In my day job, I work with MBA students, and in the time that I’ve been doing that (and working at my regular job), I’ve gained a certain appreciation for how businesses function. When it comes to researching the column, looking at how a business functions has a certain appeal, especially since a major, unspoken element of SF History is really a sort of business history.
An excellent case in point is the rise and fall of a small, independent publisher, Gnome Press, which existed for just over a decade in the middle of the 20th Century. They published some of the genre’s greatest authors, but ultimately failed, overtaken by their own inability to sell books and by changes in the marketplace. Gnome is an interesting business to study, because it carries with it some important lessons.
Read The Meteoric Rise and Fall of Gnome Press over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog.
James L. Cambias is a writer, a game designer, a New Orleanian, a cook, a parent, and a cat-slapper. He just recently released his debut novel, A Darkling Sea.
We had the opportunity to chat with him about his book, writing, Star Trek, zeppelins, and space exploration.
SF Signal: Hi James, thanks for taking the time to speak with us about your first book. First off, what can you tell us about yourself? When did you first discover science fiction, and why did you stick with it?
One of the stories that remains a favorite for me is Theodore Sturgeon’s “Microcosmic God”, which I tore through when I received a copy of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame way back in High School. Sturgeon became an author that I’d turn to pretty quickly whenever I picked up another anthology, and I’ve generally enjoyed all of the stories I’ve read from him.
Sturgeon is someone who’s popped up a bit in the column already, and he’s been someone I’ve been wanting to write about for a while now. He left an enormous footprint within the SF/F short fiction genre, and his work really ran counter to the largely conservative-leaning authors and stories that had been published by Campbell & imitators.
Go read The Innumerable Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog.
I’ll admit it up front: I’m not much of a gamer. The extent of my gameplaying abilities are pretty much limited to games from the Halo franchise, which I really love because of it’s a great military SF story. In the past year, I’ve been pretty interested in a new game that’s been winning a ton of awards, Titanfall.
James Cambias’s debut novel, A Darkling Sea, is an exciting throwback to the Golden Age of science fiction. It’s a tale of first contact on a distant world between humanity and the aquatic Ilmatarans and the conflict that arises with a third race, the Sholen. The book is a quick, fun read that works to some classic SF strengths: sense of wonder, explorers boldly exploring new, interesting worlds, and what happens when a bunch of things go wrong.
Virginia Kidd isn’t necessarily a recognizable name to anyone from outside of the genre’s walls: she worked behind the scenes, and appears between a number of pivotal figures within the genre. While authors get most of the credit, it’s important to see the influence of major editors and agents can play in shaping the direction of the arts world.
Go read The Clients of Agent Virginia Kidd over on the Kirkus Reviews blog.
The first Blish story I read was “Surface Tension” in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology while in High School. While there’s certainly some issues with the anthology, it’s a solid collection of short fiction. Blish isn’t an author I’ve read extensively, but I remember him popping up frequently in the various anthologies I read over the years.
With Blish, we’re starting to move into an era of really interesting authors, just slightly removed from Campbell’s reign over the Golden Age, and as authors began to explore a variety of interesting topics in the growing novel market.
Go read The Big Ideas of James Blish over on Kirkus Reviews.
A while ago, I had some grand idea of doing a parallel column for another website on the history of SF film, but quickly found that I didn’t have the time or background to really get into it. I started writing an inaugural piece on – you guessed it – 2001: A Space Odyssey, before quickly realizing that I was really writing a column about the book.
There’s a lot out on Clarke, more than most of the authors I typically write about. As a result, this column’s quite a bit longer than what I usually put together.
There’s a lot of tie-in novels out there, from all the major franchises, but typically, the books come as a result of the film, or there’s a film based on the book. Far less common is when the book and film are created simultaneously, as is the case with Clarke’s book. It’s not his best work, but it’s probably his most visible.
Go read Arthur C. Clarke, Proselytizer of Space over on the Kirkus Reviews blog.
Do you live in Vermont? Mark your calendar!
One of my pet projects here in Vermont is working to encourage and network a sort of science fiction scene in my home state. The result was Geek Mountain State, a community blog that focuses on all things Geek happening in the state. Last year, we started to branch out into events with the Vermont SF Writer’s Series. Our next reading will be on February 1st, from 3-5pm in Phoenix Books’ Burlington location: 191 Bank Street in downtown Burlington
The authors reading this time around are Rachel Carter, Rob Friesel, Mike Luoma, Ryan Meath, Rachel Mullis and Dean Whitlock! To RSVP, head over to the event page that we’ve set up on Facebook.
If you’re interested in learning more about the event and to get news on future events, you can ‘like’ it on Facebook here, or follow Geek Mountain State on Twitter at @GeekMtnState.
Over the last year, I’ve been trying to write more about the women who wrote SF throughout its history. We’ve seen a bunch: Francis Stevens, Margaret St. Clair, Judith Merrill, Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, and Mary Shelley. While fewer in number than their male counterparts, they were all pretty influential. Recently, there’s been quite a bit of talk over the role of women who write genre fiction, and a common argument that women simply don’t write hard science fiction. Katherine MacLean counters this argument, adapting well to the world of magazine fiction from the 1950s through about the 1980s.
Also, go wish her a happy birthday – she turned 89 on January 22nd.
Go read The Fantastic Foresight of Katherine MacLean over on the Kirkus Reviews blog.
While I’m working on plotting out the rest of the year for my Kirkus Reviews column, I figured it would be interesting to look at a small portion of the books that I use to support it. There’s a lot out there, and if you look at back entries on my home page, you’ll see that I do a more comprehensive bibliography for each post. So, this week, I’m taking a look at some of my more frequently used books for this column.
Go read Reading up on SF History at the Kirkus Reviews blog.
Over the course of writing this column for Kirkus Reviews, I’ve found that the early women authors writing in the genre were some of the most influential, producing some incredible stories over their careers. I’ve looked at quite a few who were incredibly influential: Margaret St. Clair, Judith Merrill, Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, and Mary Shelley.
This week, we finally get to the woman who was considered one of the very first professionals in the pulp field: Gertrude Barrows Bennett, who wrote under the name Francis Stevens. She only wrote for a couple of years, but proved to be an incredible influence on the authors who followed her.
Go read The Influential Pulp Career of Francis Stevens over on the Kirkus Reviews blog.
I bought my first copy of The Hobbit at a library sale in Quechee, VT when I was a kid. At the time, I remember noticing that the cover was graced with an ‘The Authorized Edition’, and it’s been something that I’ve noticed over the years. A couple of months ago, I wrote a column on Ace Books and their double novels, and came across the reason for the words: Ace had published an unauthorized version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, citing a publishing loophole and sparking a publishing row that had some pretty profound implications on the fantasy publishing field.
There’s the common narrative that the book was stolen outright, but digging a little deeper finds that there’s quite a bit more to the story than Ace’s edition.
Go read The Unauthorized Lord of the Rings over on the Kirkus Reviews blog.
I never read the Tom Swift novels as a kid; I was always more obsessed with the Hardy Boys series. Over the years, I’ve read bits and pieces about Edward Stratemeyer, the man who was behind the long-running book series, as well as those of Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins (a favorite of my mother’s), The Rover Boys and Tom Swift. He conceived of a character, put together a formula, and had a freelancer ghost write the novel before editing it. The process has always fascinated me, but when it came to looking into his background, an entire segment of early science fiction comes to light: the Dime Store novels, which created entire subgenres in their own right. More than that, they carried with them some real kernels of thematic material which have since propagated far into the future, which surprised and delighted me.
Another fun fact? TASER isn’t a word: it’s an acronym that stands for Tom A Swift’s Electric Rifle.
Go read Tom Swift and the Stratemeyer Syndicate over on the Kirkus Reviews blog.
The War Stories anthology officially tipped over the 100% mark on its Kickstarter! As of this morning, it’s reached 104% of our goal, and with just over a day left to go, we’re hoping to hit a couple of additional goals above and beyond that.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to each and every one of our 323 backers who’ve pledged thus far. This is going to be an excellent book, and it’s because of all of our backers that we’re able to produce it.
Here’s where we want to go next:
- Stretch Goal target: $12,000: Additional Art unlocked. We’d like to break the stories into thematic sections, and provide art for each section.
- Stretch Goal target: $13,000: 20,000 words unlocked. This will allow us to include several additional stories we have under consideration at the moment, which will make this book all the better.
So, if you’ve been holding off, rest assured that this is now a pre-order for the book. Backers at the $15 level and above will receive a copy of WAR STORIES! You’ve got until November 14th at 6:00 pm to back it!
Larger book cover after the break!
A couple of years ago, I came across an article about Washington Irving that noted his campaign against the piracy of his works during the 1700s. Somewhere else, I came across a mention of how he used startlingly modern methods to help promote his book – posting notices in newspapers, in a clever campaign that helped make his first book a resounding success and helped to cement his status as America’s first professional writer.
Go read America’s First Fantasist: Washington Irving over on the Kirkus Reviews blog.
When the fall arrives, I get into the mood for darker fiction, particularly H.P. Lovecraft. I’ve written about Lovecraft before, but I didn’t quite realize how important the magazine was, despite its general flaws in quality, to the genre. Authors such as C.L. Moore, and quite a few others passed through its pages, and it’s clear that it’s a publication that’s just as important as Astounding or Amazing Stories.
Go read The Troubled History of Weird Tales Magazine over on Kirkus Reviews.
It’s fall, and I’ve been once again shifting from the usual topic of science fiction to horror and fantasy. Last year, I wrote about H.P. Lovecraft, and in my last column, I wrote about Robert E. Howard. As I’ve researched these guys, I continually came up with a common name: Lord Dunsany, and I’ve been looking to write about him and his works.
Dunsany’s not an author that I’d come across before, and until I picked up a copy of The King of Elfland’s Daughter I hadn’t read or owned any of his works. Digging into his past helps to shine a real light on some of my own gaps in the fantasy side of my knowledge. He was an interesting, dramatic figure, intersecting with a number of other authors, and influencing a ton of others.
Go Read The Fantastic Worlds of Lord Dunsany on the Kirkus Reviews blog.
Back in April, I had been doing some reading on the Lovecraft Circle, and came across an interesting fact about one of the authors, Robert Howard. At the age of 30, he killed himself upon learning that his mother was in a coma and would never wake up again. It was interesting, because before that time, he had created a couple of well known characters, namely, Conan the Conqueror one of the pulp era’s defining heroes. A couple of weeks ago, I came across one of his more Lovecraftian stories, The Black Stone, and was reminded of his short life and influence. Beyond just Conan, he helped to influence an entire subgenre of fantasy, Sword and Sorcery.
Go read The Untimely Death of Robert E. Howard over on Kirkus Reviews.
Military SF is a complicated sub genre and despite the problems with Starship Troopers, it remains a favorite story of mine. I’ve been working recently to get an anthology of modern war stories, and I was interested in seeing where the modern movement came from. Unsurprisingly, it’s the product of both the 2nd World War, the Cold War and the style of American politics that emerged from that era.
Go read Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers & The Cold War over on Kirkus Reviews.