Vultures of the Void by Philip Harbottle

Vultures-of-the-Void

I came across Vultures of the Void: The Legacy by Philip Harbottle by accident. Paul Fraser chided me in an earlier post being too American-centric when talking about science fiction history, so I went looking for more information on British science fiction history. I found a mention of an earlier edition of Vultures of the Void in Mike Ashley’s Transformations: The Story of Science Fiction Magazines From 1950 to 1970 (itself out-of-print.)

Vultures of the Void is a print-on-demand (POD) book, which can be ordered from a number of sources. Here’s how Amazon describes it:

An earlier, very much shorter version of this book was published as VULTURES OF THE VOID in 1992 by Borgo Press, along with a companion bibliographic volume, BRITISH SCIENCE FICTION PAPERBACKS AND MAGAZINES 1949-1956. Now the compiler and editor of those books, Philip Harbottle, here presents the result of his further and ongoing researches into British science fiction publishing history. This greatly expanded version includes entirely new coverage of the generic hardcover titles that briefly and paradoxically flourished alongside the indigenous British paperbacks of the early 1950's, spearheaded by an influx of outstanding American science fiction by such authors as Isaac Asimov, Fredric Brown, Edmond Hamilton, Robert Heinlein, Jack Williamson, and A. E. van Vogt. VULTURES OF THE VOID: THE LEGACY also deals in fascinating detail with related shaping events both before and after the notorious postwar 'mushroom' decade. In particular, it describes how many of the original founders of the pre-war British Interplanetary Society - including fledgling young science fiction writers such as Arthur C. Clarke and Eric Frank Russell - were to become giants and shapers of their field after the war. And how pioneer editors such as Walter Gillings and John Carnell struggled against overwhelming odds to establish British science fiction magazines both before and after the Second World War. In this new book, Harbottle also reveals the astonishing latter-day legacy of the turbulent postwar decade for himself and some of the most prolific authors such as John Russell Fearn, E. C. Tubb, and others, whose work he has been instrumental in returning to print.

The book is almost four hundred pages of fairly small print spiced with black-and-white photos of covers from old British science fiction books, paperbacks, and magazines. While flipping through it I realized Paul was right, I do have an American-centric view of science fiction. Vultures of the Void shows an alternate history of science fiction that I know little about.

This is an obscure book, not because it’s unavailable, but because so little is written about it. There are only three reviews at Goodreads. I was able to find one review by science fiction writer  David Redd.

If you collect old science fiction magazines and books, you might want to buy this one.

James Wallace Harris

Before there was Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, before there was Blogs, Forums, and Listserv, there was the Fanzine!

The Science Fiction Fanzine Reader

I’m not sure people who grew up after the internet can comprehend living before the computer era. They are used to instant communication with anyone around the world. They are used to finding their peeps in a Facebook group just by typing in a search phrase or battling tempests in a teacup with digital acquaintances they’ve never met on Twitter. The internet lets everyone easily locate like-minded members of their subculture or the foes of their philosophy. Anyone can have a world-wide distribution of their writing. But in the days before networked computers, most people only knew other people from meeting face-to-face. Writing letters were about the extent of distant communication, and generally, they were to Mom and Dad when you were at camp.

However, Amazing Stories in the 1920s inspired science fiction fans to communicate with other unmet fans through the letter columns, which led them to invent their own magazines, the fanzine. That allowed SF fans to express themselves and find other fans to share and argue over the mighty topic of science fiction. Instead of HTML, they used letterpresses, ditto machines, and the mighty Gestetner mimeograph to publish text and graphics.

Luis Ortiz has just come out with a new anthology of fanzine essays and artwork called The Science Fiction Fanzine Reader: Focal Points 1930-1960. He ties 400 pages of reprints with commentary and history. Sure this is a big book about a tiny subculture. Only 200 people attended the first Worldcon in New York City in 1939. Most science fiction fans lived in isolation, hungry for contact with their fellow fen.

In my recent essay about Hugo award-winning fanzines, I provided links to sites where you can read these classic zines. What Ortiz has done is give those archives a coherent overview and history. I don’t think many people will be buying this $30 book. The old science fiction fandom is dying out. It’s been completely overshadowed by social media. But I want to let those who remember to know that it exists. And maybe let those who don’t remember a chance to see how the ideology of science fiction was spread before the world knew the term science fiction.

I joined Spectator Amateur Press Society (SAPS) in 1971 and my cousin-in-law let me use his church’s Gestetner to run off my first zine called The Blue Bomber (named after my car). SAPS was an amateur press association (APA) where I shared my zine with 36 other people around the world. In 1974, Greg Bridges and Dennis McHaney and I purchased a Gestetner together. I helped Greg publish a genzine called Diversity for our local science fiction club, but we traded it for other zines in other states, and I think England, Canada, and Australia. Dennis published a zine devoted to Robert E. Howard. I used our mimeograph for publishing my SAPS and SFPA zines.

Communicating with distant people I’ve never met in the 1970s via zines prepared me for the BBS boom in the 1980s. I joined Prodigy, AOL, Genie. I had a 2-line BBS system to discuss science fiction. When I got access to the internet in 1987 I contacted other SF fans via email, forums, mailing lists, and USENET. I created the first version of The Classics of Science Fiction for a fanzine Lan’s Lantern. I reprinted it on a gopher server in the early 1990s, and right after the web was created I set up the first web version. This site is version 4.

I feel all of this communicating across the planet was a natural progression from publishing my first fanzine.

James Wallace Harris, March 27, 2019

 

The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of the Year’s Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois

The-Very-Best-of-the-Best-edited-by-Gardner-Dozois

Yesterday Santa Claus came to visit me in February. Since 2002 when I joined Audible.com, I’ve wished for an audiobook edition of one of Gardner Dozois giant Year’s Best Science Fiction annuals. Sadly, Dozois died last May and none of the 35 volumes were ever produced on audio. But before he died, he created The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of the Year’s Best Science Fiction and it’s out in hardcover, ebook and audiobook editions.

Unfortunately, the subtitle to this volume is flat out wrong. It only collects the best stories from 2002-2017, but that’s because Dozois had already published The Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Year’s Best Science Fiction back in 2005 and The Best of the Best Volume 2: 20 Years of the Best Short Science Fiction Novels in 2007. I had hoped this new volume would have been Dozois legacy collection reflecting the full 35 years. But be that as it may, it’s still a giant collection of great science fiction and over 39 hours of science fiction short stories on audio, which is something I love. Vivienne Leheny and Will Damron do a fantastic job of narrating these stories, and my new wish is for someone to hire them to create audiobook editions of the earlier volumes.

Last year the three volumes of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame came out on audio. That means I can listen to some of the most remembered science fiction short stories from 1926-1964. This is why I had hoped this new audiobook would have given me the best short science fiction from 1984-2017 to listen to, but that hasn’t happened. I’m not complaining. This new book is great in both quality and quantity, and I’m quite appreciative of all the wonderful stories I’m getting to hear for the first time. I’m just greedy and want more. I want audiobook publishers to produce more anthologies of great short science fiction, and I’m now particularly anxious to hear the best short fiction from 1965-2001.

And, there’s even another problem for me, other readers, editors, and publishers. No one reader, no matter how experienced, can identify all the best stories for all readers. Tastes just vary too much. If you look at our Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories by Year list, which has the citations listed for each story, you can see which stories Gardner picked as his favorite, and which ones he didn’t. Or if you use our CSF Query program to look at stories for 2002-2017 you’ll see only one story Gardner picked for The Very Best of the Best on our list.

The 38 stories from The Very Best of the Best covering 2002-2017 with links to my reviews are:

  • The Potter of Bones by Eleanor Arnason
  • Rogue Farm by Charles Stross
  • The Little Goddess by Ian McDonald
  • Dead Men Walking by Paul McAuley
  • Tin Marsh by Michael Swanwick
  • Good Mountain by Robert Reed
  • Where the Golden Apples Grow by Kage Baker
  • The Sledge-Maker’s Daughter by Alastair Reynolds
  • Glory by Greg Egan
  • Finisterra by David Moles
  • The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm by Daryl Gregory
  • Utrinsque Cosmi by Robert Charles Wilson
  • Events Preceding the Helvetican Renaissance by John Kessel
  • Useless Things by Maureen McHugh
  • Mongoose by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette
  • Hair by Adam Roberts
  • The Things by Peter Watts
  • The Emperor of Mars by Allen M. Steele
  • Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain by Yoon Ha Lee
  • Martian Heart by John Barnes
  • The Invasion of Venus by Stephen Baxter
  • Weep For Day by Indrapramit Das
  • The Girl-Thing Who Went Out For Sushi by Pat Cadigan
  • The Memcordist by Lavie Tidhar
  • The Best We Can by Carrie Vaughn
  • The Discovered Country by Ian R. MacLeod
  • Pathways by Nancy Kress
  • The Hand Is Quicker… by Elizabeth Bear
  • Someday by James Patrick Kelly
  • The Long Haul, From the Annals of Transportation, The Pacific Monthly, May 2009 by Ken Liu
  • Three Cups of Grief, By Starlight by Aliette De Bodard
  • Calved by Sam J. Miller
  • Emergence by Gwyneth Jones
  • Rates of Change by James S.A. Corey
  • Jonas and the Fox by Rich Larson
  • KIT: Some Assembly Required by Kathe Koja and Carter Scholz
  • Winter Timeshare by Ray Nayler
  • My English Name by R.S. Benedict

Our meta-list system recognized 37 stories from the same period:

  • Breathmoss by Ian R. MacLeod
  • The Cookie Monster by Vernor Vinge
  • The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford
  • The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker
  • Singing My Sister Down by Margo Lanagan
  • The People of Sand and Slag by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • The Voluntary State by Christopher Rowe
  • Little Faces by Vonda N. McIntyre
  • Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
  • The Calorie Man by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • The Little Goddess by Ian McDonald
  • The House Beyond Your Sky by Benjamin Rosenbaum
  • Yellow Card Man by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate by Ted Chiang
  • 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss by Kij Johnson
  • Exhalation by Ted Chiang
  • The Gambler by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • The Ray-Gun: A Love Story by James Alan Gardner
  • Eros, Philia, Agape by Rachel Swirsky
  • Spar by Kij Johnson
  • The Island by Peter Watts
  • The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window by Rachel Swirsky
  • The Sultan of the Clouds by Geoffrey A. Landis
  • The Things by Peter Watts
  • Under the Moons of Venus by Damien Broderick
  • The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson
  • The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
  • Close Encounters by Andy Duncan
  • Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan by Ian McDonald
  • The Game of Smash and Recovery by Kelly Link
  • Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar
  • The Visitor from Taured by Ian R. MacLeod
  • Things with Beards by Sam J. Miller
  • Touring with the Alien by Carolyn Ives Gilman
  • A Series of Steaks by Vina Jie-Min Prasad
  • The Martian Obelisk by Linda Nagata
  • The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer

Practically no overlap. Why? If The Very Best of the Best is actually what it says it is, why don’t we see more overlap with the stories our system identified by means of tracking popularity? An easy answer is there’s a lot of great SF short stories, more than enough for every editor to pick different favorites. But what if there are other motives besides claimed quality that go into selecting a story for a best-of anthology?

For example, the first story in The Very Best of the Best is “The Potter of Bones” by Eleanor Arnason. It’s a beautiful tale that was nominated for a Nebula but has only been reprinted in anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois or Arnason’s own collection. I don’t know if Gardner intentionally selected stories that hadn’t been reprinted often, or if Gardner has a very unique taste in science fiction. My guess, it’s a little of both. An honest title for this collection might be Gardner Dozois’ Favorite Science Fiction from 2002-2017 That He Believes Deserves More Attention.

On the other hand, the second story “Rogue Farm” by Charles Stross, has been included in at least seven anthologies. That seems to disqualify my theory, but I’m not sure.

A troublesome paradigm shift is going on in publishing short science fiction right now. The short stories that get the most attention, especially for awards, are those that are published online where people can read them for free. And it’s becoming more common for online publishers to include both a text and an audio edition. Free online stories compete for readers with stories that are published in magazines or original anthologies behind another kind of paywall. The old print magazines, Analog, Asimov’s and F&SF have dwindling readerships. The prestige of getting published used to be seeing your work in print. But I wonder if short story writers now prefer online publications because they get more readers.

I could speculate endlessly about what are the best SF short stories or how they are identified by editors and discovered by readers, but the bottom line is I’m very happy with The Very Best of the Best. I hope thousands of SF fans buy and listen to it because that should encourage audiobook publishers to produce more SF anthologies on audio. But if you don’t like audiobooks, there are print and ebook editions.

Finally, there are two tributes to Gardner by Robert Silverberg and James Patrick Kelly that I want to recommend. They just appeared in the new issues of Asimov’s Science Fiction but are available to read online. I got to study with Gardner when he spent a week as our resident instructor for the Clarion West workshop I took in 2002. He was a man I will remember and I’ll always be grateful for his encouragement and writing lessons.

James Wallace Harris, February 27, 2019

The Winston Science Fiction Series

 

Winston-Science-Fiction-series

There are pleasures of the past you can buy — if you’re willing to pay the price. For some bookworms who got hooked on science fiction in the 1950s and 1960s, the Winston Science Fiction series aimed at children trigger an intense sense of nostalgia. However, I don’t believe it was the words in those 37 volumes that are burned into our memories, but the cover and endpaper art. Finding one of these stories reprinted without the art doesn’t set off those same intense emotions about the past, at least for me. I often wonder if nostalgia isn’t predominantly a visual thing. I’m in a number of Facebook groups where people are crazy about posting images of the past.

I never owned any of the Winston books as a kid, but got them from my school library, the Miami-Dade County Public Library, or from the Homestead Air Force Base library in the mid-1960s. There were three kinds of science fiction novels aimed at children that I remember from back then. The twelve Heinlein juveniles from Scribners, books by Andre Norton, and the Winston Science Fiction series. When I got my first job I ordered all the Heinlein books in hardback from the publisher. I wish I had ordered the Winston books at the time too. Those Winston books today in VG to Fine condition run hundreds of dollars each if they have the original dust jackets.

Mists of Dawn by Chad Oliver Another important visual bond with these books was the endpaper art that was part of most of the first editions by Alex Schomburg. In fact, this artwork can set off a flurry of comments on the Facebook groups Space Opera Pulp and Science Fiction Book Club. It seems to capture the essence of 1950s science fiction. And it’s a shame that all hardback books don’t all have endpaper art. The Heinlein juveniles did have beautiful endpapers, but just a star pattern, not like the sense-of-wonder artwork below.

Winston_Endpaper For many years I’d keep an eye out for the Winston Science Fiction books when I shopped at used bookstores. I never saw any. I eventually assume they were all owned by collectors. A few years ago my friend Mike found The Ant Men by Eric North at a library book sale in good condition but without a dust jacket. I was envious of him for his luck. We then found WinstonSciFi that sells reproductions of the dust jackets at very reasonable prices. Now his copy of The Ant Men looks like this one:

The Ant Men by Eric North

The other day Mike and I were shopping at a used bookstore and found a Dover reprint of The Ant Men by Eric North. It had a stylised version of the cover that was okay, but what really shouted at me to buy the book was the original Schomburg endpaper art. I didn’t buy it because the book’s cover looked wrong. I’m still tempted to go back to get it because of the endpaper art.

Last year I discovered that many titles in the Winston Science Fiction series were being sold on Amazon as ebook and trade paperback reprints and they used the original cover art (but not the endpaper art). I ordered one just to check it out, Rockets to Nowhere by Lester del Rey. The publisher of these reprints is Dan Thompson of Thunderchild Publishing from Huntsville, Alabama. He also offers a reprint of The Ant Men with the original cover. You can read about how Dan got into reprinting vintage science fiction here. Like me, Dan also read the Heinlein and Andre Norton books growing up. He discovered that most of the Winston books were out-of-print and thought that was a shame, so he got into the publishing business. A few were in the public domain, but for most, he had to track down the copyright holders to arrange contracts for reprinting. He’s been able to reprint many but not all of the series in both ebook and trade paper editions.

Even though I’d love to own a mint condition original copy of Rockets to Nowhere, having Dan’s trade paperback reprint visually fulfills my nostalgic needs.

Rockets-to-Nowhere---both-editions

Of course, I would prefer to own the 1st-edition, but I don’t want to spend $200. $7.99 is a great compromise between my eyes and my bank account.

If you’d like to see what the other covers look like for the entire series, check out Worlds Without End. Publication history and other details can be found at ISFDB.org.

The-Year-When-Stardust-FellSome of these books have never been reprinted, and for some, Thunderchild is the first publisher since Winston to publish them. Which makes me wonder just how good are these stories? I decided to give one a read, but the one I picked wasn’t from Thunderchild. I’ve been wanting to read some Raymond F. Jones, but I now prefer to listen to books. The Year When Stardust Fell was the first one I could find on audio. I got it for $2.99 at Audible.com because I bought the 99 cent ebook edition at Amazon. Thunderchild also sells an ebook and trade paper of this title, and I might get it too because of the cover.

These stories were aimed at children, sometimes even targeted to elementary school kids, but mostly to junior and senior high. I found this story far more adult than I remembered. I don’t think I read The Year When Stardust Fell as a kid, but I had a couple of Deja vu experiences while listening to it. The story is about when Earth passes through a comet’s tail and its dust affects metals, so eventually, all machinery breaks down. Civilization slowly collapses. The story is told from the point of view of Ken Maddox who lives in Mayfield in an unspecified state. Ken’s father is a chemistry professor at a local university. Because of Mayfield being isolated, it’s citizens are able to survive with rationing while in larger cities millions die. As the story progresses the people of Mayfield must learn to live with less and less, and even deal with the moral problem of lifeboat ethics.

Ken and his science club buddies run a ham radio rig that stays in touch with other research sites who are trying to solve the problem of the dust affecting metals. Ken and his buddies also help his father in the lab. This allows the story to emphasize the workings of science. I found the tale thoroughly engaging. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either. To me, it holds up well with other 1950s science fiction stories. In fact, I was always anxious to get back to the story. But then, after-the-collapse stories are among my favorite kind of science fiction story.

Winston-Science-Fiction-at-eBay

To be honest, I can’t remember any of the details from the books I think I read. Of course, I read these stories 55 years ago. I’ll have to read several more to see if I think the series deserves to be remembered for its fiction. What I’m discovering is I want these books because of their physical artistic appeal that trigger my nostalgia. I saw a group of 8 of them on sale at eBay today for $300. The idea of holding those old books again is very tempting, even though $300 could probably get me “reading copies” of the entire series if I shopped carefully. A reading copy in used book terminology meaning its beat to hell but you can still read it. I could get most of them as ebooks for less than $100, and all of Thunderchild trade paper editions for under $300.

Dan says these books aren’t big sellers. It’s probably hard to market books for kids in the 1950s to kids or nostalgic adults in the 2010s. I wonder what will happen to these stories when the baby boomers all die off. I doubt any of them will ever be considered classics of the genre. It’s a shame that Thunderchild doesn’t have the right to publish the entire series again as one uniform set so they might have collector appeal.

Here the complete list of titles with cover artists. My favorites tend to be the ones with Alex Schomburg cover paintings. Links are to Thunderbird trade editions at Amazon.

  1. EarthboundMilton Lesser, cover by Peter Poulton (1952)
  2. Find the Feathered Serpent, Evan Hunter, cover Henry Sharp (1952)
  3. Five Against Venus, Philip Latham (Robert S. Richardson), cover Virgil Finlay (1952)
  4. Islands in the Sky, Arthur C. Clarke, cover Alex Schomburg (1952)
  5. Marooned on Mars, Lester del Rey, cover Paul Orban (1952)
  6. Mists of Dawn, Chad Oliver, cover Alex Schomburg (1952)
  7. Rocket Jockey, Philip St. John (Lester del Rey), cover Alex Schomburg (1952)
  8. Son of the Stars, Raymond F. Jones, cover Alex Schomburg (1952)
  9. Sons of the Ocean Deeps, Bryce Walton, cover Paul Orban (1952)
  10. Vault of the Ages, Poul Anderson, cover Paul Orban (1952)
  11. Attack from Atlantis, Lester del Rey, cover Kenneth S. Fagg (1953)
  12. Battle on Mercury, Erik Van Lhin (Lester del Rey), cover Kenneth S. Fagg (1953)
  13. Danger: Dinosaurs!, Richard Marsten (Evan Hunter), cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
  14. Missing Men of Saturn, Philip Latham, cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
  15. The Mysterious Planet, Kenneth Wright (Lester del Rey), cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
  16. Mystery of the Third Mine, Robert W. Lowndes, cover Kenneth S. Fagg (1953)
  17. Planet of Light, Raymond F. Jones, cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
  18. Rocket to Luna, Richard Marsten (Evan Hunter), cover by Alex Schomburg (1953)
  19. The Star Seekers, Milton Lesser, cover Paul Calle (1953)
  20. Vandals of the Void, Jack Vance, cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
  21. Rockets to Nowhere, Philip St. John (Lester Del Rey), cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
  22. The Secret of Saturn’s Rings, Donald A. Wollheim, cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
  23. Step to the Stars, Lester del Rey, cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
  24. Trouble on Titan, Alan E. Nourse, cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
  25. The World at Bay, Paul Capon, cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
  26. The Year After Tomorrow, eds. Lester del Rey, Cecile Matschat, and Carl Carmer cover and interior illus. Mel Hunter (1954) – an anthology of nine short stories
  27. The Ant Men, Eric North, cover Paul Blaisdell (1955)
  28. The Secret of the Martian Moons, Donald A. Wollheim, cover Alex Schomburg (1955)
  29. The Lost Planet, Paul Dallas, cover Alex Schomburg (1956)
  30. Mission to the Moon, Lester del Rey, cover Alex Schomburg (1956)
  31. Rockets Through Space, Lester del Rey, cover and interior illus. James Heugh (1957) – Special Companion Book (nonfiction)
  32. The Year When Stardust Fell, Raymond F. Jones, cover James Heugh (1958)
  33. The Secret of the Ninth Planet, Donald A. Wollheim, cover James Heugh (1959)
  34. The Star Conquerors, Ben Bova, cover Mel Hunter (1959)
  35. Stadium Beyond the Stars, Milton Lesser, cover Mel Hunter (1960)
  36. Moon of Mutiny, Lester del Rey, cover Ed Emshwiller (1961)
  37. Spacemen, Go Home, Milton Lesser, cover Ed Emshwiller (1961)

JWH

Best of the Best Science Fiction 2018

 

Best 3 SF novels 2018

Wonder what great science fiction book you might have missed reading this year? Want to get ready to nominate books for the Hugo Awards next year?

I’m going to aggregate several Best-of-the-Year-2018 lists covering science fiction to see which books were mentioned the most often. Here are the lists I’m using:

Here are the results ordered by the number of lists they were on.

5 – Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller (B&N, BestSF, Chicago, Vulture, WP) *
4 – Severance by Ling Ma (B&N, Chicago, Goodreads, Vulture) *
4 – The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal (B&N,  BestSF, Chicago, Goodreads)
3 – Rosewater by Tade Thompson (B&N, Chicago, Goodreads) *
3 – Semiosis by Sue Burke (BestSF, Chicago, Vulture) *
3 – Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente (B&N, BestSF, Goodreads) *
3 – The Book of M by Peng Shepherd (B&N, BestSF, Chicago) *
3 – The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang (B&N, Vulture, WP) *
2 – Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor (BestSF, Goodreads) *
2 – Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell (B&N, BestSF)
2 – Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio (B&N, BestSF)
2 – Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett (B&N, Vulture)
2 – Head On by John Scalzi (BestSF, Goodreads)
2 – Iron Gold by Pierce Brown (BestSF, Goodreads) *
2 – Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport (BestSF, Vulture) *
2 – Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee (BestSF, Goodreads) *
2 – Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft (B&N, WP) *
2 – Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (B&N, Vulture) *
2 – State Tectonics by Malka Older (Chicago, BestSF) *
2 – Temper by Nicky Drayden (B&N, Vulture) *
2 – The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander (B&N, BestSF)
2 – The Oracle Year by Charles Soule (BestSF, Goodreads) *
2 – Vengeful by V. E. Schwab (B&N, Goodreads) *

* – Titles at Scribd.com

I’ve only read one title off this list, Semiosis by Sue Burke – it was quite impressive. That experience inspires me to try more of these titles.

James Wallace Harris, December 15, 2018

In Praise of Mediocre Science Fiction

IF Magazine May 1954

The word “mediocre” usually presents a negative connotation. But the word can mean ordinary, average, middle-of-the-road which if you think about it, is true for most things in our lives. Not everything in life can be exceptional. Statistically, most aspects must be run-of-mill common. We don’t like to believe this, but most of us lead mediocre lives. We wish our time on Earth could be as important as a classic novel, but we’re goddamn lucky if we can say we’ve had a good average life.

This essay was originally going to be called “Favorite Science Fiction Stories Volumes 1-10 Table of Contents.” I love Audible.com, but it often annoys me by selling anthologies without listing their individual entries. I recently stumbled upon this series and thought I’d provide a public service by listing the contents of all ten volumes. I was hesitant to even try these audiobooks because the so few stories I saw listed were famous.

I couldn’t find much about the publisher, Jimcin. It’s web page merely states its products are for sale at Audible.com, although these anthologies are also listed at Amazon and iTunes. They appear to be collections of out-of-copyright stories, which means they are older than the 1920’s or the authors or author’s heirs never bothered to renew the original copyright. In other words, they might be the dregs of the genre. The ten volumes do contain a few big-name-authors, and a handful of classic science fiction stories like “The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster, “The Martian Odyssey” by Stanley G. Weinbaum, and “Scanners Live in Vain” by Cordwainer Smith. Those three stories also appear in the legendary Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology series which came out in audio this past year. But for the most part, these stories were the common, run-of-the-mill stories that filled the science fiction digests in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

There’s a certain fun quality to science fiction that doesn’t require literary greatness. In the middle of last century, hack writers churned out Sci-Fi tales to survive. Many of them could hammer out a story in a few days that could both excite geeky fans and pay the rent. All they had to do was come up with an idea that 12-year-old know-it-alls had never encountered. Hardcore science fiction lovers thought of themselves as Slans but often blowing their minds only took one hit on the science fiction bong.

I avoided buying these Jimcin anthologies for years because I thought they’d be crappy, but then four volumes went on sale and I took a chance. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Yes, they are mediocre, but they also have a unique entertainment quality. Just my kind of fun. If you love episodes of the old Twilight Zone TV series, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy these stories too.

I crave science fiction short stories on audio. Somehow, short stories come alive for me when I listen, especially when they’re read by a narrator who adds dramatic voices. Oh, I still love to read, but I admit I’m a poor reader compared to these hired guns. It’s the narrators who add the extra dimension. And these ten volumes are a time capsule of what it’s like to have been a kid back in the 1950’s and 1960’s who loved science fiction.

My goal here is to promote more audio productions of short science fiction. I need to get more people buying audiobook science fiction anthologies so publishers will feel the demand and publish more of them. Most of you will not rush out and buy one of these Favorite Science Fiction Stories anthologies, especially after I called them mediocre, but I wanted to be as honest as possible.

I’m going to list the table of contents to all ten volumes and provide links to some of the stories I’ve found on YouTube, so you can hear what I’m talking about. These are public domain stories you can find online for free, especially at places like Project Gutenberg and YouTube. I don’t think the audio versions below are the same as the ones in the anthologies, but I’ve only tested a handful of stories. I’m not trying to ruin Jimcin’s sales but promote them. It’s far more convenient to listen to them on your smartphone than to listen to them on YouTube. But try a few to see why you should buy a whole anthology.

There are many public domain science fiction stories in audio available on the web. Often, they are from LibriVox, which use volunteer readers. LibriVox readers are good and provide a great public service, but they don’t usually provide the kind of dramatic narration I’m talking about. The stories I link to below have at least a basic level of professionalism, and some of them are excellent. I don’t know if these recordings are from copyrighted productions or if they’re productions by would-be audiobook narrators hoping to prove they can be professional.

My goal is to promote audio productions of short science fiction by expanding the audience. I want to see more anthologies of older science fiction for sale. Try some of these audio short stories to see if you get hooked, and if you do, then try one of the anthologies. 1 credit or $7-$10 is not that much for 15-20 hours of entertainment.

If you want to know more about audio science fiction, check out SFFAudio.com. They track and review both print and audio productions of public domain genre stories, as well as review professional productions of new and old stories.

I’ve bought 5 of the 10 volumes so far – see *. I’m getting a big kick out of listening to these stories. Yes, they are mediocre, but they capture a certain science fictional flavor from mid-20th-century. Be sure and read “The History of Science Fiction, and Why it Matters” by Allen Steele in the Nov-Dec 2018 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction which just came out. Steele wonderfully explains why it’s important to read old science fiction.

Prices listed are from Amazon. Audible members might get a discount. These Favorite Sci-Fi Stories have been around for a decade, but I don’t know if they get much attention. These anthologies are not listed in ISFDB.org as far as I can tell. I wish they were. I’ve published this list of contents because I had a hard time finding this information.

Favorite Science Fiction Stories

Volume 1 (2009)* – $10.95

  1. The Gifts of Asti“ by Andre Norton
  2. The Defenders” by Philip K. Dick
  3. “Earthmen Bearing Gifts” by Fredric Brown
  4. A Martian Odyssey” by Stanley G. Weinbaum
  5. This is Klon Calling” by Walter Sheldon
  6. Security” by Poul Anderson
  7. “The Perfectionists” by Arnold Castle
  8. “The Day Time Stopped Moving” by Bradner Buckner
  9. Image of the Gods” by Alan E. Nourse
  10. “Time and Time Again” by H. Beam Piper
  11. “The World Called Crimson” by Darius John Granger
  12. “Postmark Ganymede” by Robert Silverberg
  13. The Stars, My Brothers” by Edmond Hamilton
  14. 2 B R 0 2 B” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  15. “Belly Laugh” by Ivar Jorgensen
  16. Year of the Big Thaw” by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  17. The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster
  18. “Pandemic” by J. F. Bone
  19. Bread Overhead” by Fritz Leiber
  20. “The Day of the Boomer Dukes” by Frederik Pohl
  21. Beyond Lies the Wub” by Philip K. Dick

Volume 2 (2010) – $10.95

  1. The Coffin Cure” by Alan Edward Nourse
  2. Cat and Mouse” by Ralph Williams
  3. The Blue Tower” by Evelyn E. Smith
  4. The Gift Bearer” by Charles Fontenay
  5. “History Repeats” by George Oliver Smith
  6. The Altar at Midnight” by C. M. Kornbluth
  7. Hall of Mirrors” by Fredric Brown
  8. The Answer” by H. Beam Piper
  9. “The Calm Man” by Frank Belknap Long
  10. The Next Logical Step” by Ben Bova
  11. Operation Haystack” by Frank Herbert
  12. Foundling on Venus” by John and Dorothy DeCourcy
  13. The Repairman” by Harry Harrison
  14. The Beast of Space” by F. E. Hardart
  15. The Big Trip Up Yonder” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  16. Where There’s Hope” by Jerome Bixby
  17. The Success Machine” by Henry Slesar
  18. Pythias” by Poul Anderson
  19. Two Plus Two Makes Crazy” by Walt Sheldon
  20. “Alien Offer” by Al Sevcik
  21. All Cats Are Gray” by Andre Norton
  22. Zen” by Jerome Bixby
  23. “The Unspecialist” by Murray Yaco
  24. The Sargasso of Space” by Edmond Hamilton
  25. “Flamedown” by H. B. Fyfe
  26. “Grove of the Unborn” by Lyn Vanable
  27. What Is He Doing in There?” by Fritz Leiber
  28. “The 4D Doodler” by Grapy Waldyte
  29. “Bad Medicine” by Robert Sheckley
  30. Dead Ringer” by Lester del Rey
  31. I’ll Kill You Tomorrow” by Helen Hubert

Volume 3 (2011) – $10.95

  1. “The Missing Link” by Frank Herbert
  2. Arm of the Law” by Harry Harrison
  3. No Moving Parts” by Murray F. Yaco
  4. The Hills of Home” by Alfred Coppell
  5. The Measure of a Man” by Gordon Randall Garrett
  6. The Hated” by Frederick Pohl
  7. “Salvage in Space” by Jack Williamson
  8. The Burning Bridge” by Poul Anderson
  9. The Crystal Crypt” by Philip K. Dick
  10. The Hour of Battle” by Robert Sheckley
  11. The Mathematicians” by Arthur Feldman
  12. “Crossroads of Destiny” by H. Beam Piper
  13. Homesick” by Lynn Venable
  14. “The Eyes Have it” by James McKimmey, Jr.
  15. “They Twinkled Like Jewels” by Philip Jose Farmer
  16. Old Rambling House” by Frank Herbert
  17. Youth” by Isaac Asimov
  18. “Navy Day” by Harry Harrison
  19. “Service with a Smile” by Charles Louis Fontenay
  20. “The Cosmic Express” by John Stewart Williamson
  21. The Moon is Green” by Fritz Leiber
  22. “Stopover Planet” by Robert E. Gilbert
  23. “Watchbird” by Robert Sheckley
  24. “Probability” by Louis Trimble
  25. “The Doorway” by Evelyn E. Smith
  26. The Stroke of the Sun” by Arthur C. Clarke
  27. The Velvet Glove” by Harry Harrison
  28. “The House from Nowhere” by Arthur Stangland
  29. The Tunnel Under the World” – Frederik Pohl

Volume 4 (2012) – $10.95

  1. Arena” by Fredric Brown
  2. “Mate in Two Moves” by Winston Marks
  3. Love Story” by Irving E. Cox
  4. “The Golden Man” by Philip K. Dick
  5. Advanced Chemistry” by Jack G. Huekels
  6. The Dueling Machine” by Ben Bova
  7. Time Enough at Last” by Lyn Venable
  8. “Sorry, Wrong Dimension” by Ross Rocklynne
  9. Duel on Syrtis” by Poul Anderson
  10. “The Gostak and the Doshes” by Miles J. Breuer
  11. Keep Your Shape” by Robert Sheckley
  12. “Home Is Where You Left It” by Stephen Marlowe
  13. “Planet of Dreams” by James McKimmer, Jr.
  14. Blessed Are the Meek” by G. C. Edmonson
  15. Incident on Route 12” by James Schmitz
  16. The Invader” by Alfred Coppel
  17. “Monkey on His Back” by Charles DeVet
  18. “Robots of the World Arise” by Mari Wolf
  19. A Woman’s Place” by Mark Clifton
  20. The K-Factor” by Harry Harrison
  21. The Hanging Stranger” by Philip K. Dick.

Volume 5 (2012)* – $6.95

  1. The Skull” by Phlip K. Dick
  2. Sam, This Is You” by Murray Leinster
  3. “Manners of the Age” by Horace Brown Fyfe
  4. Omnilingual” by H. Beam Piper
  5. “Heist Job on Theiser” by Gordan Randall Jarrett
  6. The Yillian Way” by Keith Laumer
  7. “The Ultimate Vice” by A. Bertram Chandler
  8. “Backlash” by Winston Marks
  9. “Adolescents Only” by Irving Cox
  10. Project Mastodon” by Clifford Simak
  11. “Sargasso of Lost Starships” by Poul Anderson
  12. The Dictator” by Milton Lesser
  13. The Misplaced Battleship” by Harry Harrison
  14. A Pail of Air” by Fritz Leiber
  15. “The Vilbar Party” by Evelyn E. Smith
  16. “The Servant Problem” by Robert F. Young

Volume 6 (2012)* – $6.95

  1. Perchance to Dream” by Richard Stockham
  2. “Father Image” by Robert Silverberg
  3. Tree, Spare That Woodman” by Dave Dryfoos
  4. “Disaster Revisited” by Darius John Granger
  5. Subversive” by Mack Reynolds
  6. “The Stutterer” by R. R. Merliss
  7. Infinite Intruder” by Alan E. Nourse
  8. “A Bottle of Old Wine” by Richard O. Lewis
  9. “B12’s Moon Glow” by Charles A. Sterns
  10. “A Logic Named Joe” by Murray Leinster
  11. No Strings Attached” by Lester del Rey
  12. The Street That Wasn’t There” by Clifford D. Simak
  13. “Regeneration” by Charley Dye
  14. “Wheels Within” by Charles V. Devett
  15. “The Lonely Ones”, by Edward W. Ludwig
  16. “The God in the Box” by Sewell Peaslee Wright
  17. “Scanners Live in Vain” by Cordwainer Smith
  18. “New Hire” by Dave Dryfoos
  19. “The Enormous Room” by H.L.Gold and Robert Kreps
  20. Turnover Point” by Alfred Coppel
  21. “Breeder Reaction” by Winston Marks

Volume 7 (2013)* – $5.95

  1. “The Ties That Bind” by Walter Miller, Jr.
  2. Toy Shop” by Harry Harrison
  3. Beyond the Walls of Sleep” by H. P. Lovecraft
  4. Victory” by Lester del Rey
  5. Accidental Death” by Peter Bailey
  6. The Color Out of Space” by H. P. Lovecraft
  7. “Cully” by Jack Eagan
  8. “The Statue” by Mari Wolf
  9. “Police Operation” by H. Beam Piper
  10. “See” by Edward G. Robles, Jr.
  11. “Thing of Beauty” by Damon Knight
  12. “A Scientist Rises” by Desmond Hall
  13. “The Small World of M-75” by Ed M. Clinton, Jr.
  14. “Two-Face” by Frank Belknap Long
  15. “Creature from Cleveland Depths” by Fritz Leiber

Volume 8 (2014)* – $6.95

  1. “The Last Days of Earth” by George C. Wallace
  2. “Contamination Crew” by Alan E. Nourse
  3. “The Memory of Mars” by Raymond F. Jones
  4. “A Traveler in Time” by August Derleth
  5. “The Colonists” by Raymond F. Jones
  6. “Doubletake” by Richard Wilson
  7. “Stamped Caution” by Raymond Z. Gallon
  8. “Success Story” by Robert Turner
  9. “Disqualified” by Charles L. Fauntenay
  10. “Say Hello for Me” by Frank W. Coggins
  11. “Witch of the Demon Seas” by Poul Anderson
  12. “The Last Two Alive” by Alfred Coppell
  13. “The Old Die Rich” by H. L. Gold
  14. “Ministry of Disturbance” by H. Beam Piper

Volume 9 (2016) – $6.95

  1. “The Concrete Mixer” by Ray Bradbury
  2. “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates
  3. “Bedside Manner” by William Morrison
  4. “The Inferiors” by Mari Wolf
  5. “The Aggravation of Elmer” by Robert Arthur
  6. “Conquest over Time” by Michael Shara
  7. “The Virgin of Valkarion” by Poul Anderson
  8. “No Charge for Alterations” by H. L. Gold
  9. “Greylorn” by Keith Laumer
  10. “The Other Now” by Murray Leinster
  11. “The Ambulance Made Two Trips” by Murray Leinster
  12. “The Fun They Had” by Isaac Asimov
  13. “Fondly Fahrenheit” by Alfred Bester
  14. “A Matter of Importance” by Murray Leinster

Volume 10 (2018) – $6.95

  1. “Adjustment Team” by Philip K. Dick
  2. “The Keeper” by H. Beam Piper
  3. “The Amazing Mrs. Mimms” by David C. Knight
  4. “The Girls from Earth” by Frank N. Robinson
  5. “The Man the Martians Made” by Frank Long
  6. “Pet Farm” by Roger Dee
  7. “A World of Talent” by Philip K. Dick
  8. “Shock Treatment” by Stanley Mullen
  9. “The Variable Man” by Philip K. Dick
  10. “The Players” by Everett Cole
  11. “Common Denominator” by John D. MacDonald
  12. “Survey Team” by Philip K. Dick
  13. “Medal of Honor” by Dallas McCord Reynolds
  14. “The Highest Treason” by Randall Garrett

 

– – James Wallace Harris (11/8/18)

 

 

 

 

Astounding by Alec Nevela-Lee

Astounding

A new book about the impact of Astounding Science Fiction was published today. It’s called Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee. I snagged the audio edition and have been listening to it. I’m impressed so far, and it’s getting some great reviews:

I figure any bookworm interested in the Classics of Science Fiction will want to read this one.

JWH

An Informal History of the Hugos by Jo Walton

An Informal History of the Hugos by Jo Walton

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, August 20, 2018

Researching the most remembered short stories, novelettes, and novellas of science fiction for this site was one way of learning about science fiction history. Another way is to read An Informal History of the Hugos by Jo Walton, at least for the years 1953-2000. It’s just out in hardback and Kindle editions. Many readers are asking why they should buy this book when it’s culled from Walton’s column at Tor.com. I got the Kindle edition because it’s easier to read and I can highlight all the stories I want to track down. When I’m through my Kindle will provide a “shopping list” stories I want to study, and maybe remember.

This book is for avid science fiction fans who are scholars or historians of the genre or wish to become one. If you’ve followed the Hugos for decades, it will also trigger a lot of great memories.

Walton’s book chapters on each year are somewhat different than just reading the columns online because she inserts her longer book reviews (also published at Tor) in the chapter year and selective reader comments each column received. I recommend following the link to the Tor.com site to test drive a few columns before you buy the book. Be sure and read the comments below each column, because Gardner Dozois, Rich Horton, and many others fans, writers, and editors contribute their memories, knowledge, and feelings about the stories.

Walton warns that she has not read all the novels and stories nominated for the Hugos. That would be a tremendous project. I accepted that hasn’t read everything. However, I was still disappointed by this stance sometimes. For example, They’d Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, the novel that won the 1955 Hugo. Walton tells about how this novel is considered the worst novel ever to win the award, and I ached to know her opinion. This occurs time and again. I understand she has her own novels and stories to write, but still, I hungered for her reaction quite often on the most famous stories. It goes to show you that even the most wide-read science fiction fans can’t read everything that common wisdom considers must reading.

Part of what Walton is doing is deciding if a story holds up over time. She judges this by whether it’s in print, at her library, or if people still talk about it. And that’s fine most of the time, but there are places in her narrative that I wished Walton had read a new book or story and given her us her thoughts. Luckily, her readers have, and their opinions from the site’s comment section help to satisfy my curiosity when Walton can’t. Still, I need to go read They’d Rather Be Right to find out why it’s so bad.

An Informal History of the Hugos is only going to appeal to a limited audience. I became aware of the SF digests, fandom, and Hugos in the mid-1960s, so reading Walton’s book is a wonderful stroll down memory lane. I’d say I remember something about all the novels and at least bit about two-thirds of all the stories. Like Walton, I haven’t read everything that was nominated or even won, but I have read a lot. Also, two of Walton’s favorite writers were Heinlein and Delany, and they were my favorites in the 1960s. So I resonate with many of her opinions about most of the stories. But she hates Philip K. Dick, who is one of my big favs, so that irks me at times. She tried a few PKD novels and now adamantly refuses to try any others. I can understand her reasons, but I still think she should read The Man in the High Castle.

Walton’s comments about awards contain a lot of fan gossip and history, as do comments from the people who posted replies to the columns. I’d expect younger readers who aren’t familiar with SF history from 1953-2000 will find this book a long litany of boring titles and names.

I suppose younger readers who want to study science fiction history could use this book as a guide for selecting what to read. But it will be slow reading. To give each year it’s proper due would require reading between 500,000 and 1,000,000 words, or maybe just a 100,000 if they’re only covering the shorter works.

This is definitely a book where you have to have some skin in the game to enjoy it.

JWH