A New Dawn: The Complete Don A. Stuart Stories (2003)

A New Dawn The Complete Don A Stuart Stories NESFA

This time out, I’m taking a brief look at one of the high-quality NESFA Press collections of SF author short fiction. This one contains all of John W. Campbell, Jr’s short fiction written under his “Don A. Stuart” pseudonym, plus a couple of previously unpublished (in book form) articles also written by Campbell under the Stuart handle. The collection starts off with an excellent introduction, “The Man Who Lost the Sea”, written by Barry N. Malzberg, giving a short but fascinating examination of Campbell’s career. This is followed by sixteen stories, and finishes off with the two essays.

TITLE: A NEW DAWN: THE COMPLETE DON A.STUART STORIES
AUTHOR: John W. Campbell, Jr.
EDITED BY: James A. Mann
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Author Collection
DUSTJACKET ART: Bob Eggleton
FORMAT: Hardback, 464 pages
PUBLISHER: NESFA Press, US, 2003
ISBN: 1-886778-15-9

CONTENTS (16 Stories, 2 Articles):

  • Introduction: “The Man Who Lost the Sea” (2002) by Barry N. Malzberg
  • “Twilight” (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1934, short story)
  • “Atomic Power” (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1934, short story)
  • “The Machine” (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1935, short story, Machine series #1)
  • “The Invaders” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1935, novelette, Machine series #2)
  • “Rebellion” (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1935, short story, Machine series #3)
  • “Blindness” (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1935, short story)
  • “The Escape” (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1935, novelette)
  • “Night” (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1935, novelette)
  • “Elimination” (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1936, short story)
  • “Frictional Losses” (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1936, novelette)
  • “Forgetfulness” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1937, novelette)
  • “Out of Night” (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1937, novelette, Aesir series #1)
  • “Cloak of Aesir” (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1939, novelette, Aesir series #2)
  • “Dead Knowledge” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1938, novelette)
  • “Who Goes There?” (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1938, novelette)
  • “The Elder Gods” (Unknown, October 1939, novella)
  • “Strange Worlds” (Unknown, April 1939, article)
  • “Wouldst Write, Wee One?” (Scienti-Snaps, Vol.3 No.1, February 1940, article)

The stories appear in chronological order, in order of dates of publication, with the exception of the three stories in the Invaders sequence and the two Aesir stories, which have all been re-ordered so they appear in their own correct internal sequence.

Campbell, especially the Don A. Stuart alter ego, was one of my favourite SF writers of the 1930s. Under his own name, he competed with E. E. “Doc” Smith, writing stories of superscience (although Campbell was a MUCH better writer than Smith), but under the Stuart pseudonym, he wrote stories that were truly special, dark, moody, decadent, and more akin to the darker tales of H. G. Wells and other classic scientific romance authors than anything hitherto seen in the pulps.

Sure, there were a few other writers in that era who did the dark, moody and decadent thing pretty darned good – Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, C. L. Moore, and Henry Kuttner, to name but a few – but these authors mostly wrote SF&F of a completely different, more fantasy-oriented flavour. In my opinion, Campbell, with the exception of maybe Jack Williamson, who also was writing some similarly dark, moody SF during that period, had no real direct competition in science fiction at that time.

When I was a kid (early-mid teens), I first encountered Campbell’s short fiction in various collections and anthologies that I checked out of local libraries. Ironically, I encountered the superior Don A. Stuart tales years before I ever read any of Campbell’s Superscience stories. “Night” was the first one, in the Sam Moskowitz-edited anthology Microcosmic God. That story had a huge and formative impact on me as a reader, and I was delighted to find out a year or two later that it was actually a sequel to another excellent story, “Twilight”.

After I read “Night”, I eagerly hunted down any other Campbell short stories that I could find. Some of them were just as good as “Night”, including the aforementioned “Twilight” and other tales such as “Forgetfulness”, the two Aesir stories “Out of Night” and “The Cloak of Aesir”, and the classic “Who Goes There?”. These all became huge favourites of mine during my teenage years. “Dead Knowledge”, “Blindness” and the Machine trilogy of stories were all also very good. It’s been many years since I’ve read most of these stories, so it’s going to be fun revisiting them.

When Campbell took over at Astounding as The Editor, and kick-started the Golden Age which totally reshaped SF, he became one of the biggest and most important figures in the history of the genre. But, at the same time, we also lost potentially one of the genre’s greatest writers, something that I, personally, regret quite a lot. We can only imagine how good he might have become, what other amazing stories he might’ve written, if he hadn’t given up writing to concentrate fully on being the editor of Astounding.

But, at least, in this excellent collection, he has left behind some of the greatest SF stories not only of the 1930’s, but indeed any other era. This is one of my favourite SF author short fiction collections, and definitely recommended reading.

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THE SWORD & SORCERY ANTHOLOGY edited by David G. Hartwell and Jacob Weisman

TITLE: THE SWORD & SORCERY ANTHOLOGY
EDITED BY: David G. Hartwell and Jacob Weisman
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
PUBLISHER: Tachyon Publications, San Francisco, 2012
FORMAT: Trade Paperback, 1st Edition, 480 pages
ISBN 13: 978-1-61696-069-8
ISBN 10: 1-61696-069-8

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction: Storytellers: A Guided Ramble into Sword and Sorcery Fiction by David Drake
  • “The Tower of the Elephant” by Robert E. Howard (Weird Tales, March 1933)
  • “Black God’s Kiss” by C. L. Moore (Weird Tales, October 1934)
  • “The Unholy Grail” by Fritz Leiber (Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, October 1962)
  • “The Tale of Hauk” by Poul Anderson (first appeared in Swords Against Darkness, Vol. 1, edited by Andrew J. Offutt, Zebra Books, New York, 1977)
  • “The Caravan of Forgotten Dreams” by Michael Moorcock (first appeared as “The Flame Bringers”, Science Fantasy #55, October 1962)
  • “The Adventuress” by Joanna Russ (first appeared in Orbit 2, edited by Damon Knight, Putnam, New York, 1967)
  • “Gimmile’s Songs” by Charles R. Saunders (first appeared in Sword and Sorceress #1, edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW Books, New York, 1984)
  • “Undertow” by Karl Edward Wagner (Whispers #10, August 1977)
  • “The Stages of the God” by Ramsey Campbell [writing as Mongomery Comfort] (Whispers #5, November 1974)
  • “The Barrow Troll” by David Drake (Whispers #8, December 1975)
  • “Soldier of an Empire Unacquainted with Defeat” by Glen Cook (Berkley Showcase, Volume 2, edited by Victoria Schochet and John Silbersack, Berkley Books, New York, 1980)
  • “Epistle from Lebanoi” by Michael Shea (Original to this anthology, 2012)
  • “Become a Warrior” by Jane Yolen (Warrior Princess, edited by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough and Martin H. Greenberg, DAW Books, New York, 1998)
  • “The Red Guild” by Rachel Pollack (Sword and Sorceress #2, edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW Books, New York, 1985)
  • “Six from Atlantis” by Gene Wolfe (Cross Plains Universe: Texans Celebrate Robert E. Howard, edited by Scott A. Cupp and Joe R. Lansdale, MonkeyBrain Books & Fandom Association of Central Texas, 2006)
  • “The Sea Troll’s Daughter” by Caitlín R. Kiernan (Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders, EOS, New York, 2010)
  • “The Coral Heart” by Jeffrey Ford (Eclipse Three, edited by Jonathan Strahan, Night Shade Books, San Francisco, 2009)
  • “Path of the Dragon” by George R. R. Martin (Asimov’s SF, December 2000)
  • “The Year of the Three Monarchs” by Michael Swanwick (Original to this anthology, 2012)

Right, we have something a bit different this time around. Firstly, this anthology is a lot more recent than most of the others that I’ve posted about on the blog so far. It’s relatively new, in fact, published in 2012, and edited by David G. Hartwell, with whom I’m very familiar for his work on SF anthologies (one of my favourite modern SF editors, but I’m not familiar at all with his co-editor, Jacob Weisman). But I will be including new anthologies that I’m impressed with from time to time, so this may be the first, but it won’t be an exception, although the main focus of the blog will always be on the older, “forgotten” anthologies.

Secondly, and this is a first for this blog, this isn’t a science fiction anthology, it’s a fantasy anthology. Or, to be more precise, a sword and sorcery anthology. The “About” section of this blog does state that I would be including very occasional reviews of fantasy books, although they will be very far and few between. I’m not overly fond of reading fantasy at the best of times (I’m more of an Analog nuts ‘n’ bolts hard SF kinda guy), and I simply can’t abide the modern dominant Tolkein-imitation strain of mainstream fantasy. Hey, I can’t even read Tolkein himself, as his writing totally bores me to tears, so how could I abide second and third-rate imitators?

However, I do like some of the older, more traditional forms of fantasy (for instance, the Narnia books, which IMHO are far superior to Tolkein) and some Young Adult SF&F. Like I said, there will be only very rare reviews of fantasy books, as it only comprises a tiny percent of what I read. More than 95% of my fiction reading is SF, most of the rest is classic/older horror (not the modern stuff), and only about 1% (maybe less) is fantasy.

But this is a sword and sorcery anthology, and s&s is a very rare exception, the only sub-genre of fantasy that I actually enjoy reading on a more widespread basis. It’s definitely the darker, horror elements that really attract me to s&s, as well as the fact that most s&s stories are not afflicted by that excruciatingly boring pseudo-medieval, rustic scenario that the vast majority of modern mainstream fantasy is set in. I could never be a farmer! 🙂

I have to admit that my s&s reading has been mostly confined to the classic 1930’s and 1940’s work of Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, C. L. Moore, maybe a little of Fritz Leiber and a few others. I haven’t read anything in this genre post-1950. So tackling this anthology is going to be quite interesting. Only two of the stories are pre-1950 (both early 1930’s), and the rest are from the 1960’s onwards, and covering every decade from then up until the two original 2012 stories written for the anthology. I don’t know how different modern s&s is to the classic form, but I reckon I’ll find out soon enough.

I must admit that my tastes in SF&F reading material have changed and narrowed drastically in the last 10-15 years. I know I’ll still enjoy the earlier Robert E. Howard and C. L. Moore stories, and most likely the Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock and Poul Anderson. But as for the more modern stories by the authors that I’m not familiar with, that remains to be seen. Let’s see if I can make it the whole way through this one without giving up. 🙂

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Two)

The Golden Years – Geek Nirvana During the Seventies

The start of our teenage years is the sweet spot for the vast majority of us, particularly geeks, the beginning of what is probably the most fondly remembered period of our lives.

It’s long enough ago that most of our memories are fond, rosy ones, but it’s also the first time in our lives from which we retain reasonably accurate and continuous recollections of events (unlike our earlier childhood – most memories from our first decade are pretty vague and fragmented). And it is also during these years that many of us have the most fun and freedom to do what we want (after we finish our homework, of course), before adulthood arrives and the bland banalities, responsibilities and worries of “grown-up” life start to descend upon us.

I mentioned in my previous posting that my childhood was a far from happy one. Things got even worse when I was eleven years old, when my parents separated, leaving my father to raise five kids on his own. He was forced to leave his job, and our descent into poverty became even more severe. To top it all off, my father’s health began to decline sharply after my mother left, and, as the “oldest”, I was shoehorned into the role of “surrogate mother” from this very tender age, taking over the extremely heavy responsibilities of not only looking after my father, but also the other four kids, one of whom was also very severely disabled.

To be blunt, I was a very unhappy young boy as a teenager, one who sought refuge in a world of make-believe. Any kind of an escape from this dreary and depressing reality was a welcome one, and I immersed myself in an alternate world of comics, sci-fi worlds on television, in films, and in great SF literature. I also became very preoccupied with drawing and writing.

To refer to these interests as mere “hobbies” would be a complete understatement. They were obsessions, a vital lifeline for me, and I depended on them utterly to keep me sane, when everything around me was so gloomy and depressing. Since childhood, and throughout my entire life, these “obsessions” have been entrenched as fundamental pillars of my personality and way of thinking, and I simply cannot imagine my life without them.

I may already have been a proto-geek from a much earlier period in my life, but the beginning of my teens marks the time from which I can seriously start referring to myself as a true, hardcore geek. Things may not have been rosy on the domestic and personal front, but my hobbies and obsessions certainly first started to kick into overdrive in a very big way at this age, almost certainly to compensate for my miserable “Real Life”. I was also now growing old enough to be much more sophisticated, systematic and discerning when it came to what I was “into”. And what I was into, and I mean REALLY into, was the Holy Trinity of SF literature, Sci-Fi on television and in films, and Comics.

All through the 1970’s, up until around 1977-78, was a “Golden Age” for me, from a geek perspective anyway, the completely opposing mirror image of my crappy “real life”. All during my teens there was a steady procession of classic sci-fi TV shows and films on local television, and although I had my favourites – Doctor Who, Star Trek, UFO, The Time Tunnel – I loved them all to a lesser or greater extent.

By this stage of my life I was also a totally obsessive reader of both comics (particularly the Marvel UK reprint comics) and SF literature. I’d started off initially in my pre-teens with Wells and Verne, then moving onto Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and anything else that I could read. By my early teens, the whole world of SF literature was my oyster. I was discovering great new (to me, anyway) authors like H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl, John W. Campbell, Jr, Alfred Bester, Henry Huttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith and many, many others.

By my mid-teens, I was neck-deep in my alternate geek world, spending every available second on my hobbies. I just couldn’t get enough of the whole Sci-Fi/Comics/SF Literature thing, and it seemed like the good days would never end.

But I was wrong.

To Be Continued…