Tag Archives: Fritz Leiber

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

Blogging Brackett: “The Jewel of Bas”

“The Jewel of Bas”
Planet Stories, Spring 1944

Note:  This post became a lot more personal than I intended.  Rather than rewrite it, I’ll expand on the opening paragraphs about the Ballantine Best of series in a future post.

Way back in ancient times, in other words the summer before I started high school, my parents agreed to let me join the Science Fiction Book Club, something I had been asking to do for a while.  I still remember the first shipment of books contained one of the Ballantine Best of series (Frederik Pohl).

In fact, for the first six months or so I was a member, each month the catalog I received contained a different volume of that series.  I bought them all.  Or rather all the ones the Club offered from the time I joined onwards.  (For some reason I never saw the C. L. Moore volume listed in any of the mail-outs.  I bought it in paperback, although there was an SFBC edition.)

I had become aware of Ballantine’s Best of series in the seventh grade, when I found a copy of The Best of Jack Williamson at the flea market in a little book shop that sold paperbacks with missing covers for a quarter.  I wouldn’t learn that such sales were illegal until a few years later. Continue reading

Happy Birthday, Fritz Leiber

Fritz LeiberFritz Leiber was born 106 years ago, on December 24, 1910, in Chicago.  He was one of the greatest writers of the fantastic the world has ever seen, being a major writer of fantasy, science fiction, and horror.

It’s hard to know where to start when discussing Leiber.  Probably of greatest interest to readers of this blog would be his sword and sorcery series about the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.  I’ve always enjoyed his horror stories, especially the ones he wrote in the 1940s.  These days an urban setting for horror is nothing unusual.  Back then it was still fairly new.  Leiber set the bar for that type of horror story, and he set it high.  He also wrote a great deal of science fiction, much of it involving time travel or cats.

20160620_185544 croppedI’ve not read many of Leiber’s novels, something I intend to correct over the next year.  There’s been renewed interest in Leiber’s short fiction lately.  Centipede Press earlier this year released Masters of Science Fiction:  Fritz Leiber (one of two inaugural volumes in that series) as well as the two volume slip-cased Masters of the Weird Tale:  Fritz Leiber.

Both of the above titles are sold out by the publishers, but fear not if you missed or weren’t able to afford them.  (They weren’t cheap.)  About a dozen or so years ago, give or take, Darkside Press/Midnight House published four collections of Leiber’s short work.  And while those books are also sold out from the publisher (who is no longer in business, and weren’t cheap either), they’ve been reprinted in inexpensive electronic editions:  Smoke Ghost; Day Dark, Night Bright; Horrible Imaginings; and The Black Gondolier.  They are also available in trade paperback.  They make great Christmas gifts for yourself.

Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward Start Conan Read Through

If you aren’t reading Howard Andrew Jones’ blog, then you’ve been missing some good posts.  He and Bill Ward have been reading through works by major fantasy authors for about a year now and discussing them.  They started with a couple of collections by Lord Dunsany and then moved on to Swords Against Darkness and Swords in the Mist, two Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser collections by Fritz Leiber.  Each week they’ve discussed the story they’ve read and invited anyone interested in doing so to read along with them.

Today Howard postedComing of Conan a wrap-up of Swords in the Mist and a discussion of their next project.  This will be The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian.  Today’s post was mostly about Conan, not so much about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.  Next week they discuss Howard’s essay “The Hyborian Age” before launching into the stories themselves.

If you’re a Howard fan, or just a Conan fan, you should check it out.

More Bookstore Closing Acquisitions

I posted recently about one of the local used bookstores (currently there are 4: 2 good, 1 decent, 1 not worth bothering with) closing and some of the titles I picked up.

You know I went back.  The store will be open for a little while yet.  Here’s what I picked up this time.

More AcquisitionsI couldn’t resist the cover of the Howard pastiche by Offutt, even though I doubt I’ll read it.  The People of the Mist is an upgrade of my existing copy.  The Starfollowers of Coramonde is a later edition, but the Darrell K. Sweet cover matches the one on the first novel in the series.

I loved Sean Stewart’s Galveston some years back, but I haven’t read any of his other books.  The Tanith Lee speaks for itself.  The third row contains the first 3 of 4 in Lawrence Watt-Evans Lords of Dus series.

The last row is a reading copy of one of Evangeline Walton’s books that was part of the BAF series.  The Zahn is part of a series that looks like a lot of fun.  And the Paul Preuss because I wanted some solid science fiction in the old style.

But the gem of this little collection is the volume in the upper left of the picture.  It’s Whispers, edited by Stuart David Schiff.  It’s a collection of stories published in his groundbreaking small press magazine of the same title.  I’ve got a copy of this already, but I couldn’t pass this one up.  The contents include “Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner, “The Barrow Troll” by David Drake, “The Dakwa” by Manly Wade Wellman, plus stories by Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, William F. Nolan, Hugh B. Cave, Dennis Etchison, Joseph Payne Brennan, Ramsey Campbell, Richard Christian Matheson, Brian Lumley, and many others.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go reread “Sticks”.

A Review of The Scroll of Years

ScrollofYearsThe Scroll of Years
Chris Willrich
Pyr Books
Trade paper $15.95 US $17.00 Canada
Ebook $11.99
Amazon  B&N Indie Bound

A Scroll of Years is the first novel about thief Imago Bone and poet Persimmon Gaunt. The pair have appeared in 5 short stories to date, and the first is included in this volume. Somehow this series has managed to fly under my radar. That’s something I’m going to need to fix. Looking at Willrich’s website, I may have read one or two but didn’t realize they were part of a series.

Anyway, Bone and a pregnant Gaunt are fleeing from Night’s Auditors. They are a pair of hit men who don’t merely kill their victims. In essence they steal their victims’ souls. They’re a pair of nasty dudes, and they have a dragon working for them. One of them controls a fire spirit. The other has a mirror embedded in his forehead which shows all possible things his victim might do. These guys are hard to kill, and they don’t give up easily.

Gaunt and Bone flee across the ocean to a land much like Imperial China. Gaunt has a mark forming on her belly that resembles two dragons. It’s a sign that the child she carries is someone a lot of powerful people want to get their hands on. Gaunt and Bone are going to need all the allies they can get.

The writing is rich and subtle, and Gaunt and Bone are foremost of a cast of delightfully flawed characters. Some fantasy novels are like a tankard of ale, intended to be slammed back. The Scroll of Years is of a more refined vintage, one in which you savor the writing as well as the story and characters.  The story takes place over both months and years simultaneously.  (That statement will make sense if you read the book, trust me.)

Gaunt and Bone have been compared to Fafhred and the Grey Mouser. I can see the resemblance, and I’d bet money that Fritz Leiber was one of Willrich’s influences. But that comparison runs the risk of limiting the characters or skewing a potential reader’s expectations. I see echoes of an earlier generation of writers in this book. Writers such as Ernest Bramah with perhaps a dash of Dunsany and maybe a pinch of Clark Ashton Smith. Plus a nod to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Leiber’s heroes were clearly cut from the same general cloth as Conan, inhabiting a milieu rooted in Western tradition where any portrayal of Eastern cultures were filtered to a greater or lesser degree through the West’s perceptions of the East. As Willrich notes in the Acknowledgements, this particular work is firmly planted in Chinese soil. The titular Scroll of Years is a concept I’ve not come across in much European based fantasy.  And rather that detracting, the Chinese folk tales Willrich interjects into the story give it added depth and resonance.

The Scroll of Years is not like anything I’ve seen recently. Willrich has a fresh voice, and with this novel (I can’t speak for the short stories, not being familiar with them yet) he expands the boundaries of sword and sorcery.

The events in this book grow out of the short stories, and there are one or two passing reference to previous events that seem to refer back to them. Don’t let that stop you from picking this one up. You can enjoy The Scroll of Years on its own merits. The ARC I have says today is the release date (which is why I wrote the review today), but the author’s website says the 24th.  Either way, look for a copy if this sounds like it might be your cup of tea. And if Pyr want to publish the short stories (with one or two new ones included, hint, hint), well, that would be fine with me.

I’d like to thank Lisa Michalski at Pyr Books for the review copy.