New Treasures: The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Four, edited by Neil Clarke

Friday, July 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume Four-smallI always look forward to Neil Clarke’s Best Science Fiction of the Year, and Volume Four arrived right on time this week. This one is an important milestone in the series for two reasons.

First, it’s the first one to be available in hardcover. That may not seem like a big deal, but it is. It’s a step up in prestige for the series, and it’s great to finally have these books available in a permanent edition. Second, this volume is dedicated to Gardner Dozois, who died last year, and in his thoughtful introduction Neil makes it clear that he will be carrying on Gardner’s tradition of a lengthy annual summation.

I opened this year’s review of short fiction with an important dedication. Few people can be said to have shaped modern science fiction to the degree that Gardner Dozois did over the course of his career. He will most notably be remembered for his time as editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction and The Year’s Best Science Fiction series, but he was also a Nebula Award-winning author. Gardner also won the Hugo Award for Best Editor a record-setting fifteen times and edited dozens of Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Award-winning stories. He was also a friend and colleague, working for me as reprint editor of Clarkesworld for the last five years.

On my shelves lies a complete run of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, all thirty-five volumes plus his three Best of the Best volumes, and dozens of other anthologies he edited. While volumes one through three of my series were technically competing with his, he never once made me feel like that was the case. One of the best and more beautiful things most of you don’t know about this field is how collegial it is. Even when the stories were no longer new to me, I always preordered his next volume, simply for his annual summation of the field. For many of us, it was an important history of the field, one that spanned over thirty years and was yet another important part of his legacy.

No one can fill his shoes, but in his honor, I’m going to merge some of the short-fiction-oriented features of Gardner’s introductions into my own. It’s my way of noting that aspect of his work. It’s of personal value to me, and a desire to see that particular torch carried forward.

Neil is as good as his word, and this volume of The Best Science Fiction of the Year contains a lengthy look back at the year in short fiction, broken up into sections such as The Business Side of Things, Magazine Comings and Goings, The 2018 Scorecard — particularly appreciated by stats nerds like me! — The Most Interesting Development for Short Science Fiction, and In Memoriam. I miss Gardner’s idiosyncratic take on the field, of course, but I must say Neil acquits himself very well indeed. His new summation is informative, highly readable, and on-target. I think Gardner would have been proud.

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Goth Chick News: Tales from the Haunted Mansion Book Series

Thursday, July 18th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Tales from the Haunted Mansion

Disney parks worldwide have a lot of things in common, namely being the ‘Happiest Place(s) on Earth’, which is why the Haunted Mansion ride may seem like a bit of an anomaly. From Mystic Manor in Hong Kong, to Phantom Manor in Paris, to the Haunted Mansions in Tokyo, California and Florida, each park has a unique haunted house ride. The only park where you won’t find one is Shanghai, where ghosts and the fear of hauntings have a very real place in the Chinese culture.

The first Disney “imagineers” dreamed up the idea of a haunted attraction in the late 1950’s, starting with the story of a “house on the hill” inhabited by 999 ghosts. The actual mansion didn’t open to the public until 1969 and guests were immediately hooked on the experience, though much of the backstory by that time had faded into the background. The attraction gained an enormous cult following, bolstered with oodles of official merchandise and even more homages created by its fanbase. Though hardcore fans can tell you the mansion’s story, which ties together even the minutest details seen in the ride, most visitors simply enjoy the spookiness of the experience without ever knowing the significance of “The Hatbox Ghost,” “The Bride,” and “Madame Leota.”

Until now.

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A Dark Picture of a World Overrun by Technology: Green Valley, by Louis Greenberg

Thursday, July 18th, 2019 | Posted by Caitlin McAllister

Green Valley Louis Greenberg-smallGreen Valley
By Louis Greenberg
Titan Books (336 pages, $14.95 trade paperback/$7.99 digital, June 11, 2019)

Green Valley follows Lucie Sterling, a detective in a near-future world where the use of technology has been banned by the governing body, Omega. After the “Turn,” those that wished to continue to live within a world manifested through virtual reality were confined to a concrete bunker spanning miles — a place called Green Valley.

Those on the outside, including Lucie, have no contact with those behind the concrete curtain until a series of murdered children with bio and nano tech coursing through their small bodies show up in Stanton. Lucie’s assigned the case but in a completely analog world, how is she supposed to crack it with no evidence other than the bodies left behind?

The case is further muddied by the fact that Lucie’s niece, Kira, is a resident of Green Valley. Worried for her safety, with nothing to go on, Lucie makes the unusual journey into Green Valley to uncover the truth.

Greenberg does a lot of world-building early on that draws the reader in and paints a dark, yet eerily familiar picture of a world overrun by technology. The tension created between the new world order and those that chose a life managed by virtual reality makes the book hard to put down.

For all the detail spent on the story and the characters early on, there’s a lack of balance to it at the end. I wish each character (human or virtual) had the same amount of care spent on wrapping up their own stories, rather than just the multi-faceted Lucie.

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Future Treasures: Cry Pilot by Joel Dane

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Cry Pilot-small“Joel Dane” is the pseudonym of an established author who’s produced over 20 novels and written for Netflix. With Cry Pilot he launches an intriguing new military SF trilogy about a recruit with a secret drawn into a desperate war against a mysterious enemy called lampreys. Publishers Weekly recently gave it a rave review:

Riveting action paired with a sharp psychoemotional landscape combine for the explosive launch of a futuristic trilogy… Centuries in the future, humans live in tiny corporate enclaves while the ruined Earth undergoes terra fixing, a process that sometimes creates biological horrors. Maseo Kaytu is a refugee with a secret, which makes it hard for him to enlist in the corporate military, but through a touch of chicanery and a stint as a cry pilot — human “keys” needed to engage highly technological, high-lethality vehicles known as CAVs — he earns his place in Group Aleph… Frequent adrenaline-rush action scenes make up most of the novel, interspersed with Kaytu’s internal narrative and experiences. This is an intriguing, thoughtful exploration of what a corporatized future might look like, liberally peppered with scenes of military life.

Cry Pilot arrives next month from Ace Books. Here’s the publisher’s description.

A devastated Earth. Rogue bio-weapons. And a recruit with secrets. In this explosive new military science fiction novel, a tight-knit infantry squad is thrown into battle against a mysterious enemy that appears without warning and strikes without mercy.

There’s only one way for a man with Maseo Kaytu’s secrets to join the military: by volunteering for a suicide mission as a ‘cry pilot’. He cheats the system to survive, but you can’t fake basic training. Assigned to a squad of misfits, Kaytu learns how to fight, how to obey, and how to trust. Yet the more he bonds with his fellow recruits, the more he risks exposure of his criminal past.

Keeping his secret is about to become the least of his problems. Kaytu discovers that his platoon is being deployed against a new kind of rogue bio-weapon. One that has torn apart every military force it’s ever faced…

Cry Pilot will be published by Ace Book on August 6, 2019. It is 392 pages, priced at $17 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. See all our recent coverage of the best upcoming fantasy and SF here.


July 20, 2019 – As Seen from 1986

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Carper

Arthur C. Clarke, July 20, 2019 robotic surgical arm

In the 1980s, science fiction, the red-headed stepchild of literature, the field that had been declared dead in 1960, the genre that Kurt Vonnegut decried because serious critics kept mistaking it for a urinal, became the hot new thing.

As we now know, a rising tide may lift all boats, but the few superyachts get raised to previously unimaginable heights. The corporate buyout of old-line publishing houses created the blockbuster mentality, wherein the few Big Names could be paid supermoney in the assurance that their being proclaimed bestsellers made them so and therefore return huger profits. Robert A. Heinlein got paid $500,000 for The Number of the Beast. Isaac Asimov made a million for his new Foundation books. And Arthur C. Clarke needed all his formidable scuba skills to avoid being drowned under the tsunami of money that arrived just by allowing others to borrow the magic of his name.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Carolyn Beresford

Cover by Carolyn Beresford

Cover by Jody A. Lee

Cover by Jody A. Lee

Cover by Matt Mahurin

Cover by Matt Mahurin

The National Book Awards were established in 1936 by the American Booksellers Association. Although the Awards were not given out between 1942 and 1949 because of World War II and its aftermath, the awards were reestablished in 1950 and given out annually since then. Since 1950, only US authors are eligible for the award, which is designed to celebrate the best of American literature, expand its audience, and enhance the value of good writing in America. From 1980 through 1983, the American Book Awards were announced as a variation of the National Book Awards, run by the Academy of the American Book Awards.

The first Children’s Book award was presented to Meinhardt DeJong for Journey from Peppermint Street. In 1980, the award rebranded as the American Book Awards (TABA) and increased the number of awards given, including creating both a hardcover and paperback award for Children’s Books. The winner of the first Paperback Children’s Book Award was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet was the third book published in Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet (although it is the fourth volume viewed by internal chronology). It follows the established character of Charles Wallace Murry who must save the world from an impending nuclear disaster. Charles Wallace has demonstrated the ability to read other people’s minds and thought and connect to his older sister, Meg, through a process called kything.

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Vintage Treasures: The Year’s Best SF 9, edited by Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best SF9 Aldiss Harrison-small The Year's Best SF9 Aldiss Harrison-back-small

I’ve been collecting Year’s Best Science Fiction volumes for years. Many fine editors have tried their hand at them, starting with The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949 from Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty, and carried on for the next seven decades, almost without interruption, by Judith Merril, Donald Wollheim, Lester del Rey, Terry Carr, Arthur W. Saha, Gardner Dozois, David Hartwell, and all the way up to the current crop of annual Best of volumes from Neil Clarke, Rich Horton, Jonathan Strahan, John Joseph Adams, and Paula Guran.

I haven’t paid as much attention to the British editors however, and that’s an oversight. In particular, I only recently (like, six days ago) discovered that there were nine volumes in The Year’s Best SF series edited by Brian Aldiss and Harrison, which began in 1967. That’s because I rather foolishly based my count on the US reprint editions, published in paperback by Berkley Medallion with gorgeous covers by Paul Lehr.

But you know what? Turns out Berkley only reprinted the first seven volumes in the series. Who knew?? That meant there was a two-book hole in my proudly spotless Year’s Best collection that needed to be fixed, stat.

Fortunately. there’s really no such thing as an expensive science fiction paperback — not if you hunt long enough. Rare, sure. Overpriced, certainly. But I have tens of thousands of vintage SF paperbacks in my house, and I don’t think I’ve paid than ten bucks for more than a handful of them. And I sure didn’t in this case.

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What Skyrim Can Teach Us About World-Building

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

Skyrim Banner

Good morning, Readers!

No one who knows me is surprised when I say I love video games. I’ve written about them previously for this very site. I think it’s hard to overstate just how much I adore video games (specifically narrative-focused games). The one game that got me to buy my first console and actually dive head-first into gaming was Bethesda Studio’s epic addition to their Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim.

This open world game lets you go anywhere, and do pretty much anything. Best of all, it has dragons (which you can kill and steal their souls to fortify your own powers [insert evil laugh]). Loving video games, but without a PC (my home computer is a Mac) or a console, I resorted to watching other folks have fun with them on YouTube. I stumbled across a Let’s Play of Skyrim, and after three episodes, I knew I had to play it for myself. I saved like a madwoman, bought myself a console, and Skyrim.

And I was never heard from again (not really.  I did not ignore my responsibilities… but it was close!).

Skyrim proved to be everything I had been promised. It was epic in scope, the combat was fun, the dragons were amazing, and it let you play however you would like.

For the record, I always play in first person, and my build is always a bosmer (wood elf), whose strengths lie in archery and sneaking. There’s something ridiculously satisfying about sniping fools from the shadows with a good bow.

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From the Pen of a Great Pulpster: The Best of Robert Bloch

Monday, July 15th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The-Best-of-Robert-Bloch-small The-Best-of-Robert-Bloch-back-small

The Best of Robert Bloch (Del Rey, 1977). Cover by Paul Alexander

The Best of Robert Bloch (1977) was the thirteenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. Lester Del Rey himself gives the introduction to this volume. Paul Alexander (1937–) does his first cover for the series, a very lively one based upon Bloch’s folktale “The Hell-bound Train.” The afterword was by Robert Bloch (1917–1994) himself.

When John O’Neill began first doing posts on some of these Del Rey editions a few years ago, the one that most intrigued me was his post on this Bloch volume. I was of course familiar with Bloch as the author of Psycho (1959), which was famously made into the Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name in 1960. I also knew that Bloch was part of the vaunted “Lovecraft Circle,” having exchanged letters as a young author with famed weird author H. P. Lovecraft, even having the honor of becoming a protagonist/victim, named “Robert Blake,” in one of Lovecraft’s tales: “The Haunter of the Dark” (1936).

But I hadn’t really read that much of Bloch. But buying The Best of Robert Bloch soon fixed that.

Like most writers who cut their teeth on the early pulps, Bloch wrote widely and in various genres. Most pulp writers, in order to make anything close to approaching a living, had to be able to write everything from sci-fi to suspense thrillers. Bloch did as well. But given his association with Lovecraft, and his fame in connection with Psycho, I would’ve thought that The Best of Robert Bloch would tend to focus more on horror, or horror-related themes. And there was much here that fits with that genre.

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Hither Came Conan – The (Almost) Final Post

Monday, July 15th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

HIther_RoguesVallejoEDITEDEDITOR (ME, BOB)  SCREW UP – Our own Gabe Dybing brought to my attention that I forgot to run his post. He is correct! Entirely an oversight on my part. It will run next Monday morning, and I’ll update this ‘final’ listing afterwards. My fault. Sorry about that.

And so, Hither Came Conan comes to an end. Every Monday morning, from January 7th through today, July 14th, Black Gate brought you story insights from some of the most knowledgeable Robert E.  Howard writers around. And me. We covered all twenty-one completed Conan tales written by Howard: and even tossed in “Wolves Beyond the Border” for good measure!

In case you forgot, each story was randomly assigned to one essayist.  The most common comment I heard was some variation of “Thank goodness I didn’t get “Vale of Lost Women.” Unfortunately for Dave Hardy, he didn’t get to say that…

But while it’s natural that some stories are better than others, what I think this series showed, is that even a ‘bad’ story, contained some worthwhile elements. Whether it was a character, or an exciting scene, or some of his excellent prose, there’s always something worth reading in a Howard story. Or in this case, a Conan tale. Because, while he did write some stories that weren’t particularly good (“The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune” almost makes my eyes bleed) Robert E. Howard was an excellent writer.

I am a fan of William Bernhardt’s The Red Sneaker Writers Book Series. Bernhardt, author of the excellent Ben Kincaid legal thriller series, has written some terrific books to help writers. And one of them is Thinking Theme. Several writers mentioned Howard’s frequent depiction of the conflict between barbarism and civilization. That theme is a powerful engine for the Conan series. Decaying civilizations, and honor and justice, were also themes Howard used Conan to comment on. “Beyond the Black River,” “The Scarlet Citadel,” “Rogues in the House”: Howard’s strong belief in theme formed foundations for his tales.

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