Vintage Treasures: Heritage of Flight by Susan Shwartz

Sunday, February 16th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Heritage of Flight-small Heritage of Flight-back-small

Cover by Wayne Barlowe

Susan Shwartz has had a fine career, with five Nebula nominations for short fiction under her belt, a Hugo nom, and other accolades. She’s produced over a dozen novels, including Queensblade (1988), Arabesques: More Tales of the Arabian Nights (1988), and Hostile Takeover (2004).

Her 1989 novel Heritage of Flight was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award. It began life as a pair of novellas published in Analog, “Heritage of Flight (April 1983) and “Survivor Guilt” (February 1986). Not everyone found the blend even; here’s part of one of the more detailed Good Reads reviews (from reviewer Jon).

It starts of excellently with some really good, thought through, detailed SF – A space battle, not unlike Battlestar Galactica (The modern version) in some respects, but more engaging technically. Unfortunately the whole middle section of the book is ‘wild frontier’ stuff with virtually no real ‘Sci’ in it at all – you could imagine it being set in the Wild West or Australian Outback with few changes (Think Little House on the Prarie (sic) for adults).

Ian Sales has a lengthy and thoughtful (though very spoilery!) review at SF Mistressworks. Here’s an excerpt.

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Vintage Treasures: The Devil in a Forest by Gene Wolfe

Friday, February 7th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

A Devil in a Forest Gene Wolfe-small A Devil in a Forest Gene Wolfe-back-small

The Devil in a Forest (Ace Books, 1981). Cover by Kinuko Y. Craft

The Devil in a Forest was Gene Wolfe’s third novel, following Operation Ares and Peace. It was published in 1976, and was very much overshadowed by the release of The Shadow of the Torturer, the opening novel in Wolfe’s masterwork Book of The New Sun, in 1980. Still, in the four and a half decades since its release it’s been much discussed. But my favorite review was this on-the-nose piece by Paul de Bruijn at Rambles:

You know the phrase “You can’t judge a book by its cover?” Well, sometimes you can’t judge a book by the publisher’s blurb on the back, either. Gene Wolfe’s The Devil in a Forest proves the point well…

“He lives deep in the forest in the time of King Wenceslas, in a village older than record. The young man’s hero-worship of the charming highwayman Wat is tempered by growing suspicion of Wat’s cold savagery, and his fear of the sorceous powers of Mother Cloot is tempered by her kindness. He must decide which of these powers to stand by in the coming battle between Good and Evil that not even his isolated village will be able to avoid.”

I would love to know what book that is describing, because it is not The Devil in a Forest. Instead you get a story of a handful of villagers who get caught up in events beyond their control. It starts with the simple plan of getting the local highwayman to leave by helping him commit armed robbery. And Wat plays on the greed of a few of them masterfully. Creating a story of a rich pilgrim, he sends several people away so that he, Gloin, Matt and a char burner can rob Phillip the Cobbler. And then of course things start to go wrong…. it is a story well worth the reading.

Wolfe, who passed away last year, shows no sign of being forgotten by the usually fickle SF fanbase, and he’s discussed (and read) just as much as he’s always been. It’s gratifying to see. The Devil in the Forest was published in hardcover by Follett Publishing in 1976, and reprinted in paperback by Ace Books in November 1977 with a cover by F. Kegil, and again in 1981 with a new cover by Kinuko Y. Craft (above). The 1981 edition is 224 pages, priced at $2.25. See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

But What’s at Stake? Hal Clement’s Needle

Thursday, February 6th, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly


Needle (Doubleday, 1950, cover artist unknown)

by Hal Clement
(Astounding Science Fiction, May-June 1949; expanded to book form: Doubleday, 222 pages, $2.50 in hardcover, 1950)

Hal Clement (legal name Harry Stubbs) was one of the stable of science fiction writers developed by John W. Campbell in the pages of Astounding magazine in the 1940s. His first story was “Proof” in the June 1942 issue and his next 10 stories appeared in the magazine throughout the ‘40s. He’s most famous for the 1954 novel Mission of Gravity and his reputation rests on its sort of hard science fiction: alien environments rigorously extrapolated from known physical principles. (Others in this vein were Iceworld, 1953, and Cycle of Fire, 1957.)

His first novel is a little different. This is Needle, serialized in Astounding and expanded to book form the following year for Doubleday. And published, incidentally, as a juvenile, in the “Doubleday Young Moderns” series, despite, as SFE notes, certain themes. (The edition I’m reading, and using pagination from, is a 1974 trade paperback reprint in Avon/Equinox’s SF Rediscovery series, with an odd cover illustration depicting two Greek-like gods fighting in the clouds. Photo below.)

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Vintage Treasures: The Timescape Robert Holdstock

Thursday, January 30th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Timescape Robert Holdstock-small

Cover art by Carl Lundgren

Robert Holdstock, who died in 2009, was one of the most important fantasists of the 20th Century. While he wrote over a dozen novels, he’s chiefly remembered for his breakout novel Mythago Wood and its sequels. In his review right here last year, James Van Pelt wrote:

I really can’t recommend Mythago Wood enough. In a time when everyone else was echoing Tolkien, Holdstock created a completely different take on fantasy (rural fantasy — if that’s a genre). I loved this story of two brothers, their estranged and absent father, and a patch of wood that was only three miles around but infinitely deep… Of all the books I’ve read, none has impacted me as strongly at the end as this novel. Endings are hard, so when I read a perfect one, I take notice…

Mythago Wood appeared in 1984. Holdstock published a number of novels prior to the huge success of Mythago Wood, including a pair edited by David G. Hartwell for his legendary Timescape imprint: Earthwind and Where Time Winds Blow, both published in 1982. The combination of Holdstock’s later fame, the Timescape logo, and the fact that neither was ever reprinted in the US has made both of these paperbacks of interest to collectors.

In his 2018 article Why Editors Matter: David Hartwell’s Extraordinary Timescape Books at, James Davis Nicoll highlighted why so many collectors today cherish Timescape.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Ditmar Award for Best Australian Fiction: “Let It Ring,” by John Ossian

Saturday, January 25th, 2020 | Posted by Rich Horton

Infinity Three-small Infinity Three contents-small

Infinity Three, edited by Robert Hoskins (Lancer Books, 1972). Cover by Jim Steranko

1973 was the fifth year of the Ditmars, awarded in Australia. I have already covered the Ditmars for International Fiction (The Gods Themselves) and for Australian Fanzine (Bruce Gillespie’s SF Commentary.)

The Award for Best Australian Fiction went, curiously, to a short story, “Let It Ring”, by “John Ossian”. “John Ossian” was a pseudonym for the very well-known Australian fan and critic, John Foyster. The other nominees were all novels: Budnip, by Jack Wodhams; Gone Fishing, by David Rome; and The Hard Way Up, by A. Bertram Chandler. I haven’t read the Wodhams or Rome novel, and I read The Hard Way Up a long time ago – it’s a Grimes novel, and my impression is that it’s much like many Grimes novels, enjoyable enough but not special. So, I was willing to allow that perhaps “Let It Ring” was such a good short story that it would naturally beat out three likely enjoyable but not really brilliant novels.

Foyster, I should add, won three Ditmars – this one, and awards for Best Fanzine in 1970 for The Journal of Omphalistic Epistemology and in 1979 for Chunder. He also won the A. Bertram Chandler Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in Australian SF in 2002. He was born in 1941, and died just short of his 62nd birthday in 2003. He and Bruce Gillespie occasionally collaborated on their fanzines SF Commentary and The Journal of Omphalistic Epistemology, but never in a year that either fanzine won a Ditmar.

I found a copy of Infinity Three, edited by Robert Hoskins, wherein the story appeared. I read “Let It Ring”, and I was completely puzzled. I had very little idea what was going on. There are nods to Cordwainer Smith, and his novel Norstrilia (then known by its two halves, The Underpeople and The Planet Buyer.) The action, such as it is, seems to concern a man trying to influence his fellows on the planet Strine, especially Mathers and Kenner, to help him either delay or prevent the entrance of Strine into the Federation. It’s really not very interesting, and it’s presented in a confusing fashion.

I asked a group of people with knowledge of that period in Australian SF, including Bruce Gillespie and Damien Broderick (who anthologized “Let It Ring” in The Zeitgeist Machine: A New Anthology of Australian Science Fiction in 1977.) And they were very helpful.

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Things Are As They Are: George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly


Cover by H. Lawrence Hoffman

Earth Abides (Random House, 373 pages, $3 in hardcover, 1949)
by George R. Stewart
Cover by H. Lawrence Hoffman

Here is one of the best science fiction novels of all time. It’s about the entire world, and implicitly the entire human race, and it’s as timely as ever as, for one reason or another, humanity faces the realization that its indefinite survival on planet Earth is not guaranteed.

The novel is Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. It was published in 1949 and was Stewart’s only SF novel (though he wrote a couple earlier novels about natural catastrophes, including one about a storm that inspired the US National Weather Service to give storms names). It won the first International Fantasy Award in a year preceding the advent of the Hugos. (Stewart never wrote any other science fiction, and this novel wasn’t published as science fiction, but was later embraced by genre critics, much as the famous novels by Huxley and Orwell were.)

Above is the cover of the first edition. And here are the two editions I’ve read, a 1971 Fawcett Crest paperback with a Paul Lehr cover, and the 2006 Del Rey trade paperback edition.

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Vintage Treasures: Cloven Hooves by Megan Lindholm

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Cloven Hooves Megan Lindholm-back-small Cloven Hooves Megan Lindholm-small

Cover by Richard Bober

Before she became an international fantasy superstar with The Farseer trilogy and the Liveship Traders novels, Robin Hobb published nearly a dozen highly-regarded books under the name Megan Lindholm, including Wizard of the Pigeons (1985), the SF novel Alien Earth (1992), and The Ki and Vandien Quartet. In tone and subject they are very different from the Robin Hobb-branded heroic fantasy that made her a bestselling author, but even by that standard Cloven Hooves stands out. It’s the story of a modern woman who leaves her husband to have an affair with a satyr, with a lot of graphic sex.

It’s a very different adult fantasy, and while it made the preliminary Nebula ballot, it vanished almost without a trace. It remained out of print in the US for nearly three decades, until it was reprinted by Harper Voyager as part of their Voyager Classics line this past April. It’s worth seeking out for Hobb fans, or any serious fan of contemporary fey fantasy. Here’s a snippet from Georges T. Dodds SF Site review.

Read a hundred pages into Cloven Hooves and you’d be convinced you were reading a very conventional, if well-written, mainstream novel: an everyday story of a woman, Evelyn, and her odyssey from an unfettered and imaginative childhood in rural Alaska to a crumbling marriage among her husband’s family in Washington State. The remainder of the book, however, chronicles her passionate relationship, mating, and bearing a child to a woodland satyr. Certainly, as with her urban fantasy Wizard of the Pigeons, mainstream readers said, “what’s with the fantasy element?” While fantasy readers said, “what’s with the 100 pages of character development and the mythology that’s as old as the hills?” Ultimately the poor sales of her novels under the name Megan Lindholm, by her own admission, led her to recast herself as Robin Hobb…

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January 2020

Monday, January 20th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Garrett_SweetsilverEDITED“Say, Bob, it’s been an ENTIRE month since you told us what you’ve been reading lately. The suspense is keeping me up at night.” OK – so nobody said that to me. I’ll tell you some of the stuff I’ve taken off of the shelves lately, anyways.


I’ve already written about Glen Cook’s terrific hardboiled, fantasy PI series featuring Garrett. It combines Raymond Chandler, Nero Wolfe, and Terry Pratchett in a terrific fashion. I have a hard time imagining a better series. I’ve talked to a couple fellow Black Gaters about a round-robin look at several books in the series: So many ideas, so little time.

I’m working on this essay on Sunday evening, mere hours ahead of deadline, because I spent a couple hours yesterday re-reading book one, Sweet Silver Blues, instead of sitting at the keyboard and writing. I like it quite a bit, but it’s in book two, Bitter Gold Hearts, that the series really settles in. I’ve read most of the series at least twice before over the years. A few of my friends didn’t care for 2013’s Wicked Bronze Ambition, the last (but hopefully not final) book. It’s definitely not one of my favorites, but it’s still Garrett, and I hope there will be at least one more.

This is one of my favorite series’ in both the fantasy and private eye genres. HIGHLY recommended. And I’m also a huge fan of Cook’s The Black Company, which is light years away in tone and style. He’s simply a very good writer. Black Gate buddy Fletcher Vredenburgh did a fantastic walk-through of the entire series last year.


John MacD has been my favorite author for about three decades now. I enjoy his standalones, his short stories, and his Travis McGee books. I’ve written about him several times, and if all I did was write for Black Gate (sadly, I need to pay my bills and other such nonsense), you’d be reading a LOT about him here.

Earlier this month, after holding off for over twenty-five years, I finally watched the 1970 adaptation of Darker ThanAmber, with Rod Taylor as Travis McGee. Then, I went and re-read the book over the next couple of days. Taylor grew on me as the movie progressed, and they followed the book fairly faithfully. The final fight scene between McGee and Terry was really something to see.

I think this is a better version of a McGee novel than the 1983 film starring Sam Elliot (why in the world would you transplant McGee to California?!).

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Vintage Treasures: A Woman of the Iron People by Eleanor Arnason

Friday, January 17th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

A Woman of the Iron People Part One In the Light of Sigma Draconis-small A Woman of the Iron People Part Two Changing Women-small

Covers by Gary Ruddell

Eleanor Arnason is the author of five novels, including The Sword Smith (1978), To the Resurrection Station (1986), Daughter of the Bear King (1987), and Ring of Swords (1993), plus dozens of short stories, chiefly in her Hwarhath series, SF tales of mankind’s interactions with the sole other species we find able to travel among the stars. But her most famous book is the first contact novel A Woman of the Iron People, which won both the inaugural James Tiptree Jr. Award in 1991, and the 1992 Mythopoeic Award. Publishers Weekly called it “excellent, anthropologically oriented SF… an intelligent, provocative book,” and at Jo Walton wrote:

It’s definitely Arnason’s masterpiece and I love it. A Woman of the Iron People is anthropological science fiction, in the tradition of The Left Hand of Darkness and Mary Gentle’s Golden Witchbreed and Janet Kagan’s Hellspark. Lixia has come on a spaceship through cold sleep to a new planet, one that has aliens…. A Woman of the Iron People also won the Tiptree Award, and this is easier to understand without any parables, because it really is a book with a focus on gender. The aliens live separately — the women live in usually nomadic villages, raising children. The men leave at puberty and live alone, fighting each other. They mate with the women in the spring. These are their accepted customs and their biological imperatives, but we see several edge cases…

Lixia travels with Nia, and later with the Voice of the Waterfall, a male oracle, and Derek, another human anthropologist. They travel through culture and landscape, learning them both. It’s great that these future humans are also strange and also bring problems of their own to the story… Unlike almost all the other anthropological SF out there, the end of the journey and connecting up with the main expedition raises more questions than it solves, and there’s a twist at the end of the book that I thought was wonderful.

Read Jo’s complete review here. A Woman of the Iron People was published in hardcover in 1991 by William Morrow, and broken into two volumes for AvoNova’s paperback reprint a year later. Here’s the back covers for the paperback editions.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Locus Award for Best Short Fiction: “Basilisk,” by Harlan Ellison

Saturday, January 11th, 2020 | Posted by Rich Horton

Deathbird Stories

Deathbird Stories (Dell, 1976). Cover by Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon

In this time period the Locus Award for fiction went to novels, novellas, and short fiction, presumably both novelettes and short stories. (I’m not sure where the exact boundary between short fiction and novella was set.) Perhaps appropriately, the winner of the 1973 award, Harlan Ellison’s “Basilisk” is perhaps 7,000 words long, quite close to the current border between “short story” and “novelette” for both the Nebula and Hugo awards.

Harlan Ellison, who died in 2018, aged 84, was one of the most famous SF writers of my lifetime, and one of the most controversial. He also was one of the most celebrated, having won an astonishing 18 Locus awards, and been named SFWA Grand Master, as well as winning 8 Hugos and 2 Nebulas, and too many other awards for me to count.

Speaking personally, Ellison was one of those writers who, for the most part, I could admire without quite loving. A few of his stories were special to me – “On the Downhill Side” and “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” occur off the top of my head – stories as different from each other as one might examine, but very effective. Much of the rest of his work struck me as impressive but overwrought, and often exchanging affect for effect, or choosing to impress instead of express. If you see what I mean. His technical skill, in the directions he chose, was astonishing, but the end results, at times, seemed a bit empty.

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