Vintage Treasures: A Sense of Wonder by John Wyndham, Jack Williamson and Murray Leinster

Sunday, September 13th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

A Sense of Wonder-small A Sense of Wonder-back-small

A Sense of Wonder (New English Library, 1974). Cover by Bruce Pennington

A Sense of Wonder was originally published in hardcover in the UK by Sidgwick & Jackson in 1967, and reprinted in the US as The Moon Era (which we covered as part of our survey of Sixty Years of Lunar Anthologies back in December.) It’s a short little anthology (175 pages) of early 30s SF by three of the biggest names of the pulp era, assembled and edited by pulp SF afficionado Sam Moskowitz. It contains three novellas:

“Exiles on Asperus” by John Wyndham (Wonder Stories Quarterly, Winter 1933)
“The Mole Pirate” by Murray Leinster (Astounding Stories, November 1934)
“The Moon Era” by Jack Williamson (Wonder Stories, February 1932)

This slender volume was popular enough to enjoy a total of eight editions between 1967-87, mostly paperback reprints from New English Library, who seemed to insist on a new cover every time (see below for a few interesting examples). I covered the last, the 1987 reprint, back in 2017.

The reason I’m showcasing this book again isn’t its enduring popularity, or the notoriety of its three authors. It’s the exquisite Bruce Pennington cover on the 1974 edition (above), which I only recently managed to find. Bruce is one of my favorite SF artists, and he was gracious enough to provide covers for two of the last two print editions of Black Gate, and these days I kinda haunt the virtual shops on the lookout for (mostly British) paperbacks with his colorful and distinctive artwork. His cover for A Sense of Wonder is typical of his work in this period — a mysterious craft looms over a desolate alien landscape, while a small flock of birds introduce a strange sense of normalcy to the eerie tableau. The result is eye catching, and warmly reminiscent of classic science fiction, with its love of superscience, exploration, and the unfathomable mysteries of outer space.

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A Woman as President?

Sunday, August 23rd, 2020 | Posted by John-Henri Holmberg

Eclipse John Shirley-small Mike Resnick Alternate Presidentss-small Allen Steele Coyote-small

Eclipse by John Shirey (Questar/Popular Library, 1987), Alternate Presidents edited by Mike Resnick (Tor, 1992),
Coyote by Allen Steele (Ace, 2002). Covers by Joe DeVito, Barclay Shaw and Ron Miller

“It’s rigged,” said Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump four years ago. What was? Everything. The system, the primaries, the TV debates, the media. And probably even the election itself.

His view, of course, was and remains that it’s all rigged against a hard-working, self-made billionaire who started out with two empty hands (and a small loan of $14 million from daddy – and this was more than 45 years ago, so consider inflation). But if you look at another aspect, that of general expectations, you might find a different kind of rigging.

So far, no woman has been president of the United States. Consequently, no historical or contemporary realistic fiction has portrayed a female President. But since science fiction is reality-based speculation, and since women make up a little over half of humanity, it would seem reasonable to expect at least some writers to write about possible futures, or alternate pasts and presents, where women inhabit the White House.

But in fact, such speculations have been few and far between. Kristin Lillvis (in “Take Me to Your Lady Leader,” in New Ohio Review #20, 2016) suggests that the first example of an imagined woman president may be found in C. L. Moore’s “Greater Than Gods,” in Astounding, July 1939. Moore’s story is basically about gender stereotypes: her protagonist, Bill Corey, considers which of two women to marry and visits the two possible alternate futures that would result from this decision. One of them is a patriarchal, technologically advanced but militaristic society of blind obedience to strong leaders; the other a matriarchal society with a succession of female presidents (though the first elected no earlier than around 2300), peaceful and comforting but also static and stagnant. “Women as a sex are not scientists, not inventors, not mechanics or engineers or architects,” the story says. And Moore lets her hero marry a third woman, who will add balance and reason to his own limitless ambition, and so give rise to a more diverse future.

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That Short Story Thing

Tuesday, July 14th, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière


Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

Good morning, Readers!

Remember a while ago when I asked for story prompts for a sort-of communal writing jam? Yeah, well, neither did I until recently. I had a month to work on this, and so naturally I completely forgot about until the week it was due. University essays all over again. Nevertheless, I figured I’d try my hand at it anyway.

This was the only prompt I received:

She impatiently checked her watch, sighing and rolling her eyes as burning debris rained onto the ground around her.

Many thanks again to Jaina for that prompt.

Short stories are not my strong suit, so it’s probably going to be stupidly rough and less than brilliant. I’ve not written a short story in a long, long time. So, if you’re reading it, feel free to have a good chuckle at my expense. I tried. Also, I’m terrible at titles.

If you can do better (and I don’t think that’d be difficult), link to your story in the comments!

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The Importance of Good Fantasy Art

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020 | Posted by Robert Zoltan

FrankFrazettaConan-small MichaelWhelanStormbringer-small JeffreyCatherineJonesSwordsAndDeviltry-small

Art by Frank Frazetta, Michael Whelan, and Jeffrey Catherine Jones

An adventure tale isn’t good just because it features a bare-chested hero and a sword, and neither is a painting. Stories and art are successful because they are created by talented people who have devoted long hours (usually 10,000 or more) to educate themselves about their field and develop the proper skills and style to express that talent. And the presentation of that talent is absolutely vital to the success of the fantasy genre — creatively, culturally, and commercially.

In Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword and Sorcery, Brian Murphy discusses the root causes of the sword and sorcery revival of the 1960s:

…published in paperback with arresting covers by the most talented artist ever to work in the subgenre, the convergence of authorial and visual artistry, marketing, and business acumen led to the re-emergence and conscious reawakening of sword-and-sorcery in the subgenre’s “silver age,” or renaissance.

No doubt all those elements were important, but I can guarantee you that those books never would have sold in those numbers without that great cover art by Frank Frazetta.

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Three Tips to Writing When You Just Can’t

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière


Pick a character. I’m the shady ranger on the far left.

Good morning, Readers!

As many creatives these days, it feels like the world is getting harder and harder to create in; so much tragedy, hatred, anger and inhumanity filling up the airwaves. Couple that with an uncertain future for many of us, who have been furloughed from our jobs due to the pandemic. It’s hard to get creative when the stress of trying to ensure we have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies is taking up so damned much of our physical, emotional and mental energy.

For many, what was once difficult — creating — is now almost impossible. I know I’ve been struggling a great deal with it, and based on the chatter I’m hearing from my friends and creative circles, I’m not the only one.

I have good days and terrible days, but I’ve managed to pull myself along in my creative work, and I figured I’d tell you how. Maybe it’ll help you get work done, too.

This, of course, comes with the usual caveat that all advice, especially as it pertains to any creative endeavour, should be taken with the largest possible grain of salt. What works for one person won’t work for everyone, or perhaps anyone else.

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Let’s Get Diverted Together

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière


This might work.

Good morning, Readers!

I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about my writing and my writing skills… or lack thereof depending on who you ask. I fall short in a lot of areas, particularly any story that is supposed to be short. My inability to keep things short has helped me with the whole novel-writing thing I love to do, but I’m slightly miffed at myself for being so inept at something creative. Short stories simply aren’t my forte. I mean, the last time I tried to write one, it became a two volume epic. So, there’s that.

It’s not like I’ve never written anything short. I was the short story champion in high school, and my short story writing ability got me one of the highest QCS (Queensland Core Skills) scores in my class back when I was exiting secondary school. My marks dragged down my eventual exit OP (Overall Position) score, because high school was hell and I didn’t cope.

Anyway, the point is, I stopped writing short stories and now I feel like I have simply lost the knack.

I would like to fix that. But, you know, without the pressure of it counting towards any kind of grade.

And, I’d like for us all to join in for a communal, no pressure, bit of shared creativity.

Let me explain.

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Viewpoint Intimacy Through a Third Person Lens

Sunday, May 31st, 2020 | Posted by R. J. Howell

Cordelia's Honor-small The Goblin Emperor Katherine Addison-small A Memory Called Empire paperback-small

Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen 1996, cover by Gary Ruddell), The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Tor 2014,
cover by Anna Balbusso and Elena Balbusso), and A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (Tor 2019, cover by Jaime Jones)

Since quarantine has brought an unexpected windfall of time for me, I’ve been beta-reading more than usual, and from sources beyond my immediate network of writer-friends. With these new novels, however, I’ve noticed this trend of a lack of intimacy with third person viewpoint characters.

I’m not sure if this is a discomfort with diving deeper into their character’s viewpoint, not knowing how to deep-dive into PoV, or taking the “show-don’t-tell” adage a step too far, to the point where the prose only “shows” action and all moments of interiority and reflection are seen as “telling.”

Or perhaps it’s that some writers watch more films, or play more video games, than they read, and recycle techniques borrowed from visual media that don’t have the same impact in prose? This is not to disparage visual and/or interactive entertainment, nor writers who learn how to tell stories in that media. However, visual media uses a different skill-set to convey emotion, and there are things that can be done with prose that can’t be done as well in film.

Whatever the root cause, I’ve read multi-viewpoint novels where the writers specifically stated that the plot was deeply character driven, and yet, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you anything about the characters that wasn’t directly tied to the plot. It’s as if the writer feared to bog down the narrative with character backstory, either as a result of excessive edits or an unwillingness to include it in the first place. By the end, all that was left was what was introduced in Chapter 1. The characters had no past, and their only future derived from events in the story. I felt so removed, like I was watching things unfold from a distance, and while the plot escalated and had the necessary dramatic beats, I simply didn’t feel anything. I wasn’t experiencing, I wasn’t sinking into the prose and being transported.

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Musing on a Writer’s Ambition

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière


I’ve always wanted a proper fountain pen. I still don’t have one. I should fix that.

Good morning, Readers!

This blog post is personal to me and my experience with writing and publishing, but I thought a few of you might be able to relate.

I am, despite my better judgement or desire, an ambitious person. I try not to be. Or at least, try not to be so ambitious. I try to find contentment where I am. I struggle to, however.

You see, I don’t think my ambitions are all that great. I don’t want millions of dollars. All I really want is for my writing to reliably sustain me. That it pays my bills, and even gives me a little left over for fun things like travel… and the ability to support my video gaming and artistic hobbies. In publishing, however, that is one hell of an ambition. Even published and celebrated authors are forced to work outside of writing to feed, clothe and house themselves.

There’s not much money in publishing, to be frank.

Sure, some writers hit it big. People looking on, who might not know what it’s like in the trenches, would be forgiven in assuming that writers are doing far better than they are, what with such high profile authors out there. Those authors, however, a rare. The vast majority of us, published or not, languish in the dark, having to work elsewhere in order to support ourselves and our writing.

In my case, I work a full-time job as a receptionist and a side-job as a martial arts instructor.

Or I did. Before the plague.

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Writing Advice: Structuring Your Story (Red Sneaker Writers)

Monday, March 16th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Bernhardt_StoryStructureI started reading William Bernhardt’s Ben Kincaid books back in the mid-nineties. I seem to recall I went on a ‘lawyer’ kick and read him, Steve Martini, and Robert K. Tannenbaum. But years later, Bernhardt made a bigger impact on me with his Red Sneaker Writers series. These slim volumes with the brightly attractive covers, are jam-packed with great writing advice. The first book I read was on Story Structure, and I think it’s still my favorite. Though every one has been both interesting to read and thought-provoking. If I ever get my act together, I’ll add “taught me a lot.”

I’ve read through a couple of them more than once, making notes ( I CANNOT highlight a physical book. I’m incapable of it). Last year, I decided to be a little more systematic and I went through EVERY title, be it Theme, Plot, Character – all of them: and I outlined the key points in each chapter. I printed them all out and have a very cool binder. Which, if I ever actually sit down and write a novel, will be of great use.

I sent one of the outlines to him, telling him that I’d like to include it in a Black Gate post, promoting the series. He kindly granted his permission. So, here we are.

I’m fortunate that many actual, real, Writers (note the capital ‘W’) with books you can buy on Amazon, or at bookstores (if you can find one that is still in business) are friends of mine. And they are FAR more qualified than I am to talk abut writing advice. I think I hold my own as a Black Gate blogger, and there are worse Sherlock Holmes short stories out there than mine (And certainly better ones!). But I’ve got two unfinished novels, which doesn’t mean squat.

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Hot Take: Fan Fiction is Great

Tuesday, February 25th, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

Fantasy Book Clipart

Good day, Readers!

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking of late.  Shocking, I know. Anyway, I had been struggling with finishing the second book of a series I’m currently trying to sell, and so decided to move on to another story for a while to give my brain a break and let it figure out the story in the background while I work on other stuff.

This other project, though, is something that I’m not going to be able to sell to anyone. It is, essentially, fan fiction. Sort of. I mean, I’m absolutely using the world and assets of another thing (a video game, if you must know) in order to tell this story.  It’s fan fiction.  But this post isn’t really about the fan fiction I’m writing.  It’s about fan fiction in general, and how wonderful I think it is (with some caveats).

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