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26 January 2013

Melisa C(orrina) Michaels was born in America in 1946 (yup, another of that fine vintage decade.) There isn’t much available on her, but what I do have is that at various times she worked as a Private Investigator, and a singer, backgrounds she uses to great effect in some of her books. I know she lived with her husband Richard in Hawaii for some twenty years, and they ran Embiid for many years. She’s a cat lover and I believe she and the cats later moved to somewhere in rural Pennsylvania. In 2007 she received the SFWA Service Award – and that’s about it.

Back in 1986 I picked up a secondhand copy of Skirmish, (a.k.a. Skyrider 1.) This is a good reason why writers shouldn’t fuss over their books ending up sold and resold as secondhand, because I loved the story, the plot, and the characters, and promptly shot out to my favorite bookshop see if there were other books available. There was, the second and third in the series were in the shop, I bought them on the spot, and put in an order for any more. Over the next couple of years I ended up with all five of the Skyrider series, plus an excellent stand-alone, Far Harbor, and then the author’s writing went into hiatus for some years.

Melacha Rendell, a.k.a. The Skyrider lives in the asteroid belt, delivering supplies to prospectors and others who live on the various rocks, and in between runs she’s kicking back and starting fights. She’s a great character, and the books can be classified as military SF since right through the series either there’s a war about to start or there’s a war or skirmish going on. The Skyrider has no illusions about people. She understands that the majority believe everything they hear/see from government sources, that they will follow the demands of anyone in authority, and, that while insisting they are individuals, they never want to stand out from the crowd and will follow each other like sheep to make sure of that. Thje Skyrider books are clever, amusing, and well-written and I only wish that there were more.

Far Harbor is a variation on the child raised by wolves, in this case an alien baby raised by humans on her world who teach her that she is ugly, clumsy, stupid, and a waste of food. She is starved, beaten, and overworked until she rebels and flees into the forest. There she finds that she can survive, that she isn’t as stupid or clumsy as she’s been taught, and when she rescues a kitten of the large wild cats she has a friend. The story ended neatly but with hooks that suggested if a publisher had asked, there could have been more books continuing the story and I’m sorry there wasn’t.

I’m even more sorry that the Skyrider series didn’t have the final three books that 10 years ago Melisa said she had originally planned. But the lack of any real advertising of the series meant that they didn’t sell as well as they should have and the publisher dropped them and her – after the fifth. A real shame but since they’re 20+ years old now, it could be that they will be picked up for reprint sometime and then maybe the other three can be added to the series – and the world of Emerald Starling of Far Harbor expanded as well perhaps.

However a decade later Michaels started a new series and managed to sell two of that. Cold Iron was the first, an excellent hard-hitting book that takes an urban fairy background and turns it feral. This world has elves, and the author never felt a need to go into long-winded explanations. The reader is just presented with the world and, this is how it is Many rock bands in this world are what is known as Magic metal and Cold Iron is one of this type of band that’s huge. Rose Lavine, a PI joins them at the request of a groupie who believes that someone plans to murder the front man (elf) and Rose becomes caught up in the glamour and hard-living that surrounds the band – the drugs, the sex, and the constant touring. The band background of this book was savage, brutal, and very very believable. There are several deaths, which are initially assumed to be accidents, but Rose is suspicious and rightly so as it turns out. But the outcome is not what she or the reader is expecting.

As a final note on Melisa Michaels books, she has not always been well-served by the covers used for her books, Cold Iron in particular, don’t be put off.


Skyrider books

Skirmish (1985) Tor Books

First Battle (1985) Tor Books

Last War (1986) Tor Books

Pirate Prince (1987)Tor Books

Floater Factor (1988) Tor Books

Rosie Lavine

Cold Iron (1997) Roc – Nebula Award Nominee in 1998, a year of very strong contenders including Jack McDevitt’s Moonfall, Connie’s Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Harry Turtledove’s How Few Remain. It was actually won by Joe Haldeman’s Forever Peace. (Although IMHO Jack McDevitt’s Moonfall was better.)

Sister to the Rain (1998) Roc


Through the Eyes of the Dead (1988) Walker & Co Mystery

Far Harbor (1989) Tor Books

World-Walker (2004) Five Star

Anthologies containing stories by Melisa Michaels

The Best Science Fiction of the Year 9 (1980) Del Rey

Horrors (1986) Roc

Short stories

In the Country of the Blind, No One Can See (1979)

A Demon in My View (1981)

21 December 2012

Dream Park- 1981

The Barsoom Project- 1989

and Dream Park:The Voodoo Game 1991.

By Larry Niven and Steven Barnes.

Back in 1981 a brilliant book appeared. Dream Park was set decades into the future (the 2050s) when technology had enabled the creation of real-life role-playing games. It was a wish-fulfillment epic, because back then we were playing D&D on a table, rolling dice, and talking scenarios, and Dream Park took everything we’d ever wanted in this field and offered us a reality. In one way we now have that via computers and virtual reality on-line. But in another way we still don’t. Dream Park was physical. You went there, and in an enormous gaming area, complete with actors, holograms, stage settings, with a Lore Master, huge computer input, and companions, you live out an adventure in physical reality that was augmented by all the other things. In effect it was reality. You sweated, learned, shared the adventure and danger, and came back after 1-10 days, physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted and exhilarated by your achievements. It was something many gamers in the book saved all year to do. That few days was the culmination of their year. And I can see why because if there was a real Dream Park and if I had two good legs I’d be saving my heart out. But the book wasn’t just as some others of this type were; a recounting of one of the D&D-type games. It told the story of a number of characters in depth. You liked some, didn’t much like others, and you shared the adventure with them. You understood why they did it, what they got out of it, and you wished with all your heart that a Dream Park really existed. I remember discussion at the time about how long it might take before we could have that reality. Some of us hoped for it in our life-time. But that was over 30 years ago and we aren’t there yet.

More of us hoped there would be a sequel to this book, and at least we had that because after a gap of 8 years the second one arrived in 1989 The Barsoom Project. This was the mix as before. SF, computers, gaming, and murder. In my opinion it wasn’t quite as good, but that still made it a terrific book. However they had the problem that sometimes happens with a series that’s spread out or long-running and where they’ve used a real background. In the original book it was stated that in 1985 there had been a massive quake in California and the damage was described. Problem was the book two was in the same setting, but now published four years after the claimed quake, and whoops, there hadn’t been one, so they upgraded the quake year in book two, to 1995. This book’s background is still in the 2050s, but it was still looking unlikely that in another 60+ years we’d have a real Dream Park.

Dream Park:The Voodoo Game was back to as good as book one. The mix as before, but with the competitive level ramped up with five teams of gamers competing in a dangerous environment, all of them highly experienced and combative. And back of that was one of the gamers with his/her own agenda – industrial espionage. To my delight there were a number of gamer characters back from book one when this third book was published in 1991. The action was fast, the characters convincing, and the background fascinating. The sad thing is that I’m now writing this at the end of 2012. The original book was written in a well-established setting that was 70+ years in the future but with clear indications that Dream park had been in existance already for a couple of decades.. It’s only another 40+ years to go now, and still no indications that we’ll have a Dream Park any day soon. Of course, California can be grateful that they haven’t had that quake either, but in other ways some of the Dream Park scenario has come true. We do have virtual reality in a number of the ways Niven and Barnes described years before they became (virtual) reality. Our computer wizardry and hologram technology is closing in on that of Dream Park. But I wonder, in the next 30-40 years, if a Dream park was established, would the young gamers of that future be interested in the very physical activity that gaming there entails? I think so, because LARPing (Live Action role-playing) is well established in some places, and I also hope, rather wistfully, that I’ll live to see a Dream Park established and gamers competing there. And if that doesn’t happen, at least there were these three books to show me what might have been and what could still be if someone keeps the Dream alive. I recommend all three books and suggest they be read in order although they can be read as standalones. Copies are still out there. Find them and enjoy.



25 November 2012

Leanne Frahm was born in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia in 1946. (Yes, another of us 1946ers) She received the first nomination for her work in 1978 when she was a finalist for the 1979 Ditmar Award for best fan writer. The following year she won the best fan writer award. Leanne’s first professional story was in 1980, entitled “The Wood for the Trees” which was published in the anthology Chrysalis 6, edited by Roy Torgeson. In 1981 her story, “Deus Ex Corporus”, won the 1981 Ditmar Award for best Australian short fiction. She won a Ditmar again in 1994 for “Catalyst”. In 1996 her story “Borderline” won the 1996 Aurealis Award for best science fiction short story. The following year she won the Ditmar Award for best fan writer for the second time.

In my opinion it’s a pity that Leanne has never moved on to writing books, because her short work is so good that I believe her books would have been well worth buying. I have her collection Borderline, which has five of her stories, each of them a small gem, never going quite where you expect and each with an ending that can be startling, but which is always satisfying. Her work can be hard to find, and, apart from Borderline, exists only in an assortment of magazines and anthologies. But it’s worth the time and trouble if you go looking for them, and I would particularly recommend the stories, Ithaca Week, On The Turn, Catalyst, Skein Dogs and Jinx Ship.

Short fiction

  1. “The Wood for the Trees” (1980) in Chrysalis 6 (ed. Roy Torgeson)
  2. “Passage to Earth” (1980) in Galileo, January 1980 (ed. Charles C. Ryan)
  3. “Deus Ex Corporus” (1980) in Chrysalis 7 (ed. Roy Torgeson)
  4. “Barrier” (1980) in Chrysalis 8 (ed. Roy Torgeson)
  5. “Beyond Our Shores, a Colony” (1981 with Paul Collins) in Distant Worlds (ed. Paul Collins)
  6. “Horn O’ Plenty” (1981 with Terry Carr) in Science Fiction Stories (ed. Judy-Lynn del Rey)
  7. “A Way Back” (1983) in Universe 13 (ed. Terry Carr)
  8. “Lost” (1983) in Chrysalis 10 (ed. Roy Torgeson)
  9. “High Tide” (1983) in Fears (ed. Charles L. Grant)
  10. “The Visitor” (1985) in Midnight (ed. Charles L. Grant)
  11. “On the Turn” (1986) in Shadows 9 (ed. Charles L. Grant)
  12. “The Supramarket” (1987) in Doom City (ed. Charles L. Grant)
  13. “Reichelman’s Relics” (1990) in Amazing Stories, July 1990 (ed. Patrick Lucien Price)
  14. “Olive Truffles” (1991, a.k.a. “Olivetruffles”) in Eidolon, Winter 1991 (ed. Jeremy G. Byrne)
  15. “The Buyer” (1991) in Aurealis #5 (ed. Stephen Higgins, Dirk Strasser)




19 October 2012

Arthur Sellings was the pseudonym of Robert Arthur Gordon Ley, who was born on 31 May 1911 in Kent in England, the son of Kent and Stella Grace (Sellings) Ley. He lived for most of his life in Tunbridge Wells. In addition to his writing, Ley was a book and art dealer and antiquarian and later he was a scientific researcher for the British government. It is said that his research work inspired some of his science fiction. His work appeared in many well-known SF magazines of the day including Galaxy, Nebula, The Magazine of F and SF,  New Worlds, New Writing in SF, and others. He died of a heart attack in Sussex England on September 24th 1968. Note that Ley also wrote under pseudonyms Ray Luther, and Martin Luther.

In June I was in Auckland at our national SF Convention. While there Alan Robson very kindly loaned me a number of books by Arthur Sellings, four of which I read in the course of the convention. Before he mentioned this author I had neither heard of him nor read any of his books, but I had enjoyed his work sufficiently to purchase Junk Day for myself. In the science fiction post holocaust tradition Junk Day presents us with the end of civilization . . . and what happens next to a few selected individuals. I’ve always been fascinated by this type of story and have a shelf of them ranging from books written in the 1940s, up to more recent epics like One Second After, which was why I chose to buy this one in particular. The questions, how do you cope when thrown back on your own resources, when anyone you meet may try to kill you for a crust of bread? How do you now react to neighbours you’ve known casually for years? To friends who can bring nothing to your survival? To importunate family members whom you’ve never liked? The fight to survive is fascinating alone, but a good post-holocaust book makes you consider if simple survival is sufficient, and what is the real nature of current society since such books tend to reflect the time and society in which they were written – do we need other people about us and what of the institutions on which we have relied?

In Junk Day, an artist and hanger-on of society, a man named Bryan finds himself a survivor after strange events wreck everything about him, slaughter millions, and devastate the planet. He is already a cynic, and little changes when he meets Vee, the last survivor of her convent, and he starts to paint again. Later the two of them meet Barney who has created a fiefdom, with himself as ruler, and an economy based on salvage, explaining the book’s title. (I noted again, survivors existing on canned goods dug from various ruins and I feel that this needs the author to make a point on that. This book was not written as if the events occurred some time into the current future. And I’m uncertain if Sellings was ignorant on this subject or merely assuming that in his own near future canning methods would have improved. However I would say that even now, it is unlikely that canned food would survive for decades in a condition where it remained safe to eat. Should I write a post-holocaust book where characters are still eating canned goods a long time after the post-holocaust event, I think that I’d toss in some casual allusion to the new canning method/materials that permitted the can’s contents to remain wholesome indefinitely.)

Interestingly Sellings never explains what caused the strange events that destroyed his civilization. I found that reasonable, other authors have gone into lengthy explanations for the collapse, but Sellings merely says what happened and leaves his characters more concerned with their survival – a valid alternative which provides an intriguing background allowing the reader to speculate. Like other British writers in this sub-genre, Sellings tends to the pragmatic, he understands that those who have survived will not be angels, but Bryan is not a complete brute although his use of Vee makes it clear he probably would have committed rape had she not agreed to sex, however he also permits her time to consider and allows her to set conditions. This pro forma rape seems to have upset some reviewers, (who have no understanding of how survivors may behave after widespread catastrophic events and if they think Sellings was harsh, they can’t have read The Death of Grass,) as did his failure to mention racial conflict. But when this book was written large areas of Britain remained mono-cultural, and if a writer chooses to set his background there, then of course, his characters too will be mono-cultural. In fact he has substituted class as the conflict instead and does a workmanlike job of that, by contrasting Bryan’s attitude with that of Barney, originally a working man whose belief in fair-play is his version of the law.

I found this a reasonable book, interesting, and well up in quality against others of the sub-genre. It was a little shorter than I would have liked, leaving less space for development of theme and characters, but it has gone to my ‘permanent’ shelves none the less and if I run across others of his novels at reasonable prices I will probably buy those too. My thanks to Alan Robson for drawing my attention to the author.

Following is Sellings’ bibliography.


Telepath (19620

The Uncensored Man (1964)

The Quy Effect (1966)

Intermind (as by Ray Luther)(1967)

The Power of X (1968)

Junk Day (1970)


Time Transfer and Other Stories (1956)

The Long Eureka: a Collection of Short Stories (1968)



“Where Now?” (1961)

There is also a very long list of short stories which may be seen on Wikipedia. It seems to be that this would be a good time for some SF-spirited person to put together a couple more collections of Sellings’ stories.


19 September 2012

Diana Moorhead seems to have little information available about her and so far as I am aware has never attended SF conventions in New Zealand, which is a pity as her work is excellent. Born in 1940 in Woking, England, she moved to New Zealand at twelve, where she attended Waihi College and Auckland University. She married a teacher, has two children, and later became Community Librarian at Glenfield. Her first children’s book, In Search of Magic (1971), was set solidly in New Zealand although it was published by Brockhampton Press in the UK. It followed the adventures of an English fairy family who travel north from Wellington, seeking the indigenous fairy folk.

The book of Moorhead’s that I have is The Green and the White. A first edition hardcover which I purchased around the mid-70s from Whitcoulls in Lambton Quay. This was probably sold as YA, but the story stands up well for an adult, and even after 35+ years the work remains very readable.

Jochim is King of Verdantis, he has been thrust into the position early by the accidental death of his predecessor, and it’s unfortunate that he’s been landed not only with the crown and vast responsibility, but also with a possible wife he would have been happy to wait for as well, and now, to add to it all, there is trouble in the kingdom and he’s expected to fix that too. Princess Elise isn’t pleased about it either. Not initially anyhow, until she finds that there’s a place for her and work that she can do. Not the usual work, not when she’s sneaking about dressed as a boy, with her hair chopped off, travelling across Verdantis with Jochim to meet the terrible Shrinn and find out why Verdantis is being ruined by blight. This book says a lot about taught or unconscious prejudice and the danger of making assumptions from them. It’s short, I’d estimate around 30,000 words, but it contains an attractive map, (and frontispiece) by the renowned Victor Ambrus who illustrated so many wonderful children’s and YA books over the second half of the 1900s.

Moorhead’s third book, Gull Man’s Glory (1976), illustrated by Sam Thompson, is also set in a fantasy world where the characters must challenge a corrupt power that threatens to destroy the land. Gull Man’s Glory has been described as strikingly original in its setting after a future nuclear disaster has produced strange forms of life, particularly gull people with wings.Sadly after the publication of her third book Moorhead seems to have stopped writing fiction but copies of her three books are still available on various sites such as Book Depository. The first book was for younger children but I would recommend The Green and the White and I hope to obtain a copy of Gull Man’s Glory sometime soon.

14 August 2012

Charles Eric Maine (pseudonym of David McIlwain; born England 21 January 1921 – died 30th November 1981) was an SF writer whose best works were published in the 1950s and 1960s. His books dealt with new scientific technology and some of the alarmist theories of the time concerning its use and dangers. He began his career in SF very early being a member in the late 30s of a group that included future SF authors John Christopher and John Burke. With John Burke he was involved with the publication of three issues of an SF magazine called The Satellite where he was co-editor. From 1940 to 1941, he published his own magazine called Gargoyle. During World War II, he was in the RAF and served in Northern Africa in 1943. After the war, he worked in TV engineering, and became involved in editorial work with radio and TV. (Many of his fictional characters have backgrounds in technical journalism and publishing.)

In 1947 he married Joan Hardy. Divorcing in 1960, McIlwain married his second wife Clare Came in 1961. But during 1952, he sold his first radio play, Spaceways, to the BBC, instantly popular, the work was rewritten as a novel, and later became a film as well. Another of his most popular works, Timeliner, traveled the same road, being first a radio play named The Einstein Highway, which was rewritten as the novel Timeliner (a scientist is experimenting with a time machine but is thrust in the future by a fellow scientist who was having an affair with the first scientist’s wife.)

His work often crossed genres – with murder as a secondary theme as it is in both Timeliner and Countdown, – while novels The Isotope Man, Subterfuge, and Never Let Up, feature Mike Delaney and Jill Friday, whose work as science reporter and photographer for a magazine lead them into a mixture of espionage mystery and science fiction thrillers, with a little romance thrown in. He made use of a wide variety of science fiction themes throughout his novels. Complications and dangers from forms of time travel are the concern in Timeliner and Calculated Risk. World Without Men and its revised version Alph, consider the war between the sexes. Social themes are the concern of The Mind of Mr Soames. High Vacuum is a fight for survival on the Moon. Most of his novels involve then-topical aspects of technology. McIlwain’s grip of his technological subjects were not always perfect – a point regularly made by reviewers within the science fiction field. But McIlwain’s work is entertaining, often casting a new light on previously used idea.

He then followed friend John Christopher’s example and wrote a couple of disaster novels – The Tide Went Out, and The Darkest of Nights – in which an apparently minor event leads to worldwide destruction. The Tide Went Out is the better of these, with a possible premise. (It may not be technically correct, but it was – and remains – very plausible in explanation.) Scientists have exploded a bomb series, (yes, again) and so massive have the explosions been that they have cracked the outer shell of earth and the oceans are draining away . The main character is Philip Wade, a jaded, cynical, technical reporter for The Outlook newspaper. He arrives at work to be told that his article speculating on the outcome of the bomb series has been pulled from the current edition.

It becomes clear over the next few chapters that his speculation as to the dangers has come true, and that the government is frantic to keep it quiet while they make desperate preparations to move the seat of government, friends, family, and those who will be useful, to an area where they can survive. The remainder of the population will be left to die.

Wade’s actions as the situation descends into savagery are well-written. He is the sort of man who cares little for others, a bystander who only acts when it appears that he may be in danger, and then he is capable of utter ruthlessness. No second thoughts, no hesitation, and no conscience. Mcllwain makes all of that reasonable, this is who and what Wade is, and even his occasional selfless act is understandable, the more so as sometimes in hindsight they aren’t quite so selfless. Philip Wade is not a pleasant character, but the story is more effectively told because of this. Even the outcome for Wade is in character.

Both Alibris (used) and Amazon (new and used) have copies available of the later publication of this book under the alternative title, Thirst. Recommended if you enjoy a good disaster novel and don’t mind the main character being rather unpleasant.

Note: Maine also wrote as Robert Rayner (for mysteries) and Robert Wade (for general fiction) however in this article I have covered only those of his works that could be regarded as SF since that is the purpose of this series.


Spaceways (1953) (Variant Title: Spaceways Satellite)

Timeliner (1955)

Escapement (1956) (Variant Title: The Man Who Couldn’t Sleep)

High Vacuum (1956)

The Tide Went Out (1958) (Revised in 1997 with Variant Title: Thirst!)

World Without Men (1958) (Revised in 1972 with Variant Title: Alph)

Count-Down (1959) (Variant Title: Fire Past the Future)

Crisis 2000 (1959)

Calculated Risk (1960)

He Owned the World (1960) (Variant Title: The Man Who Owned the World)

The Mind of Mr. Soames (1961)

The Darkest of Nights (1962) (Variant Title: Survival Margin)

B.E.A.S.T. (1966)


The Electronic Monster (1958)

Timeslip (1956; it was the basis for the later novel, The Isotope Man)

The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970)


10 July 2012

Naomi May Margaret Mitchison lived a very long and interesting life. She was born Naomi Haldane in Edinburgh on the 1st of November in 1897 and died on the 11th of January in 1999 at the age of a hundred and one and she remained writing until well into her eighties. Mitchison came from an educated and comfortably-off family. Her father (J.S. Haldane) was a well-known and respected scientist and her uncle (Richard Haldane) was a British cabinet minister during WW1. Her books aren’t so well known in America, and some USA SF readers may find them odd in style. If you like historical novels, I recommend her book THE CORN KING AND THE SPRING QUEEN, which has been printed and reprinted endlessly since it was first published in 1931, I believe that Soho Press still has it available under their Hera Series which includes novels by Cecilia Holland and Gillian Bradshaw.

But my favorite of her works and the one in my permanent library is Memoirs of a Spacewoman (Victor Gollancz,1962, my copy is an ex-library book, a first edition hardcover of this.) Memoirs is a slightly peculiar book, not so much in the content, although that too was definitely unusual for the times and is still so but also in the style. It reads like a diary although it isn’t in specific diary format, but more, as the book title suggests, in a meandering memoir of the sort that any modern editor would probably reject on sight. Mary is a Alien communication expert (women are highly regarded in this specialty for their ‘sympathy and adaptability,’ so much so that you receive the impression that almost all, of not all, communication experts in Mitchison’s world, are women) which can involve some very strange going-on, in the course of one of which she becomes pregnant to the Martian, Vly, with which she is communicating urgent information and as a part of that communication. In fact sex in some aspect and of some sort pervades the book, not in any prurient fashion, but as a part of the life of both humans and aliens and of human observation and the communication between them.

An extra in Memoirs, is the use of ‘time blackout’, this is the way Mitchison describes the contraction of time for explorers traveling deep into space to meet new cultures. Such explorers, (and Mary as communications expert for an exploration team) may be gone a generation, and return to find old friends, who have not been traveling this way, aged or dead. Nowadays this is a commonplace detail in SF, but Mitchison dealt with it obliquely through both Mary’s mother’s absences and then Mary’s own and discussions as to how careful Mary is not to take on such employment until her children are of an age to cope with this. One thing to notice too, Mitchison had The Prime Directive in this book, and in more detail than Star Trek, and, since she was writing this book for quite a number of years before publication, it would definitely predate ST’s use of that. Memoirs has some very strange moments, the stories are not at all in the usual line of (male-written) space exploration, but they remain involving after almost fifty years and I recommend the book to those who can cope with this and to those feminists who may enjoy a work written well before sex and a female space explorer were much at all on the American SF book scene.


The Blood of the Martyrs

Cleopatra’s People

Cloud Cuckoo Land

The Conquered

The Corn King and the Spring Queen



Memoirs of a Spacewoman Science fiction. London: Victor Gollancz, 1962; reprint, New York: Berkeley, 1973

Solution Three Science Fiction.Written in 1970.

Two notebooks containing corrected drafts of “The Clone Mums,” in The National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, Acc. 5831.
Originally published: London: Dobson, 1975.
Reprinted 1995 with an afterword by Susan M. Squier. The Feminist Press at The City University of New York, 311 East 94 Street, New York, NY 10128. ISBN 1-55861-097-9; ISBN (paperback) 1-55861-096-0.

\We Have Been Warned. London: Constable & Co., 1935.

When the Bough Breaks and Other Stories

Separate Short Stories:

“Mary and Joe” (written 1962) reprinted in Harry Harrison’s Nova 1 (1970 and part of Memoirs of a Spacewoman.

“Words” in Jan Green and Sarah Lefanu’s “Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind” (1985)


28 May 2012

Manly Wade Welman was born in Angola on May 21st 1903. His parents were medical missionaries there and he was descended from colonial Virginia stock as well as having some Native American ancestry. While he wrote a wide variety of works from short stories to books, he is best known for his Appalachian Mountain fantasy/horror books and short stories. He had a life-long interest in folk music and songs and many of his stories reflect both that and his long time residency in North Carolina.

Like many writers he had a hugely varied career, working as a farmhand, bouncer, reporter, film critic, lumber-stacker, soldier, and a teacher of creative writing. Welman was very prolific, while below I have listed only his genre work, he also wrote; thirty-three young adult books between 1927 and 1971, seventeen non-fiction books between 1949 and 1976, and six other books ranging from mysteries to westerns between 1947 and 1986. Some half a dozen films or TV episodes were made from various of his works, and The Silver John stories were the inspiration for “Who Fears the Devil”, a 1994 recording by Joe Bethancourt that featured both traditional Appalachian mountain folk- songs “That Silver John would have known”and Manly’s original lyrics published in many of the Silver John stories – set to traditional melodies that Wellman had used as models. Later still, Bluegrass band, The Dixie Bee-Liners recorded an original song that was inspired by the Silver John stories and titled “Yellow-Haired Girl,” which appears on their 2008 album “RIPE.”

In my opinion his best work is his Silver John stories. many of them contain a verse or verses from folk-songs, (some genuine, some written by Wellman) many have a title taken from folk-songs, and many too have what I can only describe as a Christian atmosphere, and this adds verisimilitude to work set against a time when much of Appalachia no matter what was done the other six days spent part of each Sunday at church. There is no question that Wellman knew what he was talking about so far as folk-songs go. I belonged to the Wellington Folk Music Society for some years, and recognize a number of the songs quoted, as well as the author description (in Little Black Train) of how to make a mouth-harp sound like a train whistle approaching, then receding.) I once heard Arlo Guthrie do just that. Wellman managed both a sharp-edged reality in his stories as well as a sweetness and sometimes pathos. I particularly recommend his Silver John stories as well as his books featuring Appalachia such as The Beyonders.

  1.  Science fiction and fantasy books/collections:

The Invading Asteroid (1929)

Sojarr of Titan (1941)

The Devil’s Asteroid (1941)

Devil’s Planet (1951)

The Beasts from Beyond (1950) [also known as Strangers on the Heights]

Twice in Time (1957)

The Dark Destroyers (1959) [short version of Nuisance Value (1938/39)]

Giants from Eternity (1959)

Island in the Sky (1961)

The Solar Invasion (1968) (Captain Future novel)

Worse Things Waiting (1973) (collection) (Winner, World Fantasy Award for Best Collection, 1975)

Sherlock Holmes’s War of the Worlds [With Wade Wellman] (1975)

The Beyonders (1977)

The Valley So Low: Southern Mountain Stories (1987) (Ed. Karl E. Wagner, collection)


The Collected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman:

  1. The Third Cry to Legba and Other Invocations (2000) (John Thunstone and Lee Cobbett stories)
  2. The Devil is Not Mocked and Other Warnings (2001)
  3. Fearful Rock and Other Precarious Locales (2001) (Judge Pursuivant and Sergeant Jaeger stories)
  4. Sin’s Doorway and Other Ominous Entrances (2003)
  5. Owls Hoot in the Daytime and Other Omens (2003) (John the Balladeer stories)
  1.  Silver John anthologies and novels

Who Fears the Devil? (1963)

The Old Gods Waken (1979)

After Dark (1980)

The Lost and the Lurking (1981)

The Hanging Stones (1982)

The Voice of the Mountain (1984)

John the Balladeer (1988) (Ed. Karl E. Wagner, revised collection containing all Silver John short stories)

Owls Hoot In The Daytime And Other Omens (2003) (Ed. Night Shade Press, also contains all Silver John short stories)

  1.  John Thunstone anthologies and novels

Lonely Vigils (1981) (Thunstone and Judge Pursuivant short stories)

What Dreams May Come (1983)

The School of Darkness (1985)

  1.  AWARDS

Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Award winner, Best Story, A Star for a Warrior (1946)

Mystery Writers of AmericaEdgar Award, Best Fact Crime Story, Dead and Gone (1956)

World Fantasy Award winner, Best Collection/Anthology, Worse Things Waiting (1975)

World Fantasy Award, Life Achievement (1980)

Locus Award, Best Fantasy Novel, After Dark (Place: 15) (1981)

British Fantasy Award winner, Special Award (1985)

Locus Award, Best Collection, John the Balladeer (Place: 5) (1989)

North Carolina Writers’ Network Literary Hall of Fame inductee (1996)


11 April 2012

Born in Chicago in 1946, Phyllis Eisenstein has lived there for most of her life and is an author of SF/F short stories and novels. She attended the University of Chicago during the 1960s, then returned to study and achieved a degree in anthropology from the University of Illinios in 1981. For those who may be further interested she is on Facebook. Mrs. Eisenstein has had a long career, her first SF/F work appeared in the 1970s and her last work, a novella, appeared in 2007. Over the years I have read most of the lady’s work, and liked everything I read as a ‘read once’ .But only one book has remained firmly in my permanent library to be read and re-read over and over again. This is Sorcerer’s Son, which I purchased at the time the book appeared in 1979. The work is a simple quest story on the face of it but it moves into something more, a consideration of slavery, the need to find family roots, and the inevitable loss parents suffer when a child grows up and leaves home. In one way or another the book spoke to many readers and reading it again, I do not see that it’s lost any of its appeal since publication over thirty years ago.

Sorcerer’s Son begins with the rejection of the sorcerer Smada Rezhyk the Demonmaste’s proposal of marriage, by Delivev Ormoru, sorceress of Castle Spinweb. Rezhyk is a rampant paranoid, he immediately assumes that if the lady doesn’t want to marry him it’s because she secretly hates him and is plotting his destruction. There’s no logical basis for his assumption, but Eisenstein makes his ranting and suspicion very believable. Rezhyk summons his favorite demon, Gildrum, who reminds him that a sorceress who is pregnant is diminished in power, giving Rezhyk time to take precautions against any attack she might make. Gildrum, bearing Rezhyk’s seed and in the guise of a handsome wounded young knight (Mellor) seduces Delivev, impregnates her and departs with an acceptable excuse. Rezhyk has assumed that Delivev will rid herself of the child once she realizes, but instead and unbeknown to Master and enslaved demon, she raises, and loves her son deeply and it is not until Cray is around fourteen that they discover the boy’s existence.

Rezhyk promptly becomes far more paranoid, assuming again that this is some deeply laid plot to destroy him using his son and ignoring the fact that Delivev has no knowledge that Rezhyk is the actual father rather than the young knight she loved.

Meanwhile Cray has determined to become a knight like his father and sest out on a quest to discover what happened to the man and why he never returned as he promised. Along the way he makes a good friend, and the demon Gildrum, having become very humanized over the years, and having genuinely loved Delivev, and come to love Cray as his son, watches over Cray’s journeying. Each discovery Cray makes leads him to worse conclusions about his father until he finds he is up against a brick wall and that only becoming a demonmaster and forcing a powerful demon to tell him the truth will answer his question. So he goes to the only demonmaster he knows, Rezhyk, and asks to be an apprentice. Naturally Rezhyk leaps to the conclusion that this is just the final step in a long plan by Delivev to destroy him. Where the story goes from there is logical and emotionally believable and wound the book up in a satisfying conclusion. I recommend the work to lovers of good fantasy and to adoptees with whom it will resonate.

Published works

Series –

Tales of Alaric the Minstrel

1. Born to Exile (1977)

2. In the Red Lord’s Reach (1989)

Series Novels (The Book of Elementals)

1. Sorcerer’s Son (1979) (free download if you look for it)

2. The Crystal Palace (1988)

The Book of Elementals (omnibus) (2002)

3. The City in Stone (2004)

Stand-Alone Novels

Shadow of Earth (1979)

In the Hands of Glory (1981)


Walker Between the Worlds (2007)


Night Lives: Nine Stories of the Dark Fantastic (2003) (with Alex Eisenstein)

Anthologies containing stories by Phyllis Eisenstein

The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories 4 (1978)

Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year 1978 (1979)

Shadows 5 (1982)

New Eves: Science Fiction About the Extraordinary Women of Today and Tomorrow (1994)

Short stories

“Attachment” (1975) Nebula (nominee)

“The Land of Sorrow” (1977)

“Lost and Found” (1978)

“In the Western Tradition” (1981) Nebula (nominee) Hugo (nominee)

“Dark Wings” (1982)

“Nightlife” (1982) Hugo (nominee)

“Subworld” (1983)

“Sense of Duty” (1985)

“The Island in the Lake” (1999) Nebula (nominee)

30 March 2012

“Pat Frank” was the lifelong nickname adopted by the American writer, newspaperman, and government consultant, Harry Hart Frank (born in Chicago May 5, 1908 and died October 12, 1964 in Jacksonville, Florida, age 57, of acute pancreatitis. However he packed a lot into his 57 years. Frank spent years as a journalist and information handler for several newspapers, agencies, and government bureaus and his subsequent fiction and non-fiction work made excellent use of his years of experience observing government and military bureaucracy and its assorted foul-ups. He saw service overseas during WW11, when he worked for the Office of War Information and was a war correspondent in Italy, Austria, Germany, and Turkey.
Frank is primarily known for his post-holocaust book, Alas Babylon, and after the huge success of that he concentrated on writing articles for magazines and advising assorted Government bodies. In 1961, the year in which he received an American Heritage Foundation Award, he was consultant to the National Aeronautics and Space Council and from 1963 the Department of Defense made use of Frank’s expert advice right up until the time of his death..
Frank wrote Alas Babylon while living in Tangerine, Florida on Lake Beauclaire near Mount Dora. Another author who knew Frank then and was familiar with local history, said that “Pistolville,” the name Frank gave to an area near (the mythical) Fort Repose in the novel, was in fact a place just between the southern edge of Mount Dora to the north and Tangerine to the south. According to Vivian Owens, Mount Dora was intended by Frank to be the model for his semi-fictional Fort Repose. While writing this particular item for the series I happened to check Amazon and saw that Alas Babylon had over 300 reviews. Even after so long the work still stacks up for readers as it always has for me. I don’t quite know what it is about the book, perhaps it’s that it is set in a small rural town from which background it never departs. Perhaps because it shows people more at their best than their worst when the worst happens. There are a few jarring notes. Remember when the book was written segregation was still in force, and some people still used pejoratives about black Americans. But Frank’s story denies that in its own way as he shows that the people of Fort Repose, when a huge disaster befalls them, are able to ignore such prejudice and work together.
Alas Babylon is set in the mythical small town of Fort Repose in central Florida. From the context I would estimate the town population to be around 3,000. Randy and Mark Bragg are the sons of an old founding family from the area. Mark is in Air Force Intelligence while Randy lives in the family’s old house and is something of a layabout. Then he receives a telegram to tell him that Mark’s wife and children are on the way to stay with him and using the code words Alas Babylon to tell him that it is almost certain nuclear war is about to break out. Randy meets Mark at an Air Force base when his plane stops briefly, and is given a check for $5000 (a very large sum in the 1950s.) He begins buying items he thinks will be of use as his brother has suggested, Helen, (Mark’s wife) and the children Peyton and Ben arrive and settle in for the night. Randy is woken by his bed shaking hours later, as a growing thunder booms around him. Fort Repose is untouched but major cities all over Florida (and the rest of the United States) have been obliterated, and survival is now the issue. The story is in one way predictable, but there are clever, well-written and wholly believable twists and turns, and I heartily appreciated one of those when two middle-aged maiden ladies become the mainstay of Fort Repose, the town librarian and the lady who runs the Western Union Office.
I (and a large number of other readers) would recommend Alas Babylon, but a reader might also be mildly repaid by the reading of Mr. Adam, (after a nuclear plant explodes every man is sterile save for one Homer Adam -who was a mile deep down a iron mine at the time. This is more a humorous attack on bureaucratic stupidity and interservice rivalry than true SF.) And perhaps An Affair of State, which is an acid look at men in government and those of them who shape America’s Foreign Policy.

An Affair of State (1948)
Mr. Adam (1946) adapted as a play and performed in 1949
Hold Back the Night (1952)
Forbidden Area 1956 (aka Seven Days to Never – London 1957) This book is not quite SF but it is an excellent read none-the-less and I recommend it.
Alas Babylon 1959 (A TV version was broadcast on Playhouse 90 in 1960, and this was adapted as a play in 1963.)

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