Fantastic, June 1965: A Retro-Review

Thursday, August 20th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

fantastic June 1965-smallAt last I return to an issue of Fantastic from the Cele Lalli era. Indeed, this is the very last issue of the Cele Lalli era.

The June issues of Amazing and Fantastic were the last published by Ziff-Davis. They were sold to Sol Cohen’s Ultimate Publishing, and resumed appearing as bimonthlies with the August Amazing and then the September Fantastic.

At this time they began publishing mostly reprints, drawing on the huge library of stories published originally in Amazing and Fantastic, for which they had, legally, unlimited reprint rights. (Eventually Cohen was forced or shamed into paying a small fee.)

Perhaps because this is the last issue before the transfer to new ownership, there are no features: no interior art, no book review, no editorial, nothing. The cover is by Gray Morrow, never a favorite of mine, illustrating Roger Zelazny’s “Thelinde’s Song.”

Click the image at left for a bigger version.

I don’t like it much – the color is a muddy red, and the menaced virgin on the altar isn’t very attractive. (Shallow of me, I know, but there you are!)

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, August 1963: A Retro-Review

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

fantasy_and_science_fiction August 1963-smallHere’s an issue of F&SF from Avram Davidson’s tenure, and Davidson’s stamp is, to my eye pretty evident. It’s a reasonably significant issue simply in that it includes part of a Heinlein serial.

The features include a book review column by Davidson, in which he covers a piece of non-fiction by Patrick Moore and Francis Jackson on the possibility of Life in the Universe, some Burroughs reissues (Davidson, in recommending the books, writes “Hark! Is that the squeal of an angry throat?,” which later (slightly changed) became a story title for him), Walter Tevis’ The Man Who Fell to Earth (Davidson was unimpressed), a book on whales, and (very briefly) Cordwainer Smith’s You Will Never Be the Same, taking time to deny that “Cordwainer Smith” was ever a pseudonym of Robert Silverberg – and here I was, hoping that he would at long last reveal this in one of his bibliographic posts right here!

The cover is quite impressive – it’s by Ed Emshwiller, for Ray Nelson’s “Turn Off the Sky” – there’s a bit of a Richard Powers vibe to it, though it’s still of course Emsh… and a rare case where beautiful woman on the cover doesn’t look like his wife Carol.

There is also of course a science column by Asimov (“T-Formation,” a relatively weak outing, about large numbers), a Feghoot (about time travel and a couple of women of loose virtue – I’m sure you can guess the pun), a quite nice poem on the loss of the mystery of Venus due to Mariner II, by R. H. and Kathleen P. Reis; and, surprisingly, a letter column! Notable letters include one from James Blish complaining about the term “Science Fantasy” (“… stands as a warning that the author reserves the right to get the facts all wrong”); and one from a reader complaining about Davidson’s editorial hand and declining to renew his subscription – who was the reader? One E. Gary Gygax!

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Martian Pirates, Brain Creatures, and Hive Minds: Rich Horton on Ray Cummings and John Brunner

Saturday, August 8th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Wandl the Invader-small I Speak For Earth-small

Brigands of the Moon-smallRich Horton’s personal blog, Strange at Ecbatan, is a great place to hang out if (like us) you love vintage paperbacks and magazines. In addition to his reviews here at Black Gate (not to mention his editing duties for The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, the 2015 Volume of which just arrived last month), Rich also reviews forgotten bestsellers, neglected classics, and obscure books by writers who later became highly regarded. This week he takes a look at an Ace Double from 1961.

This week’s Old Bestseller post is on a book that was by no means a bestseller — it’s another Ace Double review, this time a new one (for me) — the 1961 pairing of a rather dreadful 1932 pulp serial by Ray Cummings (Wandl the Invader) with one of John Brunner’s better early short novels (I Speak For Earth), written as by “Keith Woodcott.”

Wandl the Invader was serialized in Astounding in 1932. It was a sequel to Brigands of the Moon, which began its serialization in the third issue of Astounding, in 1930. It is set in a future in which space travel is well-established within the Solar System, and essentially human civilizations have been discovered on both Venus and Mars. (Interbreeding is possible, for instance.) A small planet called Wandl has appeared in the Solar System, and Gregg Haljan (hero of Brigands of the Moon) is recruited to captain a spaceship to resist the evil intentions of the planet’s inhabitants.

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The 2015 Hugo Shortlist, Short Fiction: A Review

Thursday, July 9th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

2011 Hugo Award-smallI promised to read all the short fiction Hugo nominees, and report on them, so here you go.

I’ll begin by mentioning that I haven’t come close to reading the novel nominees: I have only read Ancillary Sword, by my almost-neighbor Ann Leckie, and while I quite enjoyed it I thought it not as good as Ancillary Justice. A middle-book thing, in some ways – in other ways, I think this post by lightreads gets at some of the problems I had pretty well.

I’m also about halfway through The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu –- I’m not sure what to think yet. There’s some neat ideas, but some of them seem distinctly pulpy, and the writing is a bit dodgy. We’ll see how it works out in the end.


So, to the novellas. The final list of nominees is:

Big Boys Don’t Cry, Tom Kratman
“Flow,” Arlan Andrews, Sr.
One Bright Star to Guide Them, John C. Wright
“Pale Realms of Shade,” John C. Wright
“The Plural of Helen of Troy,” John C. Wright

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New Treasures: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015, edited by Rich Horton

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015-smallIn his introduction to this year’s volume, Rich provides a penetrating breakdown of the current state of our genre’s magazines:

Trevor Quacchri… [is] introducing some intriguing new writers, while not abandoning Analog’s core identity. Last year he published Timons Esais’ “Sadness,” clearly one of the very best stories of the year. Even more recently, F&SF has changed editors… the editing reins have been handed to C.C. Finlay, who “auditioned” with a strong guest issue in July-August 2014, from which I’ve chosen Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i” for this book. Asimov’s stays the course with Sheila Williams, and 2014 was a very good year for the magazine….

I choose four stories each from two other top online sources, Clarkesworld (three-time Hugo Winner for Best Semiprozine) and LightspeedClarkesworld publishes almost soley science fiction, and Lightspeed publishes an even mixture of science fiction and fantasy, so it can be argued that another online ‘zine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, is the top fantasy magazine online, and the two outstanding stories I chose from it should support that argument. And it would be folly to forget…

The New Yorker regularly features science fiction and fantasy (including a pretty decent story by Tom Hanks this year), and New Yorker stories have appeared in these anthologies. Tin House in particular is very hospitable to fantastika, and this year I saw some outstanding work at Granta.

Since I was on stage to present the Nebula Award for Best Novelette to Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” I can personally attest that Rich knows how to pick ’em. The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015 was published by Prime Books on June 11, 2015. It is 576 pages, priced at $19.99 in trade paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition. See the complete Table of Contents here.

The Future of Fantasy: The Best New Releases in June

Friday, June 12th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

A Book of Spirits and Thieves-small The-Years-Best-Science-Fiction-Fantasy-2015-small The Birthgrave Tanith Lee-small

There are precisely 30 days in June, and we’ve compiled a list of the 30 most exciting and anticipated novels, collections and anthologies being released this month. You know what that means — if you want to keep up, you’ll need to read at least one book a day (and since we’re already a dozen days into June, you better get hopping… you’re behind already!)

Our June catalog of the best new fiction includes new releases from Stephen King, Garth Nix, Mark Lawrence, John R. Fultz, Terry Brooks, Jon Sprunk, and others, as well as some spiffy reprints from James Blaylock,  Tanith Lee, Lev Grossman, Michael Moorcock, and others. But time’s a-wasting; let’s get started!

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Venture, July 1957: A Retro-Review

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Venture Science Fiction July 1957-smallI’ve written about Venture before, a short-lived companion to F&SF, first in the late ’50s, then again in the late ’60s to early ’70s. It tried to be a bit more adventure-oriented, and also (at least in its first incarnation) seemed to try to have a sexier image.

The feature list is pretty thin – most significant is the first book review column by Theodore Sturgeon, whom the editor proudly introduces as “the discoverer and distinguished proponent of that basic maxim known as “Sturgeon’s Law.” He reviews only one book, Martin Greenberg’s collection of non-fiction of SF interest, Coming Attractions. The inside back cover has a feature called “Venturing,” short bio-ish pieces about a few of the issue’s authors (Sturgeon, James Gunn, and “Paul Janvier”). The cover is by Ed Emshwiller (in my opinion, not one of his better efforts), and the interior art is by John Giunta and by Cindy Smith.

The stories are:

“Not So Great an Enemy,” by James E. Gunn (17,500 words)
“And Then She Found Him,” by Paul Janvier (6,900 words)
“Aces Loaded,” by Theodore R. Cogswell (6,500 words)
“The Keeper,” by H. Beam Piper (8,700 words)
“The Education of Tigress McCardle,” by C. M. Kornbluth (3,700 words)
“Seat of Judgment,” by Lester Del Rey (7,700 words)
“The Harvest,” by Tom Godwin (800 words)

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A Modest Proposal to Improve the Hugos

Thursday, May 28th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

The Hugo AwardIn thinking about the recent unpleasantness (regarding the Hugo ballot, I mean), it occurred to me that one source of the issues with the Hugos right now has nothing much to do with slates or bloc voting or Sad Puppies or Social Justice Warriors or even taste (that much). It is simply this: there are a lot more SF stories published now than there were in the past. That makes it really hard for any reader to even come close to reading them all – something that was quite possible, I am told, back in the 1960s. I can testify: I used to try very hard to read every SF story that came my way, and there were years I read over 2000 stories. And every year I missed hundreds, at least, and some of those very good.

In a way this is one function of ballots and shortlists (and, indeed, recommendation lists): to try to condense the mass of stories published each year to a manageable set of the “the best.” My Best of the Year anthology every year serves that function (secondarily – the main function is to give readers a great book to read). So does, for instance, the Locus Recommended Reading list. But even there, note that our lists are by no means inclusive. Indeed, I signal that (as do other Best of the Year editors like Gardner Dozois and Ellen Datlow) by including a long list or recommended stories in addition to those in my book. And the Locus list is painstakingly cut from a much longer list of recommendations by all the contributors – a list that highlights the problem I cite, as all of us realize that our fellow recommenders have seen outstanding stories we have missed.

Though, I ask myself, why do I use the word “problem?” Surely it is a feature, not a bug, that there are so many stories published each year that are worthy of our attention? Indeed it is, but a result of that, I feel, is that if we want the Hugos to represent the very best stories of the year, we are failing, in the sense that it’s easier than before for a great story to slip under the radar.

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Rich Horton on The Breaker Queen by C.S.E. Cooney

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Breaker Queen-smallNot so very long ago, I finished all my tasks for the evening and kicked back in my big green chair with the latest issue of Locus, the news magazine of the SF & fantasy field. In Rich Horton’s short fiction column I found a pair of reviews of The Breaker Queen and The Two Paupers, the first two novellas in a new romantic fantasy series from our very own C.S.E. Cooney. Here’s what he said about the first one:

I’m a big fan of of C.S.E. Cooney’s work, so I’m very happy to point to two new, related, stories, available in electronic form from Fairchild Books. The Breaker Queen concerns Eliot Howell, a talented young painter, who has been invited to a party at Breaker House. He feels immediately out of place — the family is very rich and very privileged — and the friend who invited him is being unpleasant, but then he meets one of the maids and is instantly enchanted. For Breaker House exists in three worlds: the world of humans, the world of goblins, and Valwode, where Elliot’s maid Nyx is Queen. Elliot, even when made aware of the price one pays to visit Valwode, follows Nyx into her land, while she, simply desiring a dalliance with a mortal, finds that she may pay a price herself. It’s lovely and romantic, dark and sweet, erotic and thrilling.

The Breaker Queen is Book One of Dark Breakers. The second, The Two Paupers, was published on January 22, 2015. The pub date for the third has not yet been announced — but when it is, we’ll let you know all the details.

C.S.E. Cooney is a podcast reader for Uncanny Magazine; Mark Rigney interviewed her for us in late October. The two C.S.E. Cooney short stories we presented here, “Godmother Lizard” and “Life on the Sun,” consistently rank among the most popular pieces we’ve ever published. She is a past website editor of Black Gate, and the author of How to Flirt in Faerieland and Other Wild Rhymes and Jack o’ the Hills. Her newest collection, Bone Swans, is due out this summer.

The Breaker Queen was published by Fairchild Books on October 13, 2014. It is 80 pages, priced at $2.99 for the digital edition. No word on a print edition yet.

Galaxy, April 1961: A Retro-Review

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

Galaxy April 1961-smallHere’s an issue from Galaxy late in H. L. Gold’s editorial tenure, which probably means that Frederik Pohl was doing most of the editorial work. (Pohl officially took over with the December 1961 issue, but I have read that he was editor in all but name from the late ’50s.)

It’s got a pretty impressive Table of Contents, though it’s a bit disappointing in that the best known writers (Sturgeon and Leiber) are not at their best, and a couple of the other well-known writers (Saberhagen and Lafferty) are early in their careers and not fully developed yet.

It’s also pretty thick, 196 pages including the covers. The feature set is smallish: an editorial by Gold (or at least signed by him) called “Puzzles for Plotters,” which poses a couple of puzzles that (he avers) humans can solve but computers can’t; the brief Forecast squib on what’s coming next issue; Floyd C. Gale’s Five Star Shelf of book reviews, very much capsule reviews – I do note that he liked Peter Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place very much – and Willy Ley’s science column, For Your Information, which covers several subjects: the Gegenschein, the annexation of Patagonia, seven league boots, and letters from readers.

The cover is by Mel Hunter, and it reminded me of Rick Sternbach’s work. It doesn’t illustrate any story, it’s just called “A Derelict in the Void,” and shows a ship investigating a wrecked spaceship. Interiors are by Virgil Finlay, Dick Francis, Jack Gaughan, Harman, and Walker.

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