Mar 232015
Last year Baen Books published an anthology of military fantasy called SHATTERED SHIELDS, edited by Jennifer Brozek and Bryan Thomas Schmidt. I read it and enjoyed most of the stories. This year brings another such anthology from Baen, this time called OPERATION ARCANA and edited by John Joseph Adams. There's some overlap among authors between the two books, but not much. And similarly,
Feb 052015
In this novella published last year, John C. Wright (an author I've been aware of but haven't read until now) harkens back to THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, PETER PAN, and all the other books where British schoolchildren travel to magical lands and have all sorts of exciting adventures. But Wright approaches that subgenre by asking what happened to those brave youngsters in all the
Aug 162014
The green hell that is the Netherlands East Indies in 1859 is a dangerous place—but soldier of fortune Patrick "Blackie" Boyle is a dangerous man. Trapped between Malay fanatics on one side and Dayak headhunters on the other, menaced by sinister sorcery and entranced by a beautiful jungle queen, Blackie will need all his formidable skill as a fighting man to survive!  RED SHADOWS, GREEN HELL
Jul 292014

Unknown 39-03On Saturday, August 9th, at 8 PM, celebrate the 75th anniversary of the publication considered the best fantasy magazine of all time, Street & Smith’s Unknown. Join acclaimed lecturer on the history of pulp magazinesProfessor Tom Krabacher of California State University, Sacramento; commentator Walker Martin, who writes about pulp collecting on Pulpmags and Mystery*File; and Professor Garyn G. Roberts, editor of The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy, as they revisit the magazine’s highlights.

Debuting in February 1939 and publishing a complete novel in each issue, Unknown featured many works now considered classics of the fantasy genre—Anthony Boucher’s “The Compleat Werewolf,” L. Sprague DeCamp’s “Lest Darkness Fall,” L. Ron Hubbard’s “Fear” and “Typewriter in the Sky,” Fritz Leiber’s “Conjure Wife” and the early Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, Norvell W. Page’s Prester John stories “Flame Wind” and “Sons of the Bear-God,” Theodore Sturgeon’s “It,” Jack Williamson’s “Darker Than You Think,” and many others.

Over its 39-issue run, the magazine went through a variety of permutations including the elimination of cover art beginning with the July 1940 number. The magazine would get a new name in  late 1941. Despite the changes, Unknown Worlds would be cancelled following the issue dated October 1943.

Krabacher’s, Martin’s, and Robert’s presentation, “Unknown: The Best in Fantasy Fiction,” accompanied by selected cover art, is yet another reason to make PulpFest your “must-see” convention of 2014!

To learn more about the image used in this post, click on the illustration.

Jul 212014
First of all, I've never been a big fan of role-playing games. I don't have anything at all against them, mind you. I only played once, but I had a good time. However, over the years I've read and enjoyed quite a bit of gaming-related tie-in fiction, and Dan Wells' novella THE BUTCHER OF KHARDOV certainly falls into that category. This is based on a game called Warmachine (I think; I got a
Jul 092014
I've been reading good things about Joe Abercrombie's fantasy novels for several years now, and I've finally read one of them, his latest, HALF A KING, which differs from the others in that it's a YA novel. But more about that later. HALF A KING is the story of Prince Yarvi, son of the King of Gettland, who was born with a disfigured left hand and none of the skills that go with being a king.
Jun 302014
A while back John Hocking suggested that I read Clark Ashton Smith's story "The Charnel God", which originally appeared in the March 1934 issue of WEIRD TALES. Now I have, and I'm becoming more of a CAS fan after never reading much of his work until recently. "The Charnel God" is one of Smith's Zothique stories, set on a far future, decadent Earth where magic has replaced science. The plot
May 242014

Unknown 39-03In the February 1939 Astounding Science-Fiction, John W. Campbell announced, “. . . the second Friday of every month, a new magazine will appear. Unknown will be to fantasy what Astounding has made itself represent to science fiction. It will offer fantasy of a quality so far different from that which has appeared in the past as to change your entire understanding of the term.”

Debuting in February 1939 and publishing a complete novel in each issue, Unknown featured many works now considered classics of the fantasy genre—Anthony Boucher’s “The Compleat Werewolf,” L. Sprague DeCamp’s “Lest Darkness Fall,” L. Ron Hubbard’s “Fear” and “Typewriter in the Sky,” Fritz Leiber’s “Conjure Wife” and the early Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, Norvell W. Page’s Prester John stories “Flame Wind” and “Sons of the Bear-God,” ” Theodore Sturgeon’s “It,” Jack Williamson’s “Darker Than You Think,” and many others.

Over its 39-issue run, the magazine went through a variety of permutations including the elimination of cover art beginning with the July 1940 number. “We’ve made the July cover look very dignified. We’re going to ask your news dealer to display it with magazines of general class—not with the newsprints . . . . It is unique and appeals to adult minds . . . . I feel most would enjoy Unknown if given a chance to try it.” The magazine would be enlarged to letter-size and get a new name in  late 1941 as Street & Smith sought better display space. Despite the changes, the renamed Unknown Worlds would be cancelled following the issue dated October 1943. Although a letter-sized magazine reprint anthology entitled From Unknown Worlds was issued in 1948, no additional issues of the publication considered the best fantasy magazine of all time would appear.

From Unknown Worlds

To learn more about the images used in this post, click on the illustrations. Click here for references consulted for this article.


May 092014

Tam Tam Books ed., English translation
Currently in its 3rd printing
The fantastical world of Boris Vian’s L’Ecume des Jours (1946) -- punnily translated as Foam of the Daze by Mark Harper -- is populated with kitchen mice that act as miniature housekeepers; deadly tools of assassination like the cop-killer and the heart-snatcher; and a mind boggling invention called a pianocktail, a combination robotic bartender and musical instrument that mixes, blends, and delivers potent potables by simply playing a tune on the keyboard. And Vian’s invention is not only limited to bizarre machines and anthropomorphic animals. The writer, also an accomplished musician, composer and friend of 1940s Parisian jazz and literary elite, was a lover of linguistic trickery and wordplay. Translating his many puns and jokes must’ve been a challenge to Harper who does an admirable job trying to capture the playfulness and humor that, as with most foreign language puns, are often untranslatable. For much of its brief but densely filled 220 pages the story is one of Vian’s most exuberant and joyous works.

Foam of the Daze is an unapologetic romance, a surreal fairy tale, and a literary satire all wrapped up in one delightful package. The story, however, is not all hearts and flowers though those two images feature heavily in the story. Vian scales the heights of delirious newfound love and plummets into the depths of despair when a mysterious illness threatens to end the ecstasy of a young couple’s honeymoon.

Wide eyed jazz lover Colin lives a carefree life enjoying cocktails and playing Duke Ellington records with his musician friend Chick who quickly meets and falls in love with the beautiful Alise. Colin is immediately jealous and longs for his own Alise. No sooner does he make his wish then he meets Chloe, as equally wide-eyed and optimistic as he is. It’s no coincidence that she bears the same name as a popular Duke Ellington song. There are no real coincidences at all in Vian’s world. Every action, every word of dialog has a purpose and is interconnected to every object and character in the story.

Boris Vian, circa 1940s
The most remarkable thing about this love story is the way illness is depicted. So often people talk about how their lives fall apart when a loved one is suffering a terminal illness. That is literally what happens to Colin’s world. His house begins to deteriorate, the ceiling crumbles, glass windows and tiles shatter, rooms shrink and doorways become almost inaccessible. All because Chloe has succumbed to an inexplicable malady, a miracle illness. Somehow a water lily has begun to grow around her lungs and heart. It’s not possible to operate and remove the plant without killing her. The only treatment method is to surround her with flowers and plants, tend and care for them so that in their beauty the water lily is shamed into withering and disappearing from Chloe’s body.

Filled with a soundtrack of Ellington’s music, multiple references to New Orleans and Memphis style jazz, and a subplot involving a satirical jibe at Vian’s good friend Jean-Paul Sartre who appears in the book as pop sensation Jean-Sol Partre, author of Vomit and other works of existentialist bestseller-dom, Foam of the Daze is like no other book I have ever read. Practically unclassifiable in the way it absorbs so many genres Vian's novel is bewitching and strange and hysterical and ultimately deeply moving. It’s an assault on the senses and the intellect. Imagine entering a floral shop crammed full of exotic plants and breathing in the mix of heady scents, taking in the wide array of colors and shapes, all while drinking an unnameable, rainbow hued cocktail with an indescribable yet utterly intoxicating flavor. This is what it’s like to read Vian’s novel.

Graphic novel adapted by Benoît Preteseille
His writing can be hilarious as in the sections making fun of collector mania. When Chick is not satisfied with owning Sartre’s books a wily bookseller coerces the musician into buying the writer’s fingerprints and old pants convincing him the items will increase in value as much as the writer’s books. Only a few pages later Vian tugs at our heartstrings in relating Colin’s desperate attempts to become gainfully employed often humiliating himself in the process so that he can earn enough money to keep buying plants and flowers that will help in his wife’s strange treatment plan. Not only do Colin and Chloe and their house suffer as the water lily infiltrates everyone and everything, but Chick and Alise undergo a rift in their relationship that leads to a surprisingly violent climax.

L’Ecume des Jours has been adapted into a movie by French director Michel Gondry and retitled aptly enough Mood Indigo, after the Ellington jazz standard, starring Audrey Tatou and Romain Duris as Chloe and Colin. The movie has already appeared throughout Europe at a variety of film festivals and will be shown at the Music Box Theater here in Chicago Sunday, May 11, 2014 as part of the Chicago Film Critics Film Festival. The movie has been picked up by Drafthouse Films and should appear in a limited release at art house cinemas sometime in the summer and eventually be released on DVD. A paperback tie-in edition is being released in the summer under the movie’s title. Anyone too impatient to wait for that edition can order Foam of the Daze directly from Tam Tam Books or any on-line retailer right now.
 Posted by at 4:00 am
Mar 052014
Paperback 749: Lancer 73-764 (PBO, 1968)

Title: Satan's Child
Author: Peter Saxon
Cover artist: Jeff Jones (Jeffrey Catherine Jones)

Yours for: $15


Best things about this cover:
  • Can't a girl rub her naked bottom on dandelions in peace around here!
  • No need for pepper spray or a handgun when you've got Smoke-jaguar.
  • Is that behelmeted guy out walking his Smoke-jaguar or shape-shifting into a Smoke-jaguar?
  • It's like Rosemary's Baby. Only with more orange. And a Smoke-jaguar.
  • One of my all-time favorite fantasy paperback covers, despite/because of its looniness. Love the orange, love the enigmatic man/jaguar/smoke hybrid, love the not-all-that-worried sunbather.
  • Only just learned that Jeff Jones was (later in life) Jeffrey Catherine Jones (a trans woman). Fascinating story. She died in 2011. Comics Journal obit here.


Best things about this back cover:
  • That is a pretty great use of empty space—like a womb holding the embryonic "Seedling From Hell." 
  • Ooh, terrible vengeance! That's my favorite kind!
  • You're gonna have a hard time finding a greater name in all of literature than "Pricker Gill.

Page 123~
"All of it!" Finlay cried hoarsely. "I wager it all."

Silently his companions met his wager—and threw down their hands. They were identical—and identical to his own.

Finlay's mouth dried and he gave a little groan of despair. "I … I thought I must win."


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