Birthday Reviews: Robert Holdstock’s “Magic Man”

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Alun Hood

Cover by Alun Hood

Robert Holdstock was born on August 2, 1948 and died on November 29, 2009.

He won a British Science Fiction Award (BSFA) for the original novelette “Mythago Wood” in 1981, and the novel version earned him the 1984 BSFA and the 1985 World Fantasy Award. The second book in the series, Lavondyss, won the BSFA in 1988. Holdstock’s novella “The Ragthorn” won the World Fantasy Award in 1992 and the BSFA Award the following year. He won a third BSFA in 1989 for Best Artist for the anthology Other Edens III, shared with Christopher Evans. He won a special Prix Imaginaire in 2003 for La forêt des mythagos, tome 1 and tome 2, two volumes that contained five Mythago Wood novels. The following year, he won the Prix Imaginaire for his novel Celtika. He was awarded the Karl Edward Wagner Award posthumously in 2010.

“Magic Man” was originally published in Mary Danby’s anthology Frighteners 2 in 1976 and reprinted in Danby’s 65 Great Tales of the Supernatural three years later. Holdstock included it in his collection The Bone Forest and it showed up in the reprint anthology Great Vampires and Other Horrors. The story was translated into German for an appearance in Heyne Science Fiction Magazin #5 in November 1982 and into French in 2004 for a collection of Holdstock’s works, Dans la vallée des statues et autres récits.

On the face of it, “Magic Man” seems to be a face-off between One Eye, the old man in a group of prehistoric hunters who paints images of the hunt on the walls of the shrine-cave, and He Who Carries a Red Spear, the leader of the bands hunting bands. There is clearly no love lost between the men and the situation is made worse because Red Spear’s son enjoys hanging around with One Eye and wants to learn to draw.

One Eye teaches Red Spear’s son to paint in the cave, but, while he teaches technique and discusses proper topics, he fails at the most basic level to explain to the boy the importance of painting in the shrine-cave. While some poo-poo the cave’s effectiveness, it is clear that what is painted there influences the day’s hunt, down to the number of bison the hunters capture. When the clash between Red Spear and One Eye escalates, One Eye instructs the boy to paint a scene which clearly shows that One Eye plans to murder Red Spear, which would put the entire tribe at risk.

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Birthday Reviews: July Index

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by David Christiana

Cover by David Christiana

Cover by Mel Odom

Cover by Mel Odom

Cover by Oscar Grand

Cover by Oscar Grand

January index
February index
March index
April index
May index
June index

July 1, Genevieve Valentine: “ From the Catalogue of the Pavilion of the Uncanny and Marvellous, Scheduled for Premier at the Great Exhibition (Before the Fire)”
July 2, Kay Kenyon: “The Executioner’s Apprentice
July 3, Michael Shea: “Fast Food
July 4, Peter Crowther: “Cliff Rhodes and the Most Important Voyage
July 5, Jody Lynn Nye: “Theory of Relativity
July 6, John Langan: “The Unbearable Proximity of Mr. Dunn’s Balloons

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Vintage Treasures: Fata Morgana by William Kotzwinkle

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Fata Morgana William Kotzwinkle-small Fata Morgana William Kotzwinkle-back-small

William Kotzwinkle isn’t much talked about today. Now that I think about it, he didn’t get as much attention as he deserved 30 years ago, either.

That’s likely because of the fact that, while he wrote a fair degree of fantasy, he was chiefly published by mainstream publishers. His World Fantasy Award-winning novel Doctor Rat (1976) was published in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf, and The Bear Went Over the Mountain (1996), about a bear who finds a manuscript buried in the woods and uses it to become a New York literary sensation, was published by Doubleday. It was also nominated for a World Fantasy Award. His most famous book, the novelization of E.T., was published in paperback by Berkley in 1982.

Bantam Books released a pair of Kotzwinkle’s popular early fantasies in matching paperback editions: Doctor Rat and Fata Morgana (1977), his fifth novel. Fata Morgana, a genre-blending hard-boiled detective/fantasy, follows Inspector Picard as he investigates a conjurer whose fortune-telling machine is causing a sensation in 1861 Paris. David DeValera at Goodreads has a fine synopsis:

Fata Morgana is a solid mystery with fantasy elements that elevate it from sleuth versus villain into an enigmatic and elusive tale tinged with Gypsy mystery, parlor games and extortionist magic. Inspector Picard, (career descending and body weight ascending), is on the trail of Ric Lazare who is bilking high-society members out of considerable cash. Ric Lazare possesses a machine that foretells the future, but this alone does not explain his hold on those in his circle of influence. Picard investigates with the intention of exposing the salon scam of a medium and his costly advice; instead, he encounters the unknown — Black Magic, Grand Bewitching, the creations of a German toy maker, and a nagging foreshadowing of events, particularly his own demise…

Fata Morgana has been out of print since 1996, but is well worth tracking down. A digital version was published by E-reads in 2012. The Bantam edition above was published in September 1980; it is 195 pages, priced at $2.95. The cover is by Sandy Kossin.

Into the Night: She Is the Darkness by Glen Cook Part 2

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

0812555333.01.LZZZZZZZI think this reread of She Is the Darkness (1997) took me so long because I subconsciously remembered how disappointing it is. The first half (reviewed last week), despite a bunch of problems, is all right because of Cook’s usual talent at creating cool characters and sticking them into tough situations. It also had some epic battle scenes. As the Black Company inched its way toward the Shadowmaster’s fortress, the good managed to outweigh the bad. This was not the case for the book’s second half, despite some crowning moments of awesome. Not at all.

We left off last week’s post with the siege of Overlook about to begin. The Taglian legions raised and trained by Croaker and Lady invest the fortress. The great castle eventually falls not to starvation or the walls being thrown down, but to a coup de main. Overlook is so vast and so undermanned that Lady and her most loyal troops were able to secretly bore their way into its foundations and operate from within. After much planning (and magical scouting by Murgen), Lady is able to capture Longshadow.

Back in Taglios the Prince’s sister, the Radisha Drah, starts hunting down the Black Company’s allies. She has always feared the Company; now that Longshadow is defeated the time is ripe for its destruction. Having assumed a betrayal would come (as it always does for them), Croaker has readied the Company for the for the final trek to Khatovar.

The road to Khatovar lies to the south of Overlook, through something called the Shadowgate. From the gate come the shadows — deadly spectral things Longshadow and the Shadowmasters could control to a certain extent. Beyond the gate lies a great barren circular plain. From the gates (turns out there are more than one) are roads leading to the plain’s center, like the spokes of a wheel. And there stands a ruined fortress even greater than Overlook. Its inner courtyard measures nearly a mile across.

Certain the answer to where or what Khatovar is lies within, Croaker leads the core of the Black Company, along with its most important prisoners, — Longshadow, Howler, and Soulcatcher — into the ruins. But instead of answers, what lies behind the broken walls is a devastating trap. The book ends with the most important military commanders and veterans of the Black Company in stasis, and Soulcatcher racing back to Taglios in order to unveil some yet-undescribed scheme.

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New Treasures: Redder Than Blood by Tanith Lee

Saturday, July 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Redder Than Blood Tanith Lee-small Redder Than Blood Tanith Lee-back-small Red-as-Blood-or-Tales-from-the-Sisters-Grimmer-medium

Tanith Lee passed away in 2015, and at the time I worried that meant her work would quickly vanish from bookstores.

That hasn’t happened, and it’s mostly due to the efforts of her long-time publisher DAW Books, who over the last three years has gradually been returning some of her most popular work to print in gorgeous new paperback editions, including all five Flat Earth novels, the Wars of Vis trilogy, the Birthgrave trilogy, and the just-released novella collection Companions on the Road. Most have covers by French artist Bastien Lecouffe Deharme (website here).

I’m especially appreciative that DAW also saw fit to release a brand new short story collection of dark fairy tales, Redder Than Blood, last year. It’s a companion volume to Red as Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer (1983), a paperback original published by DAW with a Michael Whelan cover no less than twenty-five years ago (above right).

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Vintage Treasures: Take Back Plenty by Colin Greenland

Friday, July 27th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Take Back Plenty-small Seasons of Plenty-small Mother of Plenty-small

I’ve been buying up back issues of Science Fiction Eye, one of the better SF review zines of the 90s. SF Eye had a marvelous stable of hot young writers, including Bruce Sterling, Richard Kadrey, Paul Di Filippo, Pat Murphy, Gary Westfahl, Tony Daniel, Charles Platt, John Shirley, Jack Womack, Elizabeth Hand, Mark Laidlaw, and many others. I thought I’d enjoy revisiting the cutting edge genre journalism I found so thought provoking two decades ago, but what I really find entertaining this time around is the high quality reviews. Especially coverage of now-forgotten books like Colin Greenland”s Take Back Plenty (1990) the opening novel of his gonzo space opera trilogy featuring Tabitha Jute. Here’s a snippet of Sherry Coldsmith’s excellent review, from the Winter ’91 issue, which I bought on eBay last month for $7.50.

Take Back Plenty is a raid on the traditional space opera, a coup at the galactic palace. Its author has poked through the rubble of pulp SF, looking for the genre’s mermaids and Marie Celestes. Greenland’s pickings include a fecund Venus that chokes with unconquerable jungles, and an arid Mars scarred by canals. More modern tropes are also put to use: cyberjacks, talking corpses, titanic tin-can inhabitants that circle the Earth. Greenland has chucked away anything that requires scientific veracity and kept anything that possess mythic dazzle.

The protagonists are as fascinating as the background. Tabitha Jute is the owner-operator of a space vehicle, the sentient and personable Alice Liddell. These two soul sisters of the Sol system get into love and trouble in a world that Is a surreally logical as the one the bedeviled Lewis Carroll’s Alice.

Take Back Plenty won both the British Science Fiction and Clarke awards for Best Novel; it was followed by two sequels, Seasons of Plenty (1995) and Mother of Plenty (1998). Greenland’s last two books, Spiritfeather (2000) and Finding Helen (2003) appeared only in the UK. You can read Coldsmith’s complete review of Take Back Plenty (and the tail end of the enthusiastic notice of Crichton’s Jurassic Park) here — page 1 and page 2. See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

Birthday Reviews: John D. MacDonald’s “Ring Around the Redhead”

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

BG_MacDonaldOtherWorldsEvery so often, I prove that the Black Gate firewall needs some serious tightening up by jumping in and putting up a post where I don’t belong (many readers and fellow bloggers believe that would be the entirety of the Black Gate website…). So, if you’re reading this, the crack web monitoring team hasn’t seen it yet. Don’t tell Steven Silver. He might gnaw through the restraining chain around his ankle and crawl over to my desk in the cellar…basement…journalist’s suite to thrash me.

John Dann MacDonald, my favorite author and one of the best writers of the twentieth century – in any genre – was born on July 24th, 1916. MacDonald, Harvard MBA and a lieutenant colonel in the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, was thirty years old when he began writing for the pulps in 1946. Through hard work and talent, MacDonald quickly became successful, selling to the mystery and sports magazines.

He graduated to the slicks more quickly than most pulpsters and he began writing paperback novels in 1950, mostly for Fawcett Gold Medal and Dell. And in 1960 he created his famous non-private eye, Travis McGee, in The Deep Blue Goodbye. MacDonald wrote over 400 short stories and five dozen novels.

It’s less well-remembered that in the late forties and early fifties, MacDonald wrote a great deal of science fiction: over fifty short stories and two novels. He tired of the genre and essentially quit cold turkey in 1952, writing only seven more stories and one novel (The Girl, The Gold Watch & Everything, which was made into a movie with Robert Hays and Pam Dawber) in the final thirty-four years of his life. He wrote that he tired of science fiction and simply quit writing it.

“Ring Around the Redhead” appeared in the November, 1948 issue of Startling Stories (His “Shenadun” had been in the September issue). It was anthologized in 1953 and again in 1967. I read it in Other Times, Other Worlds, a collection consisting entirely of science fiction stories by MacDonald.

Bill Maloney, an inventor, is on trial for murdering his next door neighbor. There’s no body, just some brain and hair bits. Anita Hempflet, the classic nosy neighbor (you know, the kind that says “I don’t mind anybody’s business but my own” and then proceeds to gossip like it’s an Olympic event) weighs in with her nose in the air, saying that Bill has been shacked up (remember: it’s 1948) with a pretty redhead who seems to be deaf and was wearing some odd, metallic clothing when she appeared.

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Next Year in Khatovar: She Is the Darkness by Glen Cook Part 1

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_2353716i3KOHmsdA skinny, mangy mongrel raced past and on the dead run clamped jaws on a startled crow. He got a wing.

All the crows in the world descended on him before he could enjoy his dinner.

“A parable,” One-Eye said. “Observe! Black crows. Black dog. The eternal struggle.”

“Black philosopher,” Croaker grumbled.

“Black Company.”

One-Eye and Croaker from She Is the Darkness

It’s summer, I’m busy living a summer life. As Glen Cook books go, She Is the Darkness (1997) is a long one. Um, something, something, something. All that’s to say I’m breaking my review into two parts. It’s not what I’d normally do, but I don’t want to lose the momentum of reading the books back to back. Remember: beyond here lie spoilers.

At the end of the previous book, Bleak Seasons, the Black Company under the restored leadership of Croaker, aka the Old Man, aka the Captain, was girding its loins for the final march on the last stronghold of Longshadow, the last Shadowmaster.

Overlook is pretty much Glen Cook’s version of Barad-dûr. Its walls rise to a hundred feet, and are covered in protective spells. Inside lurk untold numbers of soldiers backed by the terrible sorcery of the erstwhile Taken, Howler, and Longshadow himself.

In the field, ex-Black Company chief-of-staff Mogaba leads Longshadow’s last remaining army. Aided by another defector, Blade, Mogaba cannot imagine himself being beaten, and lies in wait for the Black Company and the soldiers of Taglios to attempt to force the pass over the Dhanda Presh Mountains.

Oh, and the wife of new Black Company Annalist Murgen was murdered by the Deceivers. During an assassination attempt on Croaker in the Palace of Taglios, a group of killers found their way into the living quarters of Murgen’s family and left his wife Sahra and her son dead. While not a completely broken man, Murgen is allowing himself to become addicted to traveling through time and space on the spirit of the comatose wizard, Smoke. Officially, Murgen’s doing this to spy on Longshadow and other things important to the health and welfare of the Black Company, but really it’s to avoid the depression brought on by the killing of Sahra. It continues to be a poorly explained and clunky device.

The death of Sahra is also not as simple as it seems. There’s a terrible secret surrounding it, and even though his late wife’s family, including the thoroughly kickass Uncle Doj, know what happened, Murgen doesn’t uncover it for many months. In a series flush with emotionally raw events, what really happened the night of Sahra’s death is one of the hardest in the whole series.

The entire first half of She Is the Darkness concerns the movement of Croaker’s forces towards the showdown with Mogaba’s and Blade’s. Meanwhile Murgen, flying on the wings of Smoke’s psyche, spies for his commander and fills in all the gaps for the reader, giving us an inside look at the doings of the Company’s enemies. There’s no getting around it, much of the first half of the book’s a slog. It might reflect some sort of logistical and strategic masterpiece if it occurred in real life, but on the page it moves like molasses on a winter day. Nonetheless, the book isn’t a disaster, just frustrating.

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Birthday Reviews: C.M. Kornbluth’s “The Remorseful”

Monday, July 23rd, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Richard Powers

Cover by Richard Powers

C.M. (Cyril M.) Kornbluth was born on July 23, 1923 and died on March 21, 1958.

Kornbluth died relatively young, but his work and memory have been kept alive. His short story “The Meeting,” finished by his frequent collaborator Frederik Pohl, earned them a Hugo Award in 1973 and he was nominated for four solo Hugo Awards prior to his death. His novelette “The Little Black Bag” won a Retro Hugo in 2001. In 1986, his novel The Syndic was inducted into the Prometheus Award Hall of Fame. His 1951 short story “The Marching Morons” is still considered a touchstone of science fiction

Frederik Pohl bought “The Remorseful” for Star Science Fiction No. 2, which was published in December 1953. The story also appeared in New Worlds Science Fiction #29 in November 1954. The story was included in Kornbluth’s posthumous collection The Marching Morons and Other Famous Science Fiction Stories. In 1976, it was translated into German for publication in Titan 1, edited by Pohl and Wolfgang Jeschke. The story showed up again in The Best of C.M. Kornbluth, and Robert Weinberg, Stefan Dziemianowicz, and Martin H. Greenberg included it in 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories. It was finally included in the NESFA Press collection His Share of Glory: The Complete Short Science Fiction of C.M. Kornbluth, edited by Timothy Szczesuil.

Kornbluth relates two stories in “The Remorseful.” The first tells of a man who walks across a barren Earth after an apocalypse has depopulated the planet. The other tells about an alien invasion of the solar system, focusing less on their activities and more on their alien nature as a sort of hive organism which can drop portions of itself off to explore/invade the outer planets and learn about the outposts mankind has set up.

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Vintage Treasures: The Bridge of Lost Desire by Samuel R. Delany

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Bridge of Lost Desire-back-small The Bridge of Lost Desire-small

Samuel R. Delany is one of the greatest science fiction writers alive today. He got his start when his wife Marilyn Hacker became an assistant editor at Ace Books under Donald A. Wollheim, and helped him publish his first novel The Jewels of Aptor as an Ace Double in 1962, when he was just 20 years old. Since then he’s won virtually every award our field has to offer, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards. In 2013 the Science Fiction Writers of America named him a SFWA Grand Master.

I’ve steadfastly collected the various paperback editions of Delaney’s books over the years, including his classics The Einstein Intersection (1967), Nova (1968), Dhalgren (1975), and Triton (1976). I believed (rather reasonably, I thought) that I had all of his major work. So earlier this year I was more than a little surprised to stumble on one I never knew existed: The Bridge of Lost Desire, a 1988 collection of three fantasy novellas from St. Martin’s Press.

The Bridge of Lost Desire is the fourth and last volume in Delany’s Nevèrÿon fantasy series. Unlike his science fiction novels, the Nevèrÿon books were never particularly popular, and have been out of print for over two decades. The first three were published as paperback originals by Bantam Books between 1979-85, with gorgeous covers by the fantasy artist Rowena. The Bridge of Lost Desire was first published as an Arbor House hardcover, and reprinted in what I can only assume was a poorly distributed mass market paperback edition by St. Martin’s Press in 1988.

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