Author Archives: Keith West

Chicken Fried Cthulhu

Hey, folks, the Chicken Fried Cthulhu Kickstarter has 25 hours left as I write this and is still a ways from funding.  This is an anthology of southwestern flavored Cthulhu and Lovecraft themed stories.  It’s set to premiere at the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio this year.

If it funds.  It’s from the same crew that brought you Skelos, and there’s an impressive lineup of authors listed, including Robert E. Howard and Joe Lansdale.  Part of the reason the goal is so high is that the editors want to pay the authors professional rates, and that takes money.

So if you’ve been thinking about pledging, please do so.  I would really like to see this project get off the ground.  I am not an author in the anthology and my only connection to the project is that I’m friends with the guys putting it together.  I just want to read the stories.

Spring Has Broke

No, this isn’t about the trees budding leaves and the weeds grass turning green. That happened back in the middle of February. Spring break started today.  I’ll be in the office for part of it.  We’ve had someone who has been responsible for setting up and taking down all the experiments in our introductory labs.  She walked into my office on Tuesday and said, “I thought you should know that I’m retiring at the end of the month”.  I said something nice, but what I was thinking was “…but we still have another four labs to do at the end of the month…”

I’ll be picking up the slack, which means going in on Monday to learn where she stores some stuff and some other details, as well as catching up on a few things that fell between the cracks this past week.  How this is going to shake out over the long term has yet to be determined.  That includes the impact it might have on my writing time.

And speaking of writing, I’m hoping to get some done this next week.  I’m not going to set any goals or make any public announcements until things are finished.  Other than going into work on Monday and getting some yard work done, plus some general straightening and organizing, I plan to read, write, and blog for the next week.

In Defense of Romance

What?  Yes, of course that’s a click-bait title.  It worked, didn’t it?  You’re here, aren’t you?

This is not the type of lice hunting romance I’m in favor of.

There’s been some changes recently to how authors can categorize their works when uploading them on Amazon.  Amazon has implemented the following restriction:  Do not add books from any Romance category to these categories: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Children’s.

(Children’s? Who puts romance in a children’s book? What the hell is wrong with some of you people?)

And of course the butt-hurt has been epic.  A casual scroll through the comments quickly revealed some of the women who write “blended” novels will be putting them in the science fiction and/or fantasy sections rather than the romance section (which is where they probably belong).

But that’s okay.  I don’t get my recommendations for what I read from Amazon very often.  Usually it’s from people whose taste I know aligns with mine.

They want to write and read that stuff, that’s their business, and I have no problem with their doing so.  As long as they don’t scold me for not reading it or invade my space with it, we’ll be fine.

Here’s the type of romance I’m advocating: Continue reading

Blogging Brackett: “The Dancing Girl of Ganymede”

“The Dancing Girl of Ganymede”
Originally published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Feb. 1950

I read “The Dancing Girl of Ganymede” for the first and, until I reread it yesterday, only time when I read The Halfling and Other Stories back in high school. I’m not sure why I haven’t reread it more. It’s an excellent story, and one that put me in mind of two other famous works, one of science fantasy and one of science fiction.

This story is a mature work by Brackett, one of her later works, and you can see it in the way she both executes the story, the twist the tale takes midway through, and the serious themes she injects.  This one is more than must pulp adventure escapism (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Edmond Hamilton, her husband, writes in the introduction to The Best of Leigh Brackett, that she would write science fiction when not actively writing screenplays in Hollywood.  A quick check with the ISFDB shows a hiatus of Brackett stories from the mid-1940s until about 1950, when there was another wave of her work hitting the magazines, the story under consideration among them.  I’ll be looking at this story in detail, so consider this to be the standard SPOILER ALERT. Continue reading

Blogging Brackett: “The Halfling”

“The Halfling”
Originally published in Astonishing Stories, Feb. 1943

Despite the fact that it wasn’t included in The Best of Leigh Brackett, “The Halfling” is one of her most reprinted stories and provided the title to one of her collections.

This is one of Brackett’s most hard-boiled stories.  I read it for the first time as a teenager, and it blew me away.  When I reread it for this post, I was still moved even though it had been years since the last time I’d read it.

It’s also one of her most tragic tales.  The story is set entirely on Earth, but the themes of colonialism and cultures in conflict that show up in her best work appear here as well.

John Damien “Jade” Greene is the owner of a somewhat seedy carnival specializing in interplanetary exhibits.  Currently the carnival is set up on the beach near Venice, California, where Jade grew up.  We know from the opening scene that his life hasn’t been as fulfilling as he would like.  We also know that when a gorgeous woman calling herself Laura Darrow approaches him and asks for a job as a dancer, she’s going to be trouble, especially when she tells him a story about needing to get to Venus (the carnival’s nest stop) and has lost her passport.

Jade hires Laura after her audition.  His current dancer, Sindi, a Martian, isn’t happy.  Neither is Laska, a cat-man from Callisto.  The cat-men are pretty isolationist, but they form strong and permanent addictions to coffee.  Laska is traveling with the carnival because it allows him a steady supply of coffee.

Things initially go well the first week.  Laura’s dancing draws in the customers, especially after a celebrity is seen there with someone else’s spouse and the ensuing scandal gives the carnival some free publicity.  You can tell Brackett was drawing on her time in Hollywood.  Laura dances like no one Jade as ever seen.

She was sunlight, quicksilver, a leaf riding the wind – but nothing human, nothing tied down to muscles and gravity and flesh.  She was – oh hell, there aren’t any words.  She was the music.

By the end of the week, he’s helplessly in love.

And of course that’s when the trouble starts, everything goes wrong, and people start dying.

SPOILER ALERT

I’m going to discuss the rest of the story after the READ MORE break.  If you’ve come to this page directly from a link rather than the main page of this site, I’m going to include a few remarks before I give away too many of the surprises.

“The Halfling” is currently available in ebook form from Baen in the collection Beyond Mars. Continue reading

Blogging Brackett: “The Dragon-Queen of Venus”

“The Dragon-Queen of Venus”
Originally published as “The Dragon-Queen of Jupiter”
Planet Stories, Summer 1941

This one is an early tale by Brackett, one of her first. And while it isn’t as polished as some of her later work, and certainly doesn’t have the depth of her longer and better known stories, you can still see the writer she would become.

The story concerns a group of soldiers manning a besieged outpost in the early days of Terran settlement on Venus.  They’re running low on everything:  food, fresh water, ammunition, personnel.  They’re sort of a French Foreign Legion in space; at one point the commander makes a statement that no one knows anyone else’s real name.  The viewpoint character is from Texas, and of course everyone calls him Tex. Continue reading

A Look at Theodore Sturgeon’s “It”

“It”
Theodore Sturgeon
First published in Unknown, August 1940

After posting the birthday tribute on Theodore Sturgeon yesterday, I downloaded a copy of his Selected Stories (after paying for it, of course).  I thought I’ve got all of them in paper and wasn’t sure which one I wanted to get an electronic copy of.  So I went with the selected stories.  Some of my favorites are missing, such as “Shottle Bop”, but this volume contains some good stuff.

Like the horror classic “It”, which even though it seems to end on an upbeat note, has one of the most chilling last lines you’ll find anywhere. Continue reading

Theodore Sturgeon at 99

I’m a day late on this one, but Edward Hamilton Waldo, AKA Theodore Sturgeon, was born on February 26, 1918 on Staten Island, New York.

Sturgeon was best known as a short story writer, although he wrote some well received novels, such as More Than Human, The Dreaming Jewels, and the under-appreciated Some of Your Blood.

He got his start writing for Unknown and Astounding in the late 1930s and early 1940s,  Much of his best work was done in that time period. 

Outside of science fiction and fantasy he’s probably best known for what has come to be called Sturgeon’s Law:  90% of everything is crap.

I really like Sturgeon’s short fiction, especially his early work.  There’s a level of craftsmanship and fun that some of his later works, such as “If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?” lack.  Skip that story and go to “It” or “Mewhu’s Jet” or “Yesterday Was Monday.

His first collection was entitled Without Sorcery, which was something of a misnomer since much of it was fantasy.  It was reprinted by Ballantine under the title Not Without Sorcery and is an excellent introduction to his work.

There was an attempt in the late 90s and 00s to collect all of Sturgeon’s short fiction between hardcovers.  I think I’m missing the last of that set.  But if you get a chance, read some of his work.  It’s worth seeking out.

 

An Ode to the Ballantine Best of Series and Why We Need it More Than Ever

The original Star Wars came out when I was in elementary school, and it was a mind-warping experience.  I had come to science fiction and fantasy through comics, but it was the sense of wonder and excitement this movie generated that turned me from reading mystery books to reading science fiction books checked out from the school library.  As I read above grade level, I was soon searching out science fiction in the adult section of the public library and in book stores.  Like a second hand book store at the flea market.

This place sold second hand paperbacks for a quarter, IIRC.  The covers were stripped, which meant the books had been reported to the publishers as having been been pulped and the covers returned for credit.  In other words, they were technically stolen.  I didn’t know that then.  There were a number of titles I recognized, such as some H. P, Lovecraft.  I picked up The Best of Jack Williamson there, and later The Best of L. Sprague de Camp.

The Williamson volume started with stories from the 30s and went up to the 70s.  There was an introduction by Frederik Pohl and an afterward by Williamson.  This was the pattern of the series.  An introduction by an author or editor associated with the writer of the book, and if the author was still living (most were but not all) he or she contributed an afterward.  My mind was blown.  David Hartwell once said the golden age of science fiction is thirteen.  I was, and it was. Continue reading

In Defense of Guys with Screwdrivers

So earlier this month, Jasyn Jones made the statement in a blog post that John Campbell did not usher in a Golden Age of Science Fiction.  His thesis is that Campbell, when he became editor of Astounding, ushered in a golden age in which science fiction rose from being a genre of poorly written fiction with wooden characters and bad science to great heights.  Indeed, this is the general narrative.  Jones reasserts his thesis that this ain’t so in a followup post.

For those who are new to the field and think it began when you started reading it or shortly beforehand or have been around for a while and simply haven’t been paying attention, John W. Campbell, Jr., took over the editorial reigns of Astounding from F. Orlin Tremaine in 1938 and dominated the field for a dozen years until F&SF and Galaxy came along in 1950.  Indeed, Isaac Asimov says as much in the opening paragraphs of his introduction to his anthology of Pre-Campbell science fiction, Before the Golden Age (Doubleday, 1974).  Note to self: reread this book and blog about it.

Now, before I get started on this post, I want to say that I mean no disrespect to Mr. Jones and none of what follows in in any way meant to be a personal attack.  Furthermore, I think he brings up a number of valid points, and for the most part I agree with him.  My differences are more with some of the attitudes that have been expressed in reaction to the posts in question, as well as other posts in other places.  I’ve not had a chance to read all of them, so rather than post links, I’ll let you hunt them down if you’re so inclined.

But since I grew up reading a great deal of Campbellian SF, much of it in the Ballantine Best of series and DAW’s Isaac Asimov Present the Great SF, I’m rather fond  of the science fiction written by “guys with screwdrivers”, as Campbellian SF is being called.  So I’d like to express my admiration of it. Continue reading