Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Six

Friday, August 30th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Master_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_33Master of Kung Fu #33 sees writer Doug Moench continuing to build upon the series’ new direction while also continuing to deploy offbeat humor sparingly to great effect. This first installment of a three-part storyline begins when Shang-Chi thwarts an assassination attempt on Clive Reston by a highly-advanced automaton. The reader and Shang-Chi learn from MI5 that the automaton is one of the toys of Mordillo, a robotics genius and master assassin who, it transpires, was the force behind Carlton Velcro.

Shang-Chi is provided with his own swank London townhouse (courtesy of MI5). While Clive Reston is showing him around his new digs, they encounter Reston’s former lover, seductive MI5 agent Leiko Wu. Her introductory scene, taking a bubble bath and shamelessly dressing (barely) in front of Reston and Shang-Chi establishes her not only as a Bondian seductress, but also signals her as a confident and capable woman who is content to leave a string of broken hearts in her wake. Doug Moench excels at establishing a sense of fatalism in his work. Just as the reader understands that Shang-Chi compromising his principles in working for MI5 will only lead to regret; so too the reader understands that the innocent and somewhat naive Shang-Chi falling for the far more worldly Leiko Wu is also fated to end in pain and suffering. Shang-Chi, in his professional and personal choices, chooses the short-term good and ignores the fact that the long-term can only lead to misery.

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Davey Jones, Alien Spores, and Riding on a Comet: The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun

Saturday, August 24th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun-small The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun-back-small

The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun (1978) was the seventeenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. J. J. Pierce returns to give the introduction to this volume. H. R. Van Dongen (1920–2010) does his fifth cover of the series (tying with Dean Ellis at this point). Raymond Z. Gallun (1911–1994), still living at the time, did the Afterword.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database reports that Gallun (rhymes with “balloon,” not pronounced “gallon”) wrote five novels, including The Planets Strappers (1961, see Rich Horton’s review here), The Eden Cycle (1974) and Skyclimber (1981), but these were written later in his life. Most of Gallun’s writing career is comprised of dozens of short stories and serials. Like so many of the authors in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series, Gallun had been a prolific writer in the pre-WWII heyday of the pulp magazines. But unlike many pulp authors, including many in this series, Gallun seems to have stayed mostly within the sci-fi genre instead of branching out to fantasy, horror, detective, etc. And we’re talking “old school” science fiction!

Overall, I’ve liked the majority of the authors that I’ve read thus far in the Del Rey series. But there have been some that I liked better than others. I found Frederik Pohl and John Campbell both a little hard to get into, and I found Cordwainer Smith very difficult to sync with, though there were stories in all of these collections I enjoyed. But I have to say that I really, really struggled reading The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun, more than any other book in this series so far.

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Vintage Treasures: The Starfire Saga by Roby James

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Roby James Commencement-small

Covers by Bruce Jensen

The Ace Science Fiction Specials, a series of first novels edited by uber-editor Terry Carr, are legendary today. Between 1984-88 Carr published debuts by writers who’d go on to towering careers, including William Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Lucius Shepard, Howard Waldrop, Michael Swanwick, Jack McDevitt, Richard Kadrey, and many others.

The Ace Science Fiction Specials get all the attention, but they certainly weren’t unique. Many publishers tried their hand at something similar, with varying success. One of my favorites was the Del Rey Discovery line (1992-99), which published first novels by Nicola Griffith, Mary Rosenblum, L. Warren Douglas, K. D. Wentworth, and many more — including Roby James, whose first two novels, Commencement and Commitment, appeared in ’96 and ’97. Together they make up the Starfire Saga.

“Roby James” is the pen name of Rhoda Blecker. In a 1996 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Blecker shared some of the genesis  and heavy themes of the tale. Here’s an excerpt, in which she talks about its major Jewish themes, and losing her mother when she was eleven.

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Exploring a More Pleasant Future: A Dream of Wessex by Christopher Priest

Sunday, August 18th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Fugue for a Darkening Island-small Indoctrinaire-small2 A-Dream-of-Wessex-medium

Covers by Mike Ploog, Bruce Pennington, and uncredited

I like Chris Priest’s writing a lot. “An Infinite Summer” is one of my favorite SF stories. The Inverted World was one of the first serials I ever read in an SF magazine (Galaxy, in 1975 or so), and it fairly blew me away. I read Darkening Island (Fugue for a Darkening Island) at just the right age to be impressed by its non-linear narrative structure.

But for some reason, maybe because his books don’t seem to get much push in the US, I haven’t been following him lately. Recently I read his first novel, Indoctrinaire, which had some good ideas but ultimately was pretty obviously a first novel, and no better than OK. I have just now read what I believe to be his fifth novel, A Dream of Wessex (US title The Perfect Lover), from 1977. This is a very interesting novel, and a pretty good read.

The basic idea is quite “Priestian,” a (very little) bit reminiscent of Indoctrinaire: in the near future of 1977 (1985), a research project is set up whereby a group of people sort of “pool” their unconsciousnesses and create a realistic world 150 years in the future. Ostensibly this is to explore what might be done to reach a more pleasant future. The dreamed future is set on “Wessex,” which is the western part of England after it has been separated from the mainland by earthquakes, with the new channel roughly along the path of the river Stour.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Five

Friday, August 16th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Master_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_29Master of Kung Fu #29 was the beginning of the much-promised new direction the series would take. Having carefully established warring factions of the Si-Fan with loyalties divided between Fu Manchu or Fah lo Suee, writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy now set aside this key storyline they had developed and expanded since replacing Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin on the book and took Shang-Chi in a decidedly different direction, albeit one that would guarantee the series’ longevity.

While Moench had taken pains to ensure a greater fidelity to Sax Rohmer’s work, he would still deviate from it at key points. Part of this was in shaving twenty-some years off the back continuity inherited from Rohmer to make elderly characters like Sir Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie a bit more viable in the 1970s than they would be as men who should have been in their nineties. More importanly, Moench chooses to make Petrie an MI5 agent the same as Smith rather than simply Sir Denis’ lifelong friend and amanuensis.

Shang-Chi is summoned to Sir Denis’ New York estate where Black Jack Tarr and Clive Reston have already gathered along with Dr. Petrie. Smith offers Shang-Chi a place among his operatives in taking down heroin dealer Carlton Velcro. Reston is the key man in the operation as he has taken the identity of Mr. Blue, the New York connection in Velcro’s heroin pipeline. Reston’s personality has been softened to make the character more mature and more of a team player with Tarr, Smith, and Petrie.

Shang-Chi is torn between his pacifist philosophy and his trust in Sir Denis as a good man who desires to eradicate evil from the world. A visit to a Manhattan rehab clinic is enough to convince Shang-Chi that stopping the powerful heroin dealer is justification enough to use violence against the greater social ill. Of course, this Machiavellian decision is one that will bring Shang-Chi much grief. It is to Moench’s credit that the reader immediately understands that choosing to be a hero brings Shang-Chi closer to the the philosophy his father has embraced – a philosophy Shang-Chi has sworn to reject. Choosing Sir Denis as a father figure illustrates that Shang-Chi, like the traditional reader of Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series,  fails to perceive just how much of a mirror image Sir Denis is to his venerable foe.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Jack L. Chalker

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by H.R. Van Dongen

Cover by H.R. Van Dongen

Photo by Chaz Baden Boston

Photo by Chaz Baden Boston

Cover by Joe Wehrle, Jr.

Cover by Joe Wehrle, Jr.

The Skylark Award, or more formally, the Edward E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction” is presented annually by NESFA at Boskone to honor significant contributions to science fiction in the spirit of E.E. “Doc” Smith. The award was first presented in 1966 to Frederik Pohl. The award takes the form of a lens on top of a podium. When Jane Yolen received the award in 1990, she placed the award in the picture window in her kitchen. On the next clear day, the lens focused the sun’s rays and burnt Yolen’s coat. Ever since, this cautionary tale has been related to the award’s winner.

The Edmond Hamilton/Leigh Brackett Memorial Award was presented at Octocon by the Spellbinders Foundation in the 1970s and 80s, with the award voted on by the attending membership of the convention. The convention and the award were only in existence for a handful of years, with the first award presented in 1977 to Katherine Kurtz at Octocon 1. The award recognized promotion of the “sense of wonder” in science fiction and fantasy. Some sources list the award as going, in general to the author, while other sources indicated the award was presented for a specific work.

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Vintage Treasures: Heroes and Horrors by Fritz Leiber

Friday, August 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Fritz Leiber Heroes and Horrors-small Fritz Leiber Heroes and Horrors-back-small

Cover by Michael Whelan

If you want to get permanent editions of the brilliant short fiction of Fritz Leiber, these days your best bet may be the Centipede Press hardcovers like Swords in the Mist. These are gorgeous books, but they’re also a little out of my price range ($75 for the unsigned editions). Still, if there’s someone who deserves editions this beautiful, it’s Leiber.

Or you could do what I do: happily buy one of Leiber’s many vintage paperback collections. Many of these are also gorgeous and beautifully made, like Heroes and Horrors, a 1980 Pocket paperback with a cover by Michael Whelan. It contains two Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales, one from an early issue of Dragon magazine and the other original to this book, plus a Cthulhu Mythos tale (“The Terror from the Depths”), and many others. Copies are readily available in the online market at prices ranging from $3.50 – $10, less than the price of a modern paperback.

Heroes and Horrors also contains a 1-page preface by the book’s editor, Stuart David Schiff, and a 5-page introduction by John Jakes, neither of which has ever been reprinted. It’s a fine introduction to one of the greatest fantasists of the 20th Century, especially if you enjoy dark fantasy and horror. Here’s the Table of Contents.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Piers Anthony

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Piers Anthony

Piers Anthony

Chthon

Chthon

Cover by Michael Whelan

Cover by Michael Whelan

DeepSouthCon has presented the Phoenix Award annually since 1970. The first Rebel Award was presented to Richard C. Meredith. The 1980 award was presented on August 23 at DeepSouthCon 18/ASFICon in Atlanta, Georgia, which was chaired by Cliff Biggers.

While Piers Anthony may currently be best known for his series of Xanth novels, in 1980, when he was presented with the Phoenix Award, the series was just getting started. A Spell for Chameleon had appeared in 1977 and been awarded the British Fantasy Award and nominated for the Balrog Award. Castle Roogna followed it in 1978 and The Source of Magic appeared in 1979, and that was all: a trilogy.

Anthony had published numerous successful series up to that point, including the Omnivore/Orn/OX series between 1968 and 1976, the first four volumes of the Cluster series and the Tarot trilogy. His Battle Circle trilogy had appeared between 1968 and 1975 and the Chthon duology was published in 1967 and 1975. In 1980, he had just published Split Infinity, the first novel in his Apprentice Adept series.

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Germ Warfare, Sentient Planets, and Dark Age Alchemy: The Best of Murray Leinster

Monday, August 5th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The-Best-of-Murray-Leinster-small The-Best-of-Murray-Leinster-back-small

The Best of Murray Leinster (1978) was the fourteenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. J. J. Pierce returns to give the introduction to this volume. H. R. Van Dongen (1920–2010) returns to do his fourth cover of the series, having done the cover for the seventh volume in honor of John W. Campbell, the tenth volume in honor of Fredric Brown, and the eleventh in honor of Jack Williamson. Since Leinster was already passed away in 1978, no afterword is included in this volume.

Murray Leinster (1896–1975) was the nom de plume of American writer William Fitzgerald Jenkins. Pierce refers to Leinster as ‘The Dean of Science Fiction”, clearly showing a deep respect for him, and I think also an indication of Leinster’s representativeness as an early and grand leader of pulp SF.

I’ve often heard early pulp SF described as basically following “engineer-solving” plots. I think I’ve understood what this meant, and I know I’ve seen examples of these in earlier volumes of the Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. But Leinster is sort of a practitioner of this sort of plotting par excellence. What do I mean? Leinster’s plots tend to center upon some difficult problem that is presented as unsolvable (or nearly so), but by the end of the story the problem is usually solved in some sort of rational or scientific way. At first blush, this may sound fairly boring, and it has the potential to come off as overly preachy about the goodness of science. But in reading Leinster, you often get pulled into the problem of the story, and are sometimes surprised with how science answers or attempts to answer the issue at hand.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: “Encased in the Amber of Eternity,” by Robert Frazier

Friday, August 2nd, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Vincent di Fate

Cover by Vincent di Fate

Cover by Tim Mullins

Cover by Tim Mullins

The Rhysling Awards, named for Robert A. Heinlein’s poet from The Green Hills of Earth, were established by the Science Fiction Poetry Association in 1978. Both the association and the award were founded by Suzette Haden Elgin. Each year, awards are given for Short Form poetry and Long Form poetry. The first three years of the award resulted in ties, with three poems tying in the first year, and two each tying in the second and third year.

Robert Frazier’s poem “Encased in the Amber of Eternity” depicts a Pacific Northwest in the aftermath of a nuclear war that has depopulated the North American continent (and presumably most of the rest of the world). His imagery moves briskly from descriptions of various objects associated with lights and fire representing the falling missiles, to the bone-like remnants of human civilization, represented by Portland. The poem’s narrator, who seems to be a survivalist type, has managed to come through the catastrophe and offers a glimpse of hope that he will be able to find other survivors to rebuilt some sort of civilization, or, even if it is only him, at least he is still around.

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