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Random Reviews: “Wizard’s Bounty” by Charles de Lint

Random Reviews: “Wizard’s Bounty” by Charles de Lint

Cover by Gene Day
Cover by Gene Day

Wizard’s Bounty” is an early short story by Charles de Lint, first published in 1979 in Dark Fantasy magazine and only reprinted in de Lint’s collection A Handful of Coppers. As such an early appearance, it does not have the feel of much of de Lint’s work as he was clearly trying to find his voice when the story was written, which certainly does not mean that it isn’t a story worth reading.

de Lint has published a handful of stories surrounding the character Aynber, of which “Wizard’s Bounty” was the second. In this story, which would not have been out of place if it appeared in TSR’s The Dragon magazine of the same era, sets Aynber as a bounty hunter nicknamed “The Huntress” who is after the wizard Nemenor, who has a 5,000 gold piece bounty on his head. A chance encounter at a tavern with Boadar, who claims to know where she can find Nemenor, gives Aynber an unwelcome companion who can lead her to the wizard at the cost of part of the bounty.

Against her better judgement, Aynber accepts Boadar’s company and knowledge on her quest and he does lead her to the wizard’s tower. As a companion, Boadar proves useless when they are attacked. Furthermore, during their journey, Boadar takes liberties with her body when she sleeps, which seems gratuitous, but serves to reinforce Aynber’s own judgment of Boadar for the reader, even if she is unaware of Boadar’s action.

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Vintage Treasures: The Hugo Winners, Volumes 1, 2 and 3, edited by Isaac Asimov

Vintage Treasures: The Hugo Winners, Volumes 1, 2 and 3, edited by Isaac Asimov


The Hugo Winners, Volumes I & II and The Hugo Winners, Volume 3 (Doubleday, 1972 and 1977).
Cover designs by F. & J. Silversmiths, Inc, and Robert Jay Silverman

I’ve written 1,973 Vintage Treasures articles for Black Gate. (That seems like a lot. Is it a lot? If it were, the paperbacks waiting to be written up wouldn’t be threatening to topple over in a spine-crushing avalanche, right? Still seems like a lot, somehow.) My Vintage Treasures pieces aren’t reviews, sometimes because it’s been so long since I’ve read the book in question that I don’t trust myself to do it justice — and sometimes because I haven’t read it at all.

But mostly because I know from experience it takes me forever to assemble a decently thoughtful piece on a book I really enjoyed (or really didn’t enjoy — that takes even longer). In the time it takes me to produce a review I’m happy with, I can write four or five chatty Vintage Treasures, and that seems like a fair trade.

I’m going to break with that tradition here to offer up at least a partial review of The Hugo Winners, the groundbreaking 1962 anthology edited by Isaac Asimov, and its two follow-up volumes, The Hugo Winners, Volume II (1971) and Volume III (1977), all published in hardcover by Doubleday. They are perhaps the most important SF anthologies ever published, and I’ve read them so many times I’m pretty sure I can talk about them entirely from memory.

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Random Reviews: “Faith” by Mario Milosevic

Random Reviews: “Faith” by Mario Milosevic

Cover by Tais Teng
Cover by Tais Teng

Because I’ve been asked about the process by which I’ve been selecting stories for the Random Review series, I thought I’d take a moment to explain how the stories are selected.

I have a database of approximately 42,000 short stories that I own sorted by story title. When it comes time for me to select a story to review as part of this series, I role several dice (mostly ten sided) to determine which story should be read. I cross reference the numbers that come up on the die with the database to see what story I’ll be reviewing.  This week, I rolled 11,028 which turned out to be Mario Milosevic’s short story “Faith.”

One of the things I’m hoping to get out of this series, from a personal point of view, is to discover authors and short stories that I’ve owned and have never read. Of course, I’m also hoping to share those discoveries, good or bad, with the readers of Black Gate.

Mario Milosevic’s short story “Faith” was published on Daily Science Fiction on November 1, 2010. It would eventually be reprinted in the anthology Not Just Rockets and Robots, which collected the short fiction published during the first year Daily Science Fiction was on-line.

The story is told from the point of view of a man who is undergoing an interrogation. The details of the questioning are not directly provided and everything about the events that preceded the interview and the background to the world Milosevic builds up at second hand.

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Vintage Treasures: The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural compiled by Bill Pronzini, Barry N. Malzberg, and Martin H. Greenberg

Vintage Treasures: The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural compiled by Bill Pronzini, Barry N. Malzberg, and Martin H. Greenberg


The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural
(Arbor House, May 1981)

Back in February I surveyed all ten Arbor House Treasuries, calling them a “Hearty Library of Genre Fiction.” I wanted to take a closer look at a few (and I did crack open The Arbor House Treasury of Great Science Fiction Short Novels, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Robert Silverberg), and this long Memorial Day weekend I’m settling down with The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural, a massive volume compiled by Bill Pronzini, Barry N. Malzberg, and Martin H. Greenberg.

This is a feast of a book, nearly 600 pages in hardcover, packed with 41 stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Winston Churchill, H. G. Wells, Ambrose Bierce, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, Cornell Woolrich, William Faulkner, Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber, Fredric Brown, Karl Edward Wagner, Thomas M. Disch, Robert Silverberg, Ramsey Campbell, Jack Dann, C. M. Kornbluth, Robert Sheckley, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, and dozens of others. It’s a the kind of thing you build a month-long book club project around.

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Random Reviews: “Lt. Privet’s Love Song” by Scott Thomas

Random Reviews: “Lt. Privet’s Love Song” by Scott Thomas

The Solaris Book of New Fantasy, Cover by Jon Sullivan
The Solaris Book of New Fantasy, Cover by Jon Sullivan

“Lt. Privet’s Love Story” is set in a complex fantasy kingdom which is ruled by sibling monarchs who command a massive and powerful navy. Scott Thomas focuses his attention on a remote seaport, the activities that brought two of the royal navy ships to the seaport, and the actions of a lieutenant that threatens to cause further harm to the fleet.

The title character serves on the frigate North Swan in a fantasy world. After his ship was mysteriously damaged by a ghostly red ship, it put into the harbor at New Crown for repairs. While in port, he becomes smitten with Hazel, the daughter of the local innkeeper. Although one would think that level-headedness and logic were good traits for a lieutenant in a royal navy, Privet fails to demonstrate either of those traits.  Rather than court the barmaid, he goes to Old Crown, located on top of the mountain at which New Crown is at the base, and purchases a love philtre from the twin Deerfield Sisters.

As may be expected, Privet’s used of the magic potion causes difficulties. Having been befriended by Captain Moorsparrow of the Swift Cannon, and his wife, Privet learns that the fleet’s flagship has also been fired upon by the mysterious red ship. To make matters worse, the Swift Cannon was carrying one of the heirs to the throne and was now also in port for repairs, which would delay the repairs to the North Swan.

Naturally, Moorsparrow’s wife winds up unintentionally drinking the love potion, which leads Moorsparrow to challenge Privet to a duel, a situation which will either deprive the royal navy of a ship’s captain or the reader of a character who is presented as the hero, and certainly the protagonist, of the short story. A deadly outcome for the duel is only averted by the sudden reappearance of the red ship.

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Random Reviews: “Undead Camels Ate Their Flesh” by Jason Fischer

Random Reviews: “Undead Camels Ate Their Flesh” by Jason Fischer

Dreaming Again, Cover by Darren Holt
Dreaming Again, Cover by Darren Holt

Often when authors discuss their writing process, they refer to bringing two seemingly disparate ideas together to create a story. Jason Fischer clearly followed this idea in writing the incredibly titled “Undead Camels Ate Their Flesh.”

The first story involves an undead man making his way through the Australian outback. As the story opens, the zombie finds itself hungry and surrounded by a herd of feral camels. He makes a snack out of one of the camels, allowing the wounded creature to continue on its way and infecting the rest of its herd.

The other story concerns Trevor Flannigan and Kevin “Swanny” Swanwick, two small time crooks who kill Buchanan, a local farm owner. Their story tells of their flight from the murder scene ahead of the police, as well as a look at Chief Inspector Wallis, who happens to be Buchanan’s brother-in-law and is trying to track them down and bring them to justice.

Behind both of these stories is the background of an Australia settled by the English, but invaded by the forces of Danish king Christian. Although the Danes don’t appear in Fischer’s story, their influence is felt throughout. After killing Buchanan and finding a safe full of krone with King Christian’s face on it, Trev realizes Buchanan was a spy. Trev and Swanny also discover that no matter how much money they got from their heist, they are unable to spend it as the flee, first to Pimba, and then on to Alice Springs, trying to get away from anyone chasing them.

Wallis is Fischer’s answer to Inspecter Javert, following the trail no matter where it leads, even as his realizes that the beaten-up car he is driving may not be able to return him and his quarry to civilization and justice. Even as Willis begins his chase after Trev and Swanny, he realizes that Buchanan was into something unsavory after finding a Danish krone amidst the crime scene. Nevertheless, his task is to bring Buchanan’s murderers to justice. There will be enough time to look into Buchanan’s crimes later.

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Vintage Treasures: Out of the Everywhere and Other Extraordinary Visions by James Tiptree, Jr.

Vintage Treasures: Out of the Everywhere and Other Extraordinary Visions by James Tiptree, Jr.


Out of the Everywhere (Del Rey, 1981). Cover by Rick Sternbach

Out of the Everywhere and Other Extraordinary Visions was the last paperback Tiptree collection to appear in her lifetime, and the third from Del Rey. It includes two original novellas, “Out of the Everywhere” and “With Delicate Mad Hands,” the Hugo nominee “Time-Sharing Angel,” and one of the greatest science fiction stories of the 20th Century (very possibly the greatest), “The Screwfly Solution.”

The first four stories in the collection, including “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!” and “The Screwfly Solution,” were published under the pseudonym Raccoona Sheldon (instead of Tiptree, also a pseudonym; the author’s real name was Alice Sheldon). These are the bulk of the Raccoona Sheldon tales, the only one not collected here is “Morality Meat,” which eventually appeared in Crown of Stars (1988). In his article “Where to Start with the Works of James Tiptree, Jr.” at Tor.com, Lee Mandelo argues that the Sheldon and Tiptree stories are fundamentally quite different.

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Random Reviews: “Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson

Random Reviews: “Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Martians, Cover by Peter Elson
The Martians, Cover by Peter Elson

Back in the days of Usenet, I started to put together a bibliography of science fiction that were built around baseball. One of the stories on that list is Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars.” Originally published in Robinson’s collection The Martians, a companion collection of short fiction to supplement his Mars trilogy that included Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars. Four months after “Arthur Sternback Brings the Curveball to Mars” was first published in the UK, it made its US debut in the August 1999 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, one month before the collection would be released in the U.S. by Bantam Spectra.

Since that time, the story has been reprinted in Robinson’s collections A Short, Sharp Shock, The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson, and Stan’s Kitchen and the anthologies Future Sports, The Hard SF Renaissance, New Skies, and Field of Fantasies (a collection of speculative fiction baseball stories). Demonstrating that interest in baseball is not limited to the US, the story has been translated into French, German, Spanish, and Romanian, in all but the last case as part of the original collection. The Romanian translation appeared in Sci-Fi Magazin.

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Dumas’ Musketeers: Finding their Future in the Past

Dumas’ Musketeers: Finding their Future in the Past


Court of Daggers by Alexandre Dumas,
translated by Lawrence Ellsworth (Substack, 2022)

Besides compiling the Cinema of Swords series, you might be aware of my other ongoing adventure fiction project, editing and translating new, modern editions of Alexandre Dumas’ Musketeers novels. This is an adventure in itself, as The Three Musketeers and its sequels amount to almost two million words in French, and the new English editions of the Musketeers Cycle will fill nine volumes when completed. Thus, it’s a big, multi-year project — and meanwhile the very shape of book publishing is shifting beneath our feet. But it’s shifting in ways you may find interesting, as the kind of genre fiction we celebrate here at Black Gate is even more susceptible to these changes than other literary forms.

The standard business of mainstream book publishing — at least, what seems standard because it’s what we grew up with — is under pressure from many different directions: cost of goods keeps increasing, which cuts into already slim profit margins, megacorp consolidation means fewer publishers and more homogeneity, and the internet, video games, and new digital platforms are all vying for the attention of an audience that is increasingly open to such new attractions.

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Vintage Treasures: Zelde M’Tana by F.M. Busby

Vintage Treasures: Zelde M’Tana by F.M. Busby


Zelde M’Tana (Dell, May 1980). Cover uncredited

F.M. Busby was a prolific SF writer in the 70s and 80s, with a number of popular series, including the Demu Trilogy and the Slow Freight trilogy. But his most ambitious sequence was Rissa Kerguelen, the tale of a young woman who leads a rebellion against a tyrannical Earth, which ran to eight volumes. It’s been out of print since the 80s. The book I want to talk about today is the final one in the sequence, a prequel of sorts, which focused on the origin of one of its most popular characters, Zelde M’Tana.

Zelde M’Tana is memorable for a lot of reasons. But the most obvious is that it featured a Black heroine on the cover, extremely unusual for a mass market paperback in 1980 (and, frankly, for the next 30 years). It’s one of the first times I can recall seeing a Black protagonist on a cover, and it certainty stuck out. I can’t recall exactly what I thought, but I’m reasonably sure that I took it as a marketing statement, a signal that the book was targeted for a Black audience, and I let it sit on the shelf while my eye wandered towards more comfortably familiar covers with white protagonists.

There’s a word in the English language for people like me, White folks who avoided books with Black people on the covers for reasons of simple unfamiliarity. That word is racist.

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