Monday, January 21, 2019

A Basic Science-Fiction Library

Since Jeffro Johnson renewed interest in Dungeons & Dragons' Appendix N as an indispensable source for understanding both gaming and fantasy, there has been an on-and-off search for similar lists for those of us more inclined to spacesuits and rayguns instead of armor and swords. The most likely source, the Traveller RPG, was not as forthcoming about its influences as its fantasy kin. This leaves those attempting to find a historical list of science fiction classics searching outside of gaming for a sense of what fans thought classic.

Certainly, today's best-of lists are more an indication of which of the fractured science fictions is the favorite of the list compiler. Dune and Foundation may make most lists, but whether John Scalzi, John Ringo, or Yoshiki Tanaka appear tends to depend on who knows who and what particular sub-culture is making the list. And with the incredible explosion of science fiction titles in the last decades, coming to a consensus grows ever more daunting.

But there was a time when the field was much smaller, and an established consensus of the important works of science fiction was agreed upon. For that, we must turn to the third science fiction boom, to winter 1949, and the Arkham Sampler. A group of editor, writers, and fans were each asked for up to twenty titles essential to a science fiction library and why. While issues and reprints of that Arkham Sampler are prohibitively expensive, the list itself continues to be passed down

But before we get to the list, let's see the contributors:

The editors included Sam Merwin, Jr. of Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories, Paul L. Payne of Planet Stories, and Everett Bleiler of The Checklist of Fantastic Literature and The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949. John Campbell of Astounding and Raymond Palmer of Amazing were invited but chose not to participate.

The writers included Dr. David H. Keller, P. Schuyler Miller, Theodore Sturgeon, A. E. Van Vogt, Donald Wandrei, and Lewis Padgett--better known as the husband and wife team of Henry Kuttner and Catherine L. Moore.

Rounding out the list were the fans. A. Langley Searles is "best known for the scholarly science fiction fanzine Fantasy Commentator." Forest Ackerman was the literary agent for many of the authors listed above as well as the father of convention cosplay. And Sam Moskowitz was a noted historian of science fiction fandom and a fervent opponent of the Futurians.

Together, these thirteen worthies agreed upon seventeen titles deemed necessary for a science fiction library,
  • Seven Famous Novels by H G Wells. This collection includes The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon, In the Days of the Comet, and The Food Of The Gods.
  • Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • The Complete Short Stories of H.G. Wells by H G Wells
  • Adventures in Time and Space: Famous Science-Fiction Stories edited by R.J. Healy and J.F. McComas
  • Slan by A.E. van Vogt
  • The World Below by S. Fowler Wright
  • Strange Ports of Call edited by August Derleth
  • To Walk the Night by William Sloane 
  • The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Sirius by Olaf Stapledon
  • Gladiator by Philip Wylie
  • Before the Dawn by John Taine
  • Who Goes There?: Seven Tales of Science-Fiction by John W. Campbell, Jr.
  • The Best of Science Fiction edited by Groff Conklin
  • Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon
  • Out of the Silence by Erle Cox
Readers looking for the contributions of Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and most of the authors on this list will find their short stories in Adventures in Time and Space, the collection which fueled the third science fiction boom of the late 1940s. Adventures provides an overview of the Campbelline Revolution, to which The Best of Science Fiction adds insight to pre-Cambelline classic writers, including Edgar Alan Poe and a host of 1920s and 1930s pulpsters. Derleth's Strange Ports of Call adds Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, H. P. Lovecraft, and Lord Dunsany to the list of required science fiction writers. But the Big Three of this time are H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, and, once all three anthologies are examined, A. E. van Vogt--with John Campbell nipping at his heels.

Within fifteen years, many more classics would be written, prompting many additions to the basic science fiction library, which we will investigate at a later time.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Cirsova Magazine: Young Tarzan and the Mysterious She

Cirsova Publishing's 2019 is set to be full of surprises, but none have been quite as amazing or as original pulp as the news that this spring, Cirsova will be publishing a long thought lost Tarzan story begun by Edgar Rice Burroughs and completed by Michael Tierney--"Young Tarzan and the Mysterious She."

Per Michael Tierney and Cirsova:
Michael Tierney tells in his own words how this story came into being. (Originally published here on Michael’s Facebook). 
Update! The original manuscript’s whereabouts has resurfaced as of Jan 17, 2019; Bill Hillman of has claimed that the original handwritten manuscript is in his possession. Corrected text is marked within the original: 
It’s an old question of, if you could, who you would visit from the past? Take that question a step further and ask if you could collaborate with literary giant on their greatest creation, who and what would it be? 
Here’s my answer: Young Tarzan and the Mysterious She. 
Releases March 2019 from Cirsova magazine
The fragment I worked with was first hand-written by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1930. It was left unfinished, and then lay hidden in his safe for decades after his death. When it was rediscovered, many well-known writers were offered the chance to complete the story, but there were elements that they considered problematic, and they passed. 
Around the year 2000, ERB’s grandson, Danton Burroughs, offered me the chance. I found the problems to be opportunities to explain what I considered to be inconsistencies in the jungle lord’s established history. 
But on the day of Danton’s greatest accomplishment, when he became President of his grandfather’s company, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., there was a fire in the offices that destroyed many of his father, John Coleman Burroughs’ paintings–some of them were lost forever without a record. Danton tragically died that night of a heart attack. 
What I didn’t learn until recently was that the fire left ERB, Inc. with no record of the story. Danton took his knowledge with him, and the fire apparently took the fragment and the fragment was essentially lost to the company his Grandfather founded.
Fortunately, I still had my digital files, and the file Danton sent. and the original fragment was discovered after the announcement of this publication. 
Danton had sent it to be transcribed into digital format by Bill Hillman, webmaster of, who announced this very day that he still has it. 
While I was creating the Edgar Rice Burroughs 100 Year Art Chronology, I’d asked current President Jim Sullos for an opportunity to do something with the story. What I didn’t realize until recently was that he thought this was all my creation. We didn’t both put all the pieces together until just a few weeks ago. 
That’s the story behind the story of Young Tarzan and the Mysterious She.
Cirsova’s spring issue featuring Young Tarzan and the Mysterious She is available for digital pre-order now and physical pre-order in February. 

Stay tuned for further pulp announcements from Cirsova Publishing, including one that I, the Pulp Archivist, have a (very) small hand in.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Duel Visions--Coming February 14th

Cirsova Publishing is thrilled to announce Duel Visions, an all-new anthology of horror and macabre by Misha Burnett and Louise Sorensen.

Duel Visions marks Cirsova Publishing’s second departure from its flagship publication, Cirsova Magazine, and its first ever traditional format book release.

A literary venture in the spirit of the classic horror showcases, such as Tales that Witness Madness and Tales from the Crypt, this new volume collects ten tales that approach terror from all angles, supernatural to science fiction, monstrous to mundane, encompassing the occult to the simply odd.

Misha Burnett has been regularly published in Cirsova Magazine and is known for The Book Of Lost Doors series of novels as well as the Eldritch Earth shared setting.

Louise Sorensen is also a veteran of Cirsova Magazine and has been published in several issues of Just a Minor Malfunction…

Duel Visions will be out in Paperback and eBook online and at retailers February 14, 2019!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Through a Glass Darkly: The SFF Trends of 2018 and 2019

With 2018 finally in the history books, and 2019 stretched out before us, it’s a perfect time to take a moment to examine just what happened to science fiction and fantasy in 2018, and, in science fiction’s tradition of extrapolating into the unknown, what SFF readers might expect of the new year.
Let’s begin with 2018.
Independent writers embraced Pulp Speed. Simply put, in the new world of science fiction, “world production equals money.” At the time Dean Wesley Smith coined the term Pulp Speed to describe publishing a million words and more a year, many writers scoffed at the idea. Now it is becoming standard practice. Where a traditionally published writer might be able to publish a book or two a year, entire series can start and end in that interval. Now, it is customary for a writer to need to publish at least one book a quarter to stay in the public eye, often one book a month. And writers continue to experiment with release schedules. Some, like Galaxy’s Edge and the Four Horsemen Universe ensure that a monthly schedule is met, some will publish a fantasy pentalogy on a weekly basis. Perhaps the most ambitious release came from Isaac Hooke who twice in 2018 released an entire trilogy over the course of a weekend. And all these cases, the books average 400 pages or more. Strangely enough, Pulp Speed has yet to mean shorter books.
We readers are spoiled by this bounty. Just don’t blink, or you might miss a trilogy.
LitRPG, Light Novels, and Harem Hijinks dominated the 2018 SFF scene. With roots in Russian, Japanese, and cyberpunk fiction, LitRPGs, or literary RPGs, are gameworld fantasies, typically video game but sometimes tabletop, where the mechanical rules of the game are as important to the worldbuilding and action as the story. Inspired in part by Japanese light and video novels, harem stories are the romantic and sexual fantasies of one man sharing adventures and beds with many women, with the reverse harem being the fantasies of one women with many men. And if you were searching for fantasy and science fiction reads in 2018, half your results would be filled with examples of one or both of these subgenres. They’re as popular and ubiquitous as the military science fiction novel was in 2017, so much so that it takes a little effort to find other genres of fantasy.
But the real surprise came in October, when I noticed the latest volume of the somewhat misleadingly named light novel Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? held its ground on SFF bestseller lists alongside George R. R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, John Scalzi, and Dungeons & Dragons art books. Keeping an eye on the lists since has revealed that other light novel titles enjoy the same success. These Japanese illustrated young adult fantasy serials have built on the popularity of anime, and with the rise of publishers such as Yen Press, J-Novel Club, and Vertical, over 200 such titles has flooded bookshelves in the past couple years. The result is that bookstores continue to sacrifice SFF floorspace to the manga/light novel aisle.
The publishers never escaped their ‘Death by Newbery’ obsessions; they could not bring themselves to buy happy books. The dose they prefer is the Y.A. dystopia, sometimes dressed up as science fiction, sometimes as fantasy. Instead of the magical mini-world of Hogwarts, they have gone in for dumbed-down versions of 1984.
Simon is talking specifically about Young Adult publishers of the late 00s and early 10s, a time which set the stage for the ebook boom and several fan revolts, however many SFF publishers and authors were intertwined in this trend as they followed the money from Harry Potter’s success. With litRPGs, light novels, and harems, readers are searching for happier fantasies, not finding them in American media obsessed with dystopia, going to where the happy fantasies are, and bringing back what they enjoy.
Authors are leaving Kindle Unlimited. And it’s not just the recent announcement by Castalia House that Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service is taking a greater share of money from authors and publishers. 2018 saw repeated crackdowns on Kindle Unlimited fraud that, in the traditions of such crackdowns, spread too wide a net. As a result, science fiction bestseller Michael-Scott Earle was removed entirely from Amazon, as were many other science fiction, fantasy, and litRPG writers. While this incident, a contentious court case, and others deserve an article of their own, the uncertainty caused by these removals reverberated through readers and writers alike. As one redditor put it, “The biggest issue I have as a reader is that I never know when an author is banned – I just assume they aren’t publishing much any more.” And many writers, whether out of solidarity for those banned or out of fear of Amazon deleting a career in seconds, abandoned Kindle Unlimited and are searching for alternatives. Amazon continuing to alter the deal of Kindle Unlimited only makes it less appealing.
So what trends might make 2019?
Independent science fiction will continue to drive the audiobook market and audiobook innovation. Mark Coker of Smashwords points out that “audiobooks are now the fastest growing segment of the book market.” Recent events such as the release of Starship Pandora by B. V. Larson and the new Audible deal for Jason Anspach and Nick Cole’s Galaxy’s Edge series reveal the future of the audiobook: the full cast recording. In other words, audiobooks are reinventing themselves as radio plays.
Readers will continue their search for happy fantasies abroad and writers will continue to experiment with popular foreign genres and media. The translation, content, and art of Chinese xianxia fantasies has quickly grown in sophistication, as has that of native English light novels. And thanks to sites like, the stage is now set for the web novels and web serial. Japanese and Chinese web novel sites helped fuel the light novel and xianxia booms, and with stories such as Everyone Loves Large Chests and Sentenced to Troll already making the leap from web novel to print books, the web novel pipeline is gathering steam. Writers such as John C. Wright are already experimenting with web series on their own sites. If a story such as Galaxy’s Edge: Takeover makes the jump to a, it may be enough attention to cement the web novel’s place in publishing.
The rise of light novels, litRPGs, and web novels will fuel the rise of the gimmick novel. Isaac Asimov declared that there were three kinds of science fiction: gadget, adventure, and social. I’ll add a fourth kind, the gimmick, where the worldbuilding is in service to a specific joke or conceit–and not necessarily for parody’s service. While this can be more readily observed in light novel titles such as Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?In Another World with My SmartphoneSo I’m a Spider, So What?; and Reborn as a Vending Machine, I Now Wander the Dungeon, books such as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, John Scalzi’s RedshirtsOrconomicsEveryone Loves Large Chests, and Sentenced to Troll reveal that the trend is native, too. And as the ebook market grows more cutthroat, a clever idea is a more reliable hook than clever writing for readers–as the consistent editorial heartburn over light novel quality reveals.
Finally, the stage is set for a Mecha boom. And while I must admit to rooting for the #AGundam4Us team of Brian Niemeier, Bradford Walker, and Rawle Nyanzi–all of whom are set to release their books within the next weeks and months–this trend has been gathering steam for awhile. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers popularized powered armor and mechanical soldiers, although it has evolved into different directions. While American milSF has ran with the space marine concept for decades, Japan turned the idea into the giant robots of Ultraman, Gundam, and Macross, all of which found international audiences. But while American fans still debate the practicality of mecha on the battlefield, Travis Taylor’s Tau Ceti Agenda, Isaac Hooke’s Mechs vs. Dinosaurs, Peter Tieryas’s United States of Japan, and the recent relaunch of Battletech show that there is indeed an American market for giant robot battlefields and taut political maneuverings–and it is growing.
Of course, these predictions depend much on economics and audience appeal. It is just as likely that some other trend that’s quietly building steam will capture the hearts, minds, and wallets of readers this year.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Pulp Librarian on Hayakawa S-F Magazine

Today, the Pulp Librarian wrote up an excellent Twitter thread on Japanese science fiction magazines:
Today in pulp I'm looking back at one of #Japan's greatest science fiction magazines: Hayakawa S-F! #FridayFeeling
Esu-Efu Magajin (S-F Magazine) was first published in February 1960 by Hayakawa Shobō publishing, and has gone on to shape both Japanese SF and champion Japanese authors.

Science fiction had been reasonably popular in Japan before the war, but it was in the mid-1950s that specialist story magazines, such as Takumi Shibano's subscription fanzine Uchūjin (Cosmic Dust) began to appear.

Hayakawa S-F soon followed. It was a 'prozine' - a professionally produced commercial fanzine - first edited by Masami Fukushima: "The demon of SF".

Initially it specialised in translations of western SF stories, mainly from The Magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction. However upcoming Japanese fan writers featured in Uchūjin were published in S-F Magazine, helping to create a career path for budding SF authors in Japan.

SF Magazine also coincided with the New Wave of speculative fiction happening in Britain and America. As a result Japanese SF of the 1960s is an amazing mix of speculative fiction, hard SF, monster fiction and scientific romance, all peacefully coexisting together.

In 1962 S-F Magazine launched its Esuefu Kontesuto, a literary contest for new science fiction short stories and novellas written in Japanese. It helped pioneer the 'First Generation' of Japanese SF writers such as Sakyo Komatsu and Ryū Mitsuse.

In the 1970s Japanese SF took a more speculative turn, exploring inner space as much as outer space. It also began to question whether the First Generation had been too subservient to American SF ideas.

Kôichi Yamano led the charge with a 1969 essay arguing that SF had the capacity to be avant garde, rather than simply copying the themes of Golden Age American stories. He launched his own magazine NW-SF to champion his ideas.

With the rise of Japanese technology in the 1970s western writers began looking to Japan for SF inspiration. Cyberpunk embraced the hi-tec/low-life aesthetic, and along with growing western interest in Manga it was now Japan's turn to shape the SF novel.

S-F Magazine is still going strong, as is the influence of the New Wave. In 2006 S-F Magazine readers voted 10 Billion Days & 100 Billion Nights by Ryu Mitsuse as their all-time favourite Japanese SF novel. It includes an awesome cyborg deathmatch between Buddha and Jesus!

Many excellent artists have produced covers for S-F Magazine. Katsuya Terada provided this wonderful cover for the June 2013 edition.
If you're interested in Japanese SF a good place to start is with the Speculative Japan anthologies from Kurodahan Press. They covet a range of authors and the translations are very well done.
I find it interesting that American Golden Age science fiction was rejected by the Japanese in the same manner as Britain and France did: towards New Wave and avant garde. Japan's peaceful coexistence of "speculative fiction, hard SF, monster fiction and scientific romance" also sets an example of what world SF trends towards, with different nations and audiences taking on slightly different flavors of that mixture instead of the curated garden of American science fiction. As for Speculative Japan, well, my to-read stack just grew taller.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Who Killed Cock Robin? by Henry Kuttner

Who Killed Cock Robin?

by Henry Kuttner

You, too, can become a murderer. In this article, I'll attempt to show how it may be done--in plain English, how to write whodunits.

My qualifications? Ever since I began to sell my stuff, I've sworn up and down that I couldn't write a murder mystery.

I sell regularly to other markets--adventure, fantasy, terror, science fiction. From time to time I tackled detective yarns. Comments ranged from "Not for us--sorry" to "It smells."

"It smells." Much as I hate to admit it, the editors were right.

"You're trying too hard to write a detective story," Leo Margulies finally told me. "Make a story first, not a chess problem. Make the problem a strongly personal one."

"I can't!" I wailed. "Every time I try--"

"That's it. You're trying too hard. You're too self-conscious. You keep saying, 'This is going to be a detective story, first, last, and always.' The result is mechanical. It just isn't interesting."

"But..." I said.

"Just do as I say. Write a story. Then let me see it."

"Well," I said sadly, "all right. But it won't be any good."

So I went home and read a batch of detective magazines. I analyzed the stories in them carefully. Some were good. Some weren't. The latter suffered from the same faults as my own previous ones.

They were too closely slanted to the formula. Technically, they were perfect in several cases. Like the girders of a building. But that's all they were--girders. Technique alone wasn't enough--I could see that. A corpse can be deadly dull. To paraphrase the old gag, no matter how you still slice it, it's still a corpse.

I listed three vital points, which I'll give here: (1) Necessity of immediately interesting the reader, (2) keeping that interest sustained, and (3) having a strong, satisfactory climax.

Under the first item I noted the following: (a) Through sympathetic characters, (b) Through problem vitally important to (a), (c) Through novel setup.

Let's glance at "Double Frame-up," by Richard L. Hobart in Thrilling Detective. Here's how it starts:
Johnny Mann, not very tall, thin, and with a fatigued droop to his shoulders, slipped like a ghost out of the misty rain into the haven offered by the narrow space between the two buildings. He was cold yt his overcoat and suit coat were unbuttoned and he wore no vest. And his right hand hung free, though the left was deeply buried in the pocket of his overcoat.
It was close to nine-thirty at night. The rain, swirling in from the river, had driven pedestrians off the streets, and only an occasional tax or private car disturbed the silence. Johnny Mann was hungry. There was a gnawing pain in his stomach and a sort of weakness in his knees that told him he was very tired--pretty well worn out.
He leaned his slim body against the wet and dripping bricks and sighed. But the damp coldness seeped through his thin coat and made a shiver run up and down his backbone. He straightened up, coughing softly.
That opening made Johnny Mann sympathetic to me. And it made me curious, too. Why would he keep his hand in his overcoat pocket? Well, you know the answer as well as I do.

I read on. Johnny's problem made him even more sympathetic. He was a detective, in a city flooded with dope, and "it was generally believed Rex Alaya was masterminding the smuggling...Johnny told his chief that if he could be discredited as a detective and kicked from the force it might put ideas into Rex Alaya's head." So he'd staged a sham fight with old Sam Bell, another detective, and the plan had gone through.

Everybody but those in on the plot thought Johnny a complete heel. So there it was. A game kid taking it on the chin in order to get a line on a gang of dope smugglers.

But there are other problems, too. The detective may himself be accused of murder. He may be put on the spot by a killer. He may fall in love with his feminine prisoner, as in W. T. Ballard's "Thirty Miles to Albuquerque," in Black Mask--a honey of a yarn, by the way. Or a particular pal of his may be killed, or faced with suspicion of murder. There are plenty of problems from which to choose, as long as they fit neatly into a murder mystery or a crime story.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2019 Planetary Award Nominations

As 2019 opens, so does award season, including the Planetary Awards, the award given by science fiction book bloggers. The rules are as follows:
Happy New Year — it’s time to nominate your favorite science fiction and fantasy writing for the 2018 Planetary Awards. 
We’re again doing only two categories: 
Shorter story (under 40,000 words/160 paperback pages)Longer story (novels) 
If you’re a blogger, podcaster, or youtuber, the nomination process is easy 
State your nominations on your site/cast/channel, mentioning that they are for the Planetary Awards 
Leave a comment on this post, or on the Planetary Defense Command reblog, with a link to your nominations 
The nomination deadline is February 14th, 11:59PM US Pacific time.
Personally, this year's reading was filled up with a host of pulps and light novels, the latter of which might be good popcorn reading, but not necessarily good writing. I did not get to read many new releases, but two stand out.

Shorter Story: Mortu and Kyrus in the White City, by Schuyler Hernstrom

In Mortu and Kyrus in the White City, Schuyler Hernstrom returns to sword and sorcery, blending Dying Earth, Mad Max, and even a little Shaw Briothers kung fu into a future Earth recovering from the heavy hand of an alien overlord. The namesakes Mortu and Kyrus, a pagan motorcycle barbarian from the North and a Christian monk from Zantyum respectively, are on a quest to break the sorcerer’s spell that chains Kyrus into the form of a monkey. On the long road, they find a caravan attacked by nomads and a wayward Christian knight. Mortu and Kyrus intervene with a few sharp strokes of Mortu’s axe, and in gratitude, the caravan invites the duo to their White City. Within moments of their arrival, Mortu and Kyrus are swept up in the dark secrets beneath the foundations of the City

I could wax on for days about this novella, including the play on Omelas, but instead, I'll just say to read it yourself to enjoy Hernstrom's language and story. Fortunately, Mortu and Kyrus will return.

“Come then, try my steel and I will send you to hell where you belong. The gods of my people look down upon those that prey on the weak. There is no honor in it. There is no honor in you. I will enjoy killing you.”–Mortu

Longer Story: Pop Kult Warlord, by Nick Cole

It’s way more than just a game!

PerfectQuestion is back! Running and gunning his way across an incredible civilization-building game set on Mars. But this time he’s working as a hired online ringer for a corrupt dictatorship and trying to keep from getting “disappeared” in a reckless world of intrigue, epic parties, luxurious meals, fast sports cars, and women who are as dangerous as they are beautiful.

Five million in gold says he can do it and put the next Sultan on the throne by leading a rag-tag clan of gaming jihadis to victory, but revolution and revolt are afoot. The long knives are out in Calistan for the hero of Soda Pop Soldier and anyone else who gets in a murderous prince’s way.

Nick Cole brings the action he's known for in Galaxy's Edge to a strange digital mix of Civilization, Call of Duty, and palace intrigue. A cyberpunk litRPG tale with planetary colonization elements instead of dystopian, Pop Kult Warlord also mixes in that age-old science fiction tradition--a jaw-dropping twist at the end. While fans of Soda Pop Soldier will be pleased to see PerfectQuestion in action once more, Pop Kult Warlord works well as a stand-alone novel, a refreshing feat in these days of endless serials.