Vintage Treasures: So Bright the Vision by Clifford D. Simak

Friday, August 28th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Simak So Bright the Vision-small Simak So Bright the Vision-back-small

So Bright the Vision by Clifford D. Simak (Ace, 1976). Cover uncredited, but likely Michael Whelan

Over the last few weeks I heartily enjoyed writing a pair of lengthy articles on the way Berkley Books packaged and marketed Poul Anderson in 1976-79, and Ace Books did the same thing with Robert Silverberg in 1977. I think I had so much fun because it allowed me to indulge in my favorite past time (obsessing over old paperbacks) for hours, and dress it up as legit research. Yes, I did relentlessly track down every single Poul Anderson paperback published by Berkley in the 70s, including The High Crusade, even though I already had four editions of that damn book. But I did it for science. Well, paperback science. Which is totally a thing, and not a form of hoarding or mental illness or anything. Look, I have these scholarly articles to prove it.

In any event, my thoughts have now turned to what author/publisher combo I should examine next (for science, naturally). There are lots of possibilities of course, but ideally it should be a terrific writer, paired with a cover artist who knocked it out of the park. And the more I think about it, the more I think it should be the four Clifford D. Simak paperbacks published by Ace in a single month in September, 1976.

Simak had been a steadfast earner at Ace for decades, but despite having many of his titles in their back catalog, they’d never done any author branding for him. When the Ace editorial team simultaneously secured the rights to a set of Simak reprints in 1976 — CitySo Bright the Vision, The Trouble with Tycho, and Time and Again — they gave him a consistent cover design for the first time, and paired him with a young 26-year old up-and-coming artist named Michael Whelan, who’d done only four previous covers for Ace in his short career.

Needless to say, Whelan did indeed knock it out of the park, delivering iconic illustrations for all four books. Well unofficially, anyway. Because while the cover art for the sole collection in the set, So Bright the Vision, is clearly by Michael Whelan, officially the cover artist remains unidentified.

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Are Some “Classics” Best Neglected?: Eric Frank Russell’s Sinister Barrier

Thursday, August 27th, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly

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Sinister Barrier by Eric Frank Russell; Magazine version: Unknown, March 1939.
Cover art H. W. Scott. (Click to enlarge)

Sinister Barrier
by Eric Frank Russell
UK: World’s Work (135 pages, 5/-, hardcover, 1943)
US: Fantasy Press (253, $3.00, hardcover, 1948)

Here’s an early “classic” of science fiction that I came across in a used bookstore in Oakland early last year. I say “classic” with quotes because I had heard of the title for years, but hadn’t recalled ever seeing a copy. Indeed, the invaluable isfdb.com indicates that while it was included in an omnibus from NESFA Press in 2001, there hasn’t been a separate English language edition of the book since Ballantine Del Rey issued it in 1986, nearly 35 years ago. Hmm, why would this be?

Well, because it’s a terribly written book, dated both in language and in plotting and in its sexual and racial attitudes, exhibiting all the worst features of pulp writing, and far worse than the works of, say, Asimov and Heinlein that have survived from that era. That would be the reason modern publishers haven’t kept it in print. If it’s a classic in any way, it’s for its striking conceptual premise, and then only in its historical context. More on that in a bit.

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Unbearable Utopias and Harrowing Adventures on Alien Planets: The Best of Jack Williamson

Sunday, August 16th, 2020 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The Best of Jack Williamson-small The Best of Jack Williamson-back-small

The Best of Jack Williamson (Del Rey, 1978). Cover by Ralph McQuarrie

The Best of Jack Williamson (1978) was, according to my research, the fifteenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. Frederik Pohl (1919–2013) provided the introduction (his second in the series, he also did the intro for The Best of C. M. Kornbluth). Jack Williamson (1908–2006), who was still living at the time, does the Afterword. The famous sci-fi artist Ralph McQuarrie (1929–2012) provides his first (and only) cover in the series.

Jack Williamson’s writing career spans close to a century! He began professionally writing all the way back in the Hugo Gernsback “scientifiction” pulps, and continued all the way up to and beyond the Star Trek/Star Wars science fiction popularization of the late Twentieth Century. In addition to winning several awards such as the Hugos and Nebulas, the Science Fiction Writers of America named Williamson its second Grand Master in 1976, the first being Robert Heinlein (1907–1988). Also, in 1994 Williamson received a World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement and in 1996 he was part of the inaugural class of inductees into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. He received various other awards before his death in 2006 at the ripe old age of 98.

Given this long and illustrious career, it beggars no disbelief that the fourteen stories in The Best of Jack Williamson represent over fifty years of his writing. Presented in chronological order, the earliest stories are pure juvenile pulps and progress up through the “New Wave”-ish/Harlan Ellison era to darker themes and more mature stories. Though The Best of Jack Williamson is clearly the work of one science fiction writer, it can also be seen as a sort of panoramic history of science fiction in the Twentieth Century in general. Williamson was diverse but various themes seem to recur.

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The Art of Author Branding: The Berkley Poul Anderson

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

Poul Anderson Homeward and Beyond-small Poul Anderson Trader to the Stars-small Poul Anderson Tao Zero-small
Poul Anderson The Trouble Twisters 2nd-small Poul Anderson Satan's World-small Poul Anderson Mirkheim-small

The first six of what would eventually be fourteen Berkley Poul Anderson paperbacks with this design, including the first three books of
the Polesotechnic League. Covers by Rick Sternbach (Satan’s World) and Richard Powers (all others). July 1976 – December 1977

Back in May, inspired by Mark R. Kelly’s review of one of the very first science fiction novels I ever read, the 1977 Ace paperback edition of Robert Silverberg’s Collision Course, I took an extended look at Silverberg’s mid-70s career at Ace, and how the marketing department gave his books a distinct visual identity — one very different from the way his novels were later packaged at Berkley, Bantam, Tor and others.

In many ways this kind of author branding reached its zenith in the late 70s, and in the Comments section of that article there were plenty of suggestions for examples I should look at next. Joseph Hoopman suggested Avon’s black-bordered Roger Zelazny (great choice!) and their vintage A. Merritt, Charles Martel mentioned the distinctive Laser Books cover series by Kelly Freas, Thomas Parker expressed fondness for Frank Frazetta’s Ace paperback covers for Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Bob Byrne suggested Tim Hildebrandt’s gorgeous covers for the first half-dozen Garrett, PI books by Glen Cook, among other ideas.

All good choices, and if fortune holds I’ll look at many of them. But today I want to highlight a set of paperbacks more contemporary to the Ace Robert Silverberg — the 14 Poul Anderson volumes published by Berkley and Berkley Medallion between 1976 – ’79.

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Vintage Treasures: To Open the Sky by Robert Silverberg

Saturday, August 15th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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To Open the Sky by Robert Silverberg (Sphere, 1977). Cover by Peter Elson

I’m on something of a Robert Silverberg kick. It started when Mark Kelly reviewed Silverberg’s early novel Collision Course for us back in April, one of the first SF novels I ever read, and in a haze of nostalgia I ended up taking an extended look at all six Silverberg novels packaged up by Ace in that magical year of 1977. More recently I’ve been collecting some of his earlier books, and finding all kinds of interesting artifacts, like the 1969 anthology Dark Stars, and the 1967 fix-up novel To Open the Sky, assembled from five novelettes originally published in Galaxy magazine.

To Open the Sky is the saga of two religions that emerge in the 21st Century, both of which worship technology and atomic power. Over nearly a century the mysterious origins of both religions, and the secret ambitions of their founders, are gradually revealed. It’s the kind of epoch-spanning, tech-focused SF that isn’t written any more. Here’s an excerpt from my favorite review, a short but insightful piece by Thomas M. Wagner at sff180.

A fine example of pre-1970s Bob Silverberg, To Open the Sky is the absorbing story of an overpopulated and economically depressed world clinging to the outcome of a religious schism for its salvation. But is the schism itself a pure public relations ploy, a staged affair whose intricacies are known only to its elusive and enigmatic founder?…

Silverberg effectively constructs a narrative on an epic scale — nearly a century of time between 2077 and 2164 — within a taut 200 or so pages, demonstrating once again that the present-day tendency towards bloat in SF and fantasy publishing is not necessarily the only way to convey big ideas set against a big canvas. Noel Vorst is the founder of a new religious movement rooted squarely in science. Though there is plenty of spiritualist window dressing to appeal to the emotional needs of the disaffected, the promises of the Vorsters are materialist to a fault. There is the promise of potential immortality, as well as the ultimate colonization of the stars, both unfulfilled so far due to limitations of technology.

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The Fate of Intelligence: Chad Oliver’s The Winds of Time

Thursday, August 13th, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly

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The Winds of Time by Chad Oliver; First Edition: Doubleday, 1957.
Cover art Dick Shelton. (Click to enlarge)

The Winds of Time
by Chad Oliver
Doubleday (192 pages, $3.95, hardcover, April 1957)
Cover art Dick Shelton

This science fiction novel from 1957 is by an author known for anthropologically informed works (Wikipedia; SFE). He was an anthropologist himself, and thus one of the few science fiction writers who was also a scientist.

Oliver published nine novels from the early 1950s into the 1990s, not all of them SF. His work is currently in print only through several titles in the UK Gateway line and in three omnibus volumes from NESFA Press.

The present volume is currently available as a Gateway e-book (not listed on the SF Gateway page linked above), and in a 1997 omnibus of three “time travel” novels for White Wolf/Borealis, Three in Time, edited by Jack Dann, Pamela Sargent, and George Zebrowski, which is currently available on Amazon. I note this because generally I try to cover in these reviews only books that are readily available in some current, unused edition, and the last title serves to qualify this Oliver novel. (Though I broke this rule with my look back at Silverberg’s Collision Course a few months back.) In any event, I think it’s fair to say that Chad Oliver, while still remembered, isn’t remembered as among the Great SF Authors of all time, or even of the 1950s. Yet this novel is interesting nevertheless for its display of the standard SF furniture of the 1950s (as I discussed with Silverberg’s novel), and also for its anticipation of the quandary behind Fermi’s celebrated Paradox.

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James Davis Nicoll on Five Doomed Armies in Science Fiction

Wednesday, August 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Palace of Eternity by Bob Shaw-small The Faded Sun Kesrith by C. J. Cherryh-small A Small Colonial War by Robert Frezza-small

The Palace of Eternity by Bob Shaw (Ace Books, 1969), The Faded Sun: Kesrith by C. J. Cherryh (DAW, 1978), and A Small Colonial War
by Robert Frezza (Del Rey/Ballantine, 1990). Covers by Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon, Gino D’Achille, and Stephen Hickman

I’ve been enjoying James Davis Nicoll’s recent gaming articles at Black Gate, shotgun surveys of the best and worst of vintage role role playing. They’re quick reads, and if you have any nostalgia (or curiosity) at all about RPGs of the 80s and 90s, I think you’ll enjoy them.

Ten RPG Moments of Awesome
Ten WTF Moments from Classic RPGs
Stormbringer, Stargates, and Fighting Sail: Ten Classic Unplayed RPGs

I’ve also been enjoying his regular book column at Tor.com, for much the same reason. James is an entertaining writer, but he also has an uncanny knack for highlighting some fascinating vintage SF, a lot of which is new to me.

Take his July 2 article “Five Doomed Armies in Science Fiction,” which showcases novels from 1969-1989 by Bob Shaw, C.J. Cherryh, Joe Haldeman, David Drake, and Robert Frezza. You gotta admit that’s an interesting angle on classic SF. Here’s a tasty excerpt.

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Vintage Treasures: Land of Dreams by James P. Blaylock

Sunday, August 9th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Land of Dreams (Ace, 1988). Cover by James Warhola

In 1986 James Blaylock’s novelette “Paper Dragons,” originally published in Robin McKinley’s anthology Imaginary Lands, was nominated for a Nebula award, and received a World Fantasy Award. A year later Blaylock returned to the same setting with Land of Dreams, a contemporary fantasy that Science Fiction Chronicle called “Blaylock’s best novel to date, one that will undoubtedly catapult him into prominence,” and which caused Gardner Dozois to proclaim, “James P. Blaylock is one of the most lyrical and inventive of all new writers.”

Land of Dreams was Blayock’s hardcover debut, originally published by Arbor House with a colorful but rather middlin’ cover by Viido Polikarpus. It was reprinted in paperback by Ace a year later, with a spectacular wraparound cover by James Warhola that definitely got my attention. So did the rave review from Kirkus.

Striking, beautifully turned surreal fantasy, Blaylock’s remarkable hardcover debut. In the alternate-world northern California coastal village of Rio Dell, strange events mark the approach to the eerie, highly magical 12-year Solstice. Hungry young Skeezix and his friend Helen live at the orphanage run by the stern, repellent Miss Flees (she feeds them nothing but cabbage soup) and her horrid sidekick, Peebles. Along with their friend Jack, Skeezix and Helen discover a gigantic shoe washed up on the beach, and haul it to Dr. Jensen, who’s already puzzling over a collection of similarly enormous artifacts. The beach is invaded by hermit crabs, small at first; but, as Solstice approaches, the crabs grow larger — the last is the size of a house. A darkly ominous Carnival arrives, travelling magically along train tracks that have decayed into uselessness… Skeezix and Jack unravel the multiple mysteries in a stunning and satisfying conclusion. Weird, complex, wise, original, delightful: pounce!

As Fletcher Vredenburgh has recounted here at Black Gate, he discovered Blaylock with the delightful trilogy that began with The Elfin Ship (1982), but Land of Dreams was the book that really put Blaylock on the map for me. The Ace edition was handed around and excitedly discussed among my circle of friends in Ottawa in 1988.

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We Are All Genetic Brothers: The Life and Fiction of Clifford D. Simak

Saturday, August 8th, 2020 | Posted by John-Henri Holmberg

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Time and Again (Ace, 1976), Way Station (Manor Books, 1975), and A Choice of Gods (Berkley Medallion, 1977).
Covers by Michael Whelan, unknown, and the great Paul Lehr

116 years ago this week, one of the finest science fiction authors or the 20th century was born. He died 32 years ago, in 1988. And currently he is almost forgotten, which is a great shame and also a great pity, since his humanism, his respect for all living creatures and his tolerance for the alien, the divergent, the different viewpoints, backgrounds and expectations are qualities no less needed now than when he was alive.

I’m talking about Clifford D. Simak, author of seminal works of sf like Time and Again (1951), City (1952), Time Is the Simplest Thing (1961), Way Station (1963), All Flesh Is Grass (1965), A Choice of Gods (1972), as well as of dozens of unforgettable short stories. The author who said, in an interview,

When I talk of the purpose of life, I am thinking not only of human life, but of all life on Earth and of the life which must exist upon other planets throughout the universe. It is only of life on Earth, however, that one can speak with any certainty. It seems to me that all life on Earth, the sum total of life upon the Earth, has purpose. If the means were available, we could trace our ancestry – yours and mine – back to the first blob of life-like material that came into being on the planet. The same thing could be done for the spider that spun his web in the grass, and of the grass in which the web was spun, the bird sitting in the tree and the tree in which he sits, the toad waiting for the fly beneath the bush, and for the fly and bush. We are all genetic brothers. The chain of life, tracing back to that primordial day of life’s beginning, is unbroken…

Clifford Simak was a newspaper man and an author. He wrote of love for all living things, of respect for life and of acceptance both of the supreme importance of life and of the inevitable differences between living things. Reading him as a child, I learned from him the importance of tolerance and inclusiveness. His was one of the important voices in science fiction. He still should be.


The Responsibility of Progress: Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow

Thursday, July 30th, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly

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The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett; First Edition: Doubleday, 1955.
Cover art Irv Docktor. (Click to enlarge)

The Long Tomorrow
by Leigh Brackett
Doubleday (222 pages, $2.95, hardcover, 1955)
Cover art Irv Docktor

This novel, first of all, is one of a handful of highly regarded 1950s novels that deal with the aftermath of nuclear war, a theme very much of concern in that post-World War II era. Others include, of course, Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz; John Wyndham’s Re-Birth aka The Chrysalids; Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon, and Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, not to mention analogous novels about life after pandemic (George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides) or alien invasion (John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes/Out of the Deeps), and so on.

Second of all, this novel is by a writer otherwise not known for serious science fiction; Brackett wrote some detective novels and did some notable film work (see for details SFE), but she was known in the SF field for a large body of “planetary romances” in the Edgar Rice Burroughs mode, tales of sword-and-sorcery and romance on Mars or equivalent worlds. (Several volumes of these stories have been published by Haffner Press.) The Long Tomorrow, in contrast, is a sober post-apocalypse novel about rural survivors of nuclear war, a couple generations on, and how they deal with that legacy.

The novel was a Hugo finalist in 1956 (Heinlein’s Double Star won). If it were published today, it would be classified as YA, young adult, since the protagonist, as the story begins, is 14 years old; even though the themes of the book are about the most adult conceivable — the fate of the human race in the face of unavoidable technology.

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