FF: Reading the Wild West

March 23, 2018

Kel: A Cat of the Wild West

I’m glad to hear that folks enjoy this list of what I’ve been reading.  This week’s reading took an unusual turn when I felt a sudden craving for Westerns.

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

I’d love to hear what you’re reading!

Recently Completed:

Mustang Man by Louis L’amour.  Audiobook.  I have a sneaking fondness for Nolan, a would-be bad boy Sackett.  Reread.

The Case of the Toxic Mutants (Dragonbreath 9) by Ursula Vernon.  Mutants have never been so cute.

The Man From The Broken Hills by Louis L’amour.  More red herrings in this one than in a fish market. Reread.

In Progress:

The Sackett Brand by Louis L’Amour.  I have an old fondness for this one.  Reread.

Knight-Napped (Dragonbreath 10) by Ursula Vernon.

Tempest and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce.  Audiobook.  Just started.


Wolf’s Blood by Jane Lindskold.  About three-quarters done.

And some back issues of magazines, because I’m so far behind!


TT: The Magazine of Your Dreams

March 22, 2018

The Magic Box

JANE: Over the last several weeks, Alan, we’ve been discussing your encounters with various magazines.  Even though you met these through the “magic box,” you rapidly found those you preferred.

These days, as people feel they have less and less time to read,  seems like a perfect time for magazines to once again achieve dominance with the reading public.

So, I’d like to ask you – and our readers – to tell me what you’d be looking for in a magazine.

ALAN: That’s a hard question for me to answer directly. My encounters with SF magazines were so intermittent and so haphazard that I never really developed the habit of reading them. I was always pleased when I stumbled across one, of course, and I quickly learned which ones I liked. It did become clear to me that each magazine reflected the interests of its editor and, of course, the ones I liked had editors whose tastes matched my own.

When I started taking books out of the library, and buying books of my own, I found a lot of short story collections and anthologies on the shelves. It seemed to me then (and it still seems to me now) that an anthology and a magazine are really very similar things – each has an editor and each reflects the personal tastes of the editor. So it wasn’t long before I consciously started looking for anthologies that had been put together by people whose tastes I trusted.

JANE: That makes sense!  So, who were the first editors you sought out?

ALAN: Back in the day, I would deliberately seek out anthologies edited by Judith Merril, and by Terry Carr. There was an excellent anthology series called Full Spectrum that was edited by Lou Aronica and Shawna McCarthy. And of course there was Harlan Ellison’s ground-breaking Dangerous Visions.

These days I look for anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois.  (I’ll buy anything edited by him sight unseen.) I’m also rather fond of Ellen Datlow and Paula Guran as well. And Jonathan Strahan has recently attracted my attention…

JANE: Whoa!  Back up a moment there…  At least three of those editors were also associated with magazines.  Gardner Dozois edited Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine from 1984-2004.  Ellen Datlow edited Omni from 1981-1998.

Did you ever feel tempted to subscribe to either of these magazines because of your respect for their editors?  After all, magazines would come out more frequently than anthologies.

ALAN: I’ve never subscribed to a magazine – in the days of often unreliable snail mail and vast distances across the world, it always seemed a bit too financially risky.

I vaguely knew that Gardner Dozois had been an editor of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a copy of it. Maybe I have, but if I did, it made no impression on me.

JANE: That’s fascinating.  During Dozois’s decades at the helm of Asimov’s, I’d guess that most American SF/F fans knew him for that first, for his anthology editing second.  Of course, I’m a writer, so my point of view may be skewed.

How about Omni?

ALAN: I did read a few copies of Omni but I never liked it much – the fiction was generally first class of course (as witness the large number of award-winning stories the magazine published) but the stories were spread far too thinly and were quite overwhelmed by far too many dumbed-down articles about science and cranky parapsychological nonsense. I found the mixture quite unpalatable.

JANE: What about Jonathan Strahan?  He co-founded and co-edited Eidolon: The Journal of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy between 1990 and 1999.  That’s closer to home.

ALAN: Much closer to home – Robin has known Johnathan forever. (Quote: “He’s a lovely person”). They both belonged to the same SF crowd in Perth, Western Australia. I’m pretty sure that she has many copies of Eidolon in a box somewhere.  Jonathan and Eidolon also spawned a small publishing company called Eidolon Press. One of the books it published was Howard Waldrop’s Going Home Again (1997), and an autographed copy of that sits very proudly on our bookshelves.

Consequently it’s a rule – I’m required to like Jonathan Strahan and, by extension, anything he produces. Fortunately I do, so it’s a very easy rule to obey.

JANE: Lucky for you!  Robin might get very upset with you otherwise.

ALAN: So I think what I’m saying is that, whether we are talking about magazines or about anthologies, the thing that I look for every time is that rather nebulous thing called the taste of the editor. I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.

And when I find an editor whose tastes overlap with mine I will deliberately continue to look for and buy their books.

JANE:  That makes perfect sense.

Once again I invite our readers to tell us what they’d like to see in a magazine.   Do you like when stories are serialized between issues?   Repeating characters or settings?  Stories set in a writer’s “known” universe?  Non-fiction?  Review columns?  How important are illustrations?  Would you consider graphic storytelling – such as a one panel comic or an on-going series – to be a bonus?

In the first installment of this discussion, one of how readers talked about how, for him, the magazines gave him a sense of belonging to a community of shared ideals.  To quote his last closing question: “Does anyone think a magazine can also foster a sense of community, hope, and possibilities?”

Do any of the magazines currently publishing have a strong, dynamic identity that makes you want to recommend them?  Absolutely include those that primarily publish in electronic form.  Who knows?  Electrons just may be the new pulp!

Close Up and Personal

March 21, 2018

Sparrow a Glance

I want to thank all of you who took time to comment in response to my Wandering last week.

If you weren’t around, basically, I asked for feedback both as to what you might like to see in the Wednesday Wanderings, and whether I should continue doing the Friday Fragments.  I also asked about how important the photos were to you.

Based on the enthusiastic response to the Friday Fragments, I shall continue doing them.   Although many of you expressed how much you liked when I specifically commented about a book, I don’t plan to increase the frequency of such comments.  Writing a review column is a serious job, one I’m not interested in taking on.  To do a good job writing reviews, one needs to offer more than one’s opinion.  If you’re interested in a good review column, I suggest Alan Robson’s once a month “wot i red on my hols.”

In the Friday Fragments, I’ll make sure to remind you that I’d be happy to hear what you’re reading.  Indeed, I am!  I might not get to a specific book for a while, but I do keep a list of books that seem interesting.

I was happy to learn how many of you look forward to having the Wednesday Wanderings appear in your mail box or on some other aspect of your social media as a regular part of your weekly reading.  Therefore, I’ll keep writing them.

However, I have one request.  A short comment, even a couple of words, would help keep up my morale.  I’m not asking you to comment every week or even every couple of weeks – although I deeply appreciate how people like James, FuturePastSite, Louis, Dawn, and King Ben’s Grandmother find something to say.

It’s hard “talking” into a void.  I mean, I’ve taught college freshman English Composition at 8:00 a.m.  Writing the Wednesday Wanderings is tougher because I can’t even see if people are awake!  That’s what I meant when I said I’d like to have a “conversation.”  My schedule doesn’t permit me to run on-line writers’ prompts or the like.

Moving on our discussion of the photos, Jim and I will probably do some experimenting.  For one, he’s gotten a new lens that, once he gets the hang of it, will allow a greater range of images.  However, I reserve the right to go back to a little picture tucked in the corner.  In the end, text is the way I communicate best.

One thing several comments reminded me of was that I should feel free to return to topics that I talked about years ago.  Ten years is a long time.  While I’ve tried hard to not repeat myself more than is necessary, I think maybe I should loosen up.

In a week or so, Alan and I will chat a bit about the future of the Thursday Tangents.  I appreciate those of you who took the time to express enthusiasm for our public conversations over these last seven years.   We certainly won’t fall silent forever, but it’s time for us to rest our fingers.  I promise to alert you in the Wednesday Wanderings when there will be a Thursday Tangent Special Feature.

On that note…  Our nearly final Thursday Tangent of the regular run goes up tomorrow.  In it, I ask Alan a question that I really hope some of you will also weigh in on.

With that as a teaser, I’m off to run with the wolves!  Tah!

FF: Just a List

March 16, 2018

I haven’t decided whether or not to continue the Friday Fragments in this fashion or not.  I’ll let you know in next week’s WW.  Meantime, opinions are welcome, but I will say one thing: I’m not going to start writing a review column.  That’s just too fraught with all sorts of things.

Looking Out for Jacklopes

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Fate of the Red Queen by Mab Morris.  Thoughtful book with a deceptively quiet start that rewards the reader by answering a lot of questions raised early on in usual ways.

Revenge of the Horned Bunnies (Dragonbreath 6) by Ursula Vernon.

The Magic of Recluse by L.E. Modesitt Junior.  (Audiobook).

When Fairies Go Bad (Dragonbreath 7) by Ursula Vernon.

Nightmare of the Iguana (Dragonbreath 8) by Ursula Vernon.

In Progress:

Oddly enough, I just finished two books today and haven’t picked my new ones!


Wolf’s Blood by Jane Lindskold.  Just starting.

TT: Two Faces of New Worlds

March 15, 2018

JANE: You promised to tell me about New Worlds magazine.

ALAN: New Worlds was a British SF magazine edited by John Carnell. Because it was British, I assume it must have been sold by the big book chain W. H. Smith, but distribution must have been erratic because I don’t recall ever seeing it there. However, copies did turn up in the magic box every so often.

Amazing Magic Box

JANE: Wait!  Why would that have happened?  I thought the magic box was full of magazines taken from the holds of merchant ships where they were used for ballast.  Surely a British magazine would not travel around Britain in a ship?

ALAN: Yes and no…

New Worlds was distributed throughout the Commonwealth. In one sense, that was quite a good idea because it encouraged Commonwealth writers to submit stories, and the magazine did indeed publish stories by Australian, Canadian and South African writers. But I strongly suspect that the copies that turned up in my magic box had originally been sent out to (say) Australia where they didn’t sell, and so they were returned to Britain as unsold copies used for ballast, thus becoming eligible for the magic box. It’s all quite ironic, really.

JANE: That is weird.  So, what did you think of New Worlds?

ALAN: I didn’t like it very much. I thought of it as a poor imitation of Astounding/Analog. John Carnell was cast very much in the mould of John Campbell and he liked the same kind of stories that Campbell did (though, to be fair, Carnell did not share the weird and sometimes distasteful ideas that Campbell promulgated in his eccentric editorials).

The magazine published mainly British and Commonwealth writers and at the time I had a vague feeling that proper SF was American, and that British SF was, almost by definition, inferior in some way that I couldn’t quite pin down.

JANE:  Wait a minute!  What about Arthur C. Clarke, Brian Aldiss, John Brunner, and even Eric Frank Russell?

ALAN: Oh, I agree.  My opinion that proper SF was American didn’t make any sense at all. In my defense though, I must point out that British SF Writers of the time included E. C. Tubb, John Russell Fearn, Volsted Gridban and Vargo Statten. These last two were also the first two (they shared many, many pseudonyms). But no matter what names they attached to their stories, none of them ever set the SF world on fire – and all of them had stories published in New Worlds.

JANE: What time period are we talking about?

ALAN: This would be the late 1950s and early to mid-1960s.

JANE: Above you said: “to be fair, Carnell did not share the weird and sometimes distasteful ideas that Campbell promulgated in his eccentric editorials.”  Do you remember what any of these were?

ALAN: Campbell’s obsession with the perpetual motion machine he referred to as “The Dean Drive” was scientifically embarrassing. He was also extremely racist and sexist in his opinions. After Campbell died, Harry Harrison edited a book that put together a selection of Campbell’s editorials from Astounding. I have a copy, but I’m afraid that I find the political and social opinions expressed in the editorials so annoying that I simply can’t read it.

JANE: That’s interesting.  It’s not what first comes up when I think of Campbell.

Did Commonwealth SF have any qualities that made it distinct from American SF?

ALAN: Not really. It sometimes felt a little “old fashioned” in the sense that many of the stories would happily have fitted into Astounding magazine a decade before it turned into Analog. But I suspect that this was more a reflection of Carnell’s personal taste than it was a description of Commonwealth SF as a whole.

After Carnell left the editorial helm of New Worlds, he went on to edit a series of books generically called New Writings In SF which had the same feel to it. But to be fair, Carnell was responsible for publishing James White’s Hospital Station stories which were very popular in both Britain and America. So he must have been doing something right! I’m sure he had other editorial successes as well.

JANE: What happened to New Worlds when John Carnell stopped editing it?

ALAN: Michael Moorcock took over the editorial chair and he very quickly turned the magazine into an avant-garde literary publication with science fictional leanings. It was the beginning of the so-called New Wave of science fiction. Moorcock also seemed to do something to the distribution mechanism because I regularly saw the magazine on the shelves of W. H. Smiths.

Then, in 1967, Moorcock published Norman Spinrad’s novel Bug Jack Barron which had (gasp!) dirty words in it. W. H. Smiths decided they no longer wanted to be associated with such filth and they refused to distribute it any more.

JANE: Did the magazine survive the loss of its major distributor?

ALAN: After W. H. Smiths stopped selling it, New Worlds had to make use of alternative distribution channels. It was often to be found on the shelves of sex shops. Presumably the proprietors of these shops were fooled by its reputation for publishing dirty words and felt that it would appeal to a certain class of customer. I often wonder what the New Wave SF fans felt as they browsed among shelves of magazines dedicated to hobbies even more esoteric than their own…

JANE: Indeed!

ALAN: But the writing was on the wall for New Worlds. In 1971 a final “Good Taste” issue was published, and that was the end. Moorcock did resurrect it a couple of times in later years as a series of original anthologies, but the magazine itself never reappeared.

JANE: What I’ve found interesting about this discussion is how the same name may be attached to what are, essentially, very different magazines, and how the interests of an editor shape the  magazine’s identity.

That brings me to a new question, but one I’ll save for next time!

Face the Strange

March 14, 2018

Questions for all of you…

After something like seven years, Alan Robson and I are considering retiring the Thursday Tangents, although we reserve the right to change our minds at any point and do a special feature or more.

Persephohone: Valiant Assistant!

This has me thinking about what other changes I might want to make in how I reach out and talk to you – and you – and you – and you.  Social media is a somewhat one-sided conversation, but I really prefer a conversation to an advertising platform.

I hope you folks do, too.

In the ten years I’ve been doing this blog, a lot has changed.  Some things are minor – for example, Facebook won’t post the smaller pictures I prefer for my blog, so lots of you are missing the photos.  Since I’ve been told by a reliable source that some people tune into the Friday Fragments especially to see which of my cats or guinea pigs are serving as that week’s Super Model, this is a problem.

Maybe I’m just too text oriented, but I don’t like how large photos split the post.  Should I use a larger picture and put it at the top?   Or maybe text first, larger picture at the bottom?  Or am I worrying too much and you really don’t care if you see a picture?

What about content?  When I started the Friday Fragments, people regularly weighed in with what they were reading.   I discovered some books (and sometimes became addicted to a particular author) because of the comments.  Lately, though, folks aren’t sharing.  I’m considering dropping the Friday Fragments entirely, and maybe substituting a short post mentioning one title instead.

What do you think?

Sometimes I have a lot to talk about but when – as now – I’m immersed in creating something, I don’t have a lot to say.  I’m not one of those authors who likes to talk about a work-in-progress.  Until a book is done, it’s between me and the characters.

But I like to touch base at least once a week, if for no other reason than I personally hate when authors I “follow” only seem to appear when they are shouting out about their newest project.  Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I feel used.

Therefore, I welcome questions or suggestions for topics.  If I don’t have thoughts on a matter or don’t consider myself enough of an expert, I’ll be honest.

So, as David Bowie once put it, this is a time of “Ch-ch-ch-changes.”  I’m facing the strange challenge of finding how to make social media work for me… but equally importantly for you as well.

I hope you’ll let me know what I might do that would be best for you!

FF: Coming of Age

March 9, 2018

Purely by chance, most of the novels I’m reading this week could be grouped as “coming of age.”  Even Danny Dragonbreath has to look out for his younger cousin.  But although these could be grouped under a common theme, they’re very different from each other.

Keladry With Her Namesake

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Lady Knight (Protector of the Small, Book 4) by Tamora Pierce.  Audiobook.  Here’s a YA novel that takes the protagonist into actually being an adult, not just young.

In Progress:

Fate of the Red Queen by Mab Morris.

Revenge of the Horned Bunnies (Dragonbreath 6) by Ursula Vernon.

The Magic of Recluse by L.E. Modesitt Junior.  (Audiobook).


Wolf Hunting by Jane Lindskold.  About halfway.

TT: Deeper Into the Magic Box

March 8, 2018

JANE:  When we finished last time, you promised to tell me about how you came to feel that the different magazines had distinct identities – so much so that you could often guess where a story was originally published.

Galaxy in the Magic Box

ALAN: Yes indeed. One of the magazines seemed to specialise very much in what these days I suppose we’d call hard SF. I recall greatly enjoying the stories I read in it but, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you any of the titles now… However, I do recall that the magazine seemed to take itself very seriously. The stories were often very solemn and humour was in short supply.

I found the name of this magazine a bit puzzling. Sometimes it was called Astounding and sometimes it was called Analog and sometimes it was called both those things at the same time. I learned later that the editor, John W. Campbell, wanted to change the name from Astounding to Analog for mysterious reasons of his own, and he introduced the change gradually over several issues so that people could get used to it.

JANE: Analog continues to have a reputation for publishing hard SF.  Indeed, its official title is Analog Science Fiction and Fact.  Their guidelines require the story to be firmly related in science of some sort – not just science as window dressing.

ALAN: I think that’s been a never-changing policy ever since the glory days of John Campbell, and clearly it’s been a successful one. Even in these internet days, the magazine continues to sell very well indeed.

I felt much happier with a magazine called Galaxy. The stories had a broader range than those in Astounding/Analog. Whimsy and satire were very welcome in its pages. It was in Galaxy that I first came across Harry Harrison’s marvelously funny anti-war satire Bill the Galactic Hero. Harrison told me that he’d actually first submitted the story to Campbell at Astounding and that Campbell had said he’d be happy to publish it if Harrison would take all the jokes out. Since that would have destroyed the whole point of the story, Harrison took it to Galaxy instead where it was welcomed with glad cries of glee. And the rest, as they say, is history.

JANE: I have a fondness for Galaxy.  In fact, I sold a short story to a later incarnation of Galaxy.  It’s called “Behind the Curtain of Flowers.”  Since the magazine is very hard to find these days, I included it in my short story collection, Curiosities.

ALAN: I’m sure the magazine is in a box on a market stall somewhere in the multiverse.

There was a third magazine that often turned up. It was called The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. (F&SF for short.) As the name implies, the stories it published spread right across the spectrum and they also had an elusive quality that seemed absent from most of the stories in the other magazines. They had more depth, more structure. They were, if you like, more literary. F&SF quickly became my favourite of the magazines and I still remember the stories and the authors with great fondness – Avram Davidson and Zenna Henderson, for example, seemed to publish nowhere else! In later years, I deliberately sought out books by those two authors solely on the strength of the stories I read in F&SF.

And I’ll never forget my first encounter with the wonderful Richard McKenna. The opening line of “Casey Agonistes” took my breath away, and I still think the story is one of the most powerful I’ve ever read:

“You can’t just plain die. You got to do it by the book.”

Richard McKenna died far too young. What glorious stories he would have written had he lived.

F&SF was far and away my favourite of the magazines I found lurking in that market store box.

JANE: Except for Galaxy, the magazines you’ve mentioned are still going. But over the years a lot of other magazines have fallen by the wayside. Did you come across any of those other magazines in your magic box?

ALAN: Yes, there was a rather puzzling magazine called Worlds of If.

JANE: Puzzling?  How so?

ALAN: It didn’t seem to have a style of its own; rather the stories it published seemed to be an amalgamation of the styles of stories from the other magazines. Frederik Pohl was the editor (this would be some time in the early to mid-1960s) and it wasn’t until I read his autobiography (The Way The Future Was, Del Rey, 1978) many years later that I discovered the reason for this curious style.

Pohl’s budget for buying stories was very small – about a third of what the other magazines were paying. Naturally writers would submit their stories to the highest paying markets first. But if the stories were rejected, they would send them to Frederik Pohl next. However, editors are not infallible, of course, and many of the stories that Pohl accepted would really have felt quite at home in Analog or Galaxy or F&SF.

JANE: Magazine pay rates continue to vary.  I will admit, I try those that pay “professional” rates before I try those that don’t.

ALAN: Pohl also had a deliberate policy of publishing one new writer in every issue and that too added a curious stylistic flourish to the magazine. One of those new writers was Larry Niven…

JANE: Good choice!

Pohl must have been doing something right because Worlds of If won the Hugo for best professional magazine three years in a row from 1966 to 1968.

ALAN: Although my “magic box” contained American magazines, not all SF magazines were American. There was a British SF magazine being published in the 1950s and 1960s called New Worlds.  I have quite a lot to say about. Perhaps we can discuss it next time?

JANE: You bet!

Three Heartbeats (Maybe Five)

March 7, 2018

This week’s installment is going to be very short because I can’t think of anything to say.

Hearts of Stone

I’m writing.  I’m doing a bunch of interviews.  I’m proofing.

Writing, proofing, taking care of business are the three heartbeats of my life.

Oh, and taking care of cats and guinea pigs.

And trying to reserve my evenings to spend with Jim.

But over and over: writing, proofing, and taking care of business.

Bah-dum, Bah-dum.  Bah-dum.

FF: Found Things

March 2, 2018

Needed some lighter stories to balance the darker – but all of them had depth, which is nice.

Persephone Wants to be Harriet for Halloween

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly.

Whiskerella (Hamster Princess 4) by Ursula Vernon.

No Such Thing as Ghosts (Dragonbreath 5) by Ursula Vernon.

In Progress:

Lady Knight (Protector of the Small, Book 4) by Tamora Pierce.  Audiobook.


Wolf Hunting by Jane Lindskold.  They’ve opened the door and let Truth out.