Tag Archives: Steve Jackson

Mag Review: Fantastic Universe (December, 1957)

Greetings all

This week, we’ll look at the Fantastic Universe from December, 1957 edited by Hans Stefan Santesson. He also edited a couple of anthologies I’ll need to read that focus on characters such as Conan, Thongor, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and Elric of Melnibone.

Fantastic Universe (December 1957)
Fantastic Universe (December 1957)

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?91011

The issue starts with a humorous thing on the first page. It’s an add asking “Are you giving your wife the companionship she craves?” I didn’t realize Cialis and Viagra ads were that old.

The first story is Bear Trap by Alan E. Nourse. Like so many authors of the Golden Age, he’s an interesting guy. He wrote SF to pay for medical school.

A side note, the movie Blade Runner got its title form his story The Bladerunner, though nothing of the story in the movie comes from the book.

Bear Trap is a pretty good story with a number of worrisome thoughts. The main character is a propagandist tasked with helping control American society. He has to frame words to get the emotional impact his bosses desire.

And what they desire is to create a war. The people behind it, though, are not what they seem. In a fun twist, the people behind the system are creating a war not to make a profit, but to push humanity to create offworld habitats. The mastermind’s analogy is that humanity is caught in a bear trap. We are trapped on Earth and will die if we don’t escape it, but to escape it we have to gnaw off our own leg, so to speak.

Again, a good story, though not a great one. The last bit drags because the mastermind has to explain why he has done all of the bad things he’s done to get out of the trap. That exposition eliminates the tension at the end.

Then there’s a small essay about the “Coming Conquest of the Moon.” Sad to say, their optimism has proven unfounded.

Next is a robot story called The Love of Frank Nineteen by David C. Knight. Knight did not publish much, and I can see why with this story.

Man, it was disappointing. It had such promise. “Min and I were just getting settled into the spotel game when the leg turned up” (p. 49) That should have been the first sentence, but even as the first line of the third paragraph, that’s got so much power in it. What leg? What are space hotels going to be like? Where is this story going?

It is a great setup for a good hardboiled detective mystery, but it’s not that kind of story. They find out fairly quickly a robot called Frank Nineteen has been smuggling up his one true love part by part. They catch him reassembling and activating her about a third of the way through.

That, too, could have had promise. A tragic romance that can never be or Robot and Juliet. Instead, it then turned into a boring bit about Frank Nineteen becoming the face for robot civil rights, becoming a movie star, and parading around Earth with a different female robot chosen as his co-lead.

Even then, the story could have been salvaged, and almost was. His love sees the coverage of him and the leading lady gallivanting around. She tries to commit suicide, which would have been a heartwrenching story when Frank finally returns to her. But, no, they manage to save her and they go off happily ever after.

Sigh. Once again, a potential story ruined by some supposed need for a happy ending. Bleah. It’s close, really close, to being very good, but it’s almost like every time Knight had a choice, he choose the boring option.

After that is My Father the Cat by Henry Slesar. In German, it’s Mein Vater, der Kater. I accept that I’m just an immature little boy, but that makes me chuckle. Slesar is another interesting guy. He might very well have coined the term “coffee break.” Starbucks should pay him royalties, if true.

This is a great story. All of the potential the Knight ignored, Slesar pursued. The main character is, in fact, the son of a Breton noblewoman and big, intelligent Angora. The cat is a lover of art, and literature, and good food, and all such things. He educated his son in these things, and the son comes to America to excel at a university on this side.

Over here, he finds the woman of his dreams and he brings her back to Brittany to get married. However, he has not told her of his, shall we say, different parentage. He is determined to tell her once back at home, but his father tells him he would lose her if he does. He refuses to believe that and tries to force the issue.

The father stops it by breaking his son’s heart. He comes to dinner and meows. The butler gives him a saucer of milk in the corner, and he acts like a normal cat. The scene is powerful and excellent.

C.M. Kornbluth is next with Requiem for a Scientist. Yet another side note, “requiem” was my first bingo in tournament Scrabble.

But this is a fascinating rip on Ivan Sanderson, who follows next with Comments from a Scientist. Kornbluth has many complimentary things to say about Sanderson, but tears him to shreds for losing his scientific mind and proselytizing about UFOs.

Sanderson’s rebuttal is quite fun, actually. He says that while he’s never met Kornbluth, after reading his critique, says, “I think I will like him too, when we meet. In the meantime, I am genuinely appreciative of his criticisms for it will be a sad when everybody agrees about everything…” (p. 79). Then he proceeds to eviscerate Kornbluth’s argument.

I sure hope they had a chance to argue over pints, for that would have been lots of fun.

Speaking of fun, we come to Zelda Kessler’s limerick Good-by Terra on page 82.

A Martian explorer called Klimp
Found earth, but it left him quite limp.
Tho’ man merely bored him,
The weather here floored him –
So he hurried back home in his blimp.

It’s been snowy and in the 20s here most of the past week. I don’t blame him for heading back to sunny and warm Mars 😉

We get more whimsy with the next story, Inside Stuff by Theodore Pratt. It stars Young Gastric Juice and Old Gastric Juice. Young GJ falls in love with a spritely Celery who has such lovely eyes. Young GJ refuses to push her out of the stomach because of her beauty, despite the fact that Old GJ has seen this story before. The two GJs spend much of the rest of the story dealing with the variety of foods coming through, including a tough old Steak.

Unfortunately, the love story ends when Celery turns her affections to a newcomer, Bonbon. Young GJ, in pain from getting spurned, promises he will never fall in love again until, at the end, he muses that maybe there’ll be celery again tomorrow.

Hilarious, cute story.

Next is another essay called Shapes in the Sky. This one lists a variety of skyquakes in the hopes of determining the reality of UFOs. It’s written by CSI, the Civilian Saucer Intelligence. Now I want a mash-up of Project UFO and CSI. Gil Grissom should be in charge of Project Blue Book!

The story Moment of Truth by Basil Wells follows. This is a disappointing story about a woman who has emigrated to Mars but has at some point lost connection with reality. Her husband tries to save her by showing her the Mars desert, but she merely incorporates it into his vision.

It’s disappointing because nothing really happens. If literature needs to show some change in characters, then this does not qualify. The main character lives in a dream. Her husband tries to bring her out of the dream, but she remains where she was. What’s the point?

Unfortunately, the next story suffers from the same problem, only even worse. It’s called Resurrection by Robert J. Shea. Shea is interesting because he co-wrote the Illuminatus trilogy, which became the inspiration for Steve Jackson’s Illuminati game.

This story is incredibly good. It’s about the ability of new science to restore life to any human being if there are any cells left. A woman asks to hear the whole story of one of these resurrected people. It’s a great conversation, and is the start of a fantastic story.

But it’s less than two full pages. There’s no result. There’s no action.  You don’t even get to finish the initial conversation. Gah! This could be a great series of novels, not a few hundred words. Less than this review. It’s a damn shame.

Gah! It happens again, exactly the same thing, in Forgotten Ones by Stephen Bond (really, Hans Stefan Santesson under a pen name). It’s a robot artist staring at a statue of humans amazed that they might in any way be involved with the creation of the First Ones. But it is, again, less than two full pages.

It’s a fantastic introduction or ever just raw world-building for an interesting robot universe as they struggle with religion, creation, and all such things. Asimov would have done amazing things with it.

Sadly, you can basically see the entire story on the front cover. No real need for those few hundred words.

L. Sprague de Camp is next with an essay about Ignatius Donnelly Pseudomath. This essay is de Camp pointing out just how wrong  Donnelly, (Wikipedia entry here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatius_L._Donnelly) was about Atlantis, how Francis Bacon was Shakespeare, and other ideas.

Donnelly is another fascinating character, though. He wrote SF in the 1800s. He was a fairly successful politician and a leader in the Populist Party. The things you learn reading these magazines is amazing.

The last story is Kenneth Bulmer’s By the Beard of the Comet. It’s another potentially fun story that lacks fleshing out. It’s about a man frustrated by an evil boss and a nagging wife. He goes to the local VR theater, which interprets his thoughts and gives him the VR experience his mood wants. So the VR makes him a pirate on the spaceways, fighting and defeating his boss. He has jewels, wealth, skill with the rapier, and many other defeated enemies.

But his wife tracks him down and inserts herself into his VR. She does it as much as anything to continue yelling at him. In the end, though, he comes out filled with the confidence installed as a pirate captain, and he vows to take his boss’s place.

The transition happens too swiftly, though. There’s not enough of him fighting through his inner demons. Nor is the twist at the end anything terribly surprising.

As you can tell, this issue frustrated me. The prose is all well-constructed. There’s a good kernel to every story but they’re just not executed well enough. Sigh.

Anyway, next week I’ll be reading the Analog of August, 1957. I’m really excited about this one because it’s the first one I’ve run across with something by Randall Garrett.

Next Week’s Issue: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?56739


If you have any comments or would like to request I keep my eyes open for a specific issue or month, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.

If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

LibertyCon 2018 AAR

I’m sitting at Prince Street Pizza in Gallatin, TN and I’m exhausted.

Which means my plan is proceeding apace.

I’m in Gallatin because I’ll be staying at Mark and Joy Wandrey’s place for a few days before going to InConjunction this weekend. I’m exhausted because LibertyCon is the best SF/F convention around.

The best part of LibertyCon is the amount of professional networking. I got to plan for new projects and learn from some of the best in the SF/F world. It’s changed my writing schedule a bit, and that’s a good thing. I’ll talk about that more as time goes by, but some of it is too ill-formed at the moment to really discuss yet. However, I’ve planted some seeds in Shijuren and other universes that should end up being very fruitful. I begin the AAR with the networking comments because those started on Thursday before anything else.

I’d like to especially thank Steve Jackson, Bill Fawcett, and Chuck Gannon for taking the time to answer questions and pass on some of the lessons they’ve learned. Great stuff for all of them, and they’re the biggest reason I’ll be adjusting my plans over the next year.

My first panel happened on Friday at 2pm. This panel discussed historical fiction and also history in fiction. It went very well because Louise Herring-Jones, David B. Coe, and I all had good experience with historical processes as well as fiction. We all had lots of good stuff to say. Coe, in particular, showed off why he was  a deserving guest of honor with his discussion about his Thieftaker Chronicles set in Revolutionary War-era Boston.

The rest of Friday involved getting this arranged for Jamie Ibson’s party, Opening Ceremonies, and my Author’s Alley stint. That all went smoothly, including a number of sales in the Alley, which can often be hit or miss. We held Jamie Ibson’s room party in my room to make life easier for Brandy, and it went well. I went to bed late.

Even though I fell asleep late, I was up and lively at the Four Horsemen Roundtable at 10am on Saturday. I had the new laptop set up and showed off some of the wiki, along with showing the author pages. I also edited and added a few Wiki pages live, much to the delight of the audience in a few cases.

Then was the banquet at noon. The banquet is always an interesting animal for me. I don’t usually get big sales or networking, but it’s always enjoyable. Chuck Gannon, by the way, was an amazing MC.

At 3pm I then had a reading. I used Chapter 7, which is the chapter including Olga Belobashnina Cherepanova. It’s actually a perfect section for reading, as it’s essentially an entire story arc on its own. It’s only about 15-18 minutes, which usually means I have more time, so I also read the Epilogue to Brief Is My Flame, which doesn’t really include spoilers, does include the riddle, and hints at what’s coming in None Call Me Mother. The reading went well, though there weren’t many people there. Unfortunately, a woman who heard my reading last year and wanted to hear this year’s showed up after I was done. I ended up giving her my reading copy of the text at the Kaffeeklatsch. Nice, very smart woman who I’m glad likes my stuff.

Anyway, then was my autograph session. That was not particularly well attended, at least not for me, but I got to do some more networking.

At that point, it was time to prepare for the Brief Is My Flame / Four Horsemen room party. I’d like to thank Jamie for helping and contributing, even though he had to be at a different party. Anyway, it was a huge blast. My new drink, the MAC Round, went very well. I sold a few books, made a number of new readers, and we had a great time. I got to sleep about 3.

Which meant the Kaffeeklatsch at 10am was damned early. I made it, but I was generally content to let people swirl around me.

Following that was the Upcoming in the Chris Kennedy Publishing panel. I was in that panel because I’ll have two follow-ups to “Where Enemies Sit” from For a Few Credits More. The first is a short story for the Lyon’s Den anthology that I’ve talked about a couple of times. The second is the full-length novel. I announced the working title of the novel, The Feeding of Sorrows, which, like “Where Enemies Sit,” is a line from the Havamal.

I just want to take a quick moment and thank Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey for letting me be a part of the 4HU and tagging along on their coattails.

Anyway, that was the last thing I had scheduled for the con itself. I went to closing ceremonies, entitled the Bitch at Brandy session where they actively solicit ways to improve LibertyCon. I have no doubt this is one reason this is the best-run convention going. The big announcement was next year’s LibertyCon will be at the Read House on 31 May – 2 June, which is about a month ahead of their traditional date. However, that means LibertyCon 2019 is only 11 months away.

Sunday night at LibertyCon includes a traditional trip to a Brazilian steakhouse and more socializing / networking, and then back to the hotel for the Dead Dog party. Last year at this party, I got to do a play-test of a game similar to Cards Against Humanity with Steve Jackson. This year, I got to play one of the newly released versions of the game, Conspiracy Theory, and even won a copy to bring home. It’s a hoot.

The only real problem with LibertyCon is that there’s so many cool people to talk to and only three days to do so.

Again, I’d like to compliment the staff of LibertyCon. I’m quite serious when I say it’s better run than any other con I’ve ever seen, and it’s not close. Brandy Spraker does a fantastic job organizing things. Rich Groller is the most on-the-ball programming guy around (by a wide margin). It’s actually kind of silly how quickly he responds to stuff. Matthew Fanny keeps track of memberships, and I was a bit of a jerk to him this year as our circumstances kept changing and I switched plans with my membership four or five times. He just took care of me, even though I wasn’t easy. Misty Kat Gutierrez-Walker had the game room thrown at her at essentially the last minute, but, as she has done in the past, kept things going.

This year had to have been hard on them. They didn’t know if they were going to have a site in 2018, so they basically did the normal work of a con in about 6 months, instead of a year. That also included adapting to a new site (the Marriott Downtown), which had very particular rules. A great hotel in many ways, but not necessarily great for LibertyCon. Anyway, they did it all and the only real issues I saw came from hotel weirdnesses (like not having stairs from floor 3 to floor 2 that did not go through “employee only” areas!?!?).

This is my fifth LibertyCon, and like all the others, I’ve come out with improved plans and greater goals. I’m definitely earning a place and a name in this business in great part because of this con.

So, I know where I’ll be the weekend after Memorial Day in 2019.

 

 

LibertyCon AAR

I started this on July 4th, a perfect time to celebrate LibertyCon XXX. And celebrate we must. LibertyCon is the best-run science fiction and fantasy convention out there and I had a great time.

I arrived at the Chattanooga Choo Choo fairly early on Thursday, having broken the trip up in multiple sections thanks to friends who have offered me crash space. I knew I was going to push myself pretty hard during the weekend, so I did my best to ensure I was as fresh as possible after the drive.

The big event of the weekend for me was on Saturday, where I had a joint release party for Where Now the Rider and For a Fistful of Credits, the new Four Horsemen Universe Anthology. Thursday evening I did some pre-planning and moving of stuff around to figure out the best arrangement of beverages and food.

After I got pretty much all I could do done,  I went to ConSuite, which was not technically open but was still the gathering place. There I hung out with a few people and listened to Sarah Hoyt do a reading from a book that shall remain nameless. They say that traumatic events can cause selective amnesia. It was awful. All I can say is that it wasn’t written by anyone at the con. Oh, I can say one other thing. We laughed a lot.

Most of Friday was spent organizing stuff. I decided on the layout in the room and arranged things as best I could. I also went to the Opening Ceremonies and got reacquainted with old friends. I didn’t have panels on Friday, so mostly I lounged around during the afternoon.

My main thing on Friday was my stint on Author’s Alley from 8pm to 11pm. Basically, I moved all my books and set up in front of the rooms where panels were being held. I sold a few, while meeting a number of potential readers. It’s a lot of work, but it needs to be done, and in the long run it’s worth it.

After that I was tired but had enough energy to enjoy some room parties and hang out with some friends. I especially enjoyed hanging out by the pool with Aaron Mays, Jonny Minion, and a couple of others.

As I was getting a beer from my cooler, I ran into Sarah, Dan, and Robert Hoyt. It turns out that Roberts around the world like IPAs, so I got him one and we stood around chatting. It was my first time actually having a chance to chat with Sarah. Her at LibertyCon is like me at Pennsic, only with a much smaller site and a correspondingly higher chance to find another conversation.

Saturday was a really long day. At 11am I was part of a panel discussing various ways to get your plot unstuck and overcoming writer’s block. There are a ton of possible ways to do this, but it all boils down to finding what works for you. Whether it’s changing the environment, taking a shower, driving around, or something else, it’s the kind of thing that varies for everyone.

At 2pm was a panel I was very much excited to join: The Middle Ages as Inspiration for Epic and High Fantasy. Thanks to my grad school work, I anticipated I’d have lots to say, and I did. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and hope to do it again. I could have gone on for a while.

I then had several hours before my reading with Dave Schroeder at 6pm. There were a couple of very interesting panels to attend, but I chose wisely and took a bit of a nap, arranged my books and display for the party, and got as much prep done as possible.

I did not have time to create a 20-minute long reading from Where Now the Rider, so my reading at 6pm on Saturday was one from I Am a Wondrous Thing that I have done before. It’s a scene where Irina is convinced to give up the title of Velikomat and the immediate aftermath of her stepping down. It’s an emotional one for me, and I always cry when I read it. It’s a powerful section, and I get a pretty good response from those that listen. Dave read a bit from his new fantasy series, the Congruent Apprentice, which sounds interesting but which I’ve not yet read, and a small bit from his Xenotech Rising series, which I have read some of and really like.

The Four Horsemen Universe is a series of stories about humans discovering that interstellar mercenaries are their best export good. It’s a large sandbox created by Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey and many fantastic mil-sf authors are joining in. I am looking forward to reading these stories, just as much as I’ve enjoyed the novels in the universe. Oh, and I just might be working on a short story for the next anthology.

However, this party was to celebrate the release of their first anthology, as well as my newest book. The writers of the anthology brought all the food and I brought nearly all the beverages. As usual, I am coming home with about the same amount as I took out, but at least we didn’t run out of alcohol. Many thanks to Kacey Ezell, one of the contributors to the anthology, who also contributed her cooler to help organize the drinks.

Which is a good thing because we were packed. It was a great party and I sold a goodly number of books, as well as added to my mailing list. Basically, we went four solid hours with guests.

Around 12:30, the crowd dissipated, and with the help of Aaron and a few others we transported the leftovers over to the ConSuite and shut the party down. I was toast. So toast that it took a while for me to relax enough to get to sleep.

I was still tired Sunday, but I had expected that. I started the day at the Kaffeeklatsch. I had a great conversation with the Science Guest of Honor, Dr. Elisa Quintana and Dr. Tom Barclay, who is also a scientist. They study exoplanets and we discussed the most efficient ways we can get humans in space. Well, I asked questions and they taught me stuff, which was wonderful from my perspective.

Immediately after that was my turn at the signature table, where I joined Gray Rinehart and Charity Ayres. The signature table can be packed if a David Weber, David Drake, or John Ringo is sitting there, but for us was fairly quiet. I think we all sold a book or two, with signatures, but mostly the three of us had a great conversation.

One of the joys of LibertyCon is comparing notes with other professionals, because there is such a high percentage of professionals to fans. LibertyCon caps its attendance at 750, and over 150 attendees are professional writers, artists, scientists, or something else relevant. Also, I would bet that a large number of the remainder are people like me at my first LibertyCon, those who want to become professionals. It’s a great chance for us all to learn, and over the years I’ve learned a ton.

Anyway, my last panel of the weekend was Cooking Out of this World. This panel went off the rails. At least we were funny, but we were all a little tired and we strayed from the topic early and often. Todd McCaffrey did ask one interesting question that we talked about a bit but not enough, and that’s what are the environmental factors that will affect the way things taste in space? Obviously, things taste differently on airplanes, which is something airlines are already dealing with, but will be an issue for interplanetary and interstellar travel.

The last session of LibertyCon is the Bitch at Brandy session. Brandy Spraker is the chairman of the con, and she does a fantastic job. The closing ceremonies each year are a chance for people to suggest things that could be improved. Once everyone has had their chance to make comments, good and bad, about the con, she officially closes the con. They take these suggestions seriously, too, and I have seen some implemented in the four years I’ve gone.

Much of the rest of Sunday involved me finishing cleaning up after the party and doing most of my packing. I have learned that I want to stay  overnight on Sunday and leave Monday morning, but I basically pack everything but Monday’s clothes and shower stuff.

I got that done in time to join about 35 of us at a Brazilian steakhouse. I had the fortune of sitting next to a few people I knew, but had never really talked with, including Miriam Ringo, the wife of one of the best mil-sf writers around, John Ringo. What a fun and generous person she is. She had a bracelet on that I admired and thought Giulia would also like. Miriam immediately removed it and handed to me as a gift. By this point were about 3 minutes into our conversation. I was stunned by her generosity then, and still find it amazing and admirable now. Then we had a long and wonderful conversation.

Actually, everyone at dinner had a great time. It has been decided that this will be a LibertyCon Sunday evening tradition.

Following dinner was something that is already a LibertyCon tradition, the Dead Dog party. Basically, those who stay on Sunday evening eat drink as much of the leftovers as possible and play games or hang out.

Again, I had some incredible good fortune. Steve Jackson, of Steve Jackson Games, the inventor of Munchkin and a bunch of other great games, was playtesting some games and I got to join in. Steve is a wonderful and fun guy, and the rest of us had a blast tossing out ideas and picking them apart.

Getting to toss out suggestions on games, even bad ones, to a legend like Steve Jackson is definitely a highlight for me.

Around 12:30, we called it a night, and therefore the end of the con. I went to bed and left for a fairly smooth drive back. The only real excitement was seeing a collision about a half-mile ahead of me in the oncoming lane. The truck driver did a great job and controlled his 18-wheeler in the median so our lane never had to worry.

As I’ve mentioned, LibertyCon is a different beast from other cons. I will be going back there every year, though there’s some question as to when and where the next one will be.

For the four years I’ve attended, it has been at the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel, but the hotel has sold off about 80% of its rooms to make apartments / condos. Basically, while the convention space is fine, there are only rooms for about 20% of the con goers. This means many are off in the Marriott, which is not far but still puts a crimp in the con experience. Part of the fun of cons is going to room parties which are elsewhere in the hotel. Have fun, drink a few beverages, and then trundle to your room. No travel logistics to speak of. Even free shuttle buses are not a great solution, though of course those were provided.

In short, the Choo Choo simply cannot work anymore. Unfortunately, convention sites are notoriously difficult to find at times, and Brandy and her folks are casting about for a solution. I heard a rumor that a new convention hotel is getting built in Chattanooga, but will not be fully ready by summer 2018. I’m not sure if that’s true, but while they aren’t at all sure of time and place next year, or even if they might take a year off, they all seemed confident that things would be fine by 2019.

Whatever they come up with, I’ll be back.