Vintage Treasures: Creatures From Beyond, edited by Terry Carr

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Creatures from Beyond-smallIt shouldn’t be a surprise that I didn’t discover science fiction and fantasy through novels — not really. I discovered it by reading short stories in Junior High, and especially the enticing anthologies on display every week in the library at St. Francis School in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I didn’t really know what science fiction was; but if it had monsters on the cover, I was all over it.

The first anthology I can recall reading was Creatures From Beyond, a marvelous monster-fest if ever there was one. When I tracked it down again decades later, I was delighted to discover the editor was none other than Terry Carr, the legendary editor whose Best Science Fiction of the Year and Fantasy Annual paperbacks I read avidly all through high school — and who pulled William Gibson’s Neuromancer out of the slush pile at Ace Books.

I think the reason I still remember it so well after all these years is that, unlike most of the collections I checked out of the library, it wasn’t a kid’s book. It’s a genuine SF anthology, with short stories from Henry Kuttner, Clifford D. Simak & Carl Jacobi, Theodore Sturgeon, Donald A. Wollheim, Brian W. Aldiss, Robert Silverberg, and other top-flight authors.

Carr reasoned — correctly — that there was no better source for action-filled monster tales than pulp science fiction magazines and he mined them heavily to generate Creatures From Beyond. The fiction is drawn from Amazing Stories, Astonishing, Unknown, Other Worlds, Comet, Thrilling Wonder, Future, and a smattering of anthologies.

Of course, the other reason I remember it is Eric Frank Russell’s brilliant novelette “Dear Devil,” the tale of a handful of children who survive a nuclear apocalypse on Earth… and the curious (and hideous) explorer from Mars who helps put them back on track towards a new and better civilization. Rejected by all the major SF magazines of the time, it landed at Ray Palmer’s fledgling Other Worlds, where it almost single-handedly put the magazine on the map — and instantly made a name for the young editor who pulled it from the slush, 26-year-old Bea Mahaffey, who’d been thrust the reins of the magazine when Palmer was incapacitated in an accident.

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Going Postal with Terry Pratchett (and David Suchet)

Monday, August 12th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

GoingPostal_PromoEDITEDI think that the late Terry Pratchett was an elite satirist. He used humor in a fantasy world as the vehicle, which probably causes many to dismiss how good he was at writing satire. I’m a huge fan of the Discworld books, and I’ve written a post on the City Watch, and one on Troll Bridge, a short story featuring Cohen the Barbarian. I think an overview of the Discworld series would be a worthy post here someday.

Moist Von Lipwig is the protagonist of three Discworld novels: Going Postal, Making Money, and Raising Steam. In his first appearance (Going Postal), Von Lipwig is a con man who is finally captured and hung. Actually, he was only hung to within half an inch of his life. Lord Vetinari, the Lord Patrician of Discworld’s biggest city, Ankh-Morpork, I think that Vetinari is one of the best fictional rulers ever created.

Vetinari wants to reopen the city’s Post Office; an establishment that had essentially collapsed under its own weight – and greed. He gives Lipwig the choice of walking out a door (which the nearly dead man discovers opens onto an almost bottomless pit) or reviving the post office. Lipwig, who figures he can con his way out of things, reluctantly takes the job. There are, of course, many hurdles, including a golem named Pump 13 who ensures that he is not going to run away.

The Clacks are network of semaphore towers, that is Discworld’s pre-eminent communications network, with some internet overtones. The post office is brought back to compete with the unreliable, monopolized Clacks.

That’s the groundwork, and from here on in I’ll discuss the miniseries, which does differ from the book a fair amount, though it’s still faithful to Pratchett’s work. The Clacks is run by Reacher Gilt, played deliciously by David Suchet, the personification of Agatha Christie’s fat Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot (who you read about HERE, of course…). With long hair, an eyepatch, and evil to the core of his larcenous heart, Suchet gets to have fun with the character. The character is a bit more serious in the book, but Suchet’s portrayal works for the movie.

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Birthday Reviews: Terry Dowling’s “The Last Elephant”

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Nick Stathopoulos

Cover by Nick Stathopoulos

Terry Dowling was born on March 21, 1947. Most of Dowlings fictional output is at short story length, although the stories about Tom Rynosseros are connected and have been collected in four volumes. Dowling has also published the novel Clowns at Midnight. He edited the anthology Mortal Fire: Best Australian SF with Van Ikin and worked with Richard Delap and Gil Lamont to edit The Essential Ellison.

Dowling has received four Aurealis Awards and twelve Ditmar Awards. In 1988, he won the Ditmar for Best Long Fiction for his story “For as Long as You Burn” and the Ditmar for Best Short Fiction for “The Last Elephant.” His collection Basic Black: Tales of Appropriate Fear won an International Horror Guild Award and the collection Wormwood received a Readercon Award. Basic Black was also nominated for the Bram Stoker Award, and Dowling has three World Fantasy Award nominations.

“The Last Elephant” first appeared in Australian Short Stories issue #20, published in 1987 and edited by Bruce Pascoe. In 1994, Paul Collins included it in his Metaworlds: Best Australian Science Fiction and Dowling has reprinted the story in three collections, An Intimate Knowledge of the Night, Antique Futures: The Best of Terry Dowling, and Make Believe: A Terry Dowling Reader.

Dowling tackles endangered species in “The Last Elephant,” describing the festivities and hoopla around Terrence Harm, whose job it is to inspect Caza, believed to be the last living elephant. While Harm cares about the creature and understands the importance of preserving it for as long as possible, he also understands the quality of life issues that come into play and realizes that the more humane course of action may be to announce that Caza is ready to die.

However, when Harm finally visits the last elephant, it is not quite the situation Dowling has prepared the reader for. The questions of ecology Dowling appeared to be setting up are not the issues that Harm actually faces, and Caza is important to the culture in a very different way. Dowling’s story shows that while preservation is important, it can be achieved in different ways, and although they may not be entirely satisfying, they carry their own significance.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Carroll John Daly and the Birth of Hard-Boiled

Monday, June 29th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Daly_ManShadowsQuiz time: Who invented the hard-boiled school of fiction? And who was the first hard-boiled private eye? If you answered Carroll John Daly and Race Williams, you’d be like most folks. And you’d only be half right.

In December of 1922, Daly’s “The False Burton Combs” appeared in Black Mask Magazine and the hard-boiled school was born. In April of 1923, “It’s All in the Game” (which I’ve yet to read), with an unnamed protagonist, was printed. And on May 15, 1923, “Three Gun Terry” gave us Three Gun Terry Mack, first of the unnumbered hardboiled private eyes to follow for almost a century now.

In June, 1923, the first Race Williams story, “Knights of the Open Palm,” appeared in Black Mask and it is this story which most folks erroneously point to as the first one to feature a hard boiled private eye. In case you’re wondering, Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op made his debut in “Arson Plus” in October of that year.

Three Gun Terry Mack only appeared in one more short story, (“Action! Action!” – Black Mask, January, 1924) and in one novel (The Man in the Shadows, 1928). But no matter, as he was really just a prototype for Race Williams, who would appear in some forty-ish stories and six serials/novels for Black Mask, a well as in other publications.

The tone is set from the first sentence on: “My life is my own, and the opinions of others don’t interest me, so don’t form any, or if you do, keep them to yourself. If you want to sneer at my tactics, why go ahead; but do it behind the pages – you’ll find that healthier.”

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Terry Pratchett’s ‘City Watch’

Monday, March 30th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

CityWatch_GuardsCoverAs readers of this column are certainly aware, I’m quite the fan of detective and private eye novels. Beyond just the guy that the whole thing is name after. As I mentioned in last week’s post on Isaac Asimov’s Caves of Steel, I’ve made several posts about the genre.

Related yet distinct is the police procedural (though some stories, like the aforementioned Caves, fit in both genres). As you can guess from the name, these focus on police officers, rather than private operatives. They are all over television, such as Castle, CSI (insert name here), Hill Street Blues, and brand new shows like Battle Creek. From Dragnet and The Streets of San Francisco to Hawaii Five O (which lasted 12 seasons before coming back in its current incarnation).

The literary police procedural, while popular, has a lower profile than its television version and is definitely overshadowed by the private eye story.

Evan Hunter (better known as Ed McBain), who I consider THE master of the mystery short story, wrote more tales of New York’s 87th Precinct than I can count: and I can count to one, two, three, many (that’s a Terry Pratchett joke). Probably my favorite straight police procedurals are Tony Hillerman’s novels about The Navajo Tribal Police. The subject of a future post, they are superb police mysteries, set in the Indian reservation lands of the Four Corners.

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The Boxed Set of the Year: American Science Fiction: Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s edited by Gary K. Wolfe

Sunday, October 20th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

American Science Fiction Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s-small

Cover by Paul Lehr

Gary K. Wolfe is one of my favorite Locus columnists. He also reviews science fiction for the Chicago Tribune and, with Jonathan Strahan, co-hosts the excellent Coode Street Podcast. But more and more these days I think of him as an editor. He edited the Philip Jose Farmer retrospective collection Up the Bright River (2011) and, even more significantly, American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s: A Library of America Boxed Set (2012), a massive 1,700-page, 2-volume omnibus collection of classic novels by Pohl & Kornbluth, Sturgeon, Brackett, Matheson, Heinlein, Bester, Blish, Budrys, and Leiber, all in gorgeous hardcover with acid-free paper, sewn binding, and full cloth covers.

So I was thrilled to hear that, seven long years later, Wolfe has fulfilled that promise of that first beautiful boxed set with a sequel: American Science Fiction: Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s. Like the first, it will be sold as two separate hardcovers, and also available in a handsome boxed set edition. It contains eight of the finest SF novels of the 60s:

The High Crusade, Poul Anderson (1960)
Way Station, Clifford D. Simak (1963)
Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes (1966)
…And Call Me Conrad (This Immortal), Roger Zelazny (1966)
Past Master, R. A. Lafferty (1968)
Picnic on Paradise, Joanna Russ (1968)
Nova, Samuel R. Delany (1968)
Emphyrio, Jack Vance (1969)

The whole package comes wrapped up in a boxed set featuring artwork from the brilliant Paul Lehr. It will be in bookstores on November 5th — and is available now at $15 below retail if you order direct from Library of America.

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Giving People What They Want: James Nicoll on The Traveler in Black by John Brunner

Thursday, October 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Traveler in Black John Brunner-small The Traveler in Black John Brunner-back-small

The Traveler in Black (Ace Books, 1971). Cover by Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon

Outside of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock, the 20th Century didn’t produce a great many enduring Sword and Sorcery series. Which is why we cherish those we have, like John Brunner’s The Traveler in Black.

The Traveler in Black first appeared in a short story in Science Fantasy in 1960. He was a captivating and enigmatic figure, and he proved popular enough that Brunner returned to his creation four more times in the next two decades. The first four tales were collected in The Traveler in Black, a 1971 paperback original from Ace Books, part of Terry Carr’s famed Ace SF Special series. James Nicoll turned a fresh eye to them this summer, saying:

Chaos is losing its grip on reality. The Traveller in Black does his humble best to accelerate the process. In most cases he does this by using his power to warp reality to give people what they want — at which point they find they didn’t really want it after all…

There are parallels between the Traveller stories and Tanith Lee’s later Flat Earth books. While Brunner might have influenced Lee, I think it more likely that both are playing in a sub-genre of fantasy now unfashionable, in which fantastic worlds evolve towards the mundane.

Where Lee’s Flat Earth revels in decadence, the world of the Traveller in Black is one in which one finds a sardonic pleasure in watching people get their just desserts. The delight is redoubled in that one can predict a catastrophe, but one cannot predict just HOW foolish choices will backfire. If that’s the way your sense of humour rolls, you’ll enjoy this book.

It’s always great to read a thoughtful review of a nearly 50-year old S&S vintage paperback (and it’s especially great that we’re not the only ones writing them.)

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Hugo Award for Best Amateur Magazine: Energumen

Saturday, August 31st, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

energumen cover

The Hugo Award for Best Fanzine was first awarded in 1955 to Science-Fiction Times, edited by James V. Taurasi, Sr. and Ray Van Houten. That was the second year of the Hugo Awards (which began in 1953 and skipped 1954.) It has been awarded every year since then (except 1958) in some form – the name has varied a bit, from Fanzine to Fan Magazine to Amateur Magazine, before settling on Fanzine.

In 1973 the Hugo for Best Amateur Magazine went to Energumen, edited by Mike Glicksohn and Susan Wood Glicksohn. Energumen ran for 15 issues (plus two supplements) from 1970 through 1973, with an additional issue in 1981, published after Susan Wood’s death, aged only 32, in 1980. The fanzine essentially ran for the duration of the marriage of Mike and Susan. Mike Glicksohn died in 2011. Both editors received Hugo Nominations as Best Fan Writer – Mike Glicksohn in 1977, and Susan Wood 8 times, winning in 1974, 1977, and posthumously in 1981.

I can’t say I read Energumen in my Golden Age. Alas, the first fanzines I read were a couple of years later – Locus and Science Fiction Review (aka The Alien Critic), both in 1975 (or maybe late 1974.) So I took the time to head to efanzines.com and look through the 1972 issues of Energumen. The magazine was nominally quarterly, and indeed four issues appeared in 1972, numbers 11 through 14. (The thirteenth issue announced that #15 would be the last.)

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Vintage Treasures: The Starfire Saga by Roby James

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Roby James Commencement-small

Covers by Bruce Jensen

The Ace Science Fiction Specials, a series of first novels edited by uber-editor Terry Carr, are legendary today. Between 1984-88 Carr published debuts by writers who’d go on to towering careers, including William Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Lucius Shepard, Howard Waldrop, Michael Swanwick, Jack McDevitt, Richard Kadrey, and many others.

The Ace Science Fiction Specials get all the attention, but they certainly weren’t unique. Many publishers tried their hand at something similar, with varying success. One of my favorites was the Del Rey Discovery line (1992-99), which published first novels by Nicola Griffith, Mary Rosenblum, L. Warren Douglas, K. D. Wentworth, and many more — including Roby James, whose first two novels, Commencement and Commitment, appeared in ’96 and ’97. Together they make up the Starfire Saga.

“Roby James” is the pen name of Rhoda Blecker. In a 1996 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Blecker shared some of the genesis  and heavy themes of the tale. Here’s an excerpt, in which she talks about its major Jewish themes, and losing her mother when she was eleven.

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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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