Monday, December 31, 2007

Amy's Bookshelf :: Fantasy & Science Fiction December 2007

Fantasy & Science Fiction December 2007The December 2007 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction contains a good selection of well-written stories. There are six stories - two novelettes and four short stories. Two of which are set in the future off Earth, one is set in the past, and the remaining stories are set in the present day, or something near to it.

The cover story is the novelette "Finisterra" by David Moles, with cover art by Cory and Catska Ench. In "Finisterra" an aeronautical engineer takes a job on a world featuring island-sized floating creatures called zaratán. Her employer and his alien associates are poachers. They are killing the zaratanes, a protected species, for profit.

The other novelette is "The Bone Man" by Frederic S. Durbin, in which a creepy man is sidetracked to a small town on what happens to be the day of the Hallowe’en Parade. The star of the parade is the Bone Man, a dancing skeleton.

In the short story "Osama Phone Home” by David Marusek, there is a secret American organization dedicated to bringing Osama bin Laden to justice. Their plan uses spooky, futuristic, but not impossible sounding, technologies.

"Don't Ask" by M. Rickert has mothers trying to cope with having their boys stolen to run with the wolves, and having them return home not only older but different.

In "Who Brought Tulips to the Moon?" by S.L. Gilbow a healthy old man, his impatient daughter, and her husband go to the moon to Smooth Passing, a mortuary-like company that helps you pass away.

"Stray" by Benjamin Rosenbaum and David Ackert features a worn out immortal trying to fit into an African American community in the 1930s.

The stories in this issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine were, at times, thought provoking. Each had some sort of emotional conflict or tension. My least favorite story was "The Bone Man" because of its thug of a protagonist. There weren't any stories that I would shout about from a mountaintop, but overall a good magazine to read.

(For more on these stories, and others, visit my blog Short Reviews of SF and fantasy short fiction)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Inferno! by Vargo Statten

Inferno!The Book of the Week is Inferno! by Vargo Statten, cover art by Ron Turner.

Vargo Statten was a pseudonym of British science fiction author John Russell Fearn. Even though Fearn was perhaps the most prolific British author of Golden Age science fiction and very popular with British SF readers, most of his work was published under various bizarre pseudonyms, most commonly "Vargo Statten" and "Volsted Gridban." The fact that so much of his work was printed pseudonymously may have contributed to Fearn fading from readers' memories over the years despite his vivid and imaginative stories. (Less charitably, his pedestrian prose may also have something to do with it.)

Inferno! was published in 1950 by Scion, Ltd., one of the most successful of several British publishers printing science fiction and fantasy in a digest format in the early to mid-50's. The digest-sized novel never had a comparable heyday in the United States, although a few smaller publishers experimented with the format. Some of those American digests have since become prized collectors' items. Next week's Book of the Week will be the most sought-after of all American digest novels.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Odyssey in Space by Vektis Brack

Odyssey in SpaceThe Book of the Week is Odyssey in Space by Vektis Brack, published in digest format by British publisher Gannet Press in 1953.

Vektis Brack was a Gannet Press "house name," i.e., a pseudonym belonging to the publisher rather than the author, and used by various authors employed by that publisher. The actual author of Odyssey in Space is believed to be Leslie Humphrys, who also wrote science fiction under his own pseudonym of Bruno G. Condray. No word on whether Arthur C. Clarke ever came across Odyssey in Space before writing the similarly titled (but immeasurably superior) 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Book of the Week is rendered more valuable to collectors by the presence of a topless woman in the cover art by Gerald Facey, even if you need a magnifying glass to spot her.

Digest books -- oversized, loosely bound paperback books that look more like digest magazines than typical mass market paperbacks -- were much more popular in England in the 1950's than they ever were in the United States. British publishers commonly used the digest format for their science fiction lines in the 1950's. They were also partial to outrageous pseudonyms for their science fiction writers; other pseudonyms used by Gannet Press included Bengo Mistral and Drax Amper. Even the most prolific British SF writer of the day wrote most of his work under various absurd pen-names, one of which we will see next week.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Famous Fantastic Mysteries February 1949

Famous Fantastic Mysteries February 1949The Magazine of the Week is the February 1949 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries, cover art by Lawrence Sterne Stevens. The cover story is a reprint of the short novel The Scarlet Plague (1912) by Jack London.

Jack London is remembered today as the author of such classics as The Call of the Wild and The Sea-Wolf, but a great deal of his output was what we now call science fiction. The Scarlet Plague, a post-apocalyptic tale set in the year 2072, is a good example. Other Jack London SF includes The Iron Heel (1908), about a future dystopia; Before Adam (1907) and The Star Rover (1915), both of which feature time travel through out-of-body experiences; "The Unparalleled Invasion" and "Goliah" (1910), which describe future warfare involving biological and energy weapons; and "The Red One" (1918), in which an island comes under extraterrestrial control.

Also included in the Magazine of the Week is "Angel Island" by Inez Haynes Gillmore, a reprint of an important early work of feminist fantasy first published in 1914. The premise is that five sailors shipwrecked on a strange island fall in love with five beautiful native women who can fly. The men manage to woo the angelic women and marry them, but soon decide that it would be best to clip off their wives' wings. The story is a rather obvious, but remarkable for 1914, parable for Gillmore's feminist views.

We'll look at some less socially conscious pulp fiction next week.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Famous Fantastic Mysteries June 1953

Famous Fantastic Mysteries June 1953The Magazine of the Week is one of my recent acquisitions, the June 1953 issue (the final issue) of pulp magazine Famous Fantastic Mysteries, cover art by Lawrence Sterne Stevens. As suggested by the relative sizes of the words on the cover, the emphasis of Famous Fantastic Mysteries was on the fantastic, and the magazine was part of the science fiction and fantasy pulp genre, not the mystery genre.

Recent BOTWs have discussed the unfortunate tendency in the mainstream to be dismissive of anything published in the science fiction and fantasy genre. There is sometimes a corresponding reverse snobbery in the SF/F community toward science fiction penned by mainstream writers. More commonly, however, SF/F readers have welcomed fantastic literature by authors who are not associated with the genre.

Between 1940 and 1953, Famous Fantastic Mysteries found success reprinting older novels and stories in pulp format, and a great many of the stories were written by famous authors not typically thought of as sci-fi writers. (We will have another example next week.) Thus, the cover story of the Magazine of the Week is Anthem by Ayn Rand -- more social science fiction. Also listed on the cover is The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. The issue also contains stories by SF great Ray Bradbury and by Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian, yet somehow this diverse group of authors was able to appear in a single magazine without anyone getting hurt.