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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There Will Never Be an End to Wonder: James Davis Nicoll on Poul Anderson

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Brain Wave Poul Anderson

Brain Wave by Poul Anderson (Ballantine Books, 1954). Cover by Richard Powers.

Poul Anderson was one of my favorite science fiction writers when I first discovered the genre. That interest didn’t survive into adulthood. While I still read Vance, Zelazny, Delany, I probably haven’t picked up a Poul Anderson novel in 30 years. It’s mostly neglect, rather than any conscious choice. It’s simply been too long since a Poul Anderson book survived the cut in my to-be-read pile.

I finally read James Davis Nicoll’s Tor.com article Celebrating Five Favourite Works by Poul Anderson, published on the 93rd anniversary of his birth, November 25, and it was a fine reminder of why Anderson’s work used to appeal to me… and why much of it maybe still does. Here’s Nicoll on the the 1953 novel Brain Wave.

The Earth emerges from an intelligence-suppressing field. Every creature that can think suddenly finds itself five times smarter. All humans of normal intelligence wake to find themselves geniuses. Animals discover that they can now think around the barriers used to control them. Human institutions crumble because humans are too bright to believe in them, while the agricultural systems on which we depend are themselves threatened by animals no longer willing to be stock or prey.

This could very easily have been an apocalyptic tale (superhuman humans shrug and carry on eating creatures that now fully understand what’s going on) — but that’s not the direction in which a comparatively young Anderson took his novel. Instead, the various viewpoint characters do their best to find new, better ways to live.

That’s a strongly appealing review, especially for a 66-year old book. But in many ways that matter, Anderson still speaks to modern readers. As Nicoll writes in his review of The Enemy Stars, “Anderson delivered on the promise. He took worldbuilding very seriously. He understood the sheer immensity of the universe… There will never be an end to wonder.”

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Vintage Treasures: The Space Magicians, edited by Alden H. Norton and Sam Moskowitz

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Space Magicians-small The Space Magicians-back-small

Cover artist unknown (which is kinda tragic)

And so my quest to write up all the interesting science fiction anthologies of the 20th Century brings us to The Space Magicians.

This is kind of an oddball anthology. Yes, it has a theme. (That theme is not space magicians.) The idea appears to be a collection of rare and hard-to-find science fiction tales by “science fiction’s major talents… each one a masterpiece in its own right,” and each of which has never been reprinted in paperback before.

The result is an eclectic mix of pulp tales by, yes, seven major SF writers: John Wyndham, Henry Kuttner, Isaac Asimov, Clifford D. Simak, Eric Frank Russell, Robert Bloch, and Robert W. Chambers. The stories within originally appeared between 1899 and 1953, in Wonder Stories, Super Science Stories, Astonishing Stories, Science-Fiction Plus, Universe Science Fiction, and other fine venues. They include the first reprint of Asimov’s “Half-Breed,” written when he was 19 years old, and Robert W. Chambers science fiction story “In Search of the Unknown.”

The stories are packaged in a 206-page paperback with a gonzo wraparound cover featuring cartoon characters on a gloriously colorful alien landscape. The artist, tragically, is unknown. The editors offer a chatty two-page introduction in which they wonder aloud why none of these stories have been reprinted, and tell us a bit about each one to whet our appetite. Here’s the complete intro.

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Bob’s Books: “Fast, Loose Money” by John D. MacDonald

Monday, January 6th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

MacDonald_EndTigerCover2EDITEDJohn D. MacDonald broke in near the end of the Pulp Era, writing for science fiction and mystery magazines. He appeared in Dime Detective his first year of writing, and made it into Black Mask the next. Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw became his agent after the legendary editor left the magazine. He quickly became a staple for Fawcett Gold Medal’s paperback origscoinal novels, while still writing short stories, including for slicks like Redbook and Cosmopolitan. With seven stories in 1958 (the same as in 1957), Macdonald effectively ended his run as a short story writer and shifted almost completely to novelist.  He would only write that many short stories in a year twice more for the rest of his life.

The last story published in 1958 was “The Fast, Loose Money,” in the July issue of Cosmopolitan. It was included in the 1966 collection, End of the Tiger and Other Stories. One of the fourteen other stories in that book is “The Trap of Solid Gold,” which I think is one of his best; and which Steve Scott used to name his blog – the best John D. MacDonald site on the web. You can read Steve’s two-part essay on MacDonald’s Park Falkner, here.

At eleven pages of tightly spaced small print, it’s a little longer than almost every other story in the book.

During World War II, MacDonald was an ordnance officer in the India-China-Burma Theater, working in procurement. He was initially assigned to New Delhi, and he did not like India, writing over forty years later, that it “was a sorry country, full of sorry people.”

He was transferred to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which became the CIA. He worked out of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Burma, and China. MacDonald would use his experiences and knowledge of his wartime service in the Far East, in several of his short stories. 1958’s “Taint of the Tiger” was expanded into a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback, Soft Touch. Another ‘war-roots’ story from that year is “Fast, Loose Money.”

Something has gone very wrong in Jerry Thompson’s day. Jerry owns three parking lots in a nearby city. He and his wife Marie live well enough off of them, but as he says, “If you play by the rules, you’re a sucker.” So, Jerry had been using a duplicate ticket scheme to grab some off-the-book income, totaling about $26,000, which he kept at home in a wall safe, and spent low-key, to avoid the danger of getting caught.

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All the Leftovers: The Early Asimov by Isaac Asimov

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly

The Early Asimov-small

The Early Asimov (Doubleday, 547 pages, $10 in hardcover, September 1972)
By Isaac Asimov
Cover by Barry Kiperman

This is a book I’d never read before, and debated recently about whether to ever read it. On the one hand, life is too short to read every book one might have accumulated, and this book consists, frankly, of all the stories from Asimov’s early career that had not already been included in 10 earlier collections — all the leftovers. (Those 10 include I, Robot as well as the three Foundation “novels,” since those were largely comprised of earlier magazine stories.)

Thus I had passed over it several times before. On the other hand, I kept noticing early stories by Asimov in various anthologies, and realized that I’d never read those stories, or only a couple of them via those anthologies. So why not catch up on the others and just read through this 1972 book? An attraction is the substantial, autobiographical notes Asimov provides, detailing how each story was written and submitted; the book is subtitled “Or, Eleven Years of Trying.”

Such notes proved so popular here that he provided similar notes in subsequent books (like the anthology Before the Golden Age) and then in two lengthy volumes of autobiography over the next eight years.

So before considering individual stories, here are the broad takeaways from reading this book.

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Sixty Years of Lunar Anthologies

Saturday, December 28th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Men on the Moon-small The Moon Era-small Blue Moon-small

Men on the Moon (Ace, 1958, cover by Emsh), The Moon Era (Curtis Books, 1969), Blue Moon (Mayflower, 1970, Josh Kirby)

This past July was the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing — a pretty major milestone in human civilization. A major milestone for science fiction fans as well, and we celebrated it in our own way. Most notably, Neil Clarke published The Eagle Has Landed: 50 Years of Lunar Science Fiction, a fat 570-page reprint anthology that I finally bought last week.

Neil’s book is the best moon-centered anthology I’ve ever seen, but it builds on a long history of classic SF volumes dating back at least six decades. While I was preparing a New Treasures article about it I kept going back to look at favorite moon books in my collection, and eventually I got the idea to craft a longer piece on half a dozen Lunar anthologies that all deserved a look.

I don’t mean to slight Neil’s excellent book, which we’ll dig into in detail. But if you’re like me and you can’t pick up a modern book about the moon without thinking of Donald A. Wollheim’s Ace Double Men on the Moon (from 1958), or Mike Ashley’s terrific Moonrise: The Golden Era of Lunar Adventures, then this article is for you.

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Vintage Treasures: The Space Anthologies, edited by David Drake with Charles G. Waugh and Martin Harry Greenberg

Thursday, December 26th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Space Gladiators-small Space Infantry-small Space Dreadnoughts-medium

Covers by Walter Velez

Almost exactly a month ago I wrote about a trio of military/adventure science fiction anthologies edited by Joe Haldeman, Charles G. Waugh, and Martin Harry Greenberg, and published by Ace Books between 1986-88: Body Armor: 2000, Supertanks, and Space Fighters. Today they’re called the Tomorrow’s Warfare trilogy, and they’re a fun and collectible set of vintage paperbacks well worth tracking down, especially if you enjoy 80s-vintage military/adventure fantasy or are even remotely curious about 80s science fiction in general. Check out all the details here.

Haldeman did no further books with Waugh and Greenberg. But I suspect the three he did were fairly successful, as scarcely a year later David Drake picked up the reins and produced three books with them in the exact same vein:

Space Gladiators (1989)
Space Infantry (1989)
Space Dreadnoughts (1990)

These are loosely referred to as the Space anthologies (by me, anyway), and they followed the same formula as the previous titles, with stories from the most popular writers of the day including a Retief novella by Keith Laumer, a Dorsai tale by Gordon R. Dickson, a Magnus Ridolph novelette by Jack Vance, a Falkenberg’s Legion story by Jerry Pournelle, a Hammer’s Slammers novelette by David Drake, a Thousand Worlds tale by George R. R. Martin, plus the Hugo-award winning “Allamagoosa” by Eric Frank Russell, the classic “Arena” by Fredric Brown (inspiration for the famed Star Trek episode of the same name), and fiction by Isaac Asimov, Brian W. Aldiss, Arthur C. Clarke, Fritz Leiber, Joe Haldeman, Poul Anderson, Algis Budrys, Jack Williamson, Michael Shaara, Mack Reynolds, C. M. Kornbluth, and many others.

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A Sword & Sorcery Christmas

Tuesday, December 24th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Flashing Swords-small

It’s Christmas Eve. Everyone in the O’Neill household is wrapping presents, munching Christmas cookies, and listening to music (so… much… loud… music…). Yesterday I gave up and turned off the portable Bose speaker next to my head, because the music coming out of the basement was so loud I couldn’t hear it.

Christmas break isn’t just about having our kids home, food, and taxing my eardrums. It’s also when I have time for more ambitious reading projects, and this year there’s one in particular I’m really looking forward to. Bob Byrne challenged me to read more Robert E. Howard, and suggested I started with The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 1:Crimson Shadows from Del Rey. When I asked what was special about the stories in that book, Bob said:

You need to read a couple. The guy running Black Gate has to be a little more REH-read. Solomon Kane is good, but… Read “Worms of the Earth,” the Conan, and the el Borak. That book is where I read my first Solomon Kane. I bought the Kane book right after.

That seems like a good idea to me. I started investigating what others books I wanted to read over the 2019 Christmas break, and came across G. W. Thomas’s exhaustive survey of 44 S&S anthologies on his Dark Worlds blog on November 14. Sword & Sorcery Anthologies 1963-1985 was a handy resource, and helped inspire my reading project to grow into a deeper exploration of 20th Century Sword & Sorcery.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Hugo Award for Best Novella: “The Word for World is Forest,” by Ursula K. Le Guin

Saturday, December 21st, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

The Word for World is Forest paperback-small The Word for World is Forest paperback-back-small

The Word for World Is Forest (Berkley Medallion, 1976). Cover by Richard Powers

The great Ursula K. Le Guin won the Hugo Award for Best Novella in 1973, for “The Word for World is Forest,” which first appeared in Harlan Ellison’s anthology Again, Dangerous Visions. The story had been written several years earlier, and there exists a letter from Le Guin expressing her frustration with the time it took Ellison to get the story into print.

“The Word for World is Forest” has been a somewhat polarizing tale in Le Guin’s oeuvre for a long time. The conventional view seems to me, at this remove, that Le Guin missed the mark with this story: its tone is too shrill, the story is too preachy. It’s “Bad Ursula,” in a common formulation. And that’s been my position for a long time.

Let’s begin with the obvious: I’ve already discussed the 1972 novellas, in my post about Arthur C. Clarke’s Nebula winner, “A Meeting With Medusa.” Here’s what I wrote:

So, did it deserve its Nebula? Well, in many years it would have. But not this year. Because this year there were two magnificent Frederik Pohl novellas: “The Gold at the Starbow’s End” and “The Merchants of Venus,” perhaps his two best stories ever. Add Joe Haldeman’s “Hero,” the first of the stories that became The Forever War. And even then, we haven’t come to the clear-cut best novella of 1972, one of the very greatest SF novellas of all time: “The Fifth Head of Cerberus,” by the late, incomparable, Gene Wolfe.

Does “The Word for World is Forest” stand with “The Fifth Head of Cerberus”? Ummm – no, not even close. I think it’s fair to say that the 1973 awards, both Nebula and Hugo, missed the boat completely. But, eh, that’s happened before. Perhaps not so often so clearly, but there are relatively few SF stories as great as “The Fifth Head of Cerberus.”

The fairer question is, does “The Word for World is Forest” stand up on its own terms?

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Short Fiction of 1979

Friday, December 20th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Riverworld and Other Stories

Riverworld and Other Stories

Cover by George Barr

Cover by George Barr

Nightmares

Nightmares

And finally, after looking at various award winners over the past year and articles about authors’ debuts and the novels published in 1979, it has come time to close out this series of articles with a look at some of the non-award winning short fiction published in 1979.

By 1979, Philip José Farmer had published the first three novels in his Riverworld series as well as a novelette set in the same world, entitled “Riverworld.” When he reprinted the novelette in 1979 in his collection Riverworld and Other Stories, Farmer expanded the story from 12,000 to 33,750 words, effectively publishing a new story in the popular series about humanity’s afterlife on an infinite river.

John M. Ford has made the news recently as the rights to reprint his all too few works, plus an unfinished novel, have been disentangled.  In 1979 he published six stories in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (his first sale was in 1976). These stories included “Mandalay,” which kicked off his Alternities, Inc. series of stories, as well as “The Adventure of the Solitary Engineer” and “The Sapphire as Big as the Marsport Hilton.”

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro introduced her vampire, the Count Saint-Germain, in 1978 in the novel Hotel Transylvania. In 1979, she published her first short story about him, “Seat Partner,” detailing his experiences on an airplane, a far cry from the historical settings of the novels he usually inhabits.

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