The Early John Wyndham: Sleepers of Mars and Wanderers of Time

Friday, July 5th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Sleepers of Mars-small Sleepers of Mars-back-small

Sleepers of Mars, Coronet 1973, cover by Chris Foss

Last month I wrote a Vintage Treasure piece about John Wyndham’s 1953 novel Out of the Deeps, and while I was researching it I was reminded that Wyndham — one of the 20th Century’s most successful science fiction writers — got his start in the American pulp magazine Wonder Stories, edited by Hugo Gernsback, and Walter H. Gillings’ British pulp Tales of Wonder. Someone with authentic pulp roots like that deserves a lot more attention than he’s received here at Black Gate over the years.

Much of Wyndham’s early pulp fiction was collected by Coronet in two slender paperback anthologies in 1973, Sleepers of Mars and Wanderers of Time, and they look like a great place to start. Neither were reprinted in the US, so I was unaware of them until recently (like, two weeks ago). But thanks to the wonders of eBay, I was able to locate the copy of Sleepers above for a reasonable price ($11.33). That’s more than I like to pay for a vintage paperback…. but it was almost as old as me, and definitely in better shape, so I made an exception.

Both books had introductions by Gillings. Though it’s short (2 pages), I found his intro to Sleepers of Mars entertaining and informative, especially since it shows how the first story in the collection relates to Stowaway to Mars, one of Wyndham’s pulp-era novels (and perhaps not coincidentally, also re-released in paperback by Coronet in 1972). Here’s the relevant snippet.

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The Stark House Algernon Blackwood, edited by Mike Ashley

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Promise of Air The Garden of Survival-small The Promise of Air The Garden of Survival-back-small
The Face of the Earth & Other Imaginings-small The Face of the Earth & Other Imaginings-back-small

I’ve been enjoying the attractive and affordable Stark House reprints of the work of Algernon Blackwood, much of which has been out of print for many decades. If I’ve counted correctly (and no guarantee of that) there have been ten volumes so far, collecting some dozen novels and six collections, all released under their Supernatural Classics banner in handsome trade paperbacks. Two more have arrived recently(ish), a slender collection titled The Face of the Earth and Other Imaginings, and an omnibus of two lesser-known novels, The Promise of Air/The Garden of Survival, both edited with fascinating introductions by Mike Ashley. Here’s a snippet from Mike’s intro to the latter.

Unfortunately for Blackwood, no sooner had he completed The Promise of Air, than tragedy struck. His brother, Stevie, who had long been in poor health, died on 16 June 1917 aged only forty-nine. There were deaths of other close friends, along with Blackwood’s every day witness of death working as an Intelligence Agent in Switzerland and as a Searcher for the Red Cross. Blackwood needed to express his innermost feelings and those emerged in a highly personal document later called The Garden of Survival. Blackwood had no intention of publishing it until others who read his manuscript implored him to do so.

The Garden of Survival is more a novella (taking up a mere 52 pages in this edition), but it made an impact. The Bookman called it “A remarkable psychological study,” and the Boston Herald said, “Mr. Blackwood makes the occult seem part and parcel of daily life.”

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Jim Burns

Monday, July 1st, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Deathworms of Kratos

Deathworms of Kratos

Farnham's Freehold

Farnham’s Freehold

Son of Man

Son of Man

The British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Awards have been presented by the British Science Fiction Association since 1970 and were originally nominated for and voted on by the members of the Association. The Artist Award was created in 1980, when the inaugural award was won by Jim Burns, who would go on to win it three more times before the award was changed in 1987.  In 1987, the British Science Fiction Association changed the award to honor specific art as the Artwork Award, which Burns has won eleven times, including a five year winning streak.  His most recent win was in 2018 when his painting for the cover of The Ion Raider tied Victor Ngai’s painting for “Waiting on a Bright Moon.”

After leaving the Royal Air Force, Burns studied at St. Martin’s School of Art in London, graduating in 1972, when he signed on with the Young Artists Agency.  He began providing covers and interior illustrations for British publishers in 1973 and his work appeared exclusively in British editions through 1980. During that time, he also moved from using water colors to gouache to oils.

Some of Burns’ work that appeared in 1979 included a cover for Robert A. Heinlein’s Farnham’s Freehold for Corgi Books showing the main characters standing in a valley watching a flying city. His cover by Robert Silverberg’s Son of Man has an alien figure curled up in the foreground with a naked man reclining in the background. His cover for Edmund Cooper’s The Deathworms of Kratos is less easy to decipher, but appears to show a man in heavy space armor being attacked by the titular worms.

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Vintage Treasures: Pilgrims through Space and Time: A History and Analysis of Scientific Fiction by J. O. Bailey

Thursday, June 27th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Pilgrims through Space and Time-small

Cover by Ronald Clyne

You never know what strange wonders you’ll find at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Show. This year, among many other treasures on the $1 table, I found a coverless copy of J. O. Bailey’s 1947 nonfiction tome Pilgrims through Space and Time, which grew out of his 1934 Ph.D. thesis at the University of North Carolina.

You’d think a dissertation would be too dry to become a classic of genre (and in most cases you’d be right), but this was one popular enough to inspire the Pilgrim Award, given annually by the Science Fiction Research Association for contributions to the study of SF. It was first given to Bailey in 1970, and is still awarded today. Recipients have included Jack Williamson, Damon Knight, James E. Gunn, Brian W. Aldiss, Sam Moskowitz, Gary K. Wolfe, Joanna Russ, John Clute, L. Sprague de Camp, Brian Stableford, Mike Ashley, Gary Westfahl, Gérard Klein, Algis Budrys, and Pamela Sargent.

Pilgrims is a little dry for light reading, but I did find Bailey’s discussions of Lovecraft (“splendid”), and the pulp stories of Stanton Coblentz, Ray Cummings, A. Hyatt Verrill, John Taine, and others, to be entertaining enough to make me want to pick up some of my favorite pulp anthologies again — and maybe look at them in a new light.

Thomas Clareson, in his 1972 foreword to the Greenwood Press reprint edition, did a fine job summarizing the importance of this book to early SF scholarship. Here’s what he said.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Michael Whelan

Thursday, June 27th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Wonderworks

Wonderworks

A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars

The Gods of Mars

The Gods of Mars

The Best Artist category was not one of the original Hugo categories in 1953, but was introduced at the second awards in 1955, when it was won by Frank Kelly Freas. Since then, some version of the award has been a constant, with the exception of 1957, when the award was not presented. Originally called the Hugo for Best Artist, it eventually became the award for best Professional Artist when the Best Fan Artist award was introduced in 1967. Michael Whelan won his first award in 1980, beginning a seven year run of winning the award. He eventually won the award thirteen times, most recently in 2002, along with two other Hugo Award for Best Nonfiction Book (in 1988) and the first award for Best Original Artwork (in 1992). He has been nominated for the Hugo a total of 31 times.

The Locus Awards were established in 1972 and presented by Locus Magazine based on a poll of its readers. In more recent years, the poll has been opened up to on-line readers, although subscribers’ votes have been given extra weight. At various times the award has been presented at Westercon and, more recently, at a weekend sponsored by Locus at the Science Fiction Museum (now MoPop) in Seattle. The Best Artist award dates back to 1974, although in the three previous years, a Best Paperback Cover Artist award was presented and in the previous two years a Best Magazine Artist awards was presented. The first Professional Artist award was won by Frank Kelly Freas. Michael Whelan won his first award in 1980, beginning a twenty-one year run of winning the award. He eventually won the award thirty times, with one additional win for Best Art Book in 1994. In 1980. The Locus Poll received 854 responses.

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Vintage Treasures: Perilous Planets, edited by Brian Aldiss

Saturday, June 22nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Perilous Planets-back-small Perilous Planets-small

Cover by Alex Ebel

In the days when I was first discovering science fiction, there were a number of seminal books that helped lead me along the path to becoming a collector. These were the tantalizing artifacts that taught me that SF and fantasy tended to come in a series, just like the comics I collected in my youth. And this — in the days when completing a series meant questing through bookstores, instead of simply ordering online — added a delicious element of uncertainty and desire to my new hobby.

I knew that my favorite books as a kid, like Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators and Perry Rhodan, were packaged as a series, and I was comfortable with the concept. When it gradually dawned on me that adult SF books, like Asimov’s Foundation series, Herbert’s Dune, The Lord of the Rings, and others, were series as well, I took to science fiction like a fish to water.

SF publishers understood this simple reading mentality of course, and frequently took advantage of it, packaging books that often had only nebulous connections into virtual series. Some were more successful than others. One of my favorite examples is the late 70s SF anthology series from Avon Books, all published with gorgeous wraparound covers by Alex Ebel. Avon found four Brian Aldiss anthologies published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in the UK, and repackaged them with similar covers across the pond: Galactic Empires Volume One (1979), Galactic Empires: Volume Two (1979), Evil Earths (1979), and Perilous Planets (1980).

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Tor.com on Robert E. Howard’s First (and Best?) Barbarian

Friday, June 21st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Kull Robert E Howard-back-small Kull Robert E Howard-small

Kull the Fabulous Warrior King (Bantam, 1978). Art by Lou Feck

Rogue Blades Entertainment mastermind Jason M Waltz tipped me off to this article at Tor.com this morning, saying,

A decent article, even well-argued, but I disagree Kull is the better barbarian. Kull is the precursor to the culmination that is Conan; without Kull, Conan would be a lesser creation. Yet I enjoyed the article.

The piece itself, by Alan Brown, is a thoughtful look at one of Robert E. Howard’s early creations, and a great intro to a fascinating character, especially for those chiefly familiar with Howard through his later Conan tales.

The Kull stories marked the first time that Howard created an entire quasi-medieval world from whole cloth. While the various races and tribes bear some resemblance to peoples who inhabit the world today, he portrayed a time before the great cataclysm that caused Atlantis to sink, when even the shape of the land was different, a time when pre-human races still walked the Earth. Kull is an Atlantean barbarian who from his earliest days harbored an ambition that set him apart from his fellow tribesmen. A large, quick man, often compared to a tiger, he is powerful yet lithe, with dark hair and grey eyes, and a complexion bronzed from a life in the sun. He had been a warrior, galley slave, pirate, mercenary, and general before seizing the throne of Valusia from the corrupt King Borna. While a mighty warrior, Kull also has a whimsical and inquisitive side. He could be kind and sensitive, and is fascinated by the metaphysical.

Read the entire piece here.


IMHO: A Personal Look at Dystopian Fiction — Part Two: J.G. Ballard

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Empire of the Sun-small Crash Ballard-small The Wind from Nowhere Ballard-small

For the sake of this article, and not wanting to rely on memory alone, I’ve used a brief synopsis of each novel mentioned here, courtesy of Wikipedia.

If you read Part 1 of this article you’ll know about some of the older novels of dystopian fiction upon which I grew up, novels that surely inspired many other writers… novels I’d hate to see get tossed in a pile or in a corner to collect dust with all the other forgotten novels. Today I’m going to talk about one writer in particular: J. G. Ballard.

Ballard’s memoirs of being a kid during WWII were made into a fairly good film by Steven Spielberg, starring Christian Bale when he was just a kid: Empire of the Sun. Film director David Cronenberg turned Ballard’s strange, erotic and haunting novel Crash into a strange, erotic and haunting film. I’ve read most of Ballard’s short stories, and a number of his other novels, but my personal favorites are his Quartet of Elemental Apocalypse, as one critic dubbed the series. To me, they truly depict dystopian futures. Ballard had a great talent for creating interesting, believable characters, making his stories more character-driven than plot- or action-driven. He excelled at pitting ordinary people against extraordinary odds, and his plots contained many an unexpected twist and turn.

The Wind from Nowhere is Ballard’s debut novel published in 1961; he had previously published only short stories, which I also highly recommend. This is the novel that launched his apocalyptic quartet — his “series” dealing with scenarios of natural disasters. In this novel, civilization is reduced to ruins by prolonged worldwide hurricane force winds. As an added dimension, Ballard explores how disaster and tragedy can bond people together in ways that no normal experiences ever could.

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Vintage Treasures: Out of the Deeps by John Wyndham

Sunday, June 16th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Out of the Deeps John Wyndham-small Out of the Deeps John Wyndham-back-small

Del Rey / Ballantine edition, 1977. Art by Vincent Di Fate

John Wyndham is best remembered these days for his classic SF horror novels The Day of the Triffids (1951), The Chrysalids (1955), and The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) (filmed twice as Village of the Damned, the second time by John Carpenter). But he had a lengthy career in the pulps, publishing dozens of stories in Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories, and other places under the name John Beynon Harris and John Beynon. Much of his early pulp fiction was collected in Sleepers of Mars (Coronet Books, 1973) and two volumes of The Best of John Wyndham (Sphere Books, 1973).

He published seven novels under the name John Wyndham between 1951 – 1968, starting with The Day of the Triffids, and these are the books that made his reputation. The second was The Kraken Wakes (1953), published in the US as Out of the Deeps. Like most of his Wyndham material, it has been continuously in print for most of the past six decades. In a 2009 review at Tor.com, Jo Walton wrote:

I’d remembered it as being a cosy catastrophe where the world is destroyed by sea monsters, and rather second-tier Wyndham, but I’d done it an injustice. The Kraken Wakes is quite an unusual cosy catastrophe, and really much more interesting than I’d remembered it.

To start with, it’s an alien invasion. The first things are “red dots,” fiery meteors landing in the deep sea, which are actually alien craft. It’s speculated that they might come from Jupiter or Neptune and like living at high pressure under water, and it’s speculated that humanity could share the planet with them, since they need different things. The rest of the book is a series of attacks by the aliens, never called krakens in the book, culminating in the scene that starts the novel where rising sea water and icebergs in the Channel have entirely changed the climate and landscape of Britain and the protagonists are trying to escape. This is essentially the story of how some very unusual aliens conquer the world in 1953, and it’s much closer to The War of the Worlds than it is to Wyndham’s other novels.

I never managed to acquire a copy until two weeks ago, when I tracked down the handsome Del Rey reprint above, with the fine Di Fate cover (Del Rey reprinted several Wyndham paperbacks at the same time, including The Midwich Cuckoos, which I discussed here). The Del Rey edition is a nice slender book (182 pages), and looks like a perfect summer read. It’s been too long since I’ve read Wyndham, and I’m very much looking forward to it.


A Celebration of Classic British Horror: Gaslight, Ghosts & Ghouls by R. Chetwynd-Hayes, edited by Stephen Jones

Saturday, June 15th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Gaslight Ghosts & Ghouls-smallIn a May 30 Facebook post, Stephen Jones announced a major new career retrospective of British horror writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes, who died in 2001. Chetwynd-Hayes published early fiction in The Pan Book of Horror Stories in the sixties, and wrote the classic The Monster Club, the basis for the 1980 film starring Vincent Price and John Carradine.

Jones was Ron’s co-editor for two posthumous anthologies, Great Ghost Stories (2004) and Tales to Freeze the Blood: More Great Ghost Stories (2006). He also helped him compile several collections, and published Ron’s fiction in multiple anthologies. He’s the perfect man for the job of assembling a “Best of” survey of the five-decade career of one of the great names in 20th Century British horror. Here’s Stephen:

R. Chetwynd-Hayes… was one of the most important horror writers and editors working in Britain. Not only was he happy to write about such genre standards as ghosts, demons, ghouls, vampires and werewolves, but he also delighted in making up his own bizarre monster variations that managed to stretch the imaginations of both author and reader alike…

Ron published an impressive twenty-four collections of short fiction, twenty-four anthologies (including twelve volumes of the influential Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories series), thirteen novels and more than 220 short stories. His work was adapted for the movies, television, radio and comics, and reprinted in various languages around the world. One of his publishers described him as “Britain’s Prince of Chill”, and his volumes of ghost stories and humorous tales of terror once filled the shelves of nearly every public library in the UK…

With the centenary of his birth fast approaching this year, I decided that it was time to finally compile the “Best of” collection… as it was such a monumental occasion to be celebrated, we decided to go well beyond that — to create a volume that truly did justice to Ron’s work and his enduring legacy… Gaslight, Ghosts & Ghouls: A Centenary Celebration contains sixteen of Ron’s highly original tales of terror and the supernatural, which invariably combined horror and humour in equal measure, giving them a style that was uniquely the author’s own. These not only include a rare reprint of one of his novellas featuring “the world’s only practising psychic detective” Francis St. Clare and his vivacious assistant Frederica (“Fred”) Masters, but also two tales that have never been reprinted since their original publication, plus a vampire novella that is appearing in print for the very first time!

Gaslight, Ghosts & Ghouls: A Centenary Celebration also contains the longest interview with Ron ever published, conducted by Jo Fletcher and Jones, a detailed Bibliography, a full-color portfolio of covers by Les Edwards, rare photos, endpapers by John Bolton and Graham Humphreys, and a back cover painting by Walter Velez. It will be published by PS Publishing in three formats, including a jacketed hardcover, signed slipcase, and deluxe limited edition. The unsigned hardcover is offered at £25.00. It will premiere at FantasyCon in Glasgow, Scotland, October 18th–20th. The cover, “The Monsters Escape,” is by Les Edwards. Pre-order copies of the book here.


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