for myself,’ I gently slipped them into the ‘keep for myself’ pile, and now, two years later, I have started to read them.

Inherit the Stars is very much a book of its time, and its time is 1976. My views are split: the ideas that make up the book are very good, but the actual story? Dull. There is no real tension, no villain (more on this later), no real action. Nobody’s spacesuit ruptures, nobody’s virgin-launch spaceship has a glitch. This is a book about ideas and that’s it. I sometimes got an image in my mind of Isaac Asimov reading Inherit the Stars and having to light up a post-idea cigarette.

As frequent readers of my reviews will know, I have very little desire to write spoiler-free reviews of 44-year-old books. New readers, be warned.

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Vintage Treasures: Maurai & Kith by Poul Anderson

Vintage Treasures: Maurai & Kith by Poul Anderson

Maurai & Kith (Tor Books, 1982). Cover art by Thomas Kidd

Uber-editor Jason M. Waltz kindly invited me to write the introduction to his new anthology The Lost Empire of Sol: A Shared World Anthology of Sword & Planet Tales, co-edited by Black Gate blogger Fletcher Vredenburgh, a terrific new shared-world volume that contains new stories by Howard Andrew Jones, E.E. Knight, Mark Finn, Keith Taylor, Joe Bonadonna and David C. Smith, and many more. As I was putting it together I realized that my concept of Sword-and-Planet is probably a little displaced from the modern definition. Nowadays it refers very specifically to John Carter-like tales fantasy adventure on far-off planets, as Howard Andrew Jones and I explored in our 2019 column over at Tor.com, Five Classic Sword-and-Planet Sagas (written under my Todd McAulty pseudonym).

But I tend to agree with Gardner Dozois, who used the term far more broadly to refer to old-school science fiction, and especially pulp-inspired tales of adventures in exotic locales. One of my favorite anthologies is his 1998 volume The Good Old Stuff: Adventure SF in the Grand Tradition, which I reviewed for the SF Site way back in 1999, and which is packed with exemplary examples. Here’s what I said at the time.

“Old Stuff” refers here to the spirit of early SF — the grand Space Opera, the planetary romance, what Dozois calls “the lush sword-and-planet” tale. Collected here are a fine assortment of short stories and novellas which celebrated that tradition, and in some cases took it in significant new directions.

There are tales of far exploration into the vastness of the galaxy in the face of hostile opposition (A.E. van Vogt’s “The Rull”), unknowable ancient alien civilizations (“The Last Days of Shandaker,” by Leigh Brackett), mysterious and deadly inter-dimensional invaders (James H. Schmitz’s superb, and oddly pastoral, “The Second Night of Summer”), rites of succession for a Galactic Empire (Jack Vance’s “The New Prime”), and brave men and women faced with terrible peril (just about any of them, really, but most especially Poul Anderson’s swashbuckling novella of intrepid explorers on a post-apocalyptic Earth coming face-to-face with strangely advanced barbarians from the far continent of Nor-Merika, “The Sky People.”)

I’d been a Poul Anderson fan for two decades by the time I read “The Sky People,” but I’d never read anything like that story, and it sent me scrambling to find more. That led me to Maurai & Kith, a 1982 Tor collection that gathers all the short stories in the series, plus two tales in his semi-related Kith series of early interstellar explorers in the 21st and 22nd centuries. It’s a volume that belongs in the collection of every SF fan.

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